With most silly subversive shōnen-structure send-ups, you’re going to eventually run into the issue of needing to still engage with the conventions of the genre. Seeing Saitama one-punch different dudes out is great and all, but sooner than later, you’ll build up enough of a cast around him who can have fights that aren’t entirely constructed around literal punchlines. Mashle already showed signs of broader ambitions beyond just cutting to its hero-socking jerkwad mages in the face, with its social analyses via wizarding world-building, not to mention Mash never being considered all-powerful. With this episode, the anime seems to be branching out into material more akin to the straightforward stuff of its genre and magazine contemporaries, even as it keeps one foot firmly planted in irreverence.
It’s a tonal tightrope apparent right from the beginning, picking up where the previous episode left off. Mash has just crashed the creepy cult meeting of Magia Lupus, prompting some ponderous musings and villainous threats from their leader, Abel. Abel’s worldview is interesting enough for a bad guy in a genre riff like this one: He lays out his belief that humanity is a destructive, consumptive force rife with demonstrable inequality. However, instead of seeing that as the reason for the species to be “corrected” or “purged” or whatnot, he explicitly likes it that way. This notion bears out across some of the other Magia Lupus members we see in action later in this episode, emphasizing the idea that they revel in demonstrating their power upon what they see as the weaker in society to reinforce their status and entitled position.
It’s all decently detailed enough structure of such villainous philosophy as embodied by an evil school dorm. The whole portentous play-out is immediately undercut by the shots of Mash still holding onto the entire door he yanked off its hinges while walking in before our bowl-cut best boy utterly misses Abel’s entire point anyway. It’s funny, though there is a growing sense that the writing’s deployment of Mash’s naivete is strategic, depending on the story or comedy beat that needs to be fulfilled at the moment. You can see this in the odd disconnect between Mash utterly missing the meaning of Abel’s evil monologue on separate occasions, but then being able to come up with a multi-step gambit on the fly to trick the puppet master and safeguard his coin. Perhaps that’s supposed to speak to Mash’s clever resourcefulness in physical activities versus his disinterest in broader, denser issues.
That coin/button switcheroo does bring up another issue Mashle is rubbing up against as it embraces its broader shōnen conventions in this episode. That is, while it’s easy enough to grasp the general idea of Mash swapping the coin for the button during the fight, the show still pivots over to a tertiary character to give us an immediate-flashback play-by-play of what transpired. This comes up later in Lance’s fight against Anser, where an otherwise subtle shovel drop maneuver is turned into a time-filling exercise through retroactive narration. It’s neat at the moment, especially as part of a “straightforward” magic-powered anime fight apart from Mash’s powers of game-breaking gains, but it does serve to reinforce how Mashle may progress in this direction as the series continues.
It might not need to rely on such standby storytelling devices either, since Mashle still has a handle on other simply efficient narrative choices. The previous explanation of Magia Lupus’s preference for “weak” opponents to assert themselves over rounds back to the actual purpose of fights like the Lance/Anser one here, the latter effectively jobbing to show how effective someone like Lance can be in combat when he doesn’t have to fight actual main character Mash. And the baked-in irreverence allows Mashle to deploy mini-boss characters like Anser because we get that they’re taking the piss in doing so. His whole thing is a predilection for making profound-sounding statements that are just him saying the obvious, which everyone he talks to immediately calls him out and roasts him for. As with Mashle‘s targeted take-downs of the likes of magical-world storytelling and Harry Potter specifically, this could work as a dig that made it harder to take such a character type seriously the next time you encountered it in a played-straight kind of story. Although, the adherence to the more typical pacing and framework thus undercuts that a bit.
This is just one episode setting up for the broader coming conflict with Magia Lupus, and there are signs of Mashle messing around with the layout in fun ways. I appreciate that for the moment, Mash, Lance, and Dot are less properly teamed up in their opposition to the Lang gang, but more just loosely pointed in the same direction. It does make me hope there’s a formal grouping soon if only to allot positions for Finn and Lemon to get things to do. Comic relief hangers-on don’t feel especially necessary in a series where everyone is kinda funny. But on the other hand, I can be amused by Mashle successfully subverting its engaged-with genre tropes in things like the masked man introduced at the end here, who tries to assess Mash’s “powers” in line with this world’s structural rules in a way we know he’ll turn out to be hilariously wrong about. It makes for an awkward shuffle into the current setup of things for Mashle (especially coming off of a break for a recap episode last week), but still delivers enough fun stuff in seeing, say, Mash spontaneously learn to swim so he can beat up a goofy shark-man. So it’s hardly wholly serious yet.
Mashle: Magic and Muscles is currently streaming on
Chris is keeping busy keeping up with the new anime season, and is excited to have you along. You can also find him writing about other stuff over on his blog, as well as spamming fanart retweets on his Twitter, for however much longer that lasts.