Part of the magic of anime as a medium is the incredible range of topics and premises that can be the basis for a great show. At the same time, there are well-worn anime tropes that any fan will recognize. At first glance, Mashle: Magic and Muscles is a mishmash of concepts we’ve seen before, but the first two episodes of the adaptation provide a glimpse of what Mashle can do to break out of the confines of familiar beats.
Mashle is adapted from a Weekly Shonen Jump manga series of the same name by Hajime Komoto with animation by A-1 Pictures. The first episode, “Mash Burnedead and the Body of the Gods” introduces us to our protagonist Mash Burnedead, his father, and the world they inhabit. Magic rules the world of Mashle and is central to its society. Those with no magic are hunted down and eliminated, which we discover when Mash’s surreptitious cream puff trip reveals to the local authorities his lack of magic as indicated by his lack of facial markings.
When the cops threaten Mash’s father, Mash reveals the incredible physical skills that his ridiculous exercise regiment has created and we get our first taste of the type of action we can expect to see for the rest of the series. This battle is also our first taste of the humor present in the DNA of the show that will be crucial for Mashle to shake off comparisons to other shonen series. In the middle of a traditional magical showdown that we’ve seen a thousand times in anime, there’s suddenly a guy juggling and dribbling magical energy like he’s at the local YMCA.
There are early hints of this absurdist tone at the top of the episode as well with Mash’s struggles to understand how doors work and his reaction to the police officers in their initial encounter. “Mash Burnedead and the Body of the Gods” ends by sending Mash off on his grand quest. He must attend the prestigious Easton Magic Academy and become a “Divine Visionary” if he hopes to keep his father safe.
“Mash Burnedead and the Mysterious Maze” finishes the table setting that started in episode one by establishing Easton Magic Academy and introducing Mash’s first allies as well as the forces of the magic establishment working against him. Mashle shines when it juxtaposes the standard shonen anime melodrama with Mash’s simple himbo sweetness and straightforward attitude. An early highlight of the episode is Mash’s interruption of Professor Claude Lucci’s smug inner monologue with his extremely loud weight-lifting routine. The way the clanging sound effect is animated across the scene as it slowly grows in volume signals a delightful willingness to use inventive and fun animation techniques.
“The Mysterious Maze” is Mashle skewering its first major trope: The Entrance Exam. Typically the entrance exam is the first major hurdle for the hero where they struggle but ultimately triumph by embracing their unique abilities. Case in point, in My Hero Academia the protagonist, Deku, spends one episode training and another episode working through the exam. By the end of the it, Deku has broken half his body. In contrast, Mash makes quick work of Professor Lucci’s tests using increasingly irregular methods. He intimidates an enchanted piece of paper into submission, “levitates” a boulder by lifting it with his thumb, and literally brute forces his way through a maze. Two-thirds into the episode Mash is already attending his first class after he demonstrate his strength of character to Headmaster Wahlberg by helping fellow student Lemon Irvine. Hilariously, Mash realizes that he has “a hard path ahead” during class when he fails miserably at opening a lock via magic and instead breaks it in half. The episode ends with Mash’s new roommate Finn Ames explaining the coin-based ranking system Mash will need to climb as they share some of Mash’s pocket cream puffs.
Mashle: Magic and Muscles has to walk a fine line as it attempts to have its cake and eat it too. Mash is a typical shonen protagonist in many ways. He’s an orphan and a social outcast with special abilities that set him apart. He will fiercely protect his family and friends and always try to do what is right. Mashle attempts to marry the familiar story with parody elements and by putting a twist on these classic tropes. For example, in a scene where Lemon attempts to incapacitate Mash by binding his arms and legs in shackles and knocking him over, we expect him to simply break them open. The fun part is that before he does so, he manages to stand up first using only his feet.
Moments like these are what spark the series to life and invite comparisons to a series like One-Punch Man which has successfully melded together bombastic action and satirical comedy. There’s no more perfect example of the balance that Mashle is hoping to strike than its opening and ending. “Knock Out” as performed by Taiiku Okazaki is an energetic guitar-driven opening and Chou Cream Funk as performed by Philosophy no Dance is a JPOP anthem about Mash’s only obsession: cream puffs. If Mashle can maintain this blended energy moving forward, it will be one of the hidden gems of the spring season.
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 Body of the Gods/The Mysterious Maze” - 8/10