I’ve been keeping my out eye for this series ever since news of an adaptation came out. My interest owes to the initial attraction I felt in the aesthetics and the premise from what I’ve seen in the PV, and not for the reason most people have which is their familiarization of the manga source. I’m not an avid manga consumer anyways, so my ignorance of its apparent fame can be justified to a certain degree… if not for the fact that Mahou Tsukai actually managed to top Attack on Titan and One Punch Man respectively in New York Times’ best selling manga list (it ranked 35 on Japan’s Manga Ranking list but still…). Seriously, if it’s that good, then I should’ve at least heard of it through hearsay or whatnot. Doesn’t really matter now though, because after watching the first episode, it’s fair of me to say that I took the bait hook, line, and sinker; I’m sold.
Suffice to say, I’m thoroughly pleased to see Mahou Tsukai‘s first episode quench my expectations I had from the PV. A romantic undertone is one that initially drew me into it, but it seems like the OVAs won’t take the leisure to explore that side of the fence in detail. Then again, I just realized that Chise is a 15-year old, and Elias is… I don’t know, so perhaps we’d see a more dynamic relationship between the two of them than the typical lovey-dovey fairy tale I proactively brewed in my head. Not that I hate it — I actually prefer this low-key and subtle relationship as it does fit the overall tone and style it’s trying to go for.
Now, I’m not in the position to do guessworks here so I guess I’ll save my assumptions once I’ve watched all the OVAs. Mahou Tsukai‘s first episode is a visual feast of detail. The first thing I specifically noticed is how solid and fleshed out the color palette is of the background. From the fauna and flora to the simple presentation of the furniture and architecture, the art direction certainly contributed in breathing life to Mahou Tsukai‘s world — something which I greatly appreciate not because it looked pretty and neat or anything, but because it easily helped me sink myself in to their own diegesis. For a 3 20-minute episode, drawing the audience to its world through visual presentation alone is a feat in itself as it saves the viewers precious air-time from lengthy verbal expositions and explanations, as well as allow us to be more involved with what we’re watching thus giving that sense of time passing by quickly.
A great example I can think of is from the latter half of the show when the flashback took place. The nuances in the visuals and directing perfectly mixes in to convey Chise’s mood and situation, and added to that sense of connection I had with its world and characters. Initially, we find her in the kitchen surrounded by an unsympathetic coloring of the room, alluding to the cold treatment she is subjected to. Oftentimes, we see her background illuminated with a warm color slowly trying to seep inside the room; a vain attempt at bridging the gap between Chise and her foster mom. As the tension rises and concludes, Chise’s warmth dissipates in the background, and we then see her in the hallway as the camera slowly pans to show her leaning against a wall, with the source of light now farther from her.
That particular scene was not only a claustrophobic display of her helplessness and relationship with her foster mom as it also helped to enunciate the forthcoming events. If her prior surroundings weren’t harsh enough, we get to see her lose it under the harsh glare of the sun. She’s trapped. She has nowhere to go — her “home” sucks, even the outside world is as equally cruel to her as what her fate is up until then. However, the lightning returns to its natural balance once she finds herself in a library — a place that feels oddly welcoming of her.
Speaking of expositions, most of the negative feedbacks I’ve seen from communities like reddit or 4chan has something to do with the lack of explanations of what’s happening. Honestly, I feel like the lack of exposition here isn’t really something to frown at, given that it did its job well at
- Conveying Chise’s helplessness and confusion. She doesn’t know what was happening, and so do we.
- Hinting of more things to come. Again, for an adaptation that runs for only 3 episodes (with episodes airing 6 months in-between), using visual cues and directing as a means to translate the exposition and characterization is a treat to watch rather than wasting air-time with dialogues. It’s not as if we didn’t get anything substantial to chew on, right?
- Teasing us to read the manga. It kinda feels like the library and Chise narrating why she loves a certain book is an allusion or a message for us that ‘if you want to learn more, buy and read the manga!’. Of course, I’m led to believe that the OVA is in service of promoting sales for its source — as with the case is with how an anime is normally produced — considering that we’ll have to wait 6 more months for the next episode. I mean, why wait when there’s the manga to begin with? Way to go, meta-advertising.
Mahou Tsukai‘s first episode is a slow-burn, but the meaty premise, likeable characters, well-rounded directing, ala Natsume Yuujinchou atmosphere makes up for the long wait we’ll have to endure for the next episode. It’s important to note that I’m a huge sucker for European themed settings, supernatural/folklore backdrop, filtered with a thick atmosphere. In a way, Mahou Tsukai brings to mind an unlikely offspring of Mushishi and Romeo x Juliet, or — if I give my imagination full reins — a feel-good spin-off of Bloodborne. Nevertheless, everything I’ve seen hitherto was enough to keep me invested for the next 6 months. A pain-staking wait, but the pay-off is worth it if we continue to get this level of quality and consistency.
- A quick trip to ANN’s database shows that the Art Director, Yusuke Takeda, and the studio who did the backgrounds, Bamboo, yields a lot of well-known titles under their belts. Most noticeably is both of their work on WIT’s Shisha no Teikoku, wherein the visual aesthetics are as similar and engrossing as Mahou Tsukai‘s.
- To be fair though, everyone in the staff has a lot of respectable anime credited to them.
- A dog stuffing his face with bacon topped syruppy pancake was a glorious sight to behold.
- Kinda like a practical side-story to Flying Witch, I guess.
- The minimal use of the music also added to that sense of depth in the situation, and impact when something happens next.
- I love the small and subtle movements in Elias’ eyes. He doesn’t have a facial expression, yet his character/personality was visible enough through these nuances.
- The screenies doesn’t give this episode justice. Go watch it. Now. Okay? Okay.
- Something’s nagging at the back of my head reminding me of Harry Potter. There’s a Gremlin, and a I swear there was also a big black dog. I guess it’s a sign that rereading the novels is a good time!
I guess that’s it for now! Hope you guys enjoyed the episode too. Not really sure if I’ll be able to cover the next episode out 6 months later but… we’ll see.