The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Märchen Mädchen ?
What is this?
Hazuki has what she calls “Story Syndrome” – whenever things get too difficult or scary in her life, she reads. This has caused not only a rift between her and her new stepfamily, who just can't understand the solace she finds in the printed word, but has also led to her isolation at school. It's not that Hazuki wants to be alone either – she just can't find the courage to do anything but read. Then one day she meets someone she thinks she can be friends with. While eating at a fast food restaurant, Hazuki sees a girl in a hooded cloak that no one else seems to be aware of. Convinced that this is her moment to find the entryway to the world of stories, she follows the girl to a mysterious library. Once there, a strange tome included in her purchases at the local bookstore begins to glow and allows her to follow the stranger into another world. Hazuki has indeed found her way to the land of magic and stories, because she's a Maedchen, a girl chosen by a storybook – and now she'll get to enroll in a magic school to find out what that's all about. Maerchen Maedchen is based on a series of light novels and streams on Crunchyroll, Thursdays at 11:00 AM EST
How was the first episode?
When I first heard the concept for this one, I was expecting a magical tale involving girls and special books. While we do get exactly that, this episode delivers much more and heads in at least one unexpected direction.
What I mean by that is all the fanservice, which shows up multiple times in the opener and then in one lengthy sequence through the latter part of the episode, as the main character finds herself running around naked while trying to use her book to protect her modesty. However, while certain shots were clearly chosen with titillation in mind, the first episode also makes a rather amusing game out of keeping Hazuki just barely covered up by various obstacles. Her near-nudity is also used appropriately enough for the situation to not seem purely gratuitous, since the point at the end of the sequence is revealed to be showing how Hazuki could use the magic of her book to transform into a magical outfit. It also raises questions about whether the older woman took Hazuki's clothes in order to force such a confrontation.
Beyond that, the first episode was also surprisingly engaging in how thoroughly it establishes its heroine. Hazuki is successful as a completely relatable and sympathetic character, a young bookworm who is simultaneously struggling with both adjusting to a new family and her own social awkwardness, which results in her retreating into the realm of books rather than making friends, to the point where she literally flees from conflict. By the time she begins pursuing the cloaked figure into the magical realm, it's not hard to understand why she could be motivated to do that when she normally shies away from everything else. She wants to change and practically idolizes having a magical adventure, even if she does find it overwhelming at first.
The first episode is also remarkably well put-together. It moves the character on to the crux of the premise soon enough to keep from being boring, keeps things light enough through its musical score to turn the naked chase scene into a more playful event, becomes suitably dramatic where necessary, and effectively introduces some other important characters. It also provides sufficiently enticing hints about its mechanics. Nice background visuals and better-than-expected animation also contribute to a positive impression.
Overall, the first episode isn't appointment viewing by any means, but it's good and interesting enough that I'll likely be watching more.
Maerchen Maedchen taps into a very specific phase that should be familiar to plenty of literary nerds. I spent plenty of summers and school breaks holed up in my room reading fantasy works, scouring the library for anything with a fairy or mermaid or some kind of grand quest. Hazuki is the same way, blending her fascination with fairy tales with a bit of loneliness-fueled chuunibiyo, she waits for some kind of hint that maybe magic actually is real and she's special.
The groundwork for the story had me pretty excited. I actually managed to stick through three seasons of Once Upon a Time before it got way too convoluted solely because of its literary connections to my childhood. Bringing those characters together in a magic school is exactly my cup of tea regardless of many “transported to another world” and “magic school” anime already exist. The real magic of Maerchen Maedchen is how it managed to wear down my good graces by the minute. The opening sequence was the first red flag, partially because of the content but mostly because it's just recycled episode footage, some of which is recycle twice. This didn't bode well.
The episode tottered on for the first half. Once again, I was ready to root for gloomy loner Hazuki and her book devouring escape mechanism but I wasn't won over by the magic world she finds herself in. It isn't very awe-inspiring, which I think is a sacrifice made so the staff could shoe horn in a longer nude chase sequence. See, Hazuki spends the last five or so minutes of the episode being chased by one of her soon-to-be magic classmates when she attacks her in an open air bath. It's a little funny at first but I'd rather the run time was used getting us acquainted with the setting. Save the silly nudity for episode two.
