[We certainly seem full of opinions lately, don’t we? Our editorials are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other The Glorio Blog team. Have a nice day!]
The 4th episode of The Irregular At Magic High School (or Mahouka for short) caused a burst of internet born drama. Interpretations of the political and ethical implications of Mahouka’s message were the cause. This episode inspired blogger Guy Shalev to write a piece on meritocracy. Another blogger, Froggykun, wrote a piece on the problem with fans writing themselves into a story. This post isn’t a direct response to either blog, but I do have some things to add as well as some questions for Mahouka of my own.
Resemblance to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead
Mahouka bears an uncanny resemblance to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I want to illustrate it because I think the similarity is interesting. I am not convinced that Mahouka is a re-imagining of The Fountainhead. I don’t subscribe to objectivism, but I do find it to be a fascinating topic with interesting implications. The 4th and 5th episodes both contain lengthy conversations about political situations that parallel Mahouka with The Fountainhead in several ways, most of those being in the subtext of the story.
First what is The Fountainhead? If you know what it is go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. The Fountainhead is a novel by Ayn Rand which illustrates her philosophy of objectivism. In this story we have a protagonist named Howard Roark who is an unconventional architect. Throughout the story his portrayal paints him as having a special quality that makes him important. The way that he is true to himself despite adversity glorifies him and his position. The moral of the story is one of individualism triumphing over a collective. This message of individualism is one I don’t have a problem with at face value. The subtext of the story is one where this character’s actions as an individual are a moral right. His justification is the virtue of his power as a “prime mover” of society. One who is not tied down by a collective mindset.
As I see it Tatsuya Shiba shares one major quality with the protagonist of The Fountainhead. Society can’t seem to accurately measure his capacity for being well… awesome! How awesome you might ask? Literally a ninja awesome! Tatsuya’s magical ability essentially allows him to use lots of weak magic all at once. His ability to read magical activation sequences means he can combine them for a useful magic canceling effect. The entire magic system of this world seems built toward illustrating just how special he is. Even the minor side characters see Tatsuya as something special and someone they absolutely need on their side.
This brings us to our second connection between Tatsuya and Ayn Rand’s political philosophy. It is the way Tatsuya breaks everything down rationally. He rejects the emotional outbursts of his fellow students and calls them out for it. It isn’t hard to see a connection, but I also believe the parallel ends here. As I see it Tatsuya isn’t fighting for Ayn Rand’s objectivism. He has concern for society. He isn’t concerned for the sake of his own ideas which is an important part of what The Fountainhead is about. He simply isn’t an architect. He may wish to become one, but that isn’t who he is.
Tatsuya has concern about society’s need to catch up to him and his ability before he can reveal canceling magic to the world. There is a strong sense of responsibility coming from his character, not to society as a whole, but to his sister. The way he talks to her illustrates this. His motivation is not that of Ayn Rand’s “prime mover” of society. His motivation is taking care of his sister and everything else is extra. Tatsuya Shiba is something far more simple than an objectivist and the baggage that term carries with it. He is an older brother with little else to motivate his life. Maybe he is a robot or something to that effect. Could the reason he can do lots of weak processing be because his brain is a computer programmed to serve his imouto? I wouldn’t put it past this anime.
Equality in Mahouka
Toward the end of the episode Tatsuya explains his support of the people in charge of society. He gives a message of power by the merit of an individual. Perhaps the most interesting part of this message is a challenge aimed at equality. At first glance it sounds like he is trying to sell a system of government that denies equality as fair. This story even makes terrorists of the group that is using equality as a means to an end. I think it is important to stop and ask what the equality he is talking about refers to. Equality can mean many different things depending on the context of how it used. Equal rights, equal representation, equal wages, you get the idea. Lucky for us Tatsuya tells us exactly what he means by equality: equal wages between magical and non magical people. He isn’t questioning the other forms of equality, this is about money.
In this context the people calling for equality are calling for an equality that is impossible in practicality. Also they are aiding acts of terrorism justified by that belief. As much as I would like to take offense, the things Tatsuya is saying hold up under rational scrutiny. Furthermore they are consistent with the world that Mahouka has presented to us. The important distinction between types of equality is in the implication of what he is calling a lie. Calling equal rights a lie and then trying to justify it would be unfair. Does Tatsuya’s speech justify the persecution of minorities? Some might say it does, but I don’t think he cares about anything that isn’t concrete and rational.
