“Take ahold of this moment. The Force is strong.” —Chirrut Îmwe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
En route to their first Urara examination, Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono study different forms of divination. Over time, Koume begins to specialise in pendulum divination, while Kon becomes more proficient in kokkuri (equivalent to Ouija) following her being possessed by a fox spirit. Nono, on the other hand, channels her powers through her doll, Matsuko. Their days in Labyrinth City vary between training, studying for their exams, and exploring the different areas of the sections of the town they are permitted to travel through: some of their misadventures include being caught out in the rain and learning that misfortune can sometimes be a matter of perspective, are dressed up as brides during the Wedding Kimono Festival, listen to Koume’s story about having met a witch during her childhood, and perform a spring séance that gives Kon and Chiya some unusual visions. Their journey culminates in passing the qualifiers for the ninth-rank Urara exam, which sees prospective Urara enter a subterranean labyrinth in search of arrows to recover. This exam begins nominally, with everyone except calling on their own specialisations to navigate the maze on the way to their key. While they find the key, Chiya is captured by an unknown entity, only escaping when she unlocks Kurou, a being that manifests as a black spirit and helps Chiya with divination. She is able to reunite with her friends and helps them exit the labyrinth, in the process passing their examination and successfully move on to rank nine. With its solid world-building and depiction of Urara, Urara Meirocho turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining watch that manages to contribute yet another entertaining slice-of-life anime, featuring familiar characters in a well-explored new setting.
It should not come as a surprise that the main theme in Urara Meirocho involves the significance of teamwork; in particular, Urara Meirocho takes the time to have each of Kon, Koume and Nono build up their strengths, while at the same time, presenting Chiya as somewhat of an anomaly whose very existence is a bit of a mystery. Despite seemingly lacking any outward talent, Chiya’s unusual and unknown background confers upon her an exceptionally powerful means of divination. However, it is not Chiya’s abilities alone that carry the day: each and every member of Natsume-ya contribute to their success in the examination, illustrating that it is a team effort that allows them to be successful even in spite of the notion that Urara are often competing against one another in their quest to improve. Along the way, their adventures together have made their friendship an unshakable one, conveying the strength of everyone’s faith and trust in one another. Beyond cooperation and strength in a diverse range of talents, there is a secondary theme in Urara Meirocho; while divination is used to determine elements of the future, the actual occurrence of events and the interpretation of their meaning is ultimately given to be dependent on how one looks at it. Things that count as misfortune can also be seen as good fortune: as Kon discovers, being rained in gives her a chance to bond with her friends, and subsequently, the experiences the girls have are positive because they aim to make the most of their hand.
Aside from its depiction of Chiya and company’s journey towards improving as Urara, Urara Meirocho excels with its world-building, taking care to explain (often for the viewers’ benefit) the mechanics behind how the different divination modes function and the laws surrounding Labyrinth Town to ensure that audiences can keep up. There’s sufficient detail to give the sense that this is a living, breathing world where things are well-thought out as to remain compelling, but not so much that audiences are overwhelmed. As such, even though I do not possess anything resembling familiarity with fortune-telling and the different mythological elements of Urara Meirocho, I nonetheless am provided with enough information to keep up with what’s occurring. This is a core element in my enjoyment of the anime: unlike RDG: Red Data Girl, where I found myself getting lost amongst the different factions and their vague objectives, Urara Meirocho ensures its viewers are up to speed on the details. This leaves audiences free to enjoy the adventures and humour that arise in Urara Meirocho, as well as wonder what mysteries are in play surrounding Chiya’s background and the aspects of Labyrinth Town that elude even the higher-level Urara. The world-building contributes substantially to making Urara Meirocho an accessible and enjoyable anime, placing it alongside Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? in terms of creating a noteworthy world for its characters to explore.
Screenshots and Commentary
- If one can accept bad luck as being a matter of perspective, they might find that many of their misfortunes cease to be: getting trapped together during a rainstorm offers the girls a chance to become closer to one another. A curious note is that black cats, although considered to be an omen of misfortune in North America owing to their association with witches, the British and Japanese count black cats as a sign of good luck. There’s actually quite a bit to discuss in Urara Meirocho, so this whole-season post will feature thirty, rather than twenty images.
- Kon is generally a hard worker and no stranger to exam revision, while Nono is limited only by her confidence. Conversely, Koume and Chiya do not possess the same drive to study: here, they learn to divine one’s fortunes based on the placement of moles on their bodies. These moles have nothing to do with Avagadro’s Number (6.022140857×10²³) or the family Talpidae, but rather, refer to nevus, lesions on the skin. I know nothing about how moles affect one’s fortunes, but I do know that moles are an umbrella term to any darker points on one’s skin: the most common form result from increased melanin concentrations and are largely benign.
