「Everything Must Have a Beginning」
At last, we reach anime material that’s “new” to those of us that saw the theatrical premiere of Mahoutsukai no Yome. As a manga reader there were no major surprises here for me, which is good in the most obvious sense – the production values are still off the charts and as best my memory serves, the adaptation seems to be almost letter-faithful. But I do have a few reservations going forward, and in a funny sort of way I really wasn’t looking forward to revisiting the events in this episode.
If I’m honest, this isn’t my favorite arc in Mahoutsukai, though it’s not due to any lack of quality. If anything it’s too effective at unsettling me, which is absolutely not a fault in any but the most selfish and personal sense. I’m just not comfortable with the themes here – violence towards animals always infuriates me, but cats especially. Partly it’s because I love cats especially, but also because cats have historically been an animal that’s been disproportionately targeted by the cruel and the psychotic, scapegoated as being bad luck and kin to witches. Sadly it continues to this day, as witness the horrifying news that a cat killer is wreaking cruel havoc in the U.K. even as we speak.
Anime viewers probably know this at a higher percentage than the public at-large, but one thing Mahoutsukai no Yome reminds us is that old sayings that have seemingly lost their meaning actually do have historical meanings – saying like “cats have nine lives”. This is a common belief in European mysticism, its roots so old no one knows exactly when they originated – though the strong significance of the number 9 in magic is likely not a coincidence. Mahoutsukai gives us an interesting take on it – that as cats progress through their lives they get wiser and more learned, gaining things like the ability to speak and an interest in self-governance and hierarchy.
The second errand the church has sent Elias on recently (the dragon affair being of course the first) is a visit to the Kingdom of Cats – indeed a place where most of the cats can talk, have chosen a (female, in this case) king, and are generally surrounded by those who love them. But there’s trouble here – a black, roiling tainted space on a tiny island in a lake, and it dates back to a violent and tragic incident in the history of the land. This is connected to a sickly young woman named Mina (Numakura Manami) and her adoring husband Matthew (Uemara Yuto), which is somehow related to a terrible incident in which the land’s cats were united by the first king and killed a human who had been murdering them, seemingly for sport.
The current king is a beautiful longhair named Molly (Sakuma Rei), to whom Elias and Chise are guided by the serious Jasper (Hasegawa Yoshiaki) and the loquacious Siamese (they’re all loquacious, which tells me the author knows her cats) Barney (Takahashi Shinya). Molly’s “owner” is a young girl for whom she harbors maternal feelings – which hearing about cuts Chise rather harshly, for obvious reasons. Before Molly can explain the nature of the land’s blight, Chise is snatched away by a young woman (Tamura Mutsumi) who appears in a flash of light, drops Chise into the water and disappears in another. As she sinks, Chise is visited by what appears to be Mina – who begs her to bring an end to the tragic turn things have taken in the Kingdom of Cats.
That happens to be what Elias wants Chise to do, too – clearly he wasn’t thrilled about taking this job and his “Sure” when Chise asks if he loves this land seems hollow, but as a mage he has to take a responsibility like this seriously. The problem is that the Thorn Mage isn’t “compatible” with this sort of cleansing – his is the wrong sort of magic, so even though Chise is untrained in most aspects of wizardry she’s the only one for the job. Elias prepares her the best he can and she sets off to cleanse the blight in the dark of evening, but she’s once more seized by the young blonde woman – who appears to be working with a man Elias refers to as Renfred (Hino Satoshi).
There’s a lot going on here, obviously – that this episode is so dedicated to scene-setting is an indication both of how involved this arc is and that the adaptation is going to take its time with it. There don’t appear to be many answers in this episode, only questions, but one thing I can say without crossing any lines is that Mahoutsukai no Yome is a series in which it’s good to pay close attention to what’s happening – there are a lot of double-meanings and exposition tends to be inferential as often as not. World-building is something this show takes very seriously, and it means more than just atmosphere – it’s about the rules of the road as well. And it’s very good at it, too – which in the case of this particular storyline just makes things that much more uncomfortable for me as a viewer.