FEATURE: What Makes MASHLE: MAGIC AND MUSCLES So Magical?
The boy who lifts
Across the generations of anime, the idea of an outcast protagonist is a familiar one. A person who doesn't fit the protocols of their world, their abilities or beliefs diametrically opposed to those of their peers. These are the underdogs. The downtrodden. The unlikely heroes whose suffering and eventual triumphs become the stuff of legend.
Mash Burnedead is kind of like this, except he will probably just slap his enemies in the face before chowing down on a cream puff. Yummy.
MASHLE: MAGIC AND MUSCLES is an unmissable piece of this year's spring lineup, whisking us off to a land of spells and wizardry. The majority of the population possess a natural proclivity toward the mystical, with the unlucky few outliers considered abominations and rounded up by the ministry.
To shield an abandoned infant from such a fate, the kindly Regro Burnedead retreats to the isolation of the woods to act as a father figure. Lacking the distinctive mark that indicates magical ability, Regro knows that the boy will never show mastery of the wand, and instead encourages him to hone his physical abilities.
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The young Mash takes this lesson in stride and spends his days training for hours on end. By the time he has entered his teenage years, he has become more than a phsycial specimen — he's a gosh darn force of nature, ripping doors off the hinges while simply attempting to enter a room.
Raised as he has been with only minimal interactions with other people, Mash hasn't quite gotten the hang of how social norms work; his impressive physicality belying a reserved, disinterested disposition. So when he decides to make a trip into town to procure some cream puffs (my dude loves those cream puffs), he doesn't foresee how it could possibly backfire.
An encounter with a bureau security member puts a target directly on the Burnedeads, but sensing an opportunity to benefit from Mash's unmatched strength, the officer suggests an alternative to turning him in. He is to enroll at the prestigious Easton Magic Academy, climb the ranks and become a Divine Visionary; a title reserved only for the most elite witches and wizards.
Mash's response to this steep, seemingly impossible task? 'Kay.
There are a lot of reasons why someone devoid of magical talent shouldn't succeed in this enviornment, but amusingly, these doubts are constantly dissuaded with the handy solution of being jacked. Therein lies the hilarity, as Mash is typically able to flub his way through tests and exams purely by being powerful enough to bend challenges to his will. Every time you think he might be in over his head, he merely swoles his way to victory.
Mash also has the benefit of being surrounded by a group of colleagues who can help him along the way. At least, I think it's a benefit. He kind of seems to have things under control without them, but they're good company, if nothing else.
His roommate, the mild-mannered Finn, would rather stay as far as possible from the trouble Mash attracts, and yet, feels a pang of guilt whenever the mushroom-haired lug observes what a great friend he is. Then there's Lemon, who upon seeing Mash's incredible feats of might and bravery, decides that she must marry him someday. And honestly? Same. I get it.
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There are potential rivals at hand as well, including the talented Lance and his troubling obsession with his sister, or the arrogant yet thin-skinned Dot. Each new addition to the team raises the ante higher still, with their increasingly absurd personalities and foibles. It all comes together in a suitably witchy brew of eccentricity.
And at the heart of it all is the unfliching Mash Burnedead himself. His character is worth delving into, as he constantly has even veteran magic wielders spellbound with his superhuman strength. If you could consider him a fish out of water, he's at the very least a particularly hulking species of fish, plowing through obstacles that would prove a problem for more traditional warlocks.
He does it all without a hint of emotion, and this may give the impression that he is apathetic or uncaring. It could not be further from the truth, however. Mash cares deeply about the people he loves, willing to put his life on the line for their protection. Indeed, the reason he has agreed to undergo the trials of the academy is in pursuit of a peaceful life with his pops. Whenever the wellbeing of Regro is threatened, Mash throws himself into any danger without a second thought — or a first thought, for the most part.
In fact, you might go so far as to think him downright endearing. He will express disappointment in himself whenever he is being reprimanded, and is open about how he feels about any give situation. Occasionally, he'll even show his own version of enthusiasm, punctuated with words like "yay" and "whoopee."
It's actually one of the more interesting aspects of his temperament, when it's boiled down. How could someone so passionate have such a stony poker face, rarely speaking in tones louder than a whisper? It really makes you ponder the nature of Mash's upbringing; as previously described, he was isolated for the most part, but could he have also been warned of attracting too much attention? It could serve as an explanation for why he remains so stoic, though his frequent feats of overwhelming strength undermine any subtlety.
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Really, Mash is just an oblivious, delightful cream puff. He carries no malice, is willing to share his thoughts and snacks with others, and earnestly sets about accomplishing whatever goal he has before him. It proves infuriating to would-be antagonists desperate to get a rise out of him, and creates a fascinating contrast.
These blowhard witches and wizards, with their fancy knowledge and conjurations, are just as bombastic as the electrifying spells they cast. It makes it all the more satisfying when they're knocked down a peg by this seemingly unspectacular nobody, who has found unique ways of countering their assault. For example, sometimes he just snaps their wands clean in half. I never would have thought of it, and clearly, the students of Easton Academy weren't expecting it either!
It is also worth noting, this is actually quite a stunning anime, aesthetically. The foreboding towers of the magic school make for a suitably ominous backdrop, and Mash's constant acts of burly defiance lead to some truly memorable facial expressions. You could randomly drop into any point of an episode and happen upon a memeworthy moment practically every time. It's just as much fun as its premise would suggest, and in my humble opinion, an early contender for comedy of the year.
MASHLE: MAGIC AND MUSCLES really just hits right, figuratively as much as literally. It is a display of unbridled silliness that borrows concepts from other stories before jettisoning them without much of a care in the world. You'll know the references the moment you see them, which is especially true when the setting is a school for magic. Despite this, it's also a convention breaker, somehow convincingly portraying the world's most powerful fighter as a sympathtetic figure.
Look, no matter who you are, there is bound to be someone out there who just won't see eye to eye with you, casting judgment before even giving you a try. And though we can't all deadlift our oppressors like Mash, we can at least take a leaf from his book by taking it in stride, choosing instead to focus on the positivity we have stored within.
Start believing. Start lifting. And make sure you always have a steady supply of cream puffs on hand.
Watch MASHLE: MAGIC AND MUSCLES on Crunchyroll