Mashle: Magic and Muscles 004-012 – Manga Review
Synopsis: Can muscles crush magic?! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Mashle continues to double down on its central goof, Mash using incredible brute strength to outdo magic, while gradually peppering in additional humor through new characters. The way the series chooses to evolve takes Mashle from an outright parody of magical school tropes, or perhaps more specifically Harry Potter, into something more along the lines of a Fantasy High School Gag Manga, with maybe a little battle shonen thrown in for good measure. Let’s Jump In!
Despite a slow, gradual evolution Mashle seems to be enjoying a strong showing of support in Japan’s rankings. The series sits between rankings 5 and 6, putting it just behind Jump’s most popular titles. These rankings only account for the first four chapters though, and don’t yet tell us how audiences feel about Mashle’s later attempts to expand its gag repertoire. My guess is it’s a strong showing based around the appreciation for Mashle’s lampooning of Harry Potter-esque ideas, and another aspect I’ll get into below. A good joke only lasts so long though, especially if it’s what you’ve been leaning on for four weeks in a row and counting.
That’s definitely a problem with Mashle. There’s times where we literally repeat a joke we’ve done not even one month ago, making it feel like the series is already struggling to find additional goofs with its main character alone. Mashle already seems to have itself a stock story of the week, one drawn from quite a few times already; Mashle is confronted by a bully, be it a teacher or a student, and uses his massive might to obliterate their magic or whatever test they’ve put before him. Maybe the side character’s reactions to Mashle’s impressive strength are different each time, but they always amount to stunned shock. It’s really not until chapter 7 that Mashle begins adding in differing attempts at comedy, primarily brought forth via the addition of new characters.
This is where Mashle starts to feel more like a typical high school gag manga, but within a fantasy setting, as we find ourselves increasing inundated with tropey high school goofballs that remind me a lot of the cast from something like Saiki K or Cromartie High. One character, a villain eventually turned ally, is your typical Siscon and another, introduced in Chapter 11 feels a lot like your stereotypical teen loser/chuunibyou character. While both provide new types of humor to keep Mashle from having to draw out the central gag too often, neither feels all that original, if not outright derivative.
I don’t think all of Mashle’s attempts to expand its comedy are awful though. There’s a concerted effort, particularly after Chapter 7, to increasingly focus on the two other comedic aspects to Mash’s character; his love of cream puffs and his extreme dimwitted nature. Both those traits are perfectly explored in Chapter 10, where we break from the bully of the weak format for a story about Mash and Co. attempting to make potions via magical cooking. It’s a fantastic chapter and my favorite of the series thus far.
The trouble though is that Chapters like Chapter 10 seem rare. The series is doubling down on classic character types to expand its comedy and cast. The world its been building still feels mostly like that of a parody, and what few elements that don’t seem to be aping Harry Potter are but typical battle shonen ideas. The series continues to be caught in a hard spot. It’s not really comedic and clever enough to sustain itself as an ongoing parody but it’s also not original enough to bolster those offerings with a world and characters all its own. In truth though, Mashle’s continued existence really only depends on how Japan’s readership reacts. I think the series might have a secret weapon in that regard and that’s the frequent use of Mash defeating bullies near every week. I think there’s a sense of catharsis there, to see people so absorbed in their own worth being taken down a peg. To see an underdog, like Mash, who isn’t traditionally accepted in society as someone of worth, bring about the fall of others who are considered cream of the crop. I think the question becomes then; when do audiences grow sick of seeing the same story again and again with minimal variation? At a time when real life feels a bit dire, Mashle might be the comfort food people crave and that could allow it to hang in there longer than it might have otherwise. There’s still time for the series to grow into something more of its own, but at 12 chapters in I think we’re starting to really see the limits of our author, and if those limits aren’t enough, Mashle could find the rankings swing against it.
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.