“Mash Burnedead and the Challenging Magic User” is Mashle: Magic and Muscles playing it straight. Well, at least as straight as this series is capable of doing. Besides a short section running through some classic sports anime tropes; the back two-thirds of the episode is a fairly standard shonen anime episode. The eponymous “Challenging Magic User” is Lance Crown and his introduction falls perfectly into the mold of another classic anime trope: the enemy turned ally. Mash’s face-off with Lance is an opportunity for the series to show off its action chops by having the first battle scene since the pilot. Along the way, we learn more about the world and have fun at Lance’s expense as he reveals his backstory.
The opening section of the episode drops us into the sports anime world with Mash coming to the rescue of Adler Dorm’s Duelo team after Tom is injured. Mash may not understand Tom’s sports cliches and motivational speeches that somehow always lead back to bamboo, but he respects his honorable outlook on life so he figures out a way to contribute. The ridiculous curveball that Mash unleashes to win the match recalls other sports anime “special moves” such as Captain Tezuka’s “Tezuka Zone” from The Prince of Tennis. In what is becoming classic Mashle fashion the curveball bit is taken to its most extreme end and Mash essentially breaks Duelo. It seems reasonable that this is the last time we’ll see Mash suiting up in his Duelo uniform but it has been worth it for the wide shots of all the students floating calmly on their brooms while Mash furiously kicks his legs back and forth.
For the rest of “The Challenging Magic User,” Mashle works through a time-honored anime tradition perfectly. The enemies-to-allies story, often known as “The Vegeta,” is so common that in One Piece multiple members of Luffy’s pirate crew begin as opponents or antagonists. These antagonistic relationships are usually short-lived and are resolved after finding common ground and it’s no different here. Lance antagonizes Mash because he deems him unworthy of existing in this world of magic but of course, Lance turns out to be a good guy and his back story reveals that he and Mash have something in common: the desire to protect their family.
The Mashle twist comes when Lance proudly declares that he has a sister complex as a rebuttal to Mash accusing him of being a Lolicon. The character with a sister complex is a well-known if slightly off-putting anime trope and was even a part of another series with a non-magical hero titled Black Clover. The “siscon” trope has a long history, with some versions culminating in full-on romantic relationships while others manifest as an intense overprotective attitude. The incestuous undertones of the trope are certainly part of what makes it less palatable to Western audiences and it can be easy to verge into problematic territory when the sister character is a young girl as she is in this episode. Mashle is aware of the inherent weirdness and potential for heading into truly repugnant territory given the reference to Lolicon. However, it again uses Mash’s deadpan reactions to undercut the exaggerated emotions that characterize these beats so that Lance’s obsession is immediately identified as strange and ridiculed. When Lance asks Mash to identify “the most precious thing in the world” he becomes completely unhinged and unsettling music creeps in. When Lance reveals his answer, which is of course “My little sister.”, he’s framed in an intense close-up before we smash cut to a stone-faced and confused Mash and the sound cuts out. It’s a tricky sequence that’s navigated expertly and one of several times the editing is used to generate big laughs.
“Mash Burnedead and the Challenging Magic User” illustrates that while Mashle enjoys poking fun at various anime tropes it also has the ability to use them successfully. Mash and Lance’s fight showcases more of Mash’s muscle magic by bringing some Dragon Ball Z flavor as Mash darts around at incredible speeds and defies gravity. Lance’s gravity magic signals that we can expect various hyper specific styles of magic which bodes well for the variety of action we can expect, especially with Mash as the wild card. This episode allows the series to flex its action muscles while deftly weaving in bits of exposition and outlines a roadmap for how the series can continue to be successful.
Mashle: Magic and Muscles can be watched on Crunchyroll, with new episodes every Friday during the Spring 2023 season.
Featured image via Hajime Komodo/SHUEISHA, MASHLE Committee
‘Mashle: Magic and Muscles’ - “ Mash Burnedead and the Challenging Magic User” - 8/10