What’s it about? Sarasa Ford’s just graduated from the prestigious Royal Alchemist Academy, which means that she’s about to go from orphan rags to opulent riches! It helps that she’s been given a graduation gift of a new house to set up shop. Too bad it’s a dilapidated hovel that’s far from luxurious. Looks like Sarasa’s got her work cut out for her on the path to become the best alchemist in the world…
I first got into the Atelier series with the 2009 Nintendo DS release of Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island. Despite its tight timetable, it was a game I treasured, opening my eyes to the joys of mixing ingredients for magic potions, and also, finding yourself a rich husband in the Prince of Orde. It’s a slapstick-y game, with tricky rules and lots of crunch to make sure you trigger all the flags, but I have fond memories. It’s what launched my love of slow-paced video games.
I carried all of this into my watch of Management of a Novice Alchemist, a show that, at first glance, looks like Gust’s newest entry in the sprawling Atelier franchise. Sarasa herself looks like she was borrowing from Atelier Ryza’s book, though I wasn’t sure if that would extend to the gratuitous thigh-focus those games get. And thankfully, I can say that it doesn’t ever get weirdly sexual: in fact, it’s quite respectful of Sarasa.
But that’s not all I have to say about this premiere, so let’s dive right on in!
The show starts off fully in medias res: we’re at Sarasa’s final moments as a student. Finally, after five years of striving, she’ll become an alchemist in her own right, which like… awesome, especially because her parents fuckin’ BEEF IT right after the OP–they get attacked and MURDERED. It’s… okay, it made me laugh because I was like, “Wow, that’s unnecessary!” but I swear I thought it was sad too.
However, this isn’t the end of Sarasa: if anything, she throws herself into becoming an atelier to cope with tragedy of her loss… and also to get fat stacks of cash. But more on that later.
And that’s kind of the foundation for episode 1: it’s an exploration of Sarasa’s tender beginnings up to her graduation. She’s surpassed the Royal Alchemist Academy’s rigorous trials and tribulations only to land herself in a subsidized house in the middle of nowhere, which is where most of our story will take place.
Thrilling? Well… no. But I think that’s the secret appeal of a show like this.
The cast of Novice Alchemist is actually quite endearing: Sarasa stands out as a pretty likable lead, with just enough precociousness to avoid being outright annoying. Granted, I think some people probably won’t like her, and while the feminist in me feels some kind of way about not liking female characters because they’re feminine versus not liking them because they’re poorly written, I think it may also be the case that folks won’t like her because Sarasa takes up the same genki girl mantle as so many heroines that do end up thinly written. Still, Sarasa is plucky, and I like a plucky protag well enough. (Plus, it’s early days yet!)
I also think the premise is charming. I like a coming-of-age story where the coming-of-age occurs at the beginning, leaving us to see the fruits of a character’s labor. In this case, Sarasa’s already an alchemist: now, we get to see her grow as a full-fledged novice master, versus seeing her ascend to graduation and having to hope the novels get licensed. It opens up Novice Alchemist to a story about Sarasa finding her stride as an adult in her world. And to me, that smells of promise: I anticipate lots of learning moments as Sarasa figures out her new storefront and also maybe revisits her childhood trauma.
Here’s the thing: Novice Alchemist is perfectly pleasant. It’s not going to be a Feminist™ romp, but so far, it isn’t sexualizing its teenage lead. It’s got a cute enough art style, and the OP and ED are properly bouncy tunes. The show ‘s only crime might be that it’s just slow paced, and probably will stay the course. It’s much more exciting than, say, Beast Tamer, but I think it’s fair to say that this won’t leave a mark for many viewers. The Atelier crowd–or anyone who likes slow-paced slice-of-life shows–will absolutely here for this. Everyone else, well… it’s a toss-up.
Perhaps it’s my eternal craving for low-stakes fantasy anime that isn’t boring, but I kind of liked this premiere, simple plot, slow pace, and all. I kinda wanna see Sarasa have adventures and make new friends. I want to see her make the best of her busted home. And hey: if that’s enough to draw me in, maybe it’ll be enough for you as well.