Review of “The Irregular at Magic High School”
The Irregular at Magic High School
Book by Tsutomu Sato
The Irregular at Magic High School is the first volume in a light novel series about siblings Tatsuya and Miyuki Shiba and their experiences at First High. A high school specifically designed to train magically-gifted child soldiers. The school is split into two main groups, the Blooms, who are gifted with the ability to use and control magic, and Weeds, who can use magic, but aren’t as strong with it as the Blooms are. It is stated that the Weeds essentially exist to take the place of a Bloom in case he or she perishes. Miyuki has obvious magic potential and is placed with the Blooms, while her older brother Tatsuya, who is more mechanically inclined, is placed with the Weeds.
The plot is pretty standard, assuming you are familiar with common anime tropes. Boy and girl go to a new school and unwillingly participate in wacky shenanigans. They wind up surrounded by a large cast of archetypes and essentially get pulled along by the cruel hand of fate. The majority of the book follows the day to day misadventures of Tatsuya and Miyuki as they attempt to have a normal high school life. It meanders from one plot point to the next with little to no transition. This culminates in Miyuki becoming a member of the Student Council and Tatsuya being forced into the Disciplinary Committee. While reading, it’s not very hard to imagine how this series got adapted into an anime; it hits all of the necessary checkmarks.
That said, while this plot is simple, not everything is as it seems. Because I watched the anime first, I was treated to the first amazing opening, Rising Hope by LiSA, which features a short scene of young Tatsuya holding the hand of a dying Miyuki and performing some type of magic. This event is never mentioned in the show, and the only hints to it in the book is in Miyuki’s (uncomfortable) attention toward Tatsuya. I find it very compelling that something this potentially serious lurks beneath the surface of the standard high-school-harem setup.
But back to the book. The siblings are our narrators, and Tatsuya is probably the more interesting of the two. His big motivation is to simply be left alone, and it is amusing to experience his exasperation with the other characters as his desires are thwarted at every turn. This boy is savage. I don’t think there is a single situation that he gets involved in willingly. He also has a very mechanical way of thinking, where he willingly shuts down parts of his mentality which would ordinarily be considered normal, such as his sex drive. His mechanical nature extends to his skill with CADs (the in-universe way that magic users control their magic, like tomes or grimoires). He is able to reprogram and build them with relative ease.
Unfortunately, Miyuki isn’t nearly as interesting as her brother. She is beautiful, smart, and gifted; all of which makes her a little too perfect for me to really connect with. Her motivations are limited to supporting her brother, which is also her major flaw. She is uncomfortably obsessed with Tatsuya, and it is creepy.
As for the side characters, they are all common archetypes. There’s the sporty one, the impish one, the shy one, ect. This is standard anime fare, so it doesn’t bother me as much. What does bother me is that there are very few male characters that aren’t treated like antagonists. I think Tatsuya and his “friend” Leo are the only ones that are written sympathetically.
The world-building is okay. The series is set in a futuristic Japan where they’ve figured out that magic is actually some type of pseudo-science, and the explanation provided is a bit confusing. As far as I can tell, certain humans are sensitive to psions and can channel them through the CADs to cast spells. Sato spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to explain each and every pseudo-science thing that comes up. Entire chapters consist of how certain types of CADs or spells work and this is honestly the weakest aspect of the book. Thou shalt not stop your plot dead to explain fake science! It’s boring. Please don’t.
In the end, I like it when the book is Tatsuya enduring his high school existence and engaging in wacky shenanigans; but I don’t like it when Miyuki is waxing incestuous on her brother and the way the novel freezes because the author feels like he has to explain the magic.
Thanks for reading!