- When asked to expose herself, Kon’s entire body turns a shade of pink out of embarrassment. If and when I’m asked, Kon’s easily my favourite character of Urara Meirocho: I’ve always taken a liking to the serious, proper characters who try their best to make their way in a world dominated by their friends’ whack antics. These characters might be subject to humiliation, and Kon’s situation brings to mind Mio Akiyama of K-On!, who mooned an entire audience during a performance following an accident on stage and subsequently, her popularity skyrocketed.
- Aside from studying Urara fundamentals, the girls also partake in town festivities. Here, they are dressed up as brides to appease the town’s resident gods. For a day, they enjoy themselves, but things quickly turn south when Chiya imbibes some alcohol, gets hammered and subsequently creates a ruckus when she releases a pheromone that attracts animals to her position, as well as resulting in general chaos.
- Escaping the town, Chiya finds herself in the meadows and encounters a strange fox-like entity before fainting. Coming to, her friends wonder if Chiya is gifted with the Sight, the power to see the Gods themselves. A law unifying all Urara is that their powers are not to be used to divine what the Gods look like; it’s a gesture of respect to wield their powers with an honest intent, since the Gods grant Urara the ability to foresee the future.
- I’ve often mentioned that I steer clear of alcohol owing to the adverse effects it has on me. Elsewhere, it is noted that Chiya is the last to experience something supernatural despite being implied to be possessing a sort of power that even the other lack, but from a storytelling perspective, this is nothing out of the ordinary: when one reaches a milestone is less significant than what they do with their ability and skill once they have mastery of it. This holds true in reality and therefore also applies to the things seen in Urara Meirocho.
- After wondering about Nina’s suitor and where her heart lies, the girls decide to attempt divining who’s on her mind. Koume takes the lead, using a pendulum as a sort of dowsing tool and later learns that Saku is likely this suitor. In order to dissuade individuals such as myself from pulling the “dowsing is a pseudo-science” card, Koume uses of a pendulum, a weighted apparatus that cannot be made to defy gravity easily by sleight-of-hand. She creates a persona for the pendulum: it manifests as a young girl but later, is given “upgrades”.
- Unlike the wizards and witches of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, incantations are not wielded for anything beyond opening the floor for divination in Urara Meirocho. Nono struggles with them until she realises that incantations, beyond their basic forms, are subject to variation. She decides to sing them, which has an immensely powerful effect on those within earshot.
- When questioned about the origins of her Witches’ hat and broom, Koume explains that in her childhood, she was friends with a Witch called Marie Quispilquette, and after learning Marie was capable of performing magic, aspired to be a Witch herself. However, Marie left suddenly when a plague befell the nearby town to avoid persecution, leaving Koume with these items. Witch hunts were very much a part of history, stemming from vestiges of human culture where a combination of calamity and groupthink triggers a hysteria. Presently, even with the scientific method, members of an educated society may partake in witch hunts (albeit directed at different perceived threats) in response to difficult times.
- Koume is likely unaware of how to actually operate a broom: since brooms in Urara Meirocho are inanimate until a user wields it, it stands to reason that these brooms are most similar to the ones of Flying Witch rather than Harry Potter, where brooms are bewitched using charms in order to fly. With this being said, Harry Potter mentions family-class brooms that can seat multiple individuals, so I imagine that Marie’s broom would be of this class, serving a similar function as would a sedan for us Muggles.
- Koume seems to have associated Kon as being maid-like in appearance, even providing a swimsuit that has a design of a maid outfit for their outing to a nearby river. Similar to how Koume takes to dowsing, and Nono begins to adopt singing out her incantations, Kon decides to try kokkuri and becomes possessed by a fox spirit. Despite the spirit’s lofty mannerisms, it is tamed by Chiya, and later on, Kon reveals that she can now summon the fox spirit at will to assist her in divination.
- I haven’t gone swimming in quite some time: the last time I donned a swimsuit was in Cancún last July, when I strolled along the white sand beaches by morning. While I waded into the warm waters of the Yucatán, I did not actually go more than five meters away from the shores into deeper water, since I did not bring a towel with me. Here, Chiya joyfully pushes the others into the river. On this trip, they are accompanied by Nina, Saku and her leftenants (whose names I never bothered to learn).
- During the course of their day, Kon attempts to perform a “spring séance” where two Urara combine their powers to perform divination. They begin seeing visions of mysterious entities, and Kon wonders if she’s committed the taboo of divining about the Gods. There have been remarks out there that the original kanji of the manga is written similarly to Taoist “spiritual” practises to mirror that notion of “becoming one” to attain enlightenment. Urara Meirocho might be hinting at Kon’s own thoughts, which betray her: her feelings for her friends are strong.
