What to expect from Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records as told by its second episode

Disclaimer: I’m writing this having read up to the resolution of the class competition arc in the manga and the novel, and hindsight is 20/20.

To provide a necessary summary of episode one, Glenn Radars is a NEET who gets asked to be a substitute teacher in a prestigious magic school. He completely refuses to teach his class at all and then makes a fool of himself by losing in a magic duel to his student, Sistina. The entirety of the first episode is dedicated to setting up Glenn as a lazy good-for-nothing who doesn’t care about magic at all.

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A textbook, nailed to a chalkboard.

Episode two starts strong, with Glenn offhandedly challenging why Sistina and the other students value magic so much. Sistina responds that magic is about studying the principles of the world, but Glenn asks what use that is to humanity, and quickly descends into a one-sided rant criticizing magic as being only good for killing, only stopping when Sistina slaps him and runs away in tears. In just a few minutes, the show establishes the cynicism underlying Glenn’s terrible attitude towards magic, as well as his immaturity for taking it out on his students.

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In the next scene, Glenn shows a glimpse of his original love for magic, helping another student, Rumia, complete her magic circle. As they’re walking home from the school, Rumia explains how being saved from evil mages by a mage of justice inspired her wish to make magic an institution that actually benefits humanity, which further highlights Glenn’s immaturity in addition to outlining his path to redemption through making a real effort to reform magic.

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Gee, I wonder who that could be…

The next day, Glenn apologizes to Sistina and begins his lecture on magic, starting with the spell he lost the duel with, Shock Bolt. By deconstructing the incantation used to cast Shock Bolt, Glenn explains that magic is not the study of the world’s principles, but the study of human autosuggestion that allows the subconscious to interfere with the world’s physical laws. In short, magic isn’t a study of the world, but of how humans interact with it, reinforcing its status as a social construct that can be abused but also reformed.

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This nicely ties together Glenn’s cynicism, Rumia’s idealism, and magic as an institution, and it would honestly be great if the episode ended here. However, after some brief success as a teacher, Glenn then steps right into the world of conspiracies that drive the plot of so many generic light novels. As foreshadowed by the implications that it was Glenn who saved Rumia in the past, Rumia is again abducted because she’s actually a princess, and Glenn ends the episode by showing his magical, or perhaps anti-magical, combat ability. All of that well-thought-out characterization and setting becomes merely dressing for the salad that is Glenn’s history as an imperial military-level combat mage, and though it is a dressing which compliments that salad very well, it is one that would have had much more potential as its own salad.

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A real bait and switch.

And that’s what you can expect from Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records, as told by its second episode. That being said, I’ve seen anime adaptations add nuance to the source material through good direction in the past, so here’s to hoping my expectations are broken.

(That uniform is seriously illegal, though.)

Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte.

Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte is complicated. Bullying, make-up, and friendship are complicated. I wanted to make a post about how this manga subverts traditional narratives of bullying, but the more I focused on analyzing that single aspect, the more I felt like I was missing the point.

When we’re first introduced to our main character, Kobayakawa, it is through his scorn for the shallow friendships his classmates make, criticizing them for always just trying to fit in with their little cliques. His first encounter with the heroine, Hoshino, reinforces this anti-social stance, as she and her trendy friends make fun of him for not going along with their jokes.

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“What a depressing guy!”

But then he encounters her again while heading home from school, without her friends and without a shred of hesitation about jumping into a river to save a cat. He sees her, literally and metaphorically, without her makeup on, and he admires that heroic side of her to the point that he jumps into that river himself to save the cat (though he ends up being saved himself).

However, the premise of Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte, or Hoshino, Close Your Eyes, is that Kobayakawa has to help Hoshino put her makeup back on.

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Of course, Kobayakawa comically fails at putting on makeup for Hoshino because to him, it just means trying to fit in with those shallow friend groups that he despises. Hoshino constantly has to evade being seen by her friends without her makeup on, often after taking off her makeup to help their classmate, Matsukata, from being bullied.

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And Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte is indeed about bullying. But it doesn’t really center on the bully and the victim, both of which are such prevalent stereotypes that you could probably point out who’s who in the picture above without any assistance. In fact, if you’re having any trouble at all, it’s probably because of the presence of a third party, Hoshino, delivering a drop kick and turning the whole scene upside-down.

You see, Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte is about Hoshino, and Kobayakawa, and all of the bystanders who get to decide whether they’ll do something to help or avoid getting involved.

(If you want to avoid spoilers, stop here and read up to chapter 11.)

 

In fact, as much as that would fit the stereotype of a victim, Kobayakawa isn’t anti-social because he was bullied. His trauma comes from having to watch as his only friend was ostracized by his entire class, not because of a bully, but because everyone saw that it was what everyone else was doing. Kobayakawa is anti-social because what he sees in those shallow circles of friends is the same herd mentality that slowly turned the whole class against his friend just for the sake of fitting in. He is anti-social because he despises himself for being unable to break from the pack himself.

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However, Kobayakawa’s aversion to getting involved with others also opposes Hoshino’s readiness to help others, so when he sees Hoshino taking off her makeup to help Matsukata, it is that regret and self-disgust underlying his admiration for her that he is unable to reconcile with her desire to fit in with her friends. Each time he tries to put her makeup back on, Kobayakawa is confronted by the question of why, if Hoshino can help others and make friends, does he do neither?

