The Problems with MahoukaPosted: July 30, 2014
By now, Spring season shows have wrapped up and Summer season shows are starting to get into swing. This season is actually shaping up to be a pretty good one, too.
But instead of talking about either of these groups of shows, I’d rather go over one that started in spring but is going for a second season: Mahouka. It’s been getting a pretty good amount of attention and seems to be decently received among viewers.
The problem is that Mahouka has some pretty glaring issues, and I want to go over them. Some people have already started bringing up issues with the show, but people aren’t quite getting into the nitty-gritty of it. The actual fundamental problems of the show seem to be going mostly ignored.
But don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for.
One of the biggest themes behind Mahouka so far is the divide between Course 1 and Course 2 students, known as Blooms and Weeds respectively. The Weeds are looked down upon by the Blooms because of some placement tests or something that decide how good you are. Naturally, the Blooms are portrayed as cocky dickheads and the Weeds as being unfairly condemned. Due to this, you’d think the show would carry some sort of message along those lines when it takes center stage.
Turns out that isn’t the case at all.
Mahouka has some… interesting ideas when it comes to discrimination. There’s a part near the end of the first story arc where some Weeds challenge the school directly about the discrimination, and then have a debate with the Student Council President over it.
They point out the divide between the two groups of students and how there’s even certain parts of the school system itself that favor the Blooms or just outright exclude the Weeds, and then she counters with… well, not much. She basically just says that they’re right and that there’s a “barrier of awareness” that she wants to break down.
And then everyone applauds her, this almost celebratory music starts playing, and the Weed group that was arguing sits around looking defeated. Uhh, what?
She didn’t do anything! All she did was say, “yep, there’s a problem alright and we need to fix it somehow or another” and then both Course 1 and Course 2 students are applauding and practically asking for an encore. It made literally no sense!
There was even a part where she said “hey it isn’t entirely the fault of the Blooms there are Weeds that hate themselves and stuff”, which basically translates to: “the Weeds are also fueling the discrimination going on”, which is complete bullshit. There were even guys that called her out on it, but they were in league with the terrorists or whatever so you’re supposed to automatically disagree with them or something.
She then goes on to say the she plans to open up the student council positions to students of both courses and maybe work on some other areas. That’s hardly going to fix the attitudes of people, but at least it’s better than blaming the Weeds some more and might at least help fix the system a bit.
However, I haven’t even gotten to Tatsuya yet. You’d think our main character would be the reasonable one, the guy who recognizes discrimination for how awful it is and encourages fixing it. Plus, he’s a Weed himself despite being able to beat pretty much anybody ever in a fight within about five seconds, so it should really sink in with him just how screwed at the very least the system is.
Hah, nope. He and his sister are even more warped than the Student Council President.
When they confront Mibu and the terrorists that are trying to steal… something (some kind of cutting-edge research which is for some reason just sitting around in a high school library), he tells her that a world of equality doesn’t exist and that one where talents and aptitude don’t matter would just have everyone “equally snubbed”.
What the fuck does that even mean? Being “snubbed” would require someone to do the “snubbing” but if everyone is getting equally “snubbed” then how is that even possible? It’s a loaded hypothetical situation that’s designed to instill fear in you due to the wording, but when you think about it it actually makes no fucking sense. It’s basic psychological fear-mongering and is the kind of bullshit you’d see in real life politics.
Miyuki then tries to tell her that she isn’t defined by just her magic abilities, but also her swordsmanship and… beauty. Apparently, both of those help make up who she is. Yes, that is ironically as dehumanizing as it sounds. Not to mention that Mibu was never even saying that she was defined entirely by her magical aptitude, it’s just what was causing her to be, you know, discriminated for, and she wanted to change that. Yes, they put words in her mouth.
Hey, hey you! Stop oppressing yourself! Stop it!
Seriously how did this not raise an absurd amount of eyebrows in the viewer base? It’d be one thing if this warped logic was being backed by scenes in the show itself, but all we’ve seen is the main Weed group be cheery people and then some random Bloom(s) would come by and be total dicks. Then the show wants to put the blame on the Weeds? What?
This isn’t even the worst part, though. The end of the fourth episode had Tatsuya and Miyuki talking about the terrorist group, and I swear their conversation was straight out of a political debate.
As someone living in the United States, there’s been a ton of discussion about income inequality lately, and our main characters talk about how Blanche’s main reason for doing what they do is also because of income inequality. The arguments they give also reek with just as much bullshit.