- With that being said, whether or not this is intended to insinuate that Kon and Chiya are headed in that direction is completely irrelevant, and this is reflected by a general lack of interest in what the kanji‘s original meanings are – what matters is how Kon feels in the aftermath of their actions. In general, my discussions do not place an emphasis on minor details surrounding words and their meanings; I’ve never been a fan of deconstruction, which asserts that meaning is lost because of the sum of a work is dependent on quantifiers that are arbitrary. This approach is an ineffective one, because the constituents of system lose their meaning when studied independently of other constituents in a system.
- A system’s worth is governed by its value as a whole, rather than its parts, so I prefer looking at things from the systems level. Back in Urara Meirocho, after spending the evening worried about whether or not she’d lose her divining powers, she passes this fear to Chiya, who resolves to remain with her under any circumstance. When Nono and Koume catch wind of this, they help her perform a kokkuri that reveals Kon has not lost her power. Chiya’s feral tendencies kick in, and she begins licking Kon like a dog would. It is with the sum of her friends’ help that Kon overcomes this particular hurdle, a recurring theme in Urara Meirocho.
- Chiya runs into Tokie, a level-two Urara who saves her from a swindler. After a walk around town, Tokie uses a crystal ball to learn about Chiya, but it shatters when she tries to determine the identity of Chiya’s mother. Because of the one rule about divining, it stands to reason that Chiya’s mother has a very high rank or else is a God herself: thinking back to Anakin Skywalker and his conception, Chiya might very well
be the one to bring balance to the Force have a supernatural origin. Some of Tokie’s feats, however, are diminished when she reveals that she is Kon’s mother: her descriptions and knowledge of Chiya come from a priori knowledge.
- Nina faints when Tokie reveals that calamity will befall Nono later in the evening unless Team Natsume works together to avert this. Ironically, knowing about a disaster beforehand can trigger behavioural changes in the affected individuals, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Simply, a false prediction induces actions in the affected that lead them to act in ways that can enable the prediction’s terms, leading them to conclude the prophecy was true. The Greek myth of Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s MacBeth are classic examples.
- In order to prevent disaster, Nono and the others wander into the forests by nightfall, in search of a herb not unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s Athelas (better known as Kingsfoil), which was a potent healing agent that could even counteract the effects of a wound inflicted by a Morgul-blade, or the life-draining powers from Black Breath. Frantic, the girls eventually opt to stick with one another and begin holding out in the manner they’re most familiar with.
- As it turns out, this entire “calamity” was an exercise to determine if Team Natsume is eligible for the Urara exam, and Nina was in on the fact the whole time. The actual exam is a treasure hunt: punch through obstacles in a labyrinth even the top Urara do not fully understand and retrieve an arrow. Success is determined by the strength of teamwork, and Nina will be amongst one of the instructors “invigilating” (present a credible obstruction to the examinees). In describing and outlining the exam’s criteria, as well as reacting to the mishaps that befall the students, Tokie derives an uncommonly strong sense of pleasure from the thought of the Urara hopefuls suffering.
- Chiya feels left out when the others mention what tools they will be bringing into the exam with them. In spite of this, everyone manages to reach the arrow (after Kon is taken in by several fake arrows). When they make to leave the chamber, Chiya is absorbed by an unknown entity that claims her mother is a TR8R before attempting to asphyxiate her. It is here that Chiya’s mother’s name is revealed to be Yami.
- Being sourced from a Manga Time Kirara work, there was never any doubt that Chiya would make it out of her situation alive: it was the unexpectedness of this turn of events that allowed the tenth episode to have a compelling cliffhanger that motivated me to watch Urara Meirocho‘s eleventh episode as soon as it appeared. Before anything too serious can happen, Kurou appears and lends its powers to help Chiya escape. Chiya subsequently uses this newfound power to locate her friends, who’ve fallen prey to various traps in the labyrinth.
- While I am fond of things like cheesecake and fudge, if given the choice, I will prefer meat and potatoes every time. Consequently, I am not as likely to fall victim to Koume’s fate: she’s stuck in a small opening, with her flab keeping her from being extricated. Strictly speaking, it’s actually a combination of a good diet and exercise that allows one to remain in shape; this is why I’m fond of lifting weights, and also why I do martial arts in conjunction with hiking where the weather permits. So, I’m curious to know this of my readers: how do you keep in shape?
