What’s it about? In the city of Ashram, a group of girls known as Pentagrams study magic and manners in order to become proper young ladies. One among them is Arsnotoria, a member of Dorm 5 and one-fifth of a quartet with Mel, Albert, Picatrix, and Abramelin, all of whom spend their days striving towards the future.
When I sat down to stream Smile of the Arsnotoria the Animation, I got Yuki Yuna and Madoka vibes which… well, as I came to found out, may not necessarily be too far off. However, you wouldn’t know that based on the bulk of the premiere, which is the exact opposite.
Episode 1 is primarily character establishment scenes for a crew of young (cis) girls with names I couldn’t get to stick, save for the titular Arsnotoria, a white haired girl with a pink ombre who has a voice high enough to cut through any noise in a scene. It was jarring because there’s lots of really nice designs, but only Arsnotoria stuck with me, and she’s honestly the least interesting character–though she does make the most moeblob sounds in a register I did not previously know possible.
(She also sniffs constantly, and it’s just… not charming at all and I wish she’d stop.)
And really, I could stop at that. Episode 1 doesn’t move the bar beyond little scenes with all of these girls in a magical world that’s an alternative version of ours (they explicitly mention London, so think of this like A Darker Shade of Magic) who eat marmalade or drink tea or heat up milk in a jar. It’s jarring (oops, a rogue pun!) that this fills twenty-four minutes because, like…I watched this twice and I’m really not sure how it managed to do that.
Then the ending came and that’s when I realized that maybe, this show will ultimately be something less sugary: maybe the sweetness of the lives Arsnotoria and her friends are living won’t make it past week three. Then again, who can tell? There was so much nothing, at least from a storytelling perspective, that I’m not really sure what to guess at.
Plot-developement aside, wow, Arsnotoria is LUSH, earning every single capital letter. Whether you’re talking about the animation or the soundtrack, it’s lushness abound with gorgeous colors, charming designs, and lots of flute. It’s got all the trappings of a sweet, magical school slice of life; though like I said, I doubt it’ll stay that way. It’s based on a Nitroplus game, after all.
However, in a strange way, this premiere felt like that this series isn’t super sure of its own future became the premiere is kind of go-nowhere. There’s most definitely magical girls, which like, yay, but also…this episode is just Cute Girls Existing. There’s nothing to really hook you into the series, unless you like moe.
And look, I’m a big, big fan of moe: a lot of the series that hooked me into anime are classic moe. I love the Cute Girls Doing Cute Things sub-genre of slice of life: I live for seeing a bunch of teenage girls living their best life. Yet Arsnotoria isn’t that: at least not yet. It’s giving Lapis Re:LiGHTs without music: promising, but still largely a series that wields cuteness as its sole weapon amidst fascinating tidbits of world building that I’m not sure will ever amount to anything.
I like Arsnotoria and the world she inhabits well enough: I like the animation of Arsnotoria just as well too. Yet even with its wham-bam-SURPRISE! twist at the end, I’m not sure I’ll stick with this series through its entire cour. I want to, but it’ll need to fill the shoes of many a “dark magical girl” show before it. It’s definitely not there, but also, when I think back to a series liek Madoka –an easy analogue to compare this to– its first episode didn’t necessarily hint at what it would become. Nostalgia may have us remember Madoka as a stupendous show with no stumbles, but it had stumbles aplenty: perhaps it’s the case that the story Arsnotoria has to tell needs time to grow, especially if the OP is anything to go by.
I think that what I’m going to do is sit with the Smile of the Arsnotoria the Animation for the rest of the month: I’ll let it marinate, and see if these girls grow into a story that hints at something dark in the underbelly of this magical realm. Perhaps it’ll be the biggest surprise of the Summer season.