The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide Merc StoriA: The Apathetic Boy and the Girl in a Bottle
How would you rate episode 1 of
Merc Storia: The Apathetic Boy and the Girl in a Bottle ?
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How was the first episode?
I can't get over how much I love the fact that Merc, the eponymous water fairy of the series, lives in what looks like a very fancy old-fashioned canning jar. It's a small thing, and possibly someone who doesn't enjoy digging around old dumps as much as I do wouldn't care about, but it really gives the visuals to Merc Storia a little extra something, if only in that it adds creativity to what is otherwise a fairly cookie-cutter fantasy world. Plus, since Merc's lower body appears to actually be liquid, it adds an element of slight danger to things as well, as her jar breaking could have disastrous consequences.
The story itself also has a little more going for it than you might expect. Largely that's the fact that protagonist Yuu is a healer, not a more battle-oriented class. Similarly to the Riders in Monster Hunter Stories RIDE ON, Yuu's ability allows him to work with monsters, especially those known as “Enigmas,” which have been somehow wounded or infected. Enigmas attack humans whereas regular monsters do not, so healers like Yuu are really important to the world's well-being. The only catch? Yuu's actually afraid of monsters, so despite Merc egging him on or his dad telling him that he's got a wonderful skill, Yuu isn't eager to use it.
Given that, as a web comic once put it, “aggro” generally means “the priest dies,” he may have a point. That certainly begs the question of why Yuu and Merc are setting out on an adventure in the first place. The episode does give us two possibilities, one of which is that he's been orphaned since we initially met his parents in the opening. The fact that we see his dad giving his mom a ring and now there are two rings in Merc's jar would seem to support that possibility, although Merc's mention of his allowance might contradict it. In any event, it seems unlikely that Yuu would be out making his way in the world if he didn't have to, given his clearly crippling fear of monsters, even the cute little bunny one the subtitles call Mr. Fluffball. (I prefer what Merc actually calls him, Mochi Mochi Monster, which rolls nicely off the tongue.) Whatever the reason, he's certainly being set up for a difficult journey.
Ultimately this feels like a very harmless episode. The character and monster designs are cute and interesting enough, the world feels very standard in terms of RPG fantasy, and the plot is basically just giving us what we need to know in order to proceed. If you're a fan of family shows (or canning jars), this is going to be worth giving another couple of episodes to see where it goes.
Well, that sure was unexpectedly charming. Starting with a premise as tried-and-true as “young boy and mysterious girl head off an adventure to discover their past,” Merc Storia seems determined to prove that you don't really need a wild hook or pulse-pounding action to make a fantasy story compelling. All you really need are charming characters, and a world that feels worth exploring.
Merc Storia's biggest strength is how well it nails that “charming characters” part. Our leads Yuu and Merc develop an immediate rapport in this episode that never lets up, demonstrating in scene after scene what good friends they are, and how well they play off each other. I was basically sold almost from the start, when Merc was forced to negotiate with an adorable cat-creature to allow Yuu to pass, but subsequent scenes only solidified my fondness for this pair. Merc in particular is so enthusiastic and expressive, and her fairy-in-a-bottle design so charming and unique, that she does a tremendous amount of heavy lifting in making this episode a success.
It also helps that the world these two are adventuring through seems so lively and beautiful. From its intricately detailed interiors to the beautifully lit and vividly colored countrysides, the world of Merc Storia is lush and inviting, brought to life through softly painted backgrounds that perfectly match the show's warm fantasy tone. Merc Storia's overall visual aesthetic isn't all that novel, but its goofy monster designs and the general excellence of its art design make it a consistent pleasure to watch, and there are even some very strong cuts of animation sprinkled throughout. Couple that with the very expressive leads and unique visual opportunities afforded by Merc's design, and you end up with a show that's resoundingly pleasant in both narrative and aesthetic.
Merc Storia certainly doesn't have a perfect premiere. I found the thinness of its overall worldbuilding a little suspect, but more importantly, this episode's pacing felt consistently slow. A large number of scenes here dragged on for a good twenty or thirty seconds longer than they should have, squandering the show's tonal appeal and just coming off as clumsy in practice. The show also spent far too much time reiterating the nature of Yuu's powers, and the comedy was often pretty safe or stale. All of these issues seem like a natural consequence of Merc being aimed at somewhat younger audiences, but they do harm its general appeal.
