As expected, the “Hoshi Matsu Hito” OVAs are going to be followed by a full (two cour) TV series of Mahoutsukai no Yome – we’ve known that for a while. And having seen the first three episodes in a theatre, I can say with little fear of contradiction that most fans of the manga aren’t going to be disappointed. But while it was the literal adaptation of the manga that those fans were surely most anxious for, this original prequel by director Naganuma Norihiro and Takaha Aya more than stands on its own – in fact, it impresses as an outstanding piece of art on its own terms.
I’m not sure “Mahoutsukai” needed a prequel, per se – I think the manga gets you wrapped up in the story pretty quickly. But I do think “Hoshi Matsu Hito” enhances the experience of watching this series, and that’s because it manages to make sense as an origin story for Chise. More than that, it tells a very powerful and moving story of its own, elegant in its simplicity. As gloriously detailed as the art in these OVAs is, the narrative is quite minimal. It’s a story of loneliness, kindness given freely and love of books – all themes in the parent series too, but distilled down to their essence here.
Readers of the manga will know that in the end the story contained in “Hoshi Matsu Hito” is more than simply a prequel, but I won’t go into details there for obvious reasons. What’s important is that Miura Riichi’s tale is a powerful and moving one, and the impact he had on Chise is ongoing. Miura loved a young woman, the daughter of his wealthy employer. He assumed there could be no future for them, but the truth of it is that Niikura Mayumi loved Riichi every bit as much as he loved her. In the end she gave him a book (and the message contained therein) to remember her by, and with it extracted a promise to one day return the book to her. It seemed as though that promise would not be kept, but fate intervened in the form of Chise.
The OVAs don’t explain in detail exactly what happened to Miura-san – how he came to end up a “captive” (in his own words) in that strange and wonderful library in the forest. Manga readers will be able to piece it together a little easier, but that’s a cheat of sorts. Elias does tell us that the truth lies in the Legends of Tono (a very famous book compiled by folklorist Yanagita Tonio, chronicling the legends of Iwate Prefecture) – specifically the tale of the Mayoiga (a hidden house or village which brings good luck to visitors). The gist of it is that one cannot leave the Mayoiga unless they bring one item with them – something Miura seemed to know full well when he gave Chise that library card and those books to take with her. But there was no one there to give such a gift to him, and thus he remained always in the library.
Really, though, this is the story of those two books – “The Lonely Little Star”, which is in a sense the tale of Chise’s life, and that book that Niikura Mayumi gave to Miura-san, “Spring Will be Missed”. Miura, in his final moments as the library begins to disappear around him, gives this book to Chise and implores her to do what he could not – fulfill his promise by returning the book to Niikura-san. This Chise does, first going to the house where the family lives, only to be told that Mayumi-san is in the hospital. She’s an old woman now, with great-grandchildren, but she remembers that book as soon as she sees it.
What stays with me – in addition to the stunning imagery of these episodes – is the pain and loneliness of Chise and the kindness of Miura and Niikura-san. It’s that “simple yet profound” thing the Japanese seem to do so well again. Even as a prisoner, a seeming victim of fate, Miura-san takes it upon himself to give Chise hope – to show her that there is light in the darkness, and that if she looks for it long enough she’ll find it. And so indeed she has, albeit in an extraordinarily unlikely place. I’m ready now for that story to begin, but I’ll enjoy it that much more now, with the richness and poignancy that “Hoshi Matsu Hito” adds to the mix.