One of the smaller shows from last season, we’re back in the “it’s our world but not quite” mode of storytelling in Japan with this offering from Studio Silver Link. Eschewing the standard setup, Anti-Magic Academy 35th Test Platoon goes for a balls to the wall, comedy, horror, sci-fi mashup and serves it up with dollops of drama and ecchi-style humour. It’s just a shame that the length of the show means that we’re not getting answers to some of its questions any time soon.
Set in a universe where Magic dominates the world instead of science, the Anti-Magic Academy (which is set in Japan because that’s just how it is) is charged with destroying witches, warlocks, succubus and demons using any and all means necessary. There was a war and the magic users lost. So the academy is one branch of the cleanup operation. Each student body is formed into squadrons and are commanded by the Chairman of the Academy like regular soldiers. One of the academy’s worst students is Takeru Kusanagi, a young man who couldn’t command a cold much less his fellow students but has stunning control over his swordsmanship to the point he can cut a bullet in half without any trouble. The only problem with that is that the Inquisitors of Heretics (what they call magic users) use guns and bullets so a guy with a sword is as useful as a chocolate teapot. So after yet another troublesome assignment, his 35th Squadron is assigned a new lieutenant, Oka Otori, who happens to be the stepdaughter of the Chairman. A fiery redhead with a killer combat demeanor, she joins a squad she wants nothing to do with including hyper unlucky Usagi Saionji (the team sniper) Ikaruga Suginami (team hacker and general mischief maker) and Takeru himself.
Where 35th Squadron works is that it honestly doesn’t care what kind of genre it ends up in. It knew that it was going to be a mishmash because the opening of episode one shows the whole squad in pieces, all dramatic stuff to be sure, and then flashes back to the misfit squad being formed. So we know there’s trouble down the road. From there, we get comedy with Usagi zoning out during her duties as a sniper and Ikaruga being a little maniac and getting the team into trouble by giving them other squads assignments that clearly are too complicated for them. Or when the squad finds a magical item that, once Takeru puts it on, the opposite sex (i.e. the girls in the squad) starts acting drunk. They range from the flirt to the wailing alcoholic. Along the way, we get the typical romantic hijinks with Takeru, Oka and newly installed witch (more on that in a sec) Mari. Mari doesn’t want anything to do with the team (they kill witches for a living, OK?) but Takeru is such a gosh darned nice guy, who wouldn’t fall in love with him? Cue hijinks as both girls fall over themselves to put the other down in front and behind Takeru. Never change anime. But all joking aside, the show takes on a very dark path as we are introduced to the main villain, Haunted, played in a hysterically over dramatic way by voice actor Koji Yusa. Between his fits of laughter, Haunted plays everyone around him with a cold-bloodedness that frankly is scary. He can chat with you like you’re his best friend one second and run you through the next. His schemes ensnare the 35th squad first through Mari (her being caught by the authorities was Haunted’s fault) and double-crossing her, trying to drive a wedge through the team by exploiting their weaknesses and then ensuring that Takeru’s sister (who is an all powerful demon girl who turned herself into the authorities) falls into his hands so that he can do even more psychopathic things to people. Takeru’s demeanour changes over the run of the show as his ability to joke and take it in his stride gets knocked then chipped away as more and more people get caught up in the struggle between Haunted, the Academy Chairman and a private corporation that does research on magic and other forbidden technologies. He does battle for his squad and his family first using just his sword skills then using magical armour and a Relic Eater called Lapis (a blade that transforms into a purple-haired young maid and bonds to Takeru’s soul). As his squad and family get ground up in Haunted’s schemes, Takeru gets to his breaking point and sees red.
See, that leads into a part of 35th Platoon that I didn’t expect to see. In most of these types of fighting adventure shows, there’s always a rich, evil corporation (hey, Resident Evil spoiled Japanese gamers and viewers so why quit now?) trying to carry out some experiment or goal that will destroy the world. Which runs, at least in anime, in two ways: they don’t realise that is what will happen and dismiss the notion out of hand or two, they want the Earth’s destruction to happen. Here, they want to bring back elves which were wiped out in humanities drive to destroy all things magic. To that end, they’ve been trying to acquire enough items, creatures and techniques, including some developed by Ikaruga and her sister, to bring this about. Or at least, that’s what is hinted at when the head of the company (who happens to be a little-ish girl) and Chairman Otori talk during a battle. It’s further hinted at when Kiseki Kusanagi (Takeru’s sister) breaks out of the facility that is housing her and the Chairman doesn’t even look panicked that a very powerful girl is running around the city tearing it up, killing anyone she comes across. It’s like he knows that it’ll turn out the way he wants it to go from the very beginning. The squad itself has a ton of dirty secrets There’s things like this that make we wish there was more in terms of episode count. At twelve episodes, it’s not enough.
The animation in 35th Platoon is good with the magical attacks and monsters. The character designs by Kosuke Kawamura are fresh, if having teenagers in vaguely Germanic officers uniforms does it for you, and the comedic reactions of some of the characters brought a smile to my face. The music wasn’t anything special but then, it didn’t need to be.
Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon wasn’t a show on my radar from last year so finding myself marathoning through it made me realise I was really, genuinely enjoying it. Never settling for one tone, this allows the show to slide into darker and darker material as it goes along. This has the added bonus that when there is levity, it’s a release for the characters rather than a writing exercise for the showrunners. It’s currently running in most territories from Crunchyroll. Have a look and hope there’s a second season to resolve matters.