Damn anime fandom, when will you finally realize that light novels are trash and you need to stop hyping them?
Mahouka (short version of the title) was the next in line to be considered the best LN ever made, claims made by the same type of fans who two years ago were saying the exact same things for Sword Art Online (SAO for short). And once again it is proven how retarded and tasteless they all are, since the anime proved to be just as bad. In fact, it proved to be even worse than SAO! But more on that later.
This is where the first grip of the show begins. The main conflict regards the discrimination students have in that school, as they are separated into castes depending on their magic powers. The privileged ones are having all the fun, while the less fortunate by genes are treated like errant boys. It looks interesting at first but then you realize that Tatsuya, the protagonist, is OVERPOWERED AS HELL! They try to make him seem like his magic potential is low and thus belongs to the lower caste, but he has mastered so many types of martial arts and magical combinations that he can LITERALLY defeat anyone in half a second.
Just like most light novels do, the protagonist is basically wish fulfillment for introverts. We are special, we are awesome, but our society doesn’t appreciate us, everybody is against us, so we will show them what we can do, and win all the time, and have all the girls call us awesome. Taken to the extremes in Mahouka, Tatsuya begins as a new guy who is supposed to be just another Weed (lower caste), that all the Blooms (higher caste) make fun of. But in just a few seconds worth of conflict, he obliterates his bullies, and makes his classmates to be amazed with him. And that seems to be ok as far as teen empowerment goes, but the problem is that there is no real threat to make us believe he achieved something worthy of our praise.
Having an OP main character is the death of any story, period. There is nothing the rest of the cast can do if he is around and in this case HE IS AROUND ALL THE TIME. Just imagine that in an episode we are allowed to have a duel between two girls, just because Tatsuya didn't bother to capture the bad girl himself in a fraction of a second. Other stories will try to make it seem like the MC can die, or focus on other characters for awhile, or at least not make it seem like it’s all too easy. But not here. Here it is all about Tatsuya doing everything effortlessly and everybody being amazed with him. So no matter whatever the plot is about, there is no tension or exploration of themes, since you know exactly what will happen. Tatsuya will go in, and win effortlessly.
The first arc is about terrorists who want equality attacking the school. Because equality is evil all of a sudden. After the super awesome protagonist wipes them all out without even bothering to smirk, the police arrives, arrests everybody, and he returns to his normal school life like nothing much has happened. We can’t have him being rewarded, that would end the story. So what is the second arc about? A school contest! We literally moved from a terrorist attack to teenagers playing sports where they of course need to be explaining every little thing they make. That is plain insufferable. So what happens there? They do games for honor and bullshit, and again the awesome protagonist wipes them all out without even bothering to smirk. Third arc, evil China invades good Japan for livberty or some bullshit. The awesome protagonist wipes them all out without even bothering to smirk. Do you see a pattern here?
Even though the notorious SAO shares the same bad writing, bad exposition, bad characterization, and bad EVERYTHING when it comes to light novels, it at least fools you for awhile to think there is danger in its setting. The characters there were average people trapped in a deadly environment, cut off from their house and family, having to fight monsters in order to survive. Mahouka doesn’t have that; it is just a school where pampered high school kids with super magical skills gather and act like jerks to each other, while teachers and parents pay for their rent and luxury. So the only thing you get in this show is a guy effortlessly brushing off a few school bullies, under the surveillance of the teachers. There is literally nothing to feel excited about.
School settings in general are sapping away all tension and ruin the atmosphere. They are supposed to be there to offer a haven and familiarity for teenagers but at the same time raise endless questions of the sort “Why does everything happen the way it does, and why the adults don't do anything to stop it?” And the answer is a simple “because adults are terrible people who create unjust societies, and only we, the hormone-crazy teenagers, can do the right thing by smacking the crap out of everything.”
Furthermore, the themes are not even presented properly. For a society that runs on meritocracy, the mages of that school are all rare and gifted. There is little reason for the Weeds to feel bad, if they have powers that place them above every other mundane person. And even the most gifted of them, the Blooms, are acting like they are constantly threatened by the Weeds, as if their position can be snatched away if the errant boys try really hard and surpass them. If they really are superior, they shouldn’t feel threatened. And if hard work can indeed make Weeds surpass Blooms, then they shouldn’t have casts to begin with. These double standards are very easy to spot and because there is a lack of an actually threatening conflict, you are not even distracted from realizing that. This is what makes this plain bad fantasy empowerment.
What adds oil to the fire is the sister of the protagonist. She is TOTALLY obsessed with her brother, to the point she repeats the word “onii-sama” (translated as super awesome revered brother) at least a dozen times per episode. She is basically stalking him and doesn’t want any other girl near him, or any other boy to antagonize him. She is so obsessed to the point he has the hots for him. It is cringe-worthy if you are not into that, and yet it is one of the running gags of the show. IT NEVER GOES AWAY! Sadly the ones who hyped this title were all into the exact same things I and many others don't like in the show. It is teen escapism in its most basic and silly of forms. And it works for those who want all the girls to love them for being special and introverts. Sisters included.
Another thing that makes the show bad is its lack of action. For a setting that is all about mages and battles, there is very little actual fighting going on in it. The plot is almost entirely about talking and explaining than showing motion. For example, there is a scene where we have a duel. The battle lasts about 3 seconds, as Tatsuya is as OP as it gets. The next 15 minutes are spent on explaining how he did it by combining spells and martial arts. It may seem like that makes it strategic and smart, but what practically happens is you watching people standing still and talking with weird terminology just to explain how that battle was over before it even began. It is simply not fun. It is boring, anti-climactic, and it ends with everybody saying how awesome the protagonist is for winning effortlessly.
I understand how that can work much better in text form. The passing of time is very relevant when you read something, and from what I understand, the descriptions in the novels are using fancy terminology to make everything seem complicating and smart. This doesn't show in the adaptation, where we can tell how much time it takes to say something, as well as not using a narrator to simply infodump everything in third person. The closest effect to what could have happened if they had included it, would be internal monologues of the sort we see in Bakemonogatari, or Tatami Galaxy, or Haruhi. But even that demands for a first person narration, while the novels are mostly in third. In other words, it is bad storytelling, masked with fancy words, appealing to easily satisfied teenagers, which doesn’t translate well when adapted to tv format.
The saddest part is that the budget is actually very high. Madhouse is the king of anime, and yet not even that could save the show from being bad. If you want to watch it just for the pretty visuals and the teen empowerment, at least it is satisfactory on a superficial level. But if you watch it for any sort of depth or good characterization, you will be greatly disappointed. There is nothing particularly good in Mahouka, and only manages to further prove how pre-airing hype only exists to mutate the reputation of what could have been a forgettable mediocre title, to that of an abomination we will always be using as an example of what a bad anime is all about.
Hello Mahouka, how are you? Here, sit next to your best friend, SAO. Feeling comfortable enough? Yes? Ok… GUYS GAG THEM! GRAB THEIR FEET! WATCH OUT, HE IS TRYING TO GET AWAY! WHERE IS THE ROPE? BRING THE TAR!