Review for Mikagura School Suite
I tend to review more than one thing at a time, if only for the sake of my sanity. Can you imagine sitting down for three straight hours and watching (insert most hated anime here) for review? There may be something to be said for getting the pain done and over with, but I like the variety of watching more than one show a night, and the bite-size approach to watching just a couple of episodes makes it easier to appreciate a show, rather than have it all blur into one. Now last year, when Funimation started releasing anime directly in the UK, I noted that I hadn’t heard of any of the shows that they had lined up, whereas those Funimation titles that were coming out through All the Anime, were the a-list titles, getting much-deserved Ultimate and Collector’s Editions. Forget variety, and forget my sanity, the past couple of weeks have seen a perfect storm of mediocrity on my review list, as all the Funimation titles bunched up together. By now, you’ll have seen my reviews for Brothers Conflict, and No-Rin. As I pick up the Mikagura School Suite check discs, I’m exhorting them, “Baby, you better not stink!”
Eruna Ichinomiya has just one thing on her mind, choosing and getting into a decent high school. Actually, that’s a lie. The one thing on her mind is her fantasy dream girl, Yuriko, but her family reminds her that she really needs to get a move on and get her future sorted out. Fortunately, her cousin Shigure shows up with a brochure to his school, Mikagura Academy, and its emphasis on after-school clubs seems to cater for Eruna’s otaku interests. More importantly is the girl in the brochure, Seisa Mikagura, granddaughter of the school principal, and a real world rival to Eruna’s dream girl Yuriko. The entrance exam is beyond easy, but when her dorm room turns out to be a sleeping bag in a corridor, and the food little more than bread crusts, Eruna learns of Mikagura Academy’s odd hierarchy (from a talking floating cat teacher).
You have to be a member of a club, and you have to partake of club battles to obtain perks like dorm rooms and edible food. The reason that Eruna got in so easily is that coming from the Ichinomiya line, she has the innate skills and abilities that will fit right in. Sure enough, her first club battle sees her powers awaken, and she manages an unexpected win. And seeing this talent, Seisa Mikagura invites Eruna to join her Going Home club... briefly. For while Seisa and Eruna are unique in being able to channel their powers without a Summoning Object, there’s one significant difference between them. Eruna Ichinomiya is a natural born idiot. If she wants to succeed in Mikagura Academy, she’ll have to start a club of her own.
The twelve episodes of Mikagura School Suite are presented across the two Blu-ray discs in this combo release as follows.
1. Youthful Prelude
2. After-School Strike
3. Not Quite a Heroine
4. Apathetic Coup d’état
5. School Fantasia
6. Junk Innocence
7. Izayoi Seeing
8. Unidentified Treasure
9. Derailed Scandal
10. Sleeping Bag Haunting
11. Nostalgic Triangle
12. Infinite Grand Finale
Mikagura School Suite’s transfer onto this Blu-ray is par for the course for Funimation. The 1.78:1 image is clear and sharp, with great detail, excellent colour reproduction, and with the minimum of digital banding to complain about. There are no other artefacts, compression or aliasing to worry about. You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with subtitles and signs, locked during playback. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos.
It’s a pretty standard comedy show, with appealing, if generic character designs and a nice simple world design. It does what it needs to sell the animation, and there’s little or anything approaching flair or style. It is watchable enough though, with a decent Japanese audio track, and a dub from Funimation, weighted toward the loud that passes for comedy, and with Monica Rial in the main role delivering her usual brand of unmitigated screechy.
The discs present their content with static menus.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Funimation NOW.
There is a commentary here for episode 9, featuring ADR Directors Cris George and Sonny Strait (also the voice of Biimi), alongside Monica Rial (Eruna).
Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
The commentary on this disc accompanies episode 10, with Sonny Strait, and Cris George again, this time joined by the voice of Seisa, Jamie Marchi, who is also lead adaptive writer on the show.
You’ll also find the textless opening, 5 textless closings, promo videos, a TV spot, BD/DVD promos, and the US trailer for the show.
There are further trailers for Rainy Cocoa, Barakamon, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, The Rolling Girls, and A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd.