Tatsuya says how equality is a load of crap and that Blanche know that magicians have to work hard to be good at using their abilities, but that they conveniently don’t mention it since it’d hurt their position. Is he really trying to say that the income difference is okay because magicians have to train in order to get better? Oh boo hoo, the poor people who are born with magical aptitude have to train in order to use better and better magic. All my fucking tears and sympathy.
Seriously, this is what people would call a “first-world problem”, or maybe in context of this universe it’d be a “first-class problem”. Not to mention that, you know, people without magical abilities also have to train in some way in order to get talented at something. But no, that would make too much sense.
He also mentions how Blanche ignored that the people working on the front lines “also have a price to pay”, but of course he never bothers to explain what this “price” is exactly. He’s basically just making shit up by this point.
Yeah, nobody can deny that. Except, you know, every single person watching the show.
We haven’t seen Tatsuya train his magic abilities or even put effort into anything. Sure, he did that taijutsu stuff with that bald guy or whatever, but that doesn’t explain how he became able to instantly read complex activation sequences and instantly counter them along with other absurdly overpowered abilities. He kind of comes off as if he was just sort of born with this talent. You could even say he was born into power.
The whole conversation just comes off as disturbing, probably at least partially due to the fact that it’s people with immense magical power talking about how people born without magical abilities are stupid to try to stand on equal ground with them. As real life people who can’t use magic, there’s a huge disconnect established right then and there. It’s easier to relate with the terrorists than the main characters! Honestly the only reasons the terrorists can even be seen as bad is the label of “terrorists”, and the fact that they can get violent. Hell, even then I found myself sometimes siding with them. Mainly when Tatsuya strolled through them and beat them down like they were lower than ants.
Speaking of which, I get that the audience for this show probably doesn’t give much of a shit about the politics of everything. They care more about the good production values, occasional fights, and the pseudo-scientific explanations for the magic. I get it.
Or at least I would if those weren’t handled like garbage too.
Seriously, this tournament arc has been some of the most boring viewing I’ve ever been exposed to. It takes talent to make a competition between a bunch of magical high schools dull, but Mahouka is managing it pretty damn well.
A lot of people are blaming the pacing for this, but while it is indeed bad, it’s not the primary problem. The pacing just feels worse than it actually is because there is literally zero tension in these events.
The main characters’ high school, First High School (very creative naming, by the way) just keeps steamrolling its competition. That’s fucking boring. Tension and excitement come from seeing people struggling and putting an effort in to win. When a match is as absurdly one-sided as they pretty much all have been so far, there’s nothing to care about.
I get that it’s trying to show just how amazing Tatsuya is at programming CADs now that it already spent almost ten episodes establishing how great his magical abilities are, but did it really need to do this over four episodes? It could have done it in just two of the matches in half an episode. Hell, it could have probably done it in just one match seeing just how utterly they destroy the competition. Not to mention they already made it stupidly obvious that Tatsuya is Silver or whatever ages ago.
We get it, Tatsuya is absolutely perfect at everything (except using minimal magic to move a slider thing or something), you don’t have to shove it down our throats by boring us to death.
You know what show that aired recently actually managed to do this correctly? No Game No Life. The main characters are established as being absolutely amazing at every game they play, but it balances it out by having them face opponents that are just as smart or they’re seriously lacking in information. Sure, you know they’ll win in the end, but that’s just how stories work. 99% of what you watch and read will have the main characters win, it’d be fucking stupid if they didn’t.
The point is that they still have to struggle for that victory. Seeing them have to devise plans and adapt is where the tension comes from. The question isn’t “are they going to win”, it’s “how are they going to win”. The good sound design and direction also helped, but you get the idea.
You don’t get any of that from Mahouka. First High School’s contestants always start in the lead, and then just get further and further ahead. They often smirk or just look nonchalant while their opponents are sweating bathtubs and look to be on the verge of tears. It’s maybe a bit amusing the first time, but it gets old real fast.
It’s like watching a race between Usain Bolt and a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. The absurdity of it is amusing in a kind of fucked up way at first, but then you just start feeling bad for the underdog because they have to watch themselves inevitably lose and realize they had no chance in hell to begin with.
This pretty much happens in Mahouka, too. I’m not even rooting for the main characters to win anymore, I want some other school to be victorious, that’d make me happier. Maybe the one Psycho Suzaku is in. Though now that he’s beaten I guess that isn’t happening.
Seriously, even the attitudes of the main characters is hard to watch. From the get-go they’re trying to figure out analytically exactly which events they need to win in order to guarantee a total victory. This isn’t endearing, it’s actually the complete opposite. Of course people want to win competitions, but they’re treating it like some kind of trophy that they deserve. Like the world will come to an end if they don’t absolutely secure first place overall.
