Mahoutsukai no Yome: Nishi no Shounen to Seiran no Kishi (OVA) - 02-03
Ironically, in my write-up of the first episode of this OVA I said "The problem with OVAs, of course, is that they're easy to miss". I missed that one for about a month, and these two eps even longer. I also noted how difficult it was to make myself slot time for them in then insistent barrage of weekly series. The fact is even if I was late noticing these eps were out I have known about them for a good while, and not found time to watch them. In my existence OVAs are often out of sight, out of mind.
It hadn't been my original plan to watch them today, in fact, but I decided spur of the moment to stay home and use the gap in my weekly anime schedule to finally right that wrong. Funnily enough I also chose today to open a bottle of bourbon I've been sitting on for months, Evan Williams 12 Year-old (a Japanese exclusive and a great value, that American whiskey enthusiasts will pay 3-4 times the Japan MSRP for). At the time I had no plan to watch Nishi no Shounen to Seiran no Kishi, and it wouldn't have mattered if I had - I had no idea it was going to name-drop Evan like that. Stuff like that does make you wonder.
Though it's theoretically anime-original, Yamazaki Kore wrote this OVA, and I really think that makes all the difference. It feels totally integrated with the parent series, which means it reminds you of just how unique Mahoutsukai no Yome is in anime. Its particularly authentic take on European fantasy and folk legend is remarkably appealing, and while there are some definite troughs in the main narrative there are many more peaks, and the overall level of storytelling is very high. And Kafka seems to have picked up the mantle from their sister studio Wit without any perceptible dip in production quality.
I find the story of Gabriel and Evan (the name he gives "Mysterious Boy", from one of his favorite fantasy stories) to be very engaging and even moving. Gabriel is really a tragic character in many ways. He just wants to revert to the natural state of a boy, to be wild and run free and get into trouble. But the inhaler he wears around his neck is like a yoke, a weight binding him to the Earth and a constant reminder of his frailty. His overprotective mother makes things worse, Gabe knows his parents are drifting apart because of the stress his condition causes, and young boys can be unconsciously cruel (they can be consciously cruel too, to be sure), making him all too aware of what he's missing out on.
It's natural that Gabe - ripped away from his best friend in London - would latch onto Evan as a lifeline. We know it can't end well, of course, but Evan wants it so badly that he ignores the unsettling mystery of Evan's existence. He wears the inhaler as a show of solidarity with Evan (implying that Evan's horn is likewise a burden, and in a way it is) but he years more than anything to toss it aside for good. At the notion that Evan might ride off with the Wild Hunt and leave him behind, Gabriel's blue eyes flash green with envy, and this all certainly wouldn't have ended well if Chise and Elias hadn't gotten involved.
There are moments when Gabriel lets his true feelings slip, like calling Silky "Mom" at the dinner table (any little boy - or former - who ever mistakenly called another lady "Mom" understands how mortifying this is). But it's obvious that Evan is a siren song for Gabe, a chance to slip the surly bonds of Earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings. The symbolism here isn't subtle - even Gabe understand s it - and it isn't meant to be. Chise may fight desperately to bring Gabriel back (Elias could go either way, obviously), but as Elias says in the end it's Gabe's decision. And when, in the moment, his courage falters, it's Evan's hand on his back that sends Gabe back to this side. In the end Evan proves that he truly is Gabriel's friend, no matter the circumstances.
I suppose this will be the end of Gabriel's part of the story - there has been some speculation that he could be Chise's long-lost brother, but that doesn't seem to fit. I found his tale very relatable and I'd love to see more, but that seems unlikely. Chise attending college is the next major story arc, teased in the final moments of the OVA. And it's coming in spring, a much-heralded return to broadcast no doubt, but somewhat overwhelmed by the enormous flood of big-time manga adaptations coming in April. Still Mahoutsukai no Yome being back is a big deal - this is a series of substance and tremendous style, brought to life with great skill and care by Wit and now Kafka. Nishi no Shounen to Seiran no Kishi is a potent reminder of that, and a wonderful way to wade back into the story in preparation for spring.