If you’ve been reading my anime reviews of late, you’ll know that I’m in something of a slump. It isn’t lack of enthusiasm, or something as mundane as writer’s block. It’s just the matter that the anime being released in the UK at this moment in time just isn’t very good. I’ve been surfing a tide of mediocrity the past few weeks with titles like Dog & Scissors, No-Rin, and Brothers Conflict passing my eager eyes, only for those eyes to be let down by shows that don’t even bother trying anymore, with anime studios just picking a manga or light novel, or ero-game of the week to adapt, without considering whether it’s actually worth the effort. Mikagura School Suite looks on the face of it to be just another one of the same, a girl going to a high school where after school clubs are the in-thing, and a student’s status is determined by what club they join, or create, and where that club stands in the magical school battles. There was a moment where I was getting this show and another, Absolute Duo mixed up, so similar are their initial premises. But to my surprise, Mikagura School Suite turned out to be pretty entertaining, and I’d even venture as far as saying that it’s good. As for Absolute Duo, you’ll just have to wait a couple of days for that review.
Mikagura School Suite doesn’t make it easy to like though. I mean, let’s face it, the magical battles in school shtick has been done to death now. It’s the plot of practically every light novel being written, and it really needs to be put to bed. The studios need to move on, and find another trope to bury. In this show it’s all about after-school clubs. In Mikagura Academy, a student’s status determines how they live at school, whether they get a dorm room, decent food, or whether they get a sleeping bag in a corridor and half a chunk of bland tofu for breakfast. When the main character Eruna Ichinomiya starts, she isn’t even a member of a club, which means she is on the lowest rung of the ladder. She needs to join a club, and a club with high standing in the club battles to get some decent perks. Once you join a club, your innate magical ability activates (for some reason that I don’t really care about, and you don’t really have to know to watch this show as it’s all so much expositional blah anyway), you get a special power, usually activated by some object associated with a club, but for a couple of rare individuals, Eruna one of them, can be activated without an object.
The other girl who can do this is Seisa Mikagura, so high up in the standings that she lives in a mansion, and has a teacher for a maid. She’s also a member of the Going Home Club (school parlance for someone not in a club), and doesn’t even need to fight in the battles. Eruna’s been fixated on her since she first saw her, and wants to join her club.
The other weak point in the show is that the main character conforms to the predatory lesbian cliché that is borderline offensive. In some shows it even crosses the border, but not in Mikagura School Suite, where Eruna’s attraction to girls is fairly harmless and mostly verbalised or imagined. But she does want to start a club called “Surrounding Eruna Ichinomiya With Cute Girls Club”. The show unfolds in a predictable way, with Eruna the enthusiastic idiot aiming for her Sapphic harem, having to take part in the club battles, encountering plenty of interesting characters and clubs along the way, including the drama club, the demure girls of the calligraphy club, the art club, the flower arranging club, and you can bet that a tsundere will make an appearance and significant contribution to the story. There’s also a mascot animal ending his sentences in a nonsense noise, who’s also a teacher. I’ve said on previous occasions that certain anime can write themselves, and Mikagura School Suite is one of them.
So what’s good about this show? Well, it turns out that Mikagura School Suite has an engaging story buried beneath the usual comic nonsense, and it’s a story with a beginning, middle and end in this series, a story with an emotionally resonant core. At the start of the show, Eruna is attracted to Mikagura Academy by the image of Seisa Mikagura, a girl who rapidly supplants Eruna’s fantasy dream image as the kind of girl she wants to be close to. Only when she starts school, it turns out that Seisa has a few issues. For one thing, being a member of the Going Home Club means that she has essentially dropped out. And when Eruna finally meets her, Seisa’s a little hot and cold with her. She takes pity on the girl sleeping in the corridor, even briefly invites her to join her club, but when Eruna’s abilities manifest she changes her mind and throws her out. Then Seisa has a change of heart and lets Eruna stay in her mansion while she figures out what club to start (in a sleeping bag in a corridor of course), but once Eruna starts moving forward in that regard, and even recruits a member (the aforementioned tsundere), it seems even the mansion is closed off to her.
It becomes clear that Seisa Mikagura is tormented by some kind of trauma, that she is both drawn to Eruna, and compelled to push her away, keep her at arm’s length. So the real, emotional core to the show is Eruna finding out just what trauma there is in Seisa’s past, and trying to help her through it, whether she wants that help or not. Most of these identikit high school magical battle shows wind up with one boy and a harem centred around a grey-haired quiet girl, relationship hijinks and saucy comedy masking a plot heavy on exposition and jargon, and dark conspiracies. Mikagura School Suite has relationship hijinks and saucy comedy, but what makes it different is that the story is an involving and emotionally effective one, it invites you to care about the characters, and even if it isn’t particularly impressive in how it does it, Mikagura School Suite is different enough to warrant consideration.