Back in my Undead Unluck Vol. 1 review, I mentioned that alongside it another manga debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump around the beginning of 2020. It had grown rather popular and well-liked and sold even more copies than Undead Unluck in Japan. That series is Mashle: Magic and Muscles, and the first volume has finally been released.
According to the official description provided by Viz Media:
Mash just wants to live in peace with his father in the forest. But the only way he’ll ever be accepted in the magic realm is by attending magic school and becoming a Divine Visionary—an exceptional student revered as one the chosen. But without an ounce of magic to his name, Mash will have to punch his way to the top spot.
Ever read One-Punch Man? It’s a parody, but a loving one of action and superhero series that enjoys playing up its silliness and drama. It then brings in a character that just kind of feels out of place with his attitude, occasional self-awareness, and presence. Mashle is sort of like that, but instead, it’s more on the traditional Shonen Jump series and young fantasy series like Harry Potter or Charlie Bone.
And it is really good. Mashle is a very funny series. It takes the basic setup and tropes of a teen going to a magical school, being out of his depth, and rising to the top while dealing with bullies and challenges and twists them along the way. Mash has no magic at all, so he simply has to use his brain and overwhelming strength and power to figure things out. The things he does, the ways people react to them, the commentary from others, and even how he reacts to different scenarios and results he gets make for some of the funniest moments in any manga I’ve read in a long time.
A great example is the entire entrance exam and how Mash gets around the challenges put before him. Dealing with the moving questions on his test, the way he gets through a maze, how students react to him doing things, and even his dad and another character spying on him are all such wonderful scenes to read about. Even if the joke is obvious, like the maze solution, it just works because of the timing, pacing, other things added on top of the first joke, and the art. It all comes together in a way that makes this feel exceptionally funny.
But it’s not just the humor here. Mashle also has a lot of drama and heartfelt moments that are effective. For instance, the first chapter is a great example where it’s about building up the relationship between Mash and his father, showing how much Mash means to him and how far Mash is willing to go to protect him. The entire interview with the headmaster from the intimidating magic to Mash discussing why he helped out a fellow student is another great example. Sure, the manga can have times where the tones clash awkwardly, but it is not often. Like One-Punch Man, Mashle knows the tropes of its genre and how to have fun with them, but it also knows how to be sincere and not just a cynical stick-in-the-mud that thinks it’s better than its genre.
The character of Mash Burnedead is wonderful. He’s an everlasting, emotionless expressing teen who would love nothing but to be home with his dad and eat his beloved creme puffs. He’s not the smartest nor even has the best grasp on reality, often breaking doors when trying to enter them. However, he does genuinely care about others and empathizes with them about their situations, stepping up to help even if it’s extremely bad for him. He often acts without thinking and is impulsive (maybe even bloodthirsty), but he is a lot smarter than he lets on. He can figure his way out of many tight situations using his strength and speed, even if it seems to defy logic and physics. He isn’t the most complex or deep, but he is a joy to read.
The rest of the cast isn’t particularly stellar. It’s very early on, so it’s understandable that there’s not much depth. Everyone mostly has very light characterization and not much else, like Lemon Irvine being meek and in love with Mash to the overenthusiastic sports jock that has no grasp on metaphors and inspirational speeches. The bullies and bad guys are all the typical higher crust, “I’m better than you” kind of archetype, but they are at least funny to see get messed with. The only characters that stand out are the antagonist at the end of the first book with his presence and Headmaster Wahlberg, who is genuinely nice and wants to guide students to a better future. Everyone works well enough in their roles but hopefully we’ll get more from them as time goes on.
The biggest issue people will probably have is the artwork, which is a mixed bag. Its style isn’t too far from Mob Psycho 101 and the crude depictions of Saitama & Tornado in One-Punch Man. Its art is minimalistic, crude, and a little rough at times. There are some especially glaring issues with foreshortening and eye leveling that can be distracting in some panels. On the flip side, the minimalistic style, combined with the crude reactions of the characters, help elevate the comedic moments. Plus there’s stellar pacing and layouts in some chapters with how the story flows, and the magic and mythical designs can look incredible. It’s a style that may not click with everyone, but the series wouldn’t be as good without it.
Mashle: Magic and Muscles Vol. 1 is a grand start for this new Shonen Jump series. While its art may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is one of the funniest manga I’ve read from Shonen Jump, parodying many series in its genre and magic school fantasy series alike. It also brings in a level of sincerity and seriousness that gives it a level of depth that helps it further. This is one series you should definitely give a look.
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