Which reminds me, another reason this tournament is boring is because the system of it all hasn’t been explained to the audience. We see First High School utterly decimating the competition, but then they keep saying how they don’t have first place absolutely secured unless they rank first in like three other categories. Shit makes no sense because all we see them doing is winning. There’s no threat of loss to be felt because we don’t see it at all. We’re just told about it, and it conflicts with what we’ve seen, so it doesn’t make any sense.
It would also be easier to care about First Magic High if they didn’t come off as total scumbags during the matches, too. Their strategies during them are insanely underhanded. In her first waveboarding contest, Honoka starts the match off by blinding her opponents. It’s like if you were about to race someone, but then punched them in the face right at the start and ran off. It’s the kind of shit you’d see the antagonists do in order to get a lead so that you then root for the character you like to catch up and beat them somehow.
Apparently Mahouka thinks that these actions are praiseworthy as long as it’s the main characters doing it, which is some fucked up morality.
Now you might argue – and I’d agree – that the fight against Psycho Suzaku was much better than the others because he put up more of a fight than… well, none at all, but it was still a very boring match overall. All they did was walk towards each other slowly! Psycho Suzaku shot some magic circles and then Tatsuya shot them and they broke apart. This went on for about a minute and then the audience started screaming like it was the most amazing shit they’ve ever seen in their life.
The show is just trying so hard to make it seem like the fight is actually amazing when it really isn’t. Maybe if I cared enough about Tatsuya and/or Psycho Suzaku it would have been more engaging, but there’s nothing to either character other than that they did some violent things in World War III that still hasn’t really been explained a whole lot. It’s why I can’t even be bothered to use Psycho Suzaku’s real name: I don’t remember what it is because he’s such a boring character. Though I guess I should say “was”, because I really doubt we’ll ever see him again except for maybe a cameo. Or a scene where he tells Tatsuya how amazing he is, because we always need more of that.
They do everything except literally say that Tatsuya is Jesus. It’s not like they were really being subtle about it before, but now they’re just blatantly throwing it out there. It was actually kind of hilarious.
Anyways, back to the fight.
Yes, it does get better when Tatsuya decides it’s finally time to actually do something and starts running, but due to some more poor writing and even directing this time, all potential once again evaporates.
There’s a point where Psycho Suzaka helps out his buddy, then turns around and panics when he sees Tatsuya running at him (which doesn’t really make sense because he was running at him before he started helping out CARDINAL GEORGE, but fuck it) and he panics and shoots a bunch of magic circles at him. He then internally monologues about how they have lethal strength behind them even though the only visual difference on them compared to the ones before is that they have a couple of extra “rings” or whatever.
Tatsuya then engages in some of the silliest choreography I’ve ever seen. It’s not too bad at first, but there’s a part where he tosses his gun up, does like two spins the air and catches it while upside down. Not only was it absurdly over-the-top for someone just shooting at a bunch of circles in the air, but it was also counter-productive. He only had a certain amount of time to shoot them all, and doing a flip in the air instead of just, you know, turning around only served to waste that time.
Then there was the part where he got hit and regenerated. It would have been nice for the blasts that hit him to have been more visceral about it, because at first I just assumed he had managed to get out of it somehow because he’s fucking Tatsuya. If they had made it more obvious that he got wrecked by the attack, then the scene when he got hit and healed would have actually been pretty suspenseful and ominous.
You know, if they hadn’t already shown that he could do it in the completely pointless scene in the third episode.
Seriously, that earlier scene of it was so completely unnecessary it’s unbelievable. I assume the reason it was there was so that when he regenerated in the fight, people wouldn’t claim it was an asspull. Not that being completely perfect at everything wasn’t already enough reason to say he’s overpowered or anything.
The point is: having that fight be the first time we see him regenerate would have actually been really effective. The presentation of the ability itself, along with the aftermath and other characters’ reactions would have had the potential to make Tatsuya an actually interesting character. It could have even served as a possible look into why he’s so overpowered. Instead it’s just presented as Yet Another Amazing Thing Tatsuya Can Do Because He’s Tatsuya.
I just… it’s not like the show itself is so broken it could have never worked, there’s just so many weird and stupid writing decisions that it’s just baffling. I didn’t even mention the Chinese-yakuza group that is running some underground betting thing on a high school competition. I mean I get that they’re magic high schools, but come on.
Who knows, maybe all this is going somewhere and I’ll be proven horribly wrong, I certainly hope that’s the case. Maybe the writing decisions will make some sort of coherent sense by the end.
The problem is, it may not even matter. Needing to be a complete and utter mess in order to lead to something important isn’t exactly praiseworthy.