High school may have just started for siblings Tatsuya and Miyuki Shiba, but they've already found themselves plunged into the social and political conflicts of First High. However, things have only just begun as more conflict emerges between Course 1 and Course 2 students.
Recruitment week hasn't quite ended yet, but Tatsuya has already more than had his fill of conflict. Unfortunately for him, this conflict is only a taste of what to come as it becomes more apparent that a small rebellion of Course 2 students discontent with their place in the system begins to surface. But is this rebellion really all there is too it, or is there something more sinister going on behind the scenes?
How Was It?
The Irregular at Magic High School returned in the second part of its "Enrollment" arc with what felt like a less successful continuation and conclusion to the story begun by its first volume. It seemed to me like many of the world-building and narrative benefits of the previous volume seemed weaker or in some ways almost subverted by some of the missteps in this book. In a general sense, the "Enrollment" arc's actual conflict was lackluster, and this indirectly undermined some of what made me really enjoy the series initially. Fortunately, there was still plenty of what made the first volume great that continued and made the book an alright read in the end.
One thing that Irregular has been good at from the beginning is its explication on its scientifically-derived magic, and much of this continues as Tatsuya is forced to utilize his ingenuity to overcome various obstacles. A lot of the explication in this volumes comes in the form of after-the-fact analysis by bystanders either by themselves or by them asking the party who used the magic. I'm still impressed by the uniqueness of the magic and depth at which it has been considered by author Tsutomu Sato. While a pattern in how the explication occurs in the narrative has emerged, it is still a much-appreciated (and necessary) addition to the story. Many people who have stuck around for the second volume are likely interested in this level of explication, so if you are one of them, you have nothing to fear.
Much of the magical analysis is related to Tatsuya's actions one way or another, and in a similar fashion most of the narrative is still from his perspective. One thing that has become more apparent as the story arc has progressed is how little the readers actually know about Tatsuya and Miyuki's pasts and connections. A lot of Tatsuya's thoughts hint rather directly at quite a bit of history between him and influential people/organizations that we as readers do not yet know. This more-or-less reverse dramatic irony is interesting to me because it is a form of world building without actually informing the readers of anything, a sort of "I owe you one piece of information" that hints at more going on than what we are aware of.
It's fortunate that Tatsuya's backstory clearly has more development on the way, because a lot of his personality felt much more stilted to me in this volume. For a character whose inner thoughts are being exposed to us, Tatsuya felt more robotic in this volume than the previous one. Some of the flair in his personality that we as readers were exposed to in the first volume felt absent in this one, and ironically I think that a lot of the missing backstory is to blame. A lot of his reactions and behaviors throughout the volume felt stilted to me, and often this seemed to be due to something that had happened to him in the past that I had not yet been informed about. In a slightly related note, the narration on his side of things erred even more on the incest-y side of his relationship with Miyuki, which was definitely not something I was particularly enthused about when reading. There are several moments where slightly sexual elements of what they are doing are highlighted and then dismissed awkwardly. One example of this is when Miyuki is clutching Tatsuya's sides on a motorcycle and the story comments that he definitely would never feel like this was sexual because they are related by blood. Unnecessary? Yes. Unwanted? Definitely.
The strongest part of the story (and showcase of Tatsuya's analytical abilities) in this volume came from Tatsuya's interactions with Sayaka Mibu and the other Course 2 students displeased with their treatment by the school. Although many of these rebellious students felt unfairly treated in many ways, such as club funding and social position, there was a certain element of self-victimization in some of their demands that Tatsuya was quick to point out as unreasonable. While it is true that Course 2 students have certain inherent disadvantages from a system where there are literally not enough teachers to go around, not all perceived slights against them were entirely founded in reality. The complexity of the issue and Tatsuya's analysis of it was surprisingly entertaining and made much of the conflict in the first half of the volume feel realistic.
Unfortunately, I felt like much of the second half of the volume was marred by a weak antagonist. Some of the depth of the discontented students' actions felt manipulated, both figuratively and literally, by a one-dimensional villain that really didn't add anything positive to the story whatsoever. Tatsuya's handling of the situation was also overloaded with abilities that all were part of the category of "I owe you one piece of information" development I mentioned earlier. Additionally, as the conflict heightens, the delicate balance Irregular had thus far managed between introducing new characters and properly developing/reminding us of them goes a bit off the rails. There were too many new characters, be it completely newly introduced members or callbacks to people who briefly appeared earlier in the story with no reminder for the readers of who they are or why they matter. Thankfully, the front of the book has a list and short biography of most relevant cast members, because I found myself referencing it multiple times.
The Irregular at Magic High School's conclusion of the "Enrollment" arc grinded to a slightly unsatisfying halt with a lackluster villain that ruined some of the immersive developments of the previous story. Additionally, while different narrative elements such as hints of backstory were interesting by themselves, they seemed to do more harm than good at times and made Tatsuya's character feel oddly stilted. That being said, elements such as explanations of magical phenomena and Tatsuya's interactions with discontent Course 2 students were still interesting to read, and there is definitely more to come with future developments. Even if you really enjoyed the first volume, I'm not really sure I can confidently recommend this second one, but if the negatives don't dissuade you then by all means give it a read.
The Irregular at Magic High School Vol. 2: Enrollment Arc Part II was translated by Andrew Prowse, authored by Tsutomu Sato and illustrated by Kana Ishida. The series is currently ongoing in ASCII’s Dengeki Bunko imprint and was adapted into an anime by the studio Madhouse and aired from Spring 2014 to Summer 2014.
Date of Publication: August 23rd, 2016
Author: Tsutomu Satou
Translator: Andrew Prowse
Publisher: Yen Press