“Mash Burnedead and the Baleful Bully” demonstrates that Mashle: Magic and Muscles isn’t just interested in taking aim at generic shonen tropes but also has very specific inspirations it’s drawing from. It’s impossible to ignore the Harry Potter parallels as we meet a haughty blonde bully and see Mash take broom flying lessons and be recruited for a broom-based sports team. What’s also immediately clear is that Mashle is just as willing to skewer that specific world. It’s surprisingly satisfying to see Mash brush off familiar threats so easily. Mashle continues to walk the tightrope successfully by having Mash disrupt story arcs we’ve seen before while checking off beats we expect in a way that feels natural.
It’s becoming apparent that part of the fun each week on Mashle will be the ridiculous feats of strength and athleticism that Mash will have to employ to keep up the charade that he can perform magic. In “Baleful Bully,” he fakes his way through broom flying class a bit too well and the resulting payoff at the end of the episode is perfect. He might have no trouble dealing with bullies but he won’t be earning any Varsity letters during his time at Easton since he can’t even get his broom off the ground.
The meat of “Baleful Bully” is the introduction and subsequent defeat of Lloyd Cavill. Lloyd is quickly flagged as a Draco Malfoy analog by the conspicuous bit of green in his character design, elevated social status, and general scumbag demeanor. He is deployed as a typical anime bully and drags Mash into a pretty standard errand boy plotline. The expectation is that Lloyd will go on to be a thorn in Mash’s side for a long time but Mashle zigs when we expect it to zag. It’s oddly cathartic to watch Mash jump straight to smashing people’s faces in when they start making threats and the dramatic music is growing louder and louder. There will be no long-simmering rivalry with Lloyd or drawn-out cat-and-mouse game with the Vice Principal. Mash has more important things to do, like making more of his beloved cream puffs.
“The Baleful Bully” also spends a bit of time moving Mash forward in his hero’s journey. His friendship with Finn is strengthened. Finn seems timid and cowardly but earns Mash’s respect and reveals his strength of character by standing up to Lloyd. Mash’s other major ally, Headmaster Wahlberg, outlines his vision for the way that Mash can challenge the status quo. Mashle maintains its low-stakes “let’s keep it moving” energy by consistently undercutting any major melodrama such as when Mash passes out during Headmaster Wahlberg’s exposition dump and forces Wahlberg to give him a TL;DR. So far this has been a winning formula but it remains to be seen if it will work in the long-term and become the Potter replacement we need.
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