Tamahiko Shima survived a car accident that killed his mother. But it left him crippled, and as a result, he has been sent off to live in the country by his family, where his shame can be hidden from the rest of the world. Into his dark, lonely world comes the purest, most innocent of maidens — Yuzuki — sent by Tamahiko’s father to be his bride. Will this pure cinnamon roll help bring Tamahiko out of his depression, or will we the viewers be too skeeved out by the “purchased child bride” setup to care how Taishou Otome Fairy Tale plays out?
This article is a part of AniTAY’s Fall 2021 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!
Let’s take a fast spin through the production aspects of the show before we get to the elephant in the room. To start with, the visuals for Taishou Otome Fairy Tale are enjoyable. So far, the most time has been spent in Tamahiko’s home in the country, with short scenes of his father in his office. In episode 2, Tamahiko takes Yuzuki on a trip to Tokyo. While I have no idea how accurate to 1922 Tokyo the scenes look, they are certainly drawn gorgeously. I’m not particularly familiar with Studio SynergySP, but taking a glance at their past works, it would appear that they for a long time went with a similar anime “style” for character and art designs on many series — a style they thankfully didn’t try to use here. Here, they seem to focus on “do a small number of things, and do them right” — and so far succeed wonderfully.
While there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with the series’ opening and ending themes, they’re both happy, slightly poppy numbers that would be fantastic in your standard slice-of-life show, at least for now they feel slightly out of place with some heavier emotional elements that run through the episodes.
The main voice cast through the first 3 episodes is small. Tamahiko is voiced by veteran actor Yuusuke Kobayashi, probably best known for voicing main character Subaru in Re:Zero. Besides Tamahiko, we’ve mainly only heard Yuzuki, Tamahiko’s father, and in episode 3, his younger sister Tamako. The voices are well-matched, with Kobayashi in particular at times bringing those same depths of despair that Re:Zero’s Subaru also reached on the worst occasions. Saya Aizawa brings an innocence, crossed with a natural caring, that brings Yuzuki to life.
Visuals and music and voice cast aside though, let’s not beat around the bush any longer, and address the bit that’s probably been stuck in your head since the opening paragraph — Yuzuki is not just an arranged marriage for Tamahiko. She’s been sent to him because her parents owe a large debt to Tamahiko’s father, a wealthy man. He sees an opportunity to arrange a marriage for a son who, due to his crippled dominant arm, is viewed as a “disgrace” to the family, who must be hidden away to prevent problems when arranging marriages for his siblings.
Poor Yuzuki hasn’t just been stripped away from her girls’ school and friends and parents and old life, though — she’s been bought, effectively as a child bride. Even Tamahiko notes that at 14 years old, it can’t even be legal for her to be married. Through the first few episodes, however, the show does a reasonable job of striking a balance between “Yuzuki is going to help Tamahiko” and “Yuzuki is here to be Tamahiko’s bride”. The first episode plays on Yuzuki’s innocence, setting up a “oh, she literally meant ‘sleep together’, not have sex” scene, while the second includes that old standard, “guy walks in on girl taking bath” — at least poor Tamahiko manages to avoid the typical anime response of getting nailed in the head with the washbasin. In general though, the show has set up the underpinnings of an actual romance to be built between the two. Yuzuki accepts her situation, and devotes herself to becoming a suitable wife once the time comes. While it’s early days, we’re also clearly given the first signs that Tamahiko will come to care deeply for Yuzuki in return.
Tamahiko has (understandably) been living in a state of misery, mired in depression, packed off to the family home in the country out of sight and out of mind of the rest of the world, by a seemingly cruel father and siblings who wish that it had been he who died, rather than his mother.
In a number of ways, I can relate to Tamahiko’s misery. I’ve been badly injured in an accident, and particularly early on in my recovery, when I was in constant pain, and unable to do anything without assistance, was a very dark time. Unlike Tamahiko (pre-Yuzuki), I had my family to help me, and even so, it was, at the time, the worst depression I’d ever experienced. The only thing to surpass it so far has been grief at the sudden death of my father. Again, I have family to help me, but at the beginning of the series, Tamahiko is clearly dealing with both of those pains — feeling useless, abandoned by family, AND having lost a parent. His pain is very believable. His protestations of being a pessimist, however, are voiced with just the right level of affectation to show that he’s trying to convince himself, so that he can’t be hurt further.
And then came Yuzuki. She later admits to him that she was scared of what Tamahiko might be like, but that she could see that he is, in fact, a caring person deep down, based on how he treated her when she appeared on his doorstep. She provides a cheerful presence, and a help in his life. Most importantly, she provides a much-needed counter to the blackness trying to pull him over the edge after he receives a letter from his father declaring that not only will be Tamahiko be kept out of sight, but that his family will act to the rest of the world as if he died in the accident as well.
It’s here we see how much Yuzuki’s kindness and simple acts of caring already make a difference in Tamahiko’s life, forcing him to maybe just start to doubt and re-think that “pessimist” stance he’s determined to maintain. As Episode 3 ends, Tamahiko compares Yuzuki to a spring storm, blowing away the harshness of winter.
One of the biggest things I think the series has going for it is that the characters have so far been believable. Okay, perhaps Yuzuki’s innocent pureness might be a bit over the top, but that’s more a necessity for the story being told. She’s not an instant “cure” to Tamahiko’s depression, but a gentle force to be reckoned with in helping to draw him out. I noted above how I can relate to Tamahiko in several ways. And even the “villains” of the show (so far), Tamahiko’s father and Tamako, aren’t over-the-top caricatures — we learn that Tamako’s behavior stems from a lack of parental involvement as a child, plus not being able to make friends at her school and thus being stuck as an outsider. Meanwhile, Tamahiko’s father is certainly not a nice person, and appears to be fairly cold and uncaring, but he doesn’t seem to be cruel just for the sake of being cruel to Tamahiko either.
My biggest complaint so far is that sometimes, especially in the first two episodes, it feels like the emotional tone switches too rapidly between Big Tamahiko Emotional Scenes and Light and Fluffy Innocent Yuzuki Scenes. Similar to my feelings above about how the opening and closing themes contrast just a little too much with the tone of the rest of the show. Episode 3 felt like a much better balance, with more natural shifts in the tone.
My biggest concern, not knowing the source material, is how will the series stick the landing? Will they continue to thread the needle, keeping Yuzuki realistic? The series does have “Fairy Tale” in the title, so I’m willing to grant a little leeway on just how “perfect” the characters are, but there IS a limit. How will they handle the underlying sub-plot that is (or should be eventually) Yuzuki having been sent to be Tamahiko’s bride? I think if the series can keep up the current balance (and doesn’t expand to involve some kind of “harem”, given the additional girls seen in the opening), then it should hopefully wrap up as a nice little story of one person helping another through the darkest of times through to the other side — a story I’m all too ready to get lost in these days.
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