With shows like this, that whole anime thing may just work out…
OP: “Here” by JUNNA
To have called Mahoutsukai no Yome a safe bet would be a masterpiece of understatement. If anything this show is the ultimate anime lock for me – not only is it based on a manga I know well and enjoy, but I’ve actually seen the first three episodes thanks to Crunchyroll’s theatrical screening (“Anime Movie Night”) this summer (and the prequel OVAs to boot). So while this was the best premiere of the season so far (and likely, period) that fact was pretty much a given.
Yamazaki’s Kore’s manga has had an interesting journey to television. The manga is both massively popular and massively acclaimed (it was nominated for the Taisho in 2015), but rather than jump straight to the inevitable adaptation there was an intermediate stop – the three-part prequel OVA (which I reviewed), mostly anime-original. I think those OVAs, if a bit unevenly, did their job well – they brought some color to the heroine’s background without giving away too much about what was to come (and told an interesting side-story to boot). But now we’ve arrived at the main event – a straight depiction of the events in Yamazaki’s manga. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
As we meet her, Hatori Chise (Tanezaki Atsumi, who has already proved herself an actress of considerable range and depth) is apparently selling herself into slavery. There are hints of a dark and unhappy past for this young girl, and of a point where she’d seemingly given up on life. She surrenders herself to the hands of Seth Noel (Suwabe Junichi) and what looks to be a sort of occult auction – Chise can clearly see things other people don’t see, but even she’s never seen creatures of this sort. But Chise is the main draw, even if she doesn’t understand the reason why. She draws considerable bidding, but when Elias Ainsworth (Takeuchi Ryouta) drops a 5 million Pound bid, that seems to put an end to things rather quickly.
The matter of just what Chise is – and what we should call her – is an interesting one. The official English manga releases and the CR subtitles refer to her as a “Sleigh Beggy” – which is actually a thing, a type of faerie from the mythology of the Isle of Man. But Yamazaki uses what would be Romanized as “Slay Vega” – maybe just because she liked the sound of it, but probably in reference to something like “lonesome star” (which will resonate with OVA viewers) or “child of night”. I don’t think Yamazaki-sensei ever intended the Manx “sleigh beggy” to be used so I’m not going to use it. In any event, a slay vega is what Elias refers to as a “queen bee” – they draw the interest of faeries and other magical beings, who in “helping” them sometimes do them harm. Most slay vega cannot see these creatures but Chise, as one who can, is even more rare and precious.
The emotional and mystical elements of Mahoutsukai no Yome always exist side-by-side, just as the worlds of human and faerie do. This notion of a child ostracized and lonely because of their ability to see supernatural beings is a familiar one to anime fans of course – most famously in Natsume Yuujinchou, and I think the two series do overlap thematically. Chise’s loneliness and isolation are the reason why Elias’ surprising kindness – he even refers to her as “family” (and also “puppy”) – has such a profound impact on her. He tells her she’s going to be his apprentice and brings him (through magical teleportation, much to her surprise) to his country home “west of London”. And to the lonely and emotionally-scarred Chise, this place seems like a veritable paradise.
The relationship between Chise and Elias is complicated – and he’s a mysterious and enigmatic figure, not only physically. Even in his kindness there’s something remote and alien in his bearing that Chise picks up on, and his insistence on bathing Chise (perhaps the one surrender to animanga cliche in the premiere) and casual mention that he intends to make the girl his bride are socially odd, at the very least. His house also hosts Silky (Endou Aya), the mostly-silent figure who keeps house for Elias, and is surrounded by faerie folk who prefer to be called “neighbors”. They take an immediate and keen interest in Chise as a slay vega – no doubt this is the reason Elias equips her with an adder stone (which he later admits is a “collar and bell), a precaution which comes in useful when the faeries take Chise on a midnight stroll in the forest.
This is a wonderful premiere, and Mahoutsukai no Yome is a fascinating series. The manga has significant flaws in my view, but also an undeniably “specialness” to it – it’s magical in every sense. The series takes its exploration of European (mostly British Isles) and Japanese mythology very seriously and gets the details right, but ultimately it succeeds best when it focuses on the emotional power inherent in the premise. Wit and director Naganuma Norihiro have done a wonderful job adapting it from the OVAs onward, delivering some of the most beautiful anime we’ve seen in recent years. Even right down to the ED, beautiful and cinematic, Mahoutsukai veritably screams out “not like other anime” – that specialness from the manga really carries over. Truthfully all Naganuma had to do was not screw it up and Mahoutsukai no Yome would have been quite good, but he seems to be doing considerably more than that. This should be one of the best series of 2017-18.
ED: “Wa -Cycle-” (環-cycle-) by Hana Itoki