Still, on the whole, Merc Storia's first episode was pretty and endearing from start to finish. Its storytelling is likely a little too repetitive and simplistic to keep my attention for a season, but if you just want a light and breezy adventure with some nice characters, you could do a lot worse.
Rather than the typical mobile app game adaptation that we've been seeing lately, Merc Storia feels like it's intended to be at least accessible to younger audiences. It's very much structured like a classic shonen adventure story, with a boy setting out on a grand adventure with a couple of cute companions, though in this case his reasons are ill-defined. Since his father has not returned, we can presume that Yuu's journey is at least part about searching for him, though he doesn't ever state that explicitly; in fact, he's actually reluctant to go at first because he's not brave at all. It could also be about helping Merc to regain her memory, though that isn't explicitly stated either. Or he could just be getting dragged along by the much more assertive Merc. Whatever the reason, why he's free to go on this journey is rather vague too. His mother is shown in initial scenes, but is she not around anymore? Surely she'd have some say in Yuu just up and leaving.
Of course, all of this is probably dramatically overthinking the story, as depth and complexity do not appear to be goals here. This is a standard monster-taming setup, except for two things: Yuu's timidity and Merc's existence. On the former point, an adventuresome spirit is so much the norm for this kind of character that I have to wonder what the goal is in making him every bit the opposite of that. He essentially has to be shamed into using his rather potent ability to tame monsters, so I'm hoping that this is meant to be a confidence-building arc, especially in lieu of any explanation for why he's so timid; Yuu comes across as rather pathetic.
Meanwhile, Merc represents the mystery component of the premise. The shopkeepers suggest that she's a fairy, but that doesn't seem accurate. Exactly what is she, and how did she end up in this situation? And does she have any actual power besides just being able to fly her jar around? Those are all interesting questions, though I suspect that the series won't get to answering them definitively any time soon.
As a whole, the first episode is clearly depending more on cuteness for its appeal than anything else, since its technical merits beyond the bizarre monster designs are nothing special, and the featured action scene isn't much of a fight. Frankly, I'm left wondering what audience this is aimed at beyond those who have played the source game.
Merc Storia looks like the kind of series that I'd enjoy more if I were at least fifteen years younger. This first episode definitely casts it as more of a children's show than an all-ages adventure, and while that's a perfectly fine route to take, it's one that I have little to no interest in following. The plot is a little too simple, the drama is a little too light, and the messages are entirely too obvious to offer any serious appeal to an older audience. On the upside, despite its origins as a game adaptation, Merc Storia looks like it might be a little more heartfelt and wholesome than many of its genre counterparts.
If you happen to be somewhere in the vicinity of eight to ten years old, I imagine you'll find the main characters more engaging than I did. Yuu is a bit of a blank slate apart from his fear of monsters, which should make him relatively easy for young viewers to identify with but also means he lacks depth as a protagonist. Merc's character design is genuinely adorable, and for the most part she does a decent job of playing the magical companion role. Their fluffy monster friend, on the other hand, strikes me as a little too shrill and squeaky despite its lack of actual dialogue. I'm also curious as to why a bunch of theoretically responsible adults would encourage a child to hop on board a traveling merchant caravan, but I guess we wouldn't have much of a story otherwise.
As for the story itself, my feelings are mixed here. On one hand, the repetition of themes and basic concepts in this episode is beyond annoying. At some point, I stopped trying to count the number of times the script mentioned Yuu's ability to use healing magic to make monsters friendly. Even kids only need to hear the same information so many times before it sinks in. On the upside, I really like that core idea of resolving conflicts by “healing” monsters instead of bonking them on the head with a sword or blasting them with a fireball. It's a refreshing change of pace from the usual fantasy action fare, and is arguably a better message for a children's show.
Merc Storia also seems to have its act together on the visual front, with some reasonably eye-catching magic effects and a couple of very nice establishing shots. The general lack of crappy CG animation is another plus, especially as more and more shows rely on it for their monsters. All of this adds up to an unusual situation where I have an overall positive impression of a series despite being personally bored out of my skull. Merc Storia is absolutely not for me, but I think it'll work quite well for its intended audience.
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