ANIME REVIEW | Smashing Magic & Patriarchy in "Mashle"
In the last twenty-five years, the young adult fiction world has been bombarded with tales of magic and fantasy. From your Harry Potters and Percy Jacksons to even your Count Olafs and…whatever the hell Eragon was, many of these stories use sorcery and spells to defeat the greatest of evils. But isn’t it about time we find a hero for the young adult audience that just straight-up punches evil square in the face? Thankfully, we have Mash Burnedead (Chiaki Kobayashi), the hero of Mashle: Magic and Muscles, to handle such a task.
Based on the manga by Hajime Komoto, Mashle takes place in a world where one’s power and magic will define their place in society. But there’s a problem with Mash: he’s got zero magic to work with, making him a mark for execution by society. So ever since he was but a tiny infant, Mash has taken the proper steps to make up for a lack of magic: muscle training! In fact, his strength has gotten so good, that even strong magic users have trouble dealing with him.
For years, Mash and his grandfather Regro (Chō) have lived a peaceful and far-from-quiet life in the woods, away from magic users catching wind of Mash’s problem. But all secrets have to be let out one day, and it results in a pair of magical police officers trying to take Mash away. Being the hero of this story and all, Mash makes mince meat out of the cops, of whom one of them makes a tantalizing offer: go to Easton Magic Academy, earn the title of Divine Visionary, and change the way society views those who are magic-less.
With weights, magic books, and cream puffs all packed away, Mash Burnedead sets off to become the Divine Visionary. Despite his odd behavior, Mash manages to earn himself quite a few friends. From the nervous Finn Ames (Reiji Kawashima) and lovesick Lemon Irvine (Reina Ueda) to the hot-headed
Bakugo Dot Barrett (Takuya Eguchi) and the siscon Lance Crown (Kaito Ishikawa), Mash’s fellow students help him find a place in the magic academy. However, they are often surprised by the sort of “magic” Mash is capable of, which is…not of the norm.
Smashing through mazes, threatening magic letters, ripping apart mystical locks, and breaking every door he goes through is how Mash Burnedead takes on the average day. Oh yeah, and eating a lot of cream puffs, the pastry of champions! In a world that’s set up to make him fail, Mash Burnedead finds ways to pulverize bullies, enemies, and even the system itself. And man, is it fun as hell to watch!
As someone who has been reading the manga since it was unleashed in Summer 2021, I can honestly tell you that it’s great seeing Mashle: Magic and Muscles in animated form. Its action, comedic timing, and meme-worthy facial expressions made the manga one of the most original and fun reads I’ve ever come across. It takes every single trope we’ve seen in all forms of fantasy books, and proceeds to give them a much-needed wedgie. Yes, Mash is a good boy, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t use some wicked means to deal with the jerks of the world.
Burying teachers with power complexes, shoving cream puffs in the mouths of those who don’t know when to stay quiet, and just straight-up decking any evil magic user is all in a day’s work for Mash Burnedead. And all of it is quite entertaining to the school headmaster Wahlberg (Mugihito), who sees Mash as a bright light in a magical world that’s taken a dark turn. Although his friends have a hard time figuring out just what goes through his brain, they can’t help but be impressed by what Mash is capable of. Of course, not knowing that he’s a magic-less human also helps with the added mystery of Mash’s powers.
When it comes to how it was brought to life, the animation can be pretty hit-or-miss. A-1 Pictures (Kaguya-sama: Love is War, Blend S) does a very good job with the comedic aspects of Mashle, especially when dealing with wacky facial expressions and punchlines that have a literal punch tagged to the end of it. But when the big action fights occur, the animation can be a bit of a downgrade. Even if it matches with the style of Komoto’s manga, one would’ve hoped that A-1 Pictures would’ve injected just a bit more detail into the fights.
Thankfully, the Japanese voice cast picks up the slack of the animation. Kobayashi is perfect as Mash, whose monotonous voice matches greatly with his personality. Kawashima puts plenty of worry into his role of Finn, whereas Eguchi shouts his way through as Dot. Ueda’s Lemon is the perfect useless heroine who fawns for Mash, with Ishikawa putting the right amount of serious and deadpan humor into Lance.
Masaru Yokoyama (Tomo-chan is a Girl!, Scum’s Wish) provides a score that encapsulates the comedy and action showcased in every Mashle episode, ranging from big orchestrations to even lo-fi hip-hop. Opening theme “Knock Out” by Taiiku Okazaki captures the battle and fighting aspect of the show, wrapped up nicely in a nu metal packaging. Meanwhile, end theme “Shu Cream Funk” by Philosophy no Dance is the wackier side of Mashle, as it boogies to the beat and the heart of a man who just loves his creamy pastries.
Mash Burnedead might not have wanted to be deemed the chosen one, but Mashle: Magic and Muscles is going to crown him as such anyway. It may not have the whimsy as a trip to Narnia or a semester at Hogwarts, but it’s got plenty of heart and humor to make up for it. However, do consider this first season a prologue of what’s to come. What happens next — especially in the Visionary Exams — will certainly blow viewers’ minds when it airs this coming January. Until then, drink your protein shakes, eat some cream puffs, and prepare your body for the insanity that Mashle will be delivering.
Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)
Final Grade (not an average):
Mashle: Magic and Muscles can be viewed on Crunchyroll, and has been licensed by Aniplex of America. Episodes 1-12 were observed for review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.