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The Fall 2022 Preview Guide
Management of Novice Alchemist

How would you rate episode 1 of
Management of a Novice Alchemist ?
Community score: 3.6



What is this?

Sarasa, an orphan girl who just graduated from the royal alchemist training school, received an isolated shop as a gift from her teacher, and embarks on the leisurely life she long dreamt of as an alchemist. However, what awaits her is a shop more decrepit than she ever imagined, out in the boondocks. As she gathers ingredients, trains herself, and sells goods to become an upstanding alchemist, she tries to lead her very own slow, relaxed alchemist life.

Management of Novice Alchemist is based on Mizuho Itsuki's light novel series and streams on HIDIVE on Mondays.


How was the first episode?

Rebecca Silverman
Rating:

There are some shows that it just doesn't feel fair to judge by their first episodes. This may be one of them. The episode is so clearly working to get most of the setup for the story out of the way that it drags on interminably while also feeling like it's desperate to get somewhere else, and that's not really a great combination. It's certainly not without its charms – Sarasa's drive to make her dreams come true and Ophelia's unstinting support of her both are very admirable, and while I feel like Sarasa's triumph in the exams would have been more moving had we known her better, it's still pretty amazing to see her ace a test that was so terribly (albeit unknowingly) flawed. The same goes for her sepia-toned tragic past – it's not hard to feel sympathy for a kid who was so wounded so early, but having her be essentially a faceless ragamuffin doesn't really help to invest me in the story.

The art also leans into a pet peeve of mine: a fantasy world where schools inexplicably have modern Japanese uniforms. I do like that Sarasa's world isn't strictly of one time or another, but that still makes the mundanity of the school uniforms stand out in an unfortunate way. Hiding most of Sarasa's face for what feels like a substantial chunk of the episode (though to be fair, it might not be; I was just really bored for much of this episode's run) also doesn't really help the viewer to develop an attachment to her, and honestly there's not enough that could make her a faceless self-insert character to warrant this decision.

Perhaps the story really starts to move now that Sarasa is done with her education and has secured both her immense alchemical library and her own run-down shop. She's certainly learning that if something seems too good to be true it very likely is; the horror that is her new home needs an impressive amount of work, and, random girl spying at her from the forest aside, she's all by her lonesome. The opening theme promises adventures, so this may be worth a second episode to see if there is a story to take off now that the set up is done. It's not a show without potential, but it certainly didn't do itself many favors in this introductory offering.


Nicholas Dupree
Rating:

Fair warning to any Atelier Ryza fans who have stumbled into this preview guide: no, they didn't secretly make an anime adaptation, the girl in this show just looks remarkably similar to Reisalin, sans the famous booty shorts. I know, I'm disappointed too. But if you're not here misguidedly looking for Ryza's absolute territory, this premiere is actually a fairly charming, low-key kind of fantasy.

A big part of that charm, I'll admit, is just that this isn't another god damn video game world with magic stat screens and skill levels. While there's nothing all that original about the world Sarasa inhabits, it at least feels like an organic place where people live rather than an RPG that got left on auto-play. In fact, my biggest complaint about this premiere is we don't spend nearly enough time seeing Sarasa learning her craft at school, because what we do get is genuinely interesting. Watching her try to figure out the trick behind her graduation exam, mulling over different ingredients, some of which are nearly identical but critically different, pinged the part of my brain that always wanted to learn to make potions and tinctures when reading fantasy novels as a kid. It's not revolutionary, but it's still more effort than I'm used to seeing from fantasy worlds that originated from Narou web novels, and makes the central alchemy gimmick feel actually meaningful.

Granted, this isn't trying to be a heavy fantasy adventure. By all appearances this is going to be a low-stakes comedy about Sarasa establishing her shop in a rundown village out in the boonies, and it has a pretty strong foundation for it. The characters aren't deep, but their interactions – mainly Sarasa and her teacher Ophelia – are charming enough and move quickly to establish their dynamic while getting all the necessary exposition over with. Like with the rest of Sarasa's alchemy school life, I wish we got to see more about how their relationship started and developed before this point, but they do feel like close friends (or more than friends, in Sarasa's imagination) and I hope we get more between them even after Sarasa strikes it out on her own. I also wish they hadn't cut her hair midway through the episode – there's just something very amusing about a fluffy Cousin Itt girl hunched over a cauldron.

This premiere isn't amazing or terribly original, but it's a comfy kind of familiar and works hard to make you like our central heroine. It's to be seen if the rest of the cast in the OP will keep up that likability, but if you're looking for a chill bit of comfort food, you could certainly do a lot worse.


Richard Eisenbeis
Rating:

You know, I never would have thought “running an apothecary” would grow into an anime fantasy sub-genre on its own, but here we are. Management of a Novice Alchemist appears to be taking the “slow life” approach to this framework with relatively low stakes and a cutesy presentation in both tone and art style.

