Review: Is the Novice Alchemist Managing?

Management of a Novice Alchemist

One interesting trend in anime in recent years (and by extension its common source material) is fantasy series with an entrepreneurial bent. While the series may have flashy magic and action elements and typically features a protagonist that’s unusually capable (if not outright OP), it focuses much more on building a business or kingdom, and plot elements deal at least as much with the business-side and/or political aspects.  They can appear in both isekai and non-isekai forms, too. 2022 has brought titles in this vein like The Genius Prince’s Guide to Rising a Nation Out of Debt, Parallel World Pharmacy, and the third season of Ascendance of a Bookworm, and other recent fare of this type include By the Grace of the Gods, Drug Store in Another World,  How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom, and (essentially) Banished From the Hero’s Party. This series falls more squarely in this category than most and is as true to the spirit of its entrepreneurial style as any of them, and so should have at least some appeal to those who appreciate titles of this type. Whether or not the series can be considered a success overall after nine episodes is more nebulous.

Whereas the first episode focused on establishing protagonist Sarasa as a character and setting her on her career path, the eight episodes since then have focused primarily on her establishing and growing her business in the remote village of Yok. Key to this is recruiting the team of three young women who work with/under her: the local girl Lorea, who becomes the shop assistant and cook, and the gatherers Iris and Kate, who do jobs specifically for Sarasa to help work off a debt they owe to her for reattaching an arm Iris got severed during a gathering job gone wrong. They are an amicable bunch who combine with Sarasa to generate the series’ decided “cute girls do cute things” vibe. The most frequently-appearing characters who are not part of Sarasa’s effective household are a group of male gatherers who are both regular suppliers of raw alchemical ingredients and regular purchasers of Sarasa’s finished products, as well as extra hands for bigger jobs. Sarasa’s former master Ophelia – one of the most famous and accomplished of all alchemists, naturally – has also popped up a few extra times in one capacity or another, though hers is not an every-episode role. A few other contacts who might appear or be references on a regular basis are also gradually accruing.

While the story content so far has not exactly been episodic, neither is there much of an overarching plot. Sarasa is out to come up with all kinds of inventive creations to sell, the female gatherers have their debt to pay down, and that’s about it. Dangers regularly crop up like ravaging flaming bears attacking the village, a rival alchemist trying to undercut Sarasa via market manipulation, or the uncomfortable hazard of eating unprocessed honey, but only the faintest hints have been dropped so far that either of those first two cases are leading to anything bigger. We do learn that Sarasa has so much mana that she cannot easily control it without an artifact given to her by Ophelia, but that’s hardly an uncommon inconvenience for characters of her type and Sarasa is certainly still capable enough to kick some serious butt when she has to. In fact, she’s capable to an OP degree, which feels out of scale in a setting which focuses on more mundane applications of alchemy.

And that’s exactly where the main appeal of the series lies – or at least should lie, anyway. Sarasa is always innovating and coming up with clever applications for her alchemy, and the mechanics for how alchemy works in this world are different enough to be interesting on their own. They also give Sarasa a chance to show off an almost ruthlessly conniving side under her good-girl image, and she certainly has a coldly practical one when it comes to matter-of-factly slicing up monsters for parts. And some of the inventions are neat. However, the process can also come across as a bit too goofy and gimmicky.

This contributes to a light-hearted tone, one less interested in taking things seriously than in having fun and one which keeps things clean to an almost sterile degree. That does allow for some genuinely humorous sequences, such as the handling of the unprocessed honey’s deleterious side effects, but the series does not have enough of that to be truly effective as a comedy, and the closest it has to any substance is Sarasa’s punishment of bandits. (Bandits possibly driven by scheming from those seeking her parents’ business were responsible for her parents’ deaths.)

The series does not have much to carry it on the technical front, either. Main character designs are eye-pleasing and suitably cute, but design quality slides quickly once past the main cast. Don’t expect much for robust animation of thrilling fight scenes, either. This is definitely one of the season’s lower-budget productions.

Overall, Management is fluff, but at least mildly watchable fluff. Little that it has shown so far has much rewatch value, and I cannot see the series being very memorable, but it does at least try to be interesting and can be low-key filler if you’re having a slow day.

Rating: C+

One thought on “Review: Is the Novice Alchemist Managing?

  1. I certainly concur that this is fluff, easy to consume candy floss fluff. Previously I said that I felt this show had more energy from the enthusiasm of its main cast, but that has not kept me fully engaged as the episode roll on. I have moved to to batch watching and are less interested in it compared the the series big hitting fantasy titles like Eminence, Sword and to some extent Bibliophile though it has its own problems.

    I figure this show has managed to get the setting right but its characterisations are a little to thin to maintain investment. That reminds me of the anime: I have been killing slimes for 300 years, it also was enthusiastic and overly cute, but didnt have the staying power to hold attention when surrounded by better shows. Perhaps also the OP nature of the main character interferes with her being depicted as struggling. Instead she feels like a character in the Atelia game.

    Like

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