Two girls are on watch in a city of towers high up in the mountains. That is, one is faithfully scanning the horizon (and scenting the air), while the other is racing about, making her way to the tippy top of the tallest tower in pursuit of thrills as she leaps from the window and soars down to her more dutiful friend, intent on dragging her off to go get snacks. It’s nearly time for tea, you see. After meeting up with a third, somewhat drowsy, glum friend who’s a little short on what passes for cash (sparkly, floaty magic dust) and pooling their resources, the girls make their way to a plush sitting room and the company of two older girls—the top students from a more senior year in this, a magical school for proper young ladies—who bicker like cats and dogs. And then they all have tea. And discuss tea-related topics, such as whether to warm the milk, which to pour first, milk or tea, and which to spread first, clotted cream or jam? They do this for a very long time. When tea-related topics have been exhausted, the discussion turns to bugs and what on earth the girls would do if ever they were to encounter one. (I’m thinking they aren’t meaning the insects that we’re used to here…) Tea comes to a mildly dramatic end when the green-haired daredevil girl breaks the cork top of the jam jar and frightens all the girls who were on edge with all that talk about bugs. As the juniors hurry off to dinner, the seniors clear away the dishes with indulgent smiles. The end.
But wait! A warning flashes across the screen in bloody Gothic lettering! Fire! Mayhem! Crusading knights! Bloody murder! Hooded figures! A book, forfeited to the flaming air as a man with a reformed beard dies upon the sword of a grim armored horseman. Their names? Zwingli and Johan.
Huh. Ok, I’ll come back to that final bit in a moment, promise. But first, let me take you through my reactions as the episode unfolded: First off, the animation is much higher quality than I ever expected of a multimedia project adapting a mobile game, or any series with “the Animation” in the title. The backgrounds are by times lush, and by others, moody and mysterious and altogether Gothic—with deep enough focus (a la cinema) for you to lose yourself in, and still keep going. This is aided by the rich lighting design, which approaches chiaroscuro in some moments. The characters are pretty stock so far, but easy enough on the eye. And there’s already a bit of mystery with the otherwise simple MC, Arsnotoria, both in terms of her constant sniffing of the air, and the fact that her mouth is almost always obscured, despite the name of the series referring to her smile: it’s either hidden by a lock of her hair, which she clutches perpetually like a safety blanket, or cut entirely out of the frame. And it’s not just to save costs on animation because the others are fully animated whenever they speak. So, some interesting things going on here.
But then the tea party begins and the whole thing stalls for about fifteen minutes. I mean, I live in the UK, so I am fully aware of the importance of these debates regarding pouring and spreading order when partaking of tea. But still. It was a bit much. So I was ready to write this one off as a little too dull for my liking when…du du duhnnnn! Zwingli and Johan and bloody murder and all seemingly over a book? Is this a reference to Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, who was known also as Jean or Johannes? As in, the great Protestant reformers?! Ok, I’ll bite. At least for one more episode. Though if the pacing issues don’t improve, I’m afraid I will call it quits, even with warring reformers in the offing.
Smile of the Arsnotoria the Animation is streaming on Crunchyroll.