The Irregular at Magic High School: Ancient City Insurrection Arc, Part I

By Tsutomu Sato and Kana Ishida. Released in Japan as “Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andrew Prowse.

Just because a large majority of the cast go “eurgh” whenever Miyuki is snuggling up to her brother does not mean that the writer is not leaning on the incest subtext as hard as he possibly can. Indeed, one can’t happen without the other. And since a lot of this book is Minami suffering through watching the siblings be “embarrassing”, or noticeably avoiding saying anything in order not to upset the powerful teenager with a hair-trigger killer ice move, there is an awful lot of my least favorite plot element in this series in this book. I made a promise to myself that I would hold out till the 16th book – this is, after all, one of Dengeki Bunko’s ‘flagship’ series, alongside titles such as Sword Art Online and A Certain Magical Index… which also have issues. We’ll see why I chose Book 16 in the summer. Till then, fortunately, there is more to this book than just snuggling against Tatsuya, though it suffers from being part one of two.

The Thesis Competition is coming around again, though this year Tatsuya is not involved – at least not directly. He’s going to be doing security, given what happened at the last event. Unfortunately, he’s also still dealing with fallout from the last couple of books – in particular, Gongjin Zhou’s whereabouts, which likely will impact a lot of things going forward. The ancient magicians are taking interest in him and his friends as well. Fortunately, trying to locate the base of these magicians allows him to travel to Nara and make a new friend. Possibly unfortunately, Minoru is, of course, probably going to be a major enemy down the road, particularly if they’re dealing with the parasites that have been cropping up for a while. Fortunately, he’s on their side for now, and is a nice, polite, pretty and very powerful young man. Possibly unfortunately, Minami falls for him – hard.

When you snip out discussion of magic and incest, what little is left in this series is action, and the action is very good. We even get the death of a character we’d seen before, which surprised me, and their death also impacts Mayumi, who is unable to get much information out of her “I am evil and sneering” dad. (Their relationship makes em think of Tokiomi and Rin.) Mayumi also gets to be in possible the funniest scene of the book, where she’s having lunch and discussing things with Mari and tries to deny that she’s in love with Tatsuya, a denial that is rather pathetic – she’s trying to say they’re like a big sister and little brother, but this is NOT the series to say that in. And it is nice – although, as Tatsuya and Miyuki acknowledge, rather odd – for Maya to actually ask Tatsuya to do a thing, rather than order him.

As I noted, this is Book 1 or 2, so I expect the second half will have a lot more action and payoff. Till then, this remains a good series provided you strip out the incest and magic talk – which, alas, leaves about 50 pages per book.

The Irregular at Magic High School: Steeplechase Arc

By Tsutomu Sato and Kana Ishida. Released in Japan as “Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andrew Prowse.

When you’re doing a series set in high school, and it actually moves forward in time, it can be hard to find new material for the same thing you’ve seen before. Last time on Irregular at Magic High School we saw everyone searching for new club members – again – and this time we get the second time around for their equivalent of the athletic festival, the Nine Schools Competition. So, naturally, the author decides to have things changed around at the last minute, in order to better serve the plot. Three events are different, much to Azusa’s horror, as it means they have to do a lot of last-minute planning. Why the last-minute changes? Well, it’s all part of a powerplay involving the military, the parasites from previous books, an some Chinese defectors – who we don’t actually meet in this book, but I’ve no doubt will appear soon. Not that the schools know this. Fortunately, First High has Tatsuya, who can do anything.

That said, even Tatsuya is having trouble keeping up. In addition to ferreting out the saboteurs who plan to put parasite-infected androids in the steeplechase course to maim magic students – rather cruelly, we’re told it’s OK to ruin the student’s lives and magic career as long as they aren’t killed – but he also has to do prep for all the students competing in the various events this year. At least he’s not IN the events, but it’s so exhausting that he barely even notices his sister having a mental meltdown one night and “warming his body” with her own. Fortunately for my sanity, this low point is followed by the book’s high point, as Tatsuya is about to go out and invade the Steeplechase course to take out the androids before the events, and Miyuki correctly notes that he’s about to fall over exhausted, and why does he have to do absolutely everything all the time? Miyuki works so much better as a caring little sister than as a thirsty one.