The tone the show settles into, a sort of tired sexy hijinks, muddles what could have been a sincerely endearing premise. That's okay, I guess but quickly drops the show promise to a middle of the road standard. I was probably hoping from something a little different from this show because of the camaraderie I felt with its lead, but it turns out this isn't what I was looking for.
The first couple minutes of Maerchen Maedchen offered one of those sublime tonal whiplash moments I only tend to experience during the preview guide. The show opens with a slow monologue, as our heroine Hazuki Kagimura extols the magic of stories. Stories unite us, and can take us to infinite worlds, Hazuki says, establishing a reserved and ethereal tone… and then we jump to the opening song, where Hazuki immediately spends twenty seconds running around screaming and naked.
That's So Anime opening beat aside, most of this premiere is simply routine. The show spends quite some time establishing Hazuki as a lonely bookworm in an adopted family, before she eventually finds her way to a magical, apparently book-powered fantasy world. There she stumbles from one mishap to another, gets attacked while soaking in a hot spring, and generally indulges in the kind of wacky misunderstanding action you often get in “transported to another world” premieres. Outside of the “our powers are inspired by classic books” conceit, there is very little that separates Maerchen's narrative from any other fantasy fish-out-of-water story with a school setting. And if the lengthy naked chase scene is anything to go by, this show isn't really aspiring to much more than that.
All that poo-pooing of Maerchen's narrative plainness aside, there are certainly some nice details that help the show stand out just a little. Hazuki's internal voice is easily the strongest thing separating Maerchen from its genre peers. Hazuki's monologues are long-winded in a way that conveys real personality, and she possesses an offhand sense of humor that nicely offsets her extremely shy nature. The show in general has a slightly sharper ear for comedy than many similar productions, and gets solid comic mileage out of Hazuki's one talent, her ability to run very fast. On the production front things are mostly middling, but Maerchen knows how to set up an evocatively lit shot, and the music is pretty distinctive as well.
On the whole, Maerchen isn't an unusual or brilliantly executed thing, but it's an okay articulation of its fairly routine template. If you're looking for a fighting girls show or a fantasy academy show, Hazuki's voice gives this a reasonable sense of identity. If those aren't your genres, it's a safe skip.
From the minute I saw this title, Märchen Mädchen became one of my most anticipated shows this season. The German roughly translates to “Story Girls” (although märchen has largely become synonymous with fairy tales thanks to the Brothers Grimm; the term “fairy tale” is actually French), and frankly that's right up my alley. I wasn't disappointed either. Hazuki's “story syndrome” where she retreats into books in order to escape from the real world and as a method of self-soothing is something very relatable as a concept, and it only becomes moreso when we learn that it's also a way for her to feel connected to her deceased mother. Her father has remarried when the story begins, and she finds her new mom and stepsister to be just as alarming as the other kids at school, which only drives her further into her print refuge, as do her teacher's well-meaning but tone-deaf attempts to reach her. She wishes that she could physically escape into a magical land of story, and although she says she no longer believes that one exists, it's clear to see that she's still holding out hope somewhere in her heart.
On a personal level, I empathize hard with Hazuki; books have always been my refuge as well. As a storytelling device, this episode's plot feels like it has more in common with Little Witch Academia than any isekai story, which it technically is. The world of story is right next to the real world, and it incorporates elements of our world into its mechanics. In this case, that's that each of the mädchen have been chosen by a märchen – a book that is somehow magically connected to them. Right now that's up to us to extrapolate from the fact that Hazuki's mysterious tome is referred to as an Original and that Yumilia, the alarming redhead Hazuki meets upon arrival at her new school, calls upon the power of the Shuten-doji, a folktale about a particular oni. (We can guess what Hazuki's particular tale is going to be based on the glimpse we get of the bedtime story her mother read her.) It's an interesting concept, and one that feels thematically linked to Bungo Stray Dogs’ use of specific titles as the basis for characters’ powers.
Of course, this is much cuter than that series. The cast appears to be made up entirely of girls, and the relatively harmless fanservice and goofy humor indicate that this is going to be more of a romp than a serious story. But its base premise, that Hazuki wants to find a way to combine her love of books and stories with her need to have at least one person she can feel close to again, should give this series the heart that it needs.
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