Dark retellings of classic fairytales may currently be all the rage, but there’s one story that rivals among them all. Sound Horizon’s seventh story album Märchen (German for fairytale) is a unique experience that combines some of your favorite fairytales (and some you may not know about), the Seven Deadly Sins, and the struggle between impulse and rationality into a new tale of revenge and retribution.
Now, let the stage play of revenge begin!
Sound Horizon is perhaps a unique derivation from most Japanese bands. Formed in 2001 by songwriter Revo, each ‘story album’ that the band puts out consists of various themes and morals (such as death, religion, and even politics) that are woven together with new storylines, characters, and genres of music to immerse the viewer into a world only Sound Horizon can create. The story albums even get what are called ‘story concerts’, where the songs from the stories are performed in a full-fledged theatrical style with sets and costumes worthy of being on Broadway or the West End. There’s quite of few of these story concerts out there – Roman and Moira are among the few (and I still need to check them out!) – but perhaps out of all of Sound Horizon’s story albums, the seventh story, entitled Märchen, captured my interest the most.
Märchen (released in December 2010) takes your favorite fairytales (such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty), and even some you might not know about (such as The Man from the Gallows and Saint Kummernis) and turns them into stories of vengeance, all while the album’s main character, a charismatic individual named Märchen von Friedhof, seeks vengeance for his untimely demise. Each of the protagonists of the fairytales are called the seven actresses (or princesses) and are summoned by Märchen to tell their stories. In each, the actresses have been wronged in some way or form, and after they come clean, Märchen gives them the opportunity to take revenge on those who caused their death, usually to hilarious results (looking at you, Sei to Shi wo Wakatsu Kyoukai no Furirudo).
The story of Märchen actually begins in a single entitled Ido e Itaru Mori e Itaru Ido, released in June 2010. The single serves as a prologue to Märchen by exploring Märchen von Friedhof’s backstory. You see, once upon a time, Märchen was once an innocent child named März von Ludowing, son of Therese von Ludowing, a woman accused of being a witch all because she concocts herbal remedies for the people of the village (inferred to be the Thuringian forest in medieval Germany). März also makes friends with Elisabeth von Wettin, a young princess trapped in her castle because she was buried alive as an infant. What. the. hell. But thankfully, Therese was able to resurrect Elisabeth somehow (the story never goes into specifics), and she goes off into the forest with März every night to learn more about the world.
(Pictured: Elisabeth von Wettin, played by Joelle.)
But the story has no happily ever after. A few witch hunters trick März into leading them to his mother, and then is promptly thrown into a well and set on fire. And no, the story concert doesn’t make this scene any better to watch. März’s doll, Elise (a parting gift from Elisabeth that is modeled in her likeness) also goes with him to the well and flames, while Therese, in classic witch hunt style, is burnt at the stake. As Therese burns, she curses the world as her hatred and Elisabeth’s love for März combine in Elise, beginning the now-reborn März’s (now named Märchen von Friedhof) quest for revenge and the events of the seventh fairytale.
Each of the presented fairytales corresponds with one of the Seven Deadly Sins. For example, Snow White’s story (Garasu no Hitsugi de Nemuru Himegimi) is a tale of Envy, while one of Bluebeard’s fallen wives tells a story of Lust (Aoki Hakushaku no Shiro). A Nun (the daughter of the infamous witch from Hansel and Gretel) sheds new light on the classic tale of Gluttony in Kakei no Majo, and the Rose Princess (Sleeping Beauty) tells her story of Sloth in Bara no Tou de Nemuru Himegimi. I love how the fairytales are not Disney-fied in any way; they’re presented as told originally by the Grimm Brothers, cruel endings to the villains and all.
My two favorite fairytales were actually the ones I initially never knew about until listening to Märchen. Sei to Shi wo Wakatsu Kyoukai no Furirudo was inspire by the fairytale Mother Holle and was the cutest tale among the bunch. The working-girl stepdaughter takes some time to think about enacting revenge against her lazy stepmother and stepsister, and when food puppets (conducted by Märchen and Elise) and an epic guitar solo are involved, you know it’s bound to be a good time. Kuroki Okami no Yado (inspired by of The Man from the Gallows) was perhaps my favorite out of all of the tales. Buranko (fan nickname for ‘The Country Bumpkin’ character) is sassy and a bit naive, but when put to work with the Dark Landlady (played by Jimang, a man in drag in the story concert) of the failing Black Fox Inn, we learn of a wacky scheme to bring in customers that ends up with a stolen liver… or two.
(Pictured: Buranko, played by REMI.)
Takkei no Seijo (the tale of Wrath, inspired by Saint Kummernis) is when we start to get closure not just with the world of Märchen, but also with the character of Märchen’s story. It turns out that the last actress yet to tell her tale is Elisabeth von Wettin herself, who has just learned that her brother (father-figure) has decided who she will marry. Because Elisabeth has declared she will not marry anyone, she becomes a Crucified Saint, leading up to her confrontation with Märchen, who comes with an offer of revenge to avenge her death. However, Elisabeth has something else in mind that may perhaps change Märchen’s way of thinking. You’ll have to take a listen (or watch) to find out how this dark fairytale ends. Oh, and you might need tissues. Just warning you now.
“That brilliant era in which you’re smiling now.
Without hating anyone or regretting death, let’s meet there for sure.”
The story goes that if you’re into fairytales, dark retellings of fairytales, or Japanese music in general, Märchen is the story for you! There are links out on the Interwebs to listen to the album and watch the story concert (with English subtitles), if you feel so inclined. I feel like the story concert is a great visual aid to both Ido e Itaru Mori e Itaru Ido and Märchen, especially if you don’t know Japanese that well. Definitely check out this revenge tragedy if you get the chance!
Here’s some links to learn more about Sound Horizon and Märchen! These sites helped me tremendously while writing this article.
- Sound Horizon Wiki
- Sound Horizon TV Tropes page
- Welcome to the Paradise Parade! A Beginner’s Guide to Sound Horizon