Asami SetoSaki FujitaKazuya NakaiM.A.O
Magical Warfare
Also known as: Mahou Sensou
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: M
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Yuzo Sato
Original creator: Hisashi Suzuki
Actor: Akane Fujita, Ami Nanase, Asami Seto, Atsuko Tanaka, Ayumi Tsunematsu, Daisuke Namikawa, Hiroshi Shirokuma, Jun Fukuyama, Kazuya Nakai, Kenichi Suzumura, M.A.O, Maho Matsunaga, Mamoru Miyano, Mikako Takahashi, Nao Toyama, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Saki Fujita, Takahiro Tomita, Takayuki Yamaguchi, Takeshi Maeda, Toshiki Masuda, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yoshitaka Yamaya, Yutaka Sasakura
Keywords: fantasy, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 13 May 2015
Mahou Sensou
Anime fandom is full of idiots and this is an interesting show. Admittedly the set-up sounds generic, to the point where I'd been humming and hahing about whether or not to watch it. However these ingredients get twisted into something serious and eventually disturbing.
Firstly, the Harry Potter similarities. Takeshi, Kurumi and Kazumi are three friends who unexpectedly gain magic powers and go off to magical school! There's also a Voldemort-like baddie who's been asleep for years, but is going to wake up at some point during the season and lead his magical supremacist followers (aka. Trailers) to war against the good guys! Mind you, the magic world was already at war even in ep.1. The Trailers hadn't been sitting on their hands. It's just that the conflict gets worse.
Secondly, the love triangle. Takeshi and Kurumi call themselves boyfriend and girlfriend, but there's also Mui, the girl who accidentally turned them all into magicians. Mui and Kurumi both like Takeshi. Who will he choose?
The anime then goes on to take these mildly silly story elements more seriously that I'd expected. It starts out quite light, but gradually gets nastier.
The magical war seems fairly distant at first. Subaru Magic Academy is the one place where students will be safe! (Or so we're told.) Our heroes should forget about the world outside and just get on with trying to hone their skills. Also not helping you to take it seriously is the headmistress looking like a cute blonde schoolgirl with pigtails.
In practice, though, we're going to discover that the Trailers are eager to go on bloody corpse-ridden rampages and that you'd be advised not to start getting too comfortable in that supposedly unbreachable school. Oh, and that headmistress is a cold-blooded killer who's tough, but by no means unbeatable in combat. She's the anti-Dumbledore. Now let's add in the fact that wizards have split the planet in two, with Muggles in the Living World and all the magic-users in the World of Decay. It looks like it. It's like a post-apocalypse setting. There was a magical war in the late 1990s and this is its aftermath.
Next, the love triangle. What's interesting about this is that the show's not afraid to go to uncomfortable places. There isn't a One True Girl. Kurumi and Mui both have the audience's sympathy and both deserve to get what they want, but their desires are incompatible and the resulting tension can threaten to break up friendships. Takeshi and Kurumi agreed years ago to pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend, as a defensive measure for Kurumi after a stalker problem. Officially that's still the situation. It's not just a pretence any more for Kurumi, but Takeshi would like to end it. Meanwhile Mui only knows what she's been told. None of this is being played for laughs and it's hard to see any way out that's not going to hurt someone.
If you see anyone using the word "harem" to describe this show, you've just found an idiot.
The worldbuilding is weird. You can infect people with magical ability, or yourself lose it. (The technicalities of this made a lot more sense when I learned that this was a magical effect, cast years ago as a defence to prevent fighting in the Living World.)
There's a theme of families. Almost everyone will face family problems, with the most extreme being brothers who've either been brainwashed by the Trailers or who were unstable resentful hate-filled sons of bitches to begin with. The reason for Gekkou's grudge against Takeshi is really stupid, admittedly. However by the end he'll have been made aware of its silliness and even then refuses to relinquish his cherished hatred, being a bitter half-man who blames everything on others and takes responsibility for nothing. Oh, and there's some wrong brother-sister subtext with Mui and Tsuganashi.
Then there's Takeshi's mother. Yes, the hard, cold, unhappy woman with a face like a wet dishrag hanging off a hatchet. There's stuff going on there too.
Crossing the line between good and evil is another theme, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say "friend and enemy". The Trailers are idealists who want to start a revolution. They believe in their cause and we're given no reason to disbelieve the horrific things they say about the good guys. Both sides do mind-wipes on captured opponents to turn them into soldiers for the cause, but the Trailers are also capable of showing up in Takeshi's bedroom and giving him a serious, fair, no-pressure sales pitch. At one point Takeshi starts having prophetic dreams and I became convinced that we were being told that Kurumi would turn into a villain.
All this feeds into the finale. Look at Voldemort and his sidekick. (He's not Voldemort, but you know what I mean.) Listen to their conversation and look at him saying "mother". I think we're being told that this show's mass-murdering Big Bads are also two of its four heroes, but several years older, sadder and harder. Of course this would require some time-twisting, but there's some of that too. What we have here is a total mind-screw of a finale that resolves nothing, poses terrifying questions and ends on a massive Twilight Zone cliffhanger. It's screaming out for a second season, but I can't see any sign of one in production and this first one wasn't well received, apparently. Even the original light novels' author didn't much like it. I can see how this ending would be a bummer for a general audience, but I really liked it. At least it's not depressing. It's just kicking open some huge plot doors and inviting us to boggle at what the hell's going on and what might happen next.
That's a lot. This is a show that's not afraid of format changes, including five time skips. (At least a year is covered in these twelve episodes.) According to some fans, this is a bad thing.
Frivolous observation: if you're cursed to transform into anyone you kiss, that's going to complicate your love life.
I'm interested by this show. I want to know what's going to happen to its characters and I found myself getting intrigued by its ideas and ambiguities. It's not a fanservice show, although it has a few moments of silliness (Kurumi's magical boob job in ep.1, or Mai's mini-dress nurse outfit in ep.10). There's a slight disconnect between one's first fluffy expectations and the increasing darkness of the episodes, but I enjoyed that. It would clearly have been possible to clarify the tone, since some people didn't like it and I'm struggling to see any other reason why not, but personally I like spiky things. I'm pleased that it's a bit messy and unpredictable. Look at its themes. Look at the price of that magic ring. Look at the vampire sword and Takeshi's relationship with it/her.
Dismissing this as a Harry Potter clone couldn't be more wrong. There's a ton here to get your teeth into.