Originally titled Manaria Friends, but retitled Mysteria Friends by Sentai Filmworks for the international market, this short anime series combines slice-of-life with fantasy. It is inspired by a chapter from a computer game that also spawned its own anime, but apparently no knowledge of the game or the other anime is required or even helpful prior to watching Mysteria Friends. In fact, I didn’t even find out about that until after I had watched it all.
Combining slice-of-life with fantasy might seem like an odd approach, but it works incredibly well. The fantasy basically provides a really beautiful backdrop for the slice-of-life stories, and this is in any case an extremely good-looking series. The lack of big fantasy bangs-and-flashes battles, apart from just one of the episodes, presumably allowed the budget to be channelled into making everything look as good as it possibly could, with high quality animation and stunning, colourful background art. It’s a while since I’ve seen such a pretty series. In fact, this might just beat anything I’ve ever seen, outside of the realms of bigger budget anime movies.
The main focus of the series is on two girls, Anne and Grea. Anne is a princess who looks human, while Grea is some kind of a demon-looking girl, with horns, wings and a tail. They attend the same school, an amazing place which reminded me a bit of Hogwarts. Much use is made of the library as a backdrop, a setting that is so breathtaking and beautiful I just wanted it to exist in real life so I could visit, with a river flowing through the enormous room between towering bookcases.
Anne and Grea are clearly in love with each other, but it never goes beyond flirting and blushing, so this is a lovely, gentle-natured yuri series. Anne is the confident, bubbly-natured one, as we would expect from a princess, while Grea is shy and softly-spoken. Some of the episodes examine her embarrassment about her body, particularly her tail, which Anne finds beautiful but Grea worries is getting too fat. The second episode focuses on what appears to be a fever, but is actually a body process Grea has to go through. Apart from one episode that has a lot of impressive battle sequences, the others focus on daily life for the girls, such as shopping, going to the beach, playing hide and seek in the library and putting on a school play. The final episode is a melancholy affair, with Grea wandering around a deserted school, with everyone else heading off for the summer break, but it ends on a positive note.
Most of the other characters fail to grow beyond the roles they play within Anne and Grea’s lives, but for such a short series that’s fine. There are just ten episodes, with an oddly short running time and format. Each episode is about 12 minutes, appears to have ended, and then tacks on a few minutes of what often feels like a continuation of the story, but is sometimes a side story instead. There is never an opening title sequence, but the ending sequence, which comes between the main part of the episode and the coda, is beautifully done each time. With such short episodes the series just flies by, and I ended up watching two episodes back to back each time. You could easily binge watch the whole thing in one sitting if you wanted to.
An honourable mention has to go to Anne’s palace guard, Owen. He’s not a particularly interesting character in himself, but the animators nearly always include him in the background somewhere, being brilliant at his job by watching over his princess without intruding on her life. This is done with such subtlety that I felt like a bit of a fool when my wife pointed out that he’s always there… when we had reached episode six. I need to rewatch the whole series some time, just to play a game of Where’s Owen.
I have slight reservations about a series like this that teases a romance and never gets beyond longing looks. It always seems like the viewers should be rewarded for their patience with a kiss at the end, if nothing else. But that’s a minor complaint considering how strongly the characters are brought to life in such a short time, and how breathtaking the visuals are. Much use is made of the weather to reflect the girls’ feelings at any given time, so we get to see the beautiful backdrops to their lives in all weathers, from bright sunshine to snow. If you’re still struggling to understand the whole point of the fantasy setting for a slice-of-life series, and you need a reason beyond the visuals for that, just keep an eye on Grea’s tail. It tells the tale of her emotions, whether she wants it to or not. There’s not a lot of mystery about Mysteria Friends, but the growing friendship between Grea and Anne is a joy to watch. RP