As for the rest of the book, it’s Mahouka-by-numbers, but in a series like this that’s not a bad thin. There’s lots of intrigue, and we get to see various characters show off how talented they are, including Ayako and Fumiya, who are on the cover, making this the second cover in a row starring twins. We’ve met these two before, but here they show off that they too can clean up at the competition, taking events for Fourth High and generally showing off. I also like Minami, who gets to use her all-powerful barrier, though finds that it can be a drawback when the enemy runs away and the cops show up to question her. Minami has absolutely had it with the incestual subtext, and I completely agree. And I was also amused by one event where Subaru pronounces that she will defeat Honoka and ensure that it’s not just “everyone who has Tatsuya as their engineer wins”, but forgets which series she’s in – one word of encouragement from Tatsuya and Honoka cleans up. Yes, it IS everyone who has Tatsuya wins. Please bow to him.

The usual irritations aside, this was a pretty decent Mahouka. Next up is apparently a two-part arc, which will no doubt continue to deal with China or its equivalent in this world. Worth picking up if you like really powerful stoic heroes.

The Irregular at Magic High School: Double Seven Arc

By Tsutomu Sato and Kana Ishida. Released in Japan as “Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei” by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andrew Prowse.

The author states in the afterword that this was written to be serialized in Dengeki Bunko’s magazine, rather than as a stand-alone novel, and apologizes for its sloppiness. It’s certainly sloppy – its saving grace is that for once it wasn’t split into two for length, because as a two-volume set this would have been unbearable. On the downside, this means that this is an incredibly long volume where almost nothing happens. There are rumblings of a plot in the background involving the media attacking magicians, and there is foreshadowing of future events. For the most part, though, this book functions to start second year for Tatsuya and Miyuki, and to introduce the new freshman who will be semi-regulars going forward. Chief among whom are the twins on the cover, Mayumi’s little sisters Kasumi and Izumi. The title of the arc comes from them – “Saegusa” has ‘seven’ in its family name, and they are twins, hence ‘Double Seven’.

The twins are not the only new regulars introduced. We also meet Takuma Shippou, who is essentially Shinji from Fate/Stay Night without a sister to abuse. He’s meant to be unlikeable, and he certainly is – reading scenes with him was like eating glass. It will be interesting to see if he actually matures or if he stays an antagonist – Mahouka tends to fall into “you’re either with Tatsuya or against him” character dynamics, and I suspect any maturity might take a long while. There’s also Minami Sakurai, who has moved into the Shiba home to be Miyuki’s protector. Given that’s basically Tatsuya’s job, there’s more going on here, and I suspect it will play out in future books. Sadly, she’s a nonentity here, though I do give her credit for being against the Tatsuya/Miyuki ship – she’d be very happy if Tatsuya hooked up with Mayumi. (As would Mayumi, come to think of it.) Oh yes, and we also meet Kent Smith… erm, sorry, Kento Sumisu (his mother, Jennifer Smith, is a teacher at the school, so I can only assume he’s romanized this way as Tatsuya hasn’t made the connection), who seems to be Saika Totsuka from Oregairu transported to this universe.

The school has invented a new Magical Engineering course so that Tatsuya doesn’t have to put up with the “first/second” prejudice for another year. (Note that the first and second classes are still around, but sine the new freshman don’t involve Tatsuya, we don’t get to see if any of them are bullied.) It also has a couple of magical duels to attempt to solve arguments – one between Shippou and the twins, the other between Shippou and his upperclassman. This allows the author to do what he loves best, which is lovingly describe the magic system he’s invented in terms that make it sound like cook science instead of cool magic. To be fair, he is pretty good at this, and I imagine this would be a treat animated. Oh yes, and we get the highlight of the book – and possibly the entire series – when Tatsuya dresses as Batman for one of his espionage missions. No, really, there’s a picture.

It feels like I’m reading this series out of habit now. You know things are bad when I get excited at the prospect of a tournament arc, as the next volume seems to be. Till then, enjoy the new cast members being introduced over the course of a lot of pages but not making nearly as much of an impression as our stoic Batman.