First Impressions – Mahoutsukai no Yome

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

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20 comments

  1. D

    I somehow missed the OVA coverage entirely and wasn’t aware that there were prequel episodes around. I kinda wish I watched them before the premiere itself, though.

    Really liked the first episode. Interesting premise, curious characters and an absolute visual feast. One thing that stuck to me (which the OVA mercifully avoided) is the FMA-style comic relief randomly scattered through the episode. Don’t know if it’s a quirk from the source material, but considering they’re shooting somewhere between Miyazaki and Shinkai, that particular element felt tragically out of place.

  2. e

    Yes the superdeformed bits are in the manga source too. They are not as much frequent as in FMA either way though (yay?).

  3. I wonder if Dein is referring more to the chibism or stuff like that bath bit (which actually bothers me more). A small niggle, but I agree both feel out of place with this material.

  4. e

    Not bad. The OVAs were just a tad more lush and detailed but that was expected ( also I’m biased towards Clockwork Quick Lightning Slow and wished they could have kept it as ED for the TV series. Creepy lullabies ftw ).
    I’m rather curious to hear you explain the perceived flaws of this series as episodes allow for it. At the moment I quite liked how they re handling the material.
    Atmosphere for this is key and they are on point, up to the way the mood changes and slides in and out of becomingly magical realism into eerie when not outright insidious. Plus the fine line walked with the whole Beauty and the Beauty element to Chise and Elias’ forming bond (and that’s just one facet). And ofc the whole ‘family’ aspect.
    Cross the fingers, trace the circles, mind the thorns, enjoy the magical ride. Oh yey.
    P.S.:I agree Slay Vega seems to make more sense.

  5. Did you mean “Beauty and the Beast”, or are you opining that Elias is beautiful? He sort of is, in an artistic sense.

    I agree that they’re handling the material well – as I closed with, I think at this stage the anime is actually better than the manga. I don’t want to get into a thread about the issues I have with the manga at this point – for the difficulty of doing so without spoilers, in part. Just to be clear, I think the manga is very unique and distinct – as I said, it has a magic and specialness to it that really stands out. It’s excellent and noteworthy – just not, IMHO, a masterpiece (which very few manga are, to be fair).

  6. e

    I meant Beast yeah. A combination of repeated sentence editing there + laggy connection with related retyping woes + a sprinkling of Freudian slip ( yep design-wise he’s pretty striking, plus spoilers ) so I had decided to just not comment furtherly to fix that it after all.

    No pressure and no spoilers are being asked of you here. But I must ask as it’s about the first episode… even with the added bath scene? I’d probably felt it more out of place myself if the execution had given off less of a ‘drop the embarassed baby (or rather puppy apprentice) into bath’ to it. No threatening vibes or else of any kind attached on his side there – beyond Chise’s shortlived akwardness of course *patpat* -. But again, my perception beyond the pretty neutral angles and shots they picked in that sequence – nudity does not sexual make. But hey I imprinted at 2 on the Sistine Chapel hence one big reason bare skin per se leaves me pretty unfazed – is propably affected by spoilery knowledge, again. Let’s just say Elias is a bit of an oddskull for a variety of reasons.

  7. No, nothing specific to the first ep – more systemic flaws I see in the manga as a whole that keep it from true masterpiece level and more at 90-95th percentile level (which is still pretty fucking great). In fact, there are some bits coming up in the next few episodes I consider among the best in the series.

  8. Hmm… I’ve read the manga by now, and as you’ve mentioned, I feel something obstructing its path to mastery and excellence… But I can’t quite sense what it is. I think it may be related to the story structure, and how the narrative pulls itself forward, but I won’t quite go into the nitty-gritty specifics, for I’ll be waiting for your take on it.

    But I feel a slight author intrusiveness into how the story advances, if that makes sense.

