Maerchen Maedchen
Episodes 1-2

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Märchen Mädchen ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Märchen Mädchen ?

I never go anywhere without a book. Preferably a hard copy, but digital will do in a pinch – just like Hazuki, the heroine of Maerchen Maedchen, literature has been a comfortable safe space for me for my entire life. (Plus reading is pretty fun too.) That's part of what makes this series' first two episodes so enjoyable; they really manage to capture what it means to be socially anxious or simply feel like you're on the outside, eager to seek refuge on the printed page. We can see how these two things feed off each other to bring Hazuki to the place we find her at the beginning of the show; as a girl who feels excluded from daily life by her family and peers, who can only feel truly safe when she's reading, she just reads all the time. Hazuki calls it “Story Syndrome,” the almost addictive feeling of retreating into a book when she's uncomfortable or upset. We might just call it a coping mechanism.

I bring all of this up because by episode two, it looks like this is going to be just as much about Hazuki finding out that she's not a freak and coming to terms with her true self as it will be about girls fighting each other with the power of magical texts. Not that this was entirely unexpected, but I didn't think that it would be such a key part of the story so early on, and the budding relationship between Hazuki and Shizuka seems to indicate that these character arcs will be the focus. (The ending theme also may be hinting at something more than friendship, which would add an interesting dimension to the series.) Hazuki may be unsure of herself, but Shizuka has precious few social skills, which is not an awesome combination when they're trying to form a relationship – it's not that Shizuka doesn't want to be friends with Hazuki, it's more that neither girl knows how to go about it. It certainly doesn't help that Hazuki is in geek heaven when Shizuka begins to teach her magic – Hazuki trying to figure out what kind of story she's ended up in (Harry Potter versus magical girl, and then what kind of magical girl after that) is probably my favorite part of these two episodes. Of course, the rest of the class has zero idea about what she's talking about, once again making Hazuki feel like the weirdo outsider.

Among other strengths of these episodes is the treatment of Yumelia, a girl who has a bond with the folktale Shuten Doji. If you're familiar with the story, its title character is unpleasant to say the least, and Yumelia more than lives up to that reputation – she's a tough-talking bully who seems to enjoy sowing dissent. In episode one, she flat-out attacks Hazuki, so it's great when her attempts to drive a wedge between Hazuki and Shizuka in episode two are summarily stopped by the principal. Given the way that anime often glosses over bullying in school-based series, seeing the principal take punitive action is a nice change, and it says a lot about the environment Hazuki is entering.

It's also a good sign that Hazuki's personality is aligned with her Original: Cinderella. Although the text has been maligned by some scholars for being one of those “saved by a man” stories, a more thorough examination of the tale type shows that most Cinderella variants are about the heroine saving herself, by working hard and being a good person. (Not too good though – in some versions she punishes her tormentors.) The prince is almost incidental – she's in a bad situation, so she finds a way to get herself out of it. Those are skills that Hazuki needs to learn, and she seems ready to do so, as evidenced by her efforts to track a mage to this other world in the first place. Cinderella can be read as being about hope and putting that hope to good use, which may project Hazuki's character development over the course of the series.

Of course, there's something a little weird about seeing her book referred to as “Original Cinderella,” because like most fairy tales, we don't really know the “original” version of the tale. The oldest recorded one is from about 70 C.E. in China, but I suspect that we're going to get the French variant, which is the one Disney primarily used for his animated film. (It's the one with pumpkins and fairies as opposed to feathered gowns or magical talking fish.) The fact that the title of the show uses a word that simply means “story” but is often conflated with “fairy tale” may also be worth noting; so far all of the named books are fairy tales (Shizuka's is more properly known as Tale of the Bamboo Cutter), but I'll be curious to see if that changes going forward.

Apart from the opening theme's insistence on repeating the same two fanservice scenes and the general lack of diverse facial expressions, I'm feeling hopefully optimistic about this series. We'll see if the “Hexennacht” (“curse night”) storyline changes that, since it does appear to be coming awfully quick in terms of pacing.

Rating: B-

Maerchen Maedchen is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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