New material, yay! This title being something I'd only heard the name of, but it sounded like my sort of thing. And thanks to the generosity of Wendy C. I got to experience it and find out whether the contents matched the name.
Kikuchi Yume is a young girl from rural Japan (out of cell phone range! gasp) coming to terms with the very different experience that is Tokyo. She's come to the big city to receive training in her profession, a rather specialized occupation, known as magic. Yep, the world depicted in this anime may look identical to modern Tokyo, but in this variant the existence of powerful magic is just a fact of life. And Yume-san, the daughter of a highly respected mage mother, has more power than most.
However just as society recognizes the power of magic it also demands control. A bureaucracy exists to control magic, filtering those requests mages are allowed to respond to, and demanding that magic only be used in satisfying those requests. Using magic irresponsibly or selfishly will bring down the forces of law and order on the culprit, so learning how to be a responsible mage is a large part of the training. Of course having power, but being limited in how it can be used, is not an easy lesson for most mages to master.
It really is a rather interesting take on magic. The magic in this series is not based on logic, memorizing complex spells and gathering exotic components does not seem to be required, although mages do vary in strength. However for someone like Yume, who is a strong mage, these limits are pretty high. If she truly flexed her magic power one senses she would be capable of truly amazing things. However the central trick is that she is inherently a good person and wants to be a good mage, thus the question is not what she can do, but what she should do... and that proves to be much, much trickier.
Rather less dramatic though. There are times in the series where you wish she could take some training at the Lina Inverse school of assertive magic. However if you hoped for such excitement then you might as well stop reading this review now. The pace of this title is very slow and almost totally centered within the minds and feelings of the characters. Actual magic is relative rare and while powerful it is not that visually impressive when it does occur. Likewise those enforcing the limits on magic are not dark cloaked enforcers (or at least we never get to see that level) but are instead normal people just doing their job, a job most of the experienced mages see the necessity of. They do have the ability to detect magic use, the person and the power level, though which means a mage must expect any use of magic to be noticed.
The story progression is good, but it does not contain any high drama, or external crisis, to drive it. No villains needing a good dose of magical justice, or something that means she needs to use her full power. Instead we spend a lot of time just being with Yume. She's nice enough, but she's incredibly earnest and has a talent for tearing herself up. This seems to be partly due to her strong empathy, but even more so to her sense of responsibility. She has grown up with a great power and thus finds it hard to stand by without using her magic. However when the results are negative despite her best intentions, which is a core element of the story, it is hard for her to cope with. Trapped between the urge to help, but without knowing how to do, proves quite a challenge and makes her doubt both magic and herself.
I must admit though, at times, it was a little bit much. Because the story doesn't have any external pressure the "issues" are actually relatively minor. However to add intensity Yume has to let them really build within her. Sadly this made her seem a bit weak, and when someone with a more level head offers her some helpful words it all seems a little bit obvious. Some more dramatic examples might have better supported the character drama. Although being able to generate such stress does enhance our perception of her sensitivity. The final conclusion is the same, it is touching and fitting, but so very internalized.
The assembled characters who surround Yume are actually pretty cool too. Her training master, and the salsa club he owns, allowing her to enter an existing social circle. They each have their own personalities and together make up quite a balanced set, each of them having something to offer (I rather liked the rogueish Endo who developed a good character image from very little screen time). A lot of them are also fairly passive though, Angela (another trainee) even more so than Yume, so there's not really massive energy to be had. Still, if you like character drama with a touch of magic, and watching characters resolve things within their own mind, then this might well be worth a try. However you do have to be prepared for the slow pace and lack of strongly dramatic events.
Nothing terribly special to report here. The character designs are perfectly decent which, combined with some good voice work, is really the central requirement for the sort of story they want to tell. Although I must admit Yume and Angela's voices are as passive and reserved as their characters, which further reduces the energy of the presentation. Other elements of the production receive much less attention. There is very little action, environmental designs are often quite basic and lacking in detail and the magic itself uses some rather unimpressive computer animation to get the point across. The ambient music is mostly subtle instrumental pieces, with nicely earnest vocal tracks for the opening and close, which well suit the mood of the production. In short the production supports the goal of the anime, but it doesn't go much further. If you don't like the story and mood the animation is not going to change your opinion.
In a variant of our modern world, where powerful magic exists, there are two questions. The first is what can you do, and the second is what you should do. The second, especially when magic is regulated and our young protagonist is so determined to do what is best for those who call on her, proves to be a rather complex question. Almost a pure character piece, despite the presence of magic, this is one for those who can handle a slow paced and relatively mundane story.