  9. I get your drift with that statement.

  10. I don’t know. The OVAs were very beautiful looking and the premiere, while on a seemingly slightly lower budget, still captures a lot of that. This series is definitely delivering as far as the sense of wonder at the magical and surreal goes. But I also find it rather slow and a bit awkward in its setup. So here we have a 15 year old girl who’s sold into slavery to a skull-headed warlock who wants to groom her into his bride and… well, for most stories that’d be the premise of a horror, not a delicate fairy-tale (not that the two things were necessarily that different in the past…). I guess I’d like to see it acknowledge a bit more the inherent darkness of the premise. Let’s see where it goes.

    Also, if it was me instead of Chise, I’d have accepted the temptation of the fairies and would now be ruling over them in their world and the show would have turned out much different :D.

  11. Have you read the manga, Simone? That will determine whether and how I reply to that comment… 😉

  12. Nope, I haven’t :D.

  13. OK, I’ll basically shut up. I’d just say, don’t make too many assumptions about the setup based on the first episode. In short – it’s complicated.

  14. Where did you get the impression that the author is using Slay Vega? I’m pretty sure that originates from the scanlations and that the author herself hasn’t said anything about it.That the author writes it as Slay Vega and not Sleigh beggy is also wrong, スレイベガ is how you write sleigh beggy in japanese. If she had wanted to write Slay Vega スレイヴェガ would have been the better choice. The second result for スレイベガ on google is literally a page about sleigh beggy from a japanese wiki about mythological creatures.

  15. Addition, I checked the author’s twitter and they have confirmed that スレイ・ベガ is a word from Isle of Man, so it’s definitely supposed to be Sleigh Beggy.
    https://twitter.com/EzoYamazaki00/status/902038350789357568

  16. I don’t have any specific reason to doubt you, but that’s really not how you’d spell “beggy” in Katakana. You’d almost certainly use a ペ character for that.

  17. C

    Japanese translators (ie: Japanese people who translate things from other languages into Japanese) aren’t perfect either. Regardless of whether or not スレイ・ベガ properly conveys the correct pronunciation of Sleigh Beggy, that’s how it ended up, and that’s how a Japanese reader would understand the term (insofar as they understand it at all). The transcription of katakana is an imperfect science at the best of times.

    Heck, the Japanese wikipedia lists three different ways of writing Apollon: アポルローン, アポローン, and アポロン. And I happen to be familiar with a Japanese writer who at first didn’t even realize that the Apollo rockets were named after the god Apollo, because they were written in katakana differently.

  18. Well, there are multiple Romaji spelling systems that are more or less officially recognized, and they often disagree with each other. So in the end the intentions of the author are the important point, and if indeed she wants “sleigh beggy” I’d go with that. But “slay vega” or sleigh vega sure makes more sense.

  19. l

    The other issue here is that we (if we’re all Americans) may be pronouncing “Sleigh Beggy” wrong and the Japanese attempt at it is closer to the real thing. Manx is a Gaelic language and those are notorious for being spelled one way and pronounced something completely different (e.g. Irish Fionn MacCumhal = Finn MacCool, Conchubar = Connor). Not to mention, there are a whole host of English names that aren’t pronounced how they are spelled (e.g. Worcestershire, Marylebone, etc.)

    It could be possible that the pronunciation is more like “slay beg-gih” than “slay beg-gee”.

  20. Romaiji systems are rules for writing kana in latin letters and have no bearing on how to write non-japanese words with kana. There isn’t really any rules for the latter so you generally have to follow the whims of the first japanese speakers who translated the words, who sometimes choose pretty odd pronounciations. Such may very well be the case for sleigh beggy (I have no idea how it’s supposed to be pronounced in manx gaelic so I can’t say) but that doesn’t change that the established way of writing it in japanese is スレイ·ベガ no matter how odd it might seem to someone who knows how the word is supposed to be pronounced. The japanese sources that mention スレイ·ベガ (mostly various sites related to mythology, can provide links if necessary) all refer to sleigh beggy.

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