MASHLE: Magic and Muscle – Episode 1

By: Alex Henderson April 7, 20230 Comments
Dramatic closeup of a serious-faced boy in wizard robes holding a fist up the camera

Content warning: Brief/implied torture, police brutality played seriously and as a joke, brief depiction of an attempted suicide, an obsession with “pure bloodlines” as part of the fantasy worldbuilding

What’s it about? In a world where magic is commonplace, Mash is Not Like Other Kids by virtue of having no magic powers at all. But Mash has something else, something that might just be more powerful than the most intricate, legendary spell: he’s BUFF.

Fantasy allows us to ask exciting, imaginative “what if?” questions, like “what if this guy punched a wizard in the face? Would that be funny or what?”

I can’t help but feel like this show is phoning it in a little bit. It’s not a bad premise, especially for a series tinged with comedy, but there’s a distinct… lack of effort in the execution. One of the opening lines of this episode is “It is called the Magic Realm because it is a world that has magic,” so that’s the level of worldbuilding nuance we’re working with here.

A wide shot of a bustling fantasy city with towers and spires in the distance. Witches on brooms are flying by. Subtitle text reads: It is called the Magic Realm because it is a world that has magic.
Can we let my poor boy Emiya Shirou retire and make this the new “people die if they are killed”?

Mashle pulls off my favorite (sarcasm) combo move, which is where characters dump information on the viewer in internal narration and yet, at the same time, I come away feeling like I know nothing about the place they inhabit or how it works beyond “eh, insert the generic rules and expectations from the last Wizard School book series you read.” Do not pay close attention to the anachronistic hodgepodge of medieval, Edwardian, and modern-day aesthetics in the clothing and technology. Do not ask questions like “why have they invented phones?” or “why do only some people need wands to cast spells whereas that guy over there seemed to be levitating stuff with his bare hands?” or “if everyone has magic, are the so-called ‘magic police’ not just the police?” No thoughts. Just vibes.

I’m latching onto these genre-specific gripes because every other element of the show gives me so, so little to talk about. Mash is deadpan and dumb as bricks in a way I think we’re supposed to find funny and endearing. He has an insatiable craving for his favorite food, cream puffs, which is at least one (1) character trait and personal motivation. His adoptive father figure is a generic Wise Old Guy with martial arts skills in one hand and a shallow tragic backstory in the other. The villain of the piece is a cartoonishly nasty corrupt cop, made to be over-the-top cocky so that it’s (supposedly) extra satisfying when Mash knocks him down a peg at the episode’s climax.

Mashle throwing orbs of purple magic light from hand to hand with a deadpan expression. Subtitle text reads: Now he's juggling!
[carnival music plays, clown horn honks]

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was. There’s nothing new or fresh here—just ideas so often reused that they’re starting to smell. The magic academy Mash visits at the end even looks suspiciously exactly like Hogwarts, as if this show said to itself “hmm, we haven’t done enough to put Alex off… I know! Let’s make them think about Harry Potter and J.K Rowling!”

The opening and ending credits tease the introduction of one, singular female main character, who has been gifted the character trait of “obsessed with the protagonist.” Maybe if Mash had a bit more personality I’d be inclined to suspend my disbelief. As it is, he’s just a plank of wood stealing Mob’s haircut, in a series that feels creatively bankrupt even in its attempts at humor. While it’s honestly not the worst thing out there in terms of goofy, unimaginative male-led fantasy shows, that’s a… pretty low bar to clear, and I can’t say that Mashle will be holding my attention.

About the Author : Alex Henderson

Alex Henderson is a writer and managing editor at Anime Feminist. They completed a doctoral thesis on queer representation in young adult genre fiction in 2023. Their short fiction has been published in anthologies and zines, their scholarly work in journals, and their too-deep thoughts about anime, manga, fantasy novels, and queer geeky stuff on their blog.

Read more articles from Alex Henderson

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