When Yuri and Ken wish that Mary Bell, the flower fairy from their storybook, could help their parents’ florist shop, their wish comes true. Mary Bell and her seelie court assistant, Tambourine, allow the family to hear the flowers voice and so help them emit “friendly beams” better. However she overdoes the magic and soon the whole town can hear the flowers…
Well, this is certainly the first episode of a magical girl show. In that it goes in hard with shilling the toys that come from the show. In other ways it distinguishes itself quite well.
The first thing that strikes you is that it looks a lot better than most of the TV anime from this era. As well as decent production values, it has strong character design. The original character design was from Kenichi Ohnuki (Major), with final design from the possibly pseudonymous Shigenori Kanantsu. I say possibly pseudonymous as there is no other information about them, they worked on no other show, and one of the episode directors, “Koichiro” was also a mystery.
Once we get to Mary Bell herself, there’s definitely a different feel to her as a magical girl. She has some similarities to the “visitor from a magic kingdom” magical girls, but there’s an undeniable dose of Mary Poppins in there too. The biggest nod being the Mary Bell story book featuring children with the same names as the children from Mary Poppins. She comes across as a magical girl as some sort of humanised deity, sent to solve the problems of mortals, rather than having been sent to Earth to learn how to be a human, a better person or some such.
That’s added to by the fact that Mary Bell already existed in the minds of mankind through that story book. She’s a mythological figure for some people, in the first episode an elderly woman is thrilled to meet Mary Bell, because she always knew that Mary really existed since she was a little girl.
The final element that sets it apart, at least with this episode, is that there are two songs in it. Not just image songs, but songs sung by characters (albeit flowers) in the course of the story.
All in all, it was a pleasant surprise. Despite understandably feeling dated and a little sedate in the wake of Sailor Moon’s popularity and it’s many imitators/followers, Mary Bell still manages to feel distinct and finds it’s own furrow to plow. And then plants flowers in it.