- I’m sure the manga will delve into much more details than the anime can with respect to the relationship that Chiya shares with Kurou; Urara Meirocho only depicts Kurou’s powers as being exceptionally precise, allowing Chiya and her friends to navigate out of the labyrinth without much difficulty. As the clock counts down, Team Natsume double-times their way back to the exit, resolutely trying to finish their exam within the time limits stipulated.
- The sum of Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono’s divination skills, coupled with the strength of their friendship, is what inspires the page quote, sourced from Rogue One. Like Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), whose faith in the Force allows him to perform incredible feats despite being blind, the girls are able to use their experiences in order to complete difficult tasks in spite of facing the unknown, seizing the moment when the opportunity arrives and making the most of things.
- While I’ve praised almost all of the aspects of Urara Meirocho to a high extent, one element that has gone unmentioned is the soundtrack. Released back on March 8 and retailing for 2700 Yen (32.44 CAD at the time of writing), the music in the soundtrack is quite ordinary in nature, blending in seamlessly with the events of the anime. There are some tracks that convey a more appropriate sense than others, which sound more conventional (these songs are typically used whenever comedy dominates a moment).
- To celebrate their successful examination, Saku and Nina bring Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono to a top-tier hot springs whose design is somewhat reminiscent of Taipei’s Grand Hotel: the main building was completed in 1973 and remains one of the largest traditional Chinese buildings around. Prior to entering the hot springs, Chiya and the others try out one another’s outfits when Nono wonders what wearing a corset is like; Chiya and Kon find themselves unaccustomed to the other’s clothes, while Koume grows jealous when Nono turns out to wear her Witch’s outfit nicely.
- What begins as a relaxing soak in a hot springs mutates into a talent show when Saku and Nina get wasted on alcohol that brings to the forefront comedy that is befitting of Urara Meirocho. In the aftermath, Saku and Nina lie down, while Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono find that their rank nine emblems, plus all of their divining implements, have gone missing. However, even without these tools, the girls work together to deduce location, eventually making use of swarm intelligence to determine where all of their gear has gone. While it would be amusing to try and fit this occurrence to an ant colony optimisation problem, it does not seem appropriate, since the ants converge on a point behind the waterfall quickly.
- As it turns out, Nina’s moved their gear behind the waterfall to purify it and protect the Urara as they move up: they will be transferring to an institute for ninth-rank Urara to futher their studies, moving out of the Natsume teahouse in doing so. Far from a tearful separation, the girls are excited to continue, leaving Nina in tears.
- Chiya notes that, while she’s now faced with more mysteries than before, the prospect of improving and learning more is a powerful motivation. She and Kon overlook Labyrinth town here – I’ve been impressed with the details in the town’s depiction throughout Urara Meirocho, and seeing the town alit by nightfall is a fantastic opportunity to provide such a screenshot. The artwork in this anime is fabulous and contributes solidly to the atmospherics.
- Claims that “the story wasn’t helped by its format” is lunacy; Urara Meirocho strove to portray Chiya’s journey to becoming a higher-ranked Urara with her friends, and succeed in this, Urara Meirocho does. The journey to the top ultimately means that there is a vast opportunity for a continuation, and any sort of sequel to Urara Meirocho would mean being able to see Chiya and the others attend a Urara academy. Taken together, I would probably give Urara Meirocho an A-, 8.5 on a ten-point scale, and note that like other anime derived from Manga Time Kirara works, Urara Meirocho represents an immensely entertaining series that excels at bringing a smile to its viewers. It’s certainly not an anime to scrutinise, being best enjoyed for the journey that it depicts.
The sum of its world-building and character dynamics, coupled with an interesting art style means that Urara Meirocho ends up as a pleasant surprise for the Winter 2017 season, being best-suited for fans of the slice-of-life genre. However, like GochiUsa, Urara Meirocho is set in a location that is not yet another Japanese suburban area during high school: the location, paired with an honest and effective means of exploring this new world gives the setting in Urara Meirocho credence. For fans of the genre, Urara Meirocho earns a recommendation, easily being quite entertaining and refreshing. However, as some of the jokes can come across as jarring (especially Captain Saku and her uncommonly impure thoughts): Urara Meirocho might not be suitable for fans of other genres. Consequently, for folks unaccustomed or unfamiliar with moé slice-of-life anime, this anime earns neither recommendation or rejection, as the enjoyment factor varies from person to person. The final aspect that is worth considering is whether or not Urara Meirocho will receive a continuation: with the manga on-going, it is likely that we could see a future season, provided that there is enough source material and that sales are good. An OVA in-between seasons is also a possibility, but for the present, in the absence of additional information, it’s reasonable to conclude that Urara Meirocho comes to a solid conclusion.