Yet, despite the permeating cuteness, there's some overtly dark stuff going on here. I mean, there's the fact that Sarasa's parents are brutally murdered. Then the villagers simply cross her name off the deed to her parents' business, stealing her inheritance before abandoning her at an orphanage. Then, at the orphanage, she is socially isolated and largely ignored because they don't know what to do with a kid who's always studying. Years later, during her graduation test, the teachers make a mistake with the ingredients—and rather than admit their mistake, they simply pretend it didn't happen to protect their own image at her expense. Even then, when Sarasa gets the top score on the test, the hierarchical society she is in dictates that no commoner can score better than a noble, and she is robbed of her due recognition.

And then there's Sarasa's mentor. While outwardly supportive, Ophelia seems keen to exploit the young girl, and she is in the perfect position to do so. Sarasa has no friends or family to support her throughout her academic journey, and Ophelia has done nothing to help Sarasa become less socially isolated. The shy girl has become solely dependent on Ophelia (which obviously isn't healthy).

It's clear Ophelia wants the young genius to work for her, but when Sarasa shows interest in working somewhere else, Ophelia strongarms her into living in a shack on the frontier. Given the dark undertones of the episode up until this point, it's hard not to see this as Ophelia sending the competition far away—and getting her young apprentice to do the hard work of gathering rare materials in the process. And should Sarasa fail to establish her own remote apothecary, Ophelia can “graciously” allow the girl to come back and work for her—getting what she wanted in the first place. No matter what happens, Ophelia wins.

But here's the thing: I'll be the first to admit that my cynical interpretation of this episode is likely far from what was intended. It's more likely that the show is just as it appears on the surface—so bland and unassuming that my bored mind was trying to find something, anything interesting to focus on, and decided to look at what was happening through the most pessimistic lens possible. Either way, I don't care enough to come back next week and find out.


James Beckett
Rating:

Management of a Novice Alchemist is one of those anime that is just so perfectly and aggressively fine that it is difficult know what on Earth to even say about it. One look at its basic premise tells you everything you need to know about it: Sarasa lives in a world filled with magic and whatnot, and her dream is to run her own alchemical apothecary. Do you need another vaguely cute and wholesome anime about the ins and outs of running a magical business? Then sure, this will probably be up your alley. There's just something about it that is missing for me, that spark of life and originality that would pave the way for me to get invested in it at all.

It's not a good sign, for instance, that when I was supposed to be getting invested in Sarasa's five-year-long journey to becoming an alchemist, all I could focus on was how terribly this world's whole education system is made to function. Or how, as I was supposed to be getting attached to her relationship with her mentor, Ophelia, I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that the two adults in Sarasa's life seemingly let her walk around with the world's worst haircut for years on end. Don't even get me started on how the whole university is so incompetent that some potential alchemists' careers were ruined because some jackass couldn't arrange the ingredients for the practical test properly.

Now, none of these stray thoughts and observations make Management of a Novice Alchemist a bad show, per se. The problem is that Sarasa is just such a boring protagonist, and all of the jokes and dialogue that she gets wrapped up in is all so rote and predictable, that I was more interested in asking random questions about haircuts and the minutiae of academic administration than what was going in with the actual show. It's perfectly harmless cotton-candy Fluff, but in a season that is so jam-packed with blockbusters and exciting original series like Raven of the Inner Palace, I don't think I have any room on my plate for filler.


Caitlin Moore
Rating:

Man, what is going on this season? We've had a wild number of series commenting on women's role in the world so far, from Aileen in I'm the Villainess, So I'm Taming the Final Boss being perceived as a villain because of her ambition, to the problematization of court intrigue in Raven of the Inner Palace, to duelist lesbians in Mobile Suit Utena. And now we have Management of Novice Alchemist, which I totally expected to be a mere mash-up of cute girl anime with the current pharmacist fantasy anime trend, showing signs of class consciousness. Could it be… Is anime… woke?

I'm kidding. (Kind of.) But when Sarasa narrated in flashback about how even after being admitted to a prestigious alchemy program, she had to work ten times as hard as the wealthy students in order to keep her scholarship, it got my attention. Even though she's gifted, she doesn't have time to do anything but study at a time when most of the other students are enjoying their youth. Children of nobility even get bonus points just for their status, and if that's not privilege, I don't know what is. There's no talk of levels or stats; just good old-fashioned skill-building through study and practice. On top of that, Novice Alchemist manages to have an all-female cast without once coming across as creepy or fetishistic. No battle lingerie or excessively shiny, bouncy boobs here! There's just a solid mentor-student relationship between Ophelia and Sarasa, with bonus support from the woman who I am assuming is Ophelia's wife.

What's that? You're wondering why the score is so low? Well, to be honest, it was also kind of boring.

The episode's pacing is wonky, dragging its feet through scenes that should have been half as long. Sarasa's expository opening monologue doesn't wrap up until six minutes in! That's a full 25% of the episode! And five minutes of that is a loooooooong depiction of how she became orphaned that completely failed to stir up any of my interest. I suspect it was paced this way so that the big reveal of her shop could come at the very end of the episode. The script may have class consciousness, but it lacks sparkle. There's no wit or chemistry to pull us through the protracted haggling scenes, nor is the animation ever anything more than middling. Ophelia is pretty cute though, not going to lie.

Management of Novice Alchemist is fine. I'd even consider watching it in a slower season! But much like its protagonist, it'll have to work much harder to keep up in this kind of competition.


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