So what does Tatsuya Shiba care about? He thinks like a machine. His one and only true concern is for his sister. When a sexy young counselor tries to seduce information out of him he calls her out on breaking the dress code. When insulted by discriminatory slurs he just moves on without giving a damn. When recruited to join the enforcement team to keep the peace at school and challenge discrimination he had no desire to sign up. When something happens that might endanger his sister or reflect poorly on her? He turns on ninja mode and starts kicking ass. She is his motivation in this story. Tatsuya Shiba is an emotionless robot about anything that doesn’t concern his sister. Even the girls at his school only interest him as potential friends for his sister. Something is going on with him beyond the obvious. I’m not sure what it is, but as I see it he is no champion of meritocracy. His only known passion is his sister. His ideology is a practical means to an end, his rationality a philosophy unto itself.
Real World Application
How does Tatsuya’s logic hold up when applied to our real world? I think that is the question anyone concerned about the moral of this story should be asking. I am reminded of arguments I’ve had with people over social justice issues on the internet. Those arguments are often obscured by unstated or ambiguous political beliefs. In episode 5 Tatsuya illustrated the lack of goals behind Mibu Sayaka’s call for equality. We know exactly what Tatsuya is talking about when he uses the word, but Mibu Sayaka? She has locked herself in an emotional struggle, tired of the discrimination she faces. Her only goal is to get rid of the awful feelings that come with having an institution of people look down on you, something anyone with human feelings would understand. The problem is that in the end what she is calling for relies on the student council to provide answers. She has none herself. Trying to change the world without a clear vision of what you want to see happen is poisonous logic at best. It’s a loose cannon of emotions at worst.
So is Mahouka portraying equality as Terrorism? I think it is again important to separate what the show is saying from what it isn’t. The terrorists in this story are not terrorists because they support equality. They are terrorists because they blow shit up. Equality is their vehicle, not their true goal. The majority of students who have rallied behind their cause are not portrayed as evil. They are instead portrayed as being emotionally manipulated to political ends. I think this all holds up well with what I know of human nature. It would be a mistake to assume that anyone calling for social justice is a terrorist. That said, I find it is healthy to question to the goals of anyone calling for social change. Nothing is beyond use in a political argument. If a word can be ambiguously used it can become a vehicle to mislead.
How does Tatsuya himself hold up in the real world? He glorifies rationality, but that isn’t the end of the story. He isn’t a hero and he doesn’t want to be. I suspect that his situation will force him into that role. Ayn Rand glorifies rationality as the perfection of humanity. Tatsuya glorifies rationality as cold and inhuman. Despite finding his situation interesting, I can say that I would never want to be him. Rationality is important and without rationality we are stupid, without emotion we are less than human. Compassion is of vital importance in binding the two together. Tatsuya’s portrayal has been a one sided glorification of rationality, but is that Mahouka’s entire message? In enters our imouto…
There is a character in Mahouka that does care about the society they live in, one that Tastuya has told us makes up for his lack of emotion. She is the true “prime mover” of this story as best as that analogy still holds up – she also happens to be a powerful magician who wants to bone her brother. When I started writing, this concept is where I started. It’s ironic, but Mikuki’s obnoxious affection for her brother is the first thing that made me think of Ayn Rand. It is the way their relationship betrays conventional wisdom that caused a connection. Think of like this: Miyuki is the architect and Tatsuya is the work of art she is holding up. Stop and think about the implications of that for moment. If you want to punch the nearest imouto because of that connection well… I understand that feeling, but please refrain. Your imoutos are precious and not guilty of this particular crime. God help us all if they are.
Miyuki’s compassion is a frightening thing. Just as Tatsuya doesn’t seem to care about anything but his sister, she makes it clear that he is high on her priority list as well. If the world finds itself brought to it’s knees before the power of what Tatsuya can do I suspect Miyuki will have a hand in it. If what he is capable of gets out I’ve no doubt it will be Miyuki in the seat of power. What does that say about this society? What does it say by glorifying incest? Does Mahouka even glorify incest or is it simply portraying a challenge to conventional wisdom, one that otaku fandom will undoubtedly love? What does it say about Tatsuya as the perfect caring brother? Will we see more philosophy that lines up with objectivism or will this story explore something different? It is a bit early to explore the full theme of Mahouka in any more depth, but I hope I have provided some interesting things to ponder. I for one am looking forward to more of this story. Not so much because the anime is even all that enjoyable, but because it has provided a lesson in critical thinking.