Reign of the Seven Spellblades is the first anime I’ve watched in years to wriggle free of the shackles of the bad “overpowered student at magic school” trope. Anyone who’s been watching anime or reading manga for any length of time will know what trope I’m talking about; these series tend to involve a student (or, rarely, a teacher) showing up to a new school, often as a transfer student. That student will have an air of mystery about them and typically underrate their own ridiculously powerful abilities while lamenting about some sort of dark past or hidden trauma. On day one, they tend to coincidentally have a run-in with the otherwise most powerful student at the school before handily defeating them and beginning a semester of being OP and collecting a harem of characters that go from powerful deuteragonist to shallow, blushing love interest.
To my pleasant surprise, Reign of the Seven Spellblades not only dodges these pitfalls, but also enhances their foundation. What I mean by this is that characters will often share some of the principle components of bad magic school anime characters, like having a dark backstory, but will expound on that story in ways that actually make their characters interesting and compelling rather than typical and boring. I make the Harry Potter comparison for the same reason that I make the comparison to other magic-school-based anime. Harry Potter, transphobic bore of an author aside, suffers from its b-stories falling off in comparison to its main one. The long fight against Voldemort certainly relates to the mistreatment of house elves, but only one of these things stays relevant through every book and makes it into the movies. While I will freely admit the anime starts off much slower in story progression than I’d have liked (while ironically rushing some character development in comparison to the light novels), I will also say the payoff is worth it. Reign of the Seven Spellblades paints an incredibly layered mosaic of a magical world, featuring a magic academy filled with danger and dark secrets, a culture around spellcasting that is uncomfortably okay with students facing constant death, and sociopolitical worldbuilding spanning from talking about elite family bloodlines to bushido code. This anime is by no means perfect or legendary, but I believe the story rises to a level worth watching. Let’s talk about it.
The Story’s Structure
The first thing to note about this anime’s broader plot is that it is not a common shonen-style beginning where the main character confidentially states the grand goal in episode one. There is no title being chased or treasure being searched for. To me, this isn’t a problem (and plenty of people enjoy anime like Dragon Ball that lack “I wanna be Hokage” moments) but I find this to be a common component of negative criticism. Reign of the Seven Spellblades takes place at Kimberly Magic Academy, a massive castle of a school where students learn all about spellcasting and magic while grappling with its dangers. The study of magic in this world is quite accepting of the inherent risks that come with messing with natural forces; it is commonplace and even accepted that in pursuit of higher knowledge students will find themselves “consumed by the spell,” going insane, dying, or falling into madness in pursuit of something. Only four out of five students at Kimberly live to graduate and the school itself sits atop of a massive labyrinth that constantly shifts its layout like the procedurally-generated floors of a video game dungeon. Underclassmen who opt to venture outside their dorms at night die quite often due to the labyrinth.
The story initially focuses mostly on Oliver Horn, the protagonist, and Nanao Hibiya, the primary deuteragonist. The core group is rounded out by four other characters. Katie is relatively timid early on and has a strong affinity toward magical creatures and demi humans, unlike most people in this world who treat all of them like cattle. Guy is a sort of bro type who admittedly is mostly around for jokes but isn’t harming much. Michela is a bit niche, coming from a well-renowned family with a long history of magical knowledge and therefore acting as a reliable source of exposition for the characters newer to magic, and thus also for the audience. Finally, Pete, a personal favorite, is this story’s Hermione: comes from a non-magical family, is incredibly book smart, and gets bullied for both.
Rather than having a single overarching plot, Reign of the Seven Spellblades follows a variety of character arcs that tend to overlap and uncover details about each other. Oliver’s story does not get fully explained in the first few episodes, and given that he’s the main character, I think this is where a lot of the “this anime has no plot” complaints come from. But all of the stories and character arcs come together to tell a narrative about corruption and power. Spellblades, one of the show’s titular magics, are basically one-shot spells with absurd strength and next to no counter. They are well hidden and incredibly desired by powerful mages, the same mages who preside over the school and have massive influence over different parts of the world. This overarching narrative, consequently, focuses a lot on the consolidation and pursuit of power as well as how that corrupts people and forces characters to abandon fundamental aspects of their humanity and livelihood. This is a story that I appreciate but I can understand why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But, to me, good plot lines aren’t always linear ones.
A Nice Cast of Characters
The characters are what kept the anime interesting to me. The primary duo, Oliver and Nanao, have an interesting dynamic that puts opposing life philosophies against one another. Nanao is a samurai who received special admission to the school after a famous professor witnessed her battle skill in Azia (not a typo). She’s relatively cheerful, especially toward Oliver, but has a very strong inclination toward warfare and battle, believing that putting one’s life on the line honors an opponent and that finding the right way to die can be just as important as living. Oliver, in contrast, focuses heavily on the sanctity of life and isn’t against tossing aside his pride if it means saving the life of himself and his comrades. Ironically, he is one of the few people with the capacity for bloodlust and passion to match Nanao and give her a proper death match, but he does not want to kill someone for what he perceives to be no reason. I won’t spoil some of the finer details of his character, but it’s very much true that he is a presence that leaves you wanting to learn more and more about him, especially when different, conflicting aspects of his personality slip out. Action sequences and music in this anime look fantastic and seeing these two interesting people clash with both blades and philosophies is quite entertaining.
The core group of students is often at odds with others at Kimberly and that’s what drives just about all of their interactions at school during this first season of the anime. All of their quirks and idiosyncrasies sort of fall into characters of having something (a concept, a group, etc.) that they want to protect and cherish. Like I mentioned earlier, a key theme of this series is people seeking to acquire things for themselves at the expense of others, so you can probably see how the main group would bump shoulders with people like that quite often. I often feel as though Reign of the Seven Spellblades made the explicit choice to take some character traits that characters might often have multiple of and split them across the main six. I do think this helps quite a bit with balancing things; I never feel like I’m getting far too much of a single person.
Mystery and Edge in Reign of the Seven Spellblades
To be incredibly frank, I think a lot of people will give up on this show in the first few episodes and I can’t completely blame them. Especially with how stacked this season was and how many top-tier anime came from it it’s hard to justify giving things a chance when other options are reliably good. I remember reaching episode three and thinking of the classic “three episode test” and whether this anime was passing it. At the time I wasn’t 100% sure whether I thought it did or not, but I pressed on. Obviously I don’t regret it, but I think it’s worth noting that this anime is probably losing a lot of people early when it backloads the quality. Most reviews you see online will specify that episode six is where it “gets good.” I agree with the sentiment there and found the anime slowly increased in quality for me before lurching even higher at episode six.
The reason for the increase in appeal, again, without spoiling anything, is that the overall mystery behind Kimberly, its teachers, and a lot of generic weirdness in the world of Reign of the Seven Spellblades start to get built upon more while adding an incredible new layer to Oliver.
I like this anime quite a bit and I think it’s a solid 7 out of 10 overall while perhaps being more close to 4 or 5 early on. But luckily, this isn’t a series you’ll have to wait hundreds of episodes to really get into. I’d recommend giving Reign of the Seven Spellblades a chance, especially if you like magic, long mysteries with some darker elements, and pretty satisfying combat.
Images via Crunchyroll
© 2023 Bokuto Uno / KADOKAWA / Kimberly Magic Academy