I feel like, in general, my taste leans towards valuing writing over production. That’s not to say I don’t care about production of course. Just a month or so ago I put out a video on why Violet Evergarden’s production makes it a pretty great show. How a show looks and feels is obviously something important to me. But a glance at my favorites will indicate that the writing, especially the character writing, is really what I’m looking for in the average anime.
I’ve liked a lot of shows with mediocre productions. My second favorite anime is Shirobako and while it’s not poorly produced by any means, it hardly stands out as a masterpiece of what anime can do as a medium. Instead, it’s just an absurdly well-written drama. Hell, Nanoha is one of my favorite series and it’d be impossible for anyone to call even a single Nanoha season “consistent” from a production standpoint.
Some of my recent videos probably give the idea that I’m a KyoAni fangirl devoted to great character animation and like I just said, that’s simply not the case. The writing stands out the most for me, even if I appreciate all elements that an anime can use to make itself work. But, as I’ve discovered once again this season, there comes a point where poor production can meaningfully hurt a show that I love the writing of. That show is Marchen Madchen and boy does it suffer.
Marchen Madchen is a show that appeals to me on a lot of specific levels from a writing standpoint. Certainly, it’s pretty corny and cliche, focused on absurdly overplayed ideas about forging your own destiny with a fairly blatant metaphor that communicates relatively little. There are plot inconsistencies and things that just don’t make sense, the world is hardly well thought out, and the pacing is all over the place, clearly stretching too little material for a 12 episode series.
But I love it. The show has so much heart, something that means a lot to me. Even when it doesn’t quite get there with its writing, I can tell that it tried and see what it was going for, which is more than enough to satisfy me. And some of its ideas are legitimately compelling on a personal level. It uses the premise of getting powers from important books perfectly, telling a story about how you can’t let yourself be railroaded by ‘fate’, how you need to write your own story. It actually uses its premise of competing schools well, looking at how various cultures interpret their histories differently and using the American school to look at cultural imperialism and neo-colonialism, something I absolutely wasn’t expecting when I first watched this show. I wouldn’t say it’s subtle or does the best job but there’s a lot of neat stuff here. Hell, the show is even consistently funny, using its premises to great effect. Every one of the Russian team’s antics had me dying of laughter.
And the protagonist in Hazuki is excellent, a cute otaku who is thrust into a magical world and relies on her knowledge of fantasy. Sure, that’s pretty common in isekai narratives at this point, but making her female and having her actually fail all the time is enough to make it feel somewhat fresh. Like the show in general, she has so much heart and is easy to relate to for any introvert who has used fiction as a means of escapism, which I assume is quite a large percentage of the anime-watching population. She’s adorable, relatable, and gay. What more could you ask for in a light novel protagonist?
But man, the production is just so bad. I can’t remember the last time I saw a show that was so poorly put-together, so clearly limited by anime’s horrific work conditions and schedules. Just to give a brief example, this is a show where the OP wasn’t completely animated until halfway through. Not only that, but early on the OP not only used shots from the show but used the same shot TWICE. I have literally never seen something like that and can only say that I feel bad for everyone working on this disaster.
This show bears every mark of a tortured production. The number of animation directors is massively high because there are so many animators working on it that there’d be no consistency otherwise, not that there’s all that much as it stands. Every single episode seems to have some significant outsourcing, well beyond what’s the norm for your average anime. And that’s really bad because the norm is already pretty unsustainable. Just take a look at the “other companies” section on the show’s ANN page and you’ll see how much of a disaster this shit is. Episode 7 is credited as having only one animation director despite the fact that said person only corrected 20 cuts. What happened to the others? Did they hate it so much they refused to be credited? Were the other cuts just not corrected at all? Hell if I know, but it’s really disappointing to see something fail this badly.
But how does this concretely affect the series? A lot of these issues have popped up in shows I like as well. Take a look at last year’s Isekai Shokudou for a different example. There, the production was pretty awful, but as a show which was mostly stills and panning shots in the first place, it didn’t seriously hinder the series.
In Marchen Madchen on the other hand, the bad production has a very direct effect. Take episode 6, the climactic end of the first arc and presumably the end of the light novel’s first volume. Here, we see the long built up to battle between the Japanese and Coalition schools as well as Hazuki finally being able to use her magic and declare that she won’t simply follow the Cinderella book’s destiny.
Almost all the impact that episode 6 could’ve had is totally robbed by the poor production. The emotional moments, like Hazuki declaring that her version of Cinderella will work differently, standing on her own rather than needing a prince, looks awful and loses most of its power. The fight scenes in the episodes aren’t even competent and frankly look like total dog shit, to the point it becomes funny rather than cool or gripping in any way.
This episode is basically ruined. Hell, for almost the entire thing, there’s no music. Battle scenes and emotional scenes are often lacking even the most basic tracks and it’s clearly not for an artistic purpose here. The heart still shines through to some degree, enough that I didn’t drop the show at least, but the ability to make the show actually good was so clearly present, and it just didn’t happen. Not that I’d blame the staff or anything, it’s obviously not their fault, but this just paints a clear picture of how the industry’s problems can seriously hurt the art it creates.
Perhaps the worst part is that this is clearly not what anyone wanted. At least with a show like Urahara last season, the poor production didn’t ruin things because it had a style that worked even when compromised by time. That’s simply not the case here. It just looks poor to the point of hurting the show, and I’m sad to say that.
Funnily enough, the animation isn’t consistently bad. At times, the show looks great. Episode 8 has some really nice cuts which would be impressive on their own but were doubly so given the lows the show had reached in that department just two weeks earlier. But there’s a real give and take here, because immediately after that the show got delayed for two weeks, which isn’t a bad idea given the circumstances but makes it clear just how disastrous this whole thing is. And the inconsistency makes it harder to enjoy the good stuff. It becomes jarring rather than positive. When a show’s animators are complaining about the production on Twitter, things have gone very, very wrong.
It really sucks to say, but this show would be better in light novel form. I tend to prefer light novel adaptations to their sources, so you know something’s off when I’d rather read the original. At least there the production wouldn’t be distracting and I’d just be able to imagine the fights and emotional moments in my head.
It’s not often a production ruins a show like this. And hell, it hasn’t totally ruined things, since I’m still watching the show and enjoy a lot of elements of it. Like I said, it has heart. But when I say something has heart, that’s a pretty backhanded compliment. Marchen Madchen had the base to become more than a show with mere heart. I’m just sad that it wasn’t able to do so.