This article contains spoilers for episodes 1-7 of Mysteria Friends
You may well not have heard of Mysteria Friends. The show seems to have developed a strong but perhaps unfortunately, rather quiet following. If you have heard of it, you might know that it’s distantly related to the (now defunct) mobile game Rage of Bahamut. Something that itself has two straight anime adaptations.
That’s misleading, however. Mysteria Friends (Manaria Friends in its native Japan) is a story with much different ambitions than a connection to a straightforward high fantasy mobage might imply. Firstly, it’s a yuri series. The relationship is fairly low-key at the start of the series. But, by the halfway point all pretense is dropped and we get the ever-rare-in-anime onscreen WLW kiss. It’d be worth recommending on that front alone honestly, but there’s more to Mysteria.
Far from the more domestic settings common to a lot of yuri, Mysteria Friends takes place in a high fantasy world. One of magic, dragons, the whole nine yards. Specifically, it takes place at a magic academy. Our main characters are Anne, the princess of a kingdom, and Grea, a dragon-winged girl. Anne is something of a magical prodigy, Grea stands a bit apart from the other students due to her heritage. It’s a classic setup given a new spin in an interesting setting.
Still, emphasizing what Mysteria takes from other yuri shows risks underselling the series. Mysteria Friends might win out as the show with the most sheer variety in the kinds of stories it tells this season. It’s equally comfortable when fielding one of the most adventure-y adventure stories of the season (episode 2: “Agony of Grea”) or winding up a genuinely tense action-drama that outdoes most of the actual entries in that genre airing right now (episode 5: “Academy Down”) as it is with lighter, more genre-typical fare.
The series never gets too serious of course. Grea recovers from the illness that powers the former episode, and the monster attacks of the latter turn out to be a drill. Still though, when the show decides to “get serious” we get things like Anne performing what is presumably a special attack from the games. She summons some kind of giant robot to impale an enormous mud golem. This just isn’t stuff you’re going to get in, say, Bloom Into You.
At the same time, when the show does lean toward more typical fare, it does well there too. While the overly-suggestive framing of a good chunk of the shots is not going to win anime as a medium any new converts, stuff like episode 6 (“Floating At Sea”) is just solid fun. Plus even here, there’s a genuinely sweet moment. In the form of Grea teaching Anne how to swim and eventually, the all-important on-screen kiss.
The show’s real goal, it becomes clear, is just to be heartwarming. In a way, that’s actually quite admirable. Even if that’s not normally your thing though, the amount of tricks Mysteria has on hand is impressive. Little character details fill in by implication what the show’s short 14-minute episode length can’t afford to spell out in plain language. Grea, for instance, often emotes with her tail. She cocks it up into a curl when surprised, swishes it gently back and forth while preoccupied, and so on. Furthermore, other characters in-universe seem to take note of this. Including Anne, who evidently finds it quite cute.
Anne herself is perhaps best described as plucky. She’s prone to mischief and flirting. She’s easily embarrassed if her insecurity about not being able to swim is any indication. Just all in all, rather un-princess-like, which of course, just makes her more endearing. She has a serious, sentimental side too. In the 7th episode (“Hide-and-Seek”) when she’s unable to find Grea during a round of the titular game, she curls up into a ball and sobs in frustration.
The show never feels the need to spell out these character traits, is the key thing. They’re just there, to be interpreted as the audience sees fit. All in service of the series’ ambition of shuffling around a few cards in a deck of many emotions. In its most serene moments, Mysteria Friends rivals recent iyashikei highlights like Flying Witch and YuruCamp. In its most bombastic, you sometimes feel like you’ve tuned in to a different show entirely. Most often, it plays somewhere in the middle.
The Winter 2019 season has been solid, but has often felt a bit safe. Mysteria Friends, which delights in tossing a gentle curveball with every episode, is a real treat in times like these.