Content Warning: Child abuse, slavery, threats of sexual violence/torture, implied pedophilia, ableism
What’s it about? Wisteria leads a miserable life, begging for coins to appease a priest who beats her and feeds her moldy bread. Her only joy is her midnight visits from Marbas, an immortal demon who has grown tired of a world where almost no one can see or hear him.
Maybe it’s the end-of-premieres doldrums, but I’m having a pretty hard time working up any particular energy for this one. It hardly even feels worth dunking on, although I did manage one workable meme.
The exemplifying term for The tale of outcasts is “adolescent.” It’s vaguely fantasy-Victorian in a noncommittal sort of way; it’s very proud of its irony of having a noble demon and a cackling, wicked priest; its monsterfucker vibes are of the very tame Cocteau-inspired variety; and it rolls orphandom, starvation, child enslavement, sexual menace, and torture implements (with the reveal of a hook hand on the murderous pedophile for bonus “disabilities are sinister” energy) into a big ball and trots it over like a pleased-as-punch dog.
It’s exactly the kind of thing I was reading at 14, and it caters to a 14-year-old’s understanding of its subject matter. A lot of Bad Things are name-checked and piled on one another—to make sure we understand this is the MOST tragic and resilient of waif heroines, y’see—in a way that underlines the narrative’s failure to grasp the fire it’s playing with. It doesn’t care, and it lacks the guts to portray most of it on screen or display much in the way of character psychology, so I can’t say I care much either.
There’s probably, likewise, meant to be a kind of romantic ambiguity to Marbas and Wisteria’s relationship. If I had to guess, I’d label it of the “unspoken devotion” that has enough unspecified declarations of devotion to allow the teenage reader to imagine being swept up by a strong, stoic demon who’s only kind to them, but it might well be an overt romance. Probably I should care about that, since I think Wisteria is meant to be about 14 herself and her character design looks 12 at most. But I lack an investment in discussing the finer ethical points in the same way I respect the discussion around…well, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, a series that might still be having a back-and-forth about the ethics of its central relationship even as I type.
The most impressionable 14-year-old on earth could separate this tough demon protector fantasy from pursuing an actual adult, and the series is totally lacking in both fanservice and any eroticism. For all its protestations of gothic darkness, it’s completely bloodless. In a metaphorical sense. There very much is real blood splashing around when Wisteria’s “please don’t let him be a creepy siscon guy” brother Snow is out killing demons.
It’s. It’s ironc. D’you get it.
I am no longer the target audience for this series. In fact, I imagine the average AniFem reader is probably a bit too old to vibe with it. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing of worth going on here. The fact that Wisteria is a blind heroine is pretty cool, as long as they don’t get weird and “magical disability superpower” with it going forward. It looks nice, and Wisteria and Marbas are both perfectly likable characters. I enjoyed the gentleness of their peaceful interactions, which were the scenes when the anime settled down and invited the audience into the world. Snow is obnoxious as all get out, but there’s room to grow. I have no intention of watching more, and maybe it’s just secondary nostalgia talking, but I sort of wish it well.