Mashle: Magic and Muscles 001-003 – Manga Review
Synopsis: Can muscles crush magic?! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Mashle: Magic and Muscles feels like this odd combination; a series stuck trying to be both a gag manga and a more typical fantasy shonen title. At points Mashle is little more than an amusing parody or riff off popular magical school titles like Harry Potter or Black Clover, lampooning standard conventions, tropes or simply turning the setting into something we can chuckle at. At other times the series seems to think itself a dramatic story about Mashle’s quest to his secure himself, and his adoptive father, a life free of persecution, yet lacks the world building and strong character writing to successfully paint itself as that. Let’s Jump In!
The story follows Mashle, a young man born without a hint of magical ability. Because of this Mashle’s adoptive father, Regro Vandead lives with the young man out in the woodlands of a nearby city, rarely venturing into town for fear of outright persecution. He has Mashle train his body everyday in hopes that with physical prowess he can protect himself and survive on his own, without having to interact with society. Unfortunately Mashle isn’t the brightest of boys, and enters the city anyway for a cream puff, his favorite dessert. This ends up putting Mashle square in the sights of the police, who seek to capture Mashle and execute him. What follows is a battle between Mashle and the police, whose powerful magic turns out to be completely incapable of defeating Mashle’s freakishly strong physical prowess.
There’s a few good goofs sprinkled throughout these 55 introductory pages. Though most of the humor is built entirely upon the central concept of Mashle’s freakish strength. Many of these goofs are also quite predictable, making this first outing funny, but otherwise unmemorable. It doesn’t help that the flow of the story is quite predictable, at times aping core ideas from another Jump series, Black Clover, and finding little to make it feel unique by itself. I might even argue that this 1st Chapter ultimately falls on its face. Gag manga need constant jokes and a wide variety of comedy, yet Mashle doesn’t manage that here. If instead the series is a more earnest, standard shonen, it also fails to make the story feel unique and engaging enough to stand on its own, rather than a parody of more successful titles.
Chapter 2 and 3 are where we get a bit better sense of what Mashle, as a manga, is capable of, but it still can’t seem to decide if it’s a gag manga parody or trying to be its own thing. Mashle attends the entrance exam for magic school. We get more comedy, some of it focused on Mashle’s brazen, direct attitude towards the use of magic, offering another avenue of comedy. That said, much of Chapter 2 still hinges on the series’ central gag, to the point where it feels like Mashle is still too narrow in its comedic offerings. It doesn’t help that much of what humor we do get is again rather predictable, lacking unique impact or surprise, keeping the series a fun, but ho-hum read.
Chapter 3 then takes the series then in a more standard, less goofy direction. After a goof about a girl, Lemon Irvine, mistakenly thinking Mashle wants to marry her, and how that misunderstanding came about (which is probably the series best joke thus far,) we set on how Mashle ends up passing the interview portion of the exam, which hinges on him meeting the headmaster, a decent human being, and being tested as to his character. Mashle, of course, being the classic heart of gold lead, easily passes when he displays his willingness to sacrifice himself to protect his father’s soul.
The problem with Chapter 3’s direction is that up to this point Mashle has mostly been poking fun at similar series. The art style gives it a clear gag-manga feel, but Chapter 3 shows that the series also wants to be taken seriously, particularly when we get very serious about Mashle’s passion and his pure heart. It’s there the series tries to offer up drama all its own, but this world has felt so much like a parody up to this point that this turn towards a more sincere, dramatic tone doesn’t quite ring true. Although the art for the headmaster’s monstrous magic is pretty cool and effective.
Despite my criticisms I think Mashle has potential. If the series is a gag-manga at heart we need more jokes, more goofs and a constant willingness to parody and lampoon. It needs to go full in on comedy. It can be predictable, some of it, but it needs to find lots of ways to make us laugh. If the series wants to be a mixture of gag and sincere, we need to really flesh out this world and the characters, otherwise Mashle runs the risk of feeling like a derivative, half-hearted attempt to copy more successful versions of this story. The art doesn’t necessarily have to improve, unless we’re going to phase out the more comedic tone, because otherwise the series simply doesn’t have dynamic enough visuals to sell it as anything but comedic.
That’s it for this week! Let me know what your thoughts are on Mashle!
Mashle: Magic and Muscles is published weekly in Shonen Jump.