A romcom set during the ’20s in regional Japan seems like the last thing that would be greenlit in today’s anime landscape, but here we are with Taisho Otome Fairy Tale and I reckon the world’s a better place because of it!
Taisho Otome Fairy Tale focuses on it’s main duo – Tamahiko Shima, the discarded son of a wealthy merchant family in Tokyo, and Yuzuki Tachibana, the daughter of a destitute family who have sold her to the Shima family to act as Tamahiko’s caretaker and, when of age, his fiance. Tamahiko’s right arm was paralysed in a car accident that took the life of his mother, and seen as a liability, has been all but cut off from his family and forbidden from engaging in society, leaving him to live on his own in the countryside in Chiba. Pessimistic and perfectly comfortable in distancing himself from the world, the introduction of the super-genki Yuzu works to challenge his outlook and attitude to his fellow townspeople and encourage him to rejoin society.
Taisho Otome Fairy Tale doesn’t reinvent or shake up the anime world – it’s pace is laid back, the production values are middle of the road and often comes off a little twee despite the subject matter for the main characters. Some elements, like the proto-idol musician angle, can be quite jarring given the show’s aim for an historical setting, though I’m more than happy to be corrected with a comment starting with “Actually…”!
But nonetheless I remained really engaged throughout the whole run. There were instances where I thought the show was going to run enthusiastically into unnecessary fanservice territory or embrace a harem twist once the cast starts expanding but it does a good job avoiding these pitfalls. The characters themselves demonstrate some growth over the course of the series, particularly Tamahiko.
Reflecting on Taisho Otome Fairy Tale a bit more, in another anime Yuzuki’s situation may come off as a bad trope with the male protagonist finding himself engaged with a super genki young woman he’s never met. While it does explore some of her former life, where the show could have excelled was applying the same degree of interest in Tamahiko’s separation from his family to what is an abhorrent practice where a teenager has been all but sold in order to settle a family debt. While the practice of explicitly or implicitly using children to settle debts or arrangements was officially outlawed in the early 20th century in Japan, some have argued it still took place but with variations in context. In this sense, the show fails to explore this angle with the nuance and sophistication needed to do it justice.
What was interesting was how it often openly considered sexuality and sex in the context of rural prostitution (and in this case they got it right by highlighting the underlying social issues and power imbalance instead of using it as an excuse for fanservice), underage pregnancy and a very matter-of-fact discussion around pornographic reading material. Certainly, Japan’s social and sexual conservatism in the modern sense (modern being defined as the societal transformations post-Meiji Revolution) has been argued to be a response to the influence of conservative Western thinking imported to Japan during this time and that historically Japan hasn’t always been so conservative. Given Taisho Otome Fairy Tale has a strong emphasis on life in rural Japan, some of this matter-of-fact could explain some of the attitudes therein.
Moving on from the deep thoughts and onto the local release, Taisho Otome Fairy Tale is another reverse import featuring my favourite cardboard slip case and nothing but Crunchyroll logos on the box. The anime is spread over 2 discs with bilingual audio and good encoding. Extras are pretty minimal with creditless ops and eds alongside promos for the show.
It isn’t unreasonable to say that Taisho Otome Fairy Tale won’t be for everyone. There’s a lot of untapped potential, but if you enjoy a slower pace and exploring seeing a small group of characters explore their burgeoning relationship in an interesting setting, it’s defintely worth checking out.
A review copy was provided by Crunchyroll to the author for the purpose of this review.