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And yet, it is with that same understanding of herd mentality that Hoshino keeps taking off her makeup. It is that same understanding that makes her upset even when the crowd takes her side against the ones bullying Matsukata. Hoshino keeps rushing to help others because she understands how painful it is to be alone on the other side, as she was the one who was once bullied.

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Once Kobayakawa realizes that, he rushes in after Hoshino to tell off the entire crowd, possibly the entire school, for just watching and following the mood as Matsukata was being bullied, but he still can’t forgive himself for not doing anything until Hoshino reassures him that the two of them aren’t so different. She can take her makeup off because she has it on to begin with, because her friends give her a safe place to return to when all is said and done, and Kobayakawa, too, has things that he can do.

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Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte says a lot about bullying. But its characters aren’t defined by one-dimensional archetypes of the bully or the victim. They’re defined by how they navigate the fickle processes of social inclusion and exclusion that can make a bully into a victim, and a hero into a bully, all at the whim of the complicit, condescending crowd.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai 11

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Episode 11 of Demi-chan wa Kataritai begins with an ideological challenge to the way Takahashi-sensei supports demi-humans, or colloquially, demis.

It’s a familiar concern, particularly when it comes to personal relationships. “Helping people makes them dependent.” Perhaps it’s even more familiar as rhetoric used to criticize anything from welfare to “safe spaces” in America. But without getting into the individualistic and meritocratic version we hear in America, the vice-principal is moreso concerned that it would be better for the demis to form more relationships they can depend upon other than Takahashi-sensei.

However, the vice-principal’s suggestion is for Takahashi-sensei to stop supporting demis as much as he does, which depends a great deal on non-demis knowing how or wanting to interact with demis to begin with. By shifting the narrative’s perspective to that of the secondary characters, episode 11 is able to put the lens on the rest of society to naturally explore that assumption, and what we find is about as much as we might expect.

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The side characters reflect on their lack of knowledge about their demi classmates, cleverly paired with this shot of the demis’ usual hangout spot without anyone present, and perhaps even more cleverly, reframing the other episodes’ focus on the main characters as a lack of interaction on the part of the side characters, stemming from the apprehension that comes with that lack of knowledge.

Non-demis, as the majority, can make it through life without ever needing to confront that apprehension or even be aware of it, but demis will have to do so throughout their entire lives apart from those rare occasions where they can build rapport with other demis. And even then, the demis are so different from each other that all they really have in common is that shared experience of being categorized as demi-human.

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In the end, the vice-principal concedes that having Takahashi-sensei support demis allows him to be an important role model, inspiring the other students to get along better with their demi classmates. His position as a teacher, as the face of a social institution, allows him to set a standard for others to meet, and asking him to stop would be lowering that standard.

After nearly half a cour of manga-adapted content that was practically filler, albeit rather relaxing filler, Demi-chan wa Kataritai concludes on a more serious and emotional note (not including the incoming beach episode) in what appears to even be an anime-original episode.

If a beach episode is any indication, this series isn’t without its flaws. For example, after I praised this episode for putting the lens on the rest of society, it might seem a bit strange that the episode is framed primarily around the criticism and personal redemption of Takahashi-sensei (maybe you even felt a bit strange about Takahashi-sensei being the only person named throughout this entire post). But it is still worthy of every bit of praise it receives for the empathy and thoughtfulness it, at times, demonstrates.

(And the beach episode turned out to not be a beach episode after all.)

First episode impressions of 3 magical girl shows from a complete newcomer

Even though I wrote about Madoka last week (which now that I look back on it was basically just an overview of Madoka’s interest curve), I haven’t actually watched a lot of more traditional magical girl shows. And while Madoka is very moving, sometimes I’m just too tired for more despair, so here’s a short post about my wanderings into more light-hearted and episodic territory.

Mahoutsukai PreCure: To be honest, it was kind of hard to get emotionally invested in this. The main character, Mirai, sees the other main character, Riko, fall out of the sky. Because that’s sort of just the way things go, they meet up and then beat a bad guy. Apart from really liking her stuffed animal, I didn’t feel there was very much in the way of emotional characterization, though there was a decent amount of foreshadowing future development.

KiraKira PreCure: The first episode begins by introducing the main character’s, Ichika’s relationship with her mother through baking shortcake. Even though we don’t see much of her mom, you can really feel how much Ichika loves and misses her through the effort she puts into baking, and I almost wanted to cry when she’s about to give up on those feelings, believing that her feelings don’t matter since her mom can’t come home to eat the shortcake she made for her. I’m caught up to Episode 6 now, and every episode is very heartwarming.

PriPara: I decided to watch this after reading about how the characters in it struggle with and overcome social expectations, and it certainly succeeded in setting that up in the first episode. PriPara is quickly introduced as an idol paradise, the object of admiration and dreams for the main character, Lala, though she is quickly characterized as too nervous to perform rather than just watch. Furthermore, both the mean elementary school headmistress and Lala’s mother expect her to help out at home, which really help to further instill a sense of worried nervousness when Lala gets dragged into an idol performance while out on an errand, breaking the expectations others have of her. I’ve watched two full cours in the past few days, and I have yet to watch an episode where I haven’t thought, “I can’t believe this is happening,” with an enormous smile on my face.