It’s not until next week that we’re starting to explore Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland in earnest, but it doesn’t hurt to get ahead of the game with a celebration of its protagonist!
Merurulince Rede Arls, better known simply as Meruru, is the princess of the tiny kingdom of Arls. But this girl is not your average fantasy fiction “stand around looking pretty but being quiet” sort of princess. Nope; Meruru is a thoroughly modern young lady who likes to Get Things Done, and absolutely will not stand for petty inconveniences like her father’s disapproval getting in her way.
She’s a delightful leading lady for a fondly regarded installment in the series as a whole, and a joy to be around. Let’s take a closer look at who she is and where she came from.
The idea of a somewhat “tomboyish” princess is not a new one, particularly throughout Japanese popular media. There are plenty of examples of fiction from over the years where a princess decides she wants to see the world or simply becomes frustrated with the sheltered, boring life of royalty.
It doesn’t feel quite accurate to call Meruru a “tomboy”, though; she’s very much in touch with her own femininity, as we can see immediately from her distinctive outfit. That said, there is a bit of a running joke in the Arland series where each new generation of alchemist tells their student that they “have to” dress in a particular way — usually highly elaborate, flowing and a little bit revealing — if they want to be taken seriously as an alchemist.
At least part of the reason Meruru’s default costume looks the way it does is because of her teacher Totori telling her that is what alchemists are “supposed” to wear. The rest has trickled down from Rorona’s old master Astrid, who dresses fairly conservatively herself — particularly in Atelier Meruru — but enjoys few things more than perving over young girls in attractive outfits. Preferably outfits she has designed herself to cater to her own particular tastes. Somewhere along the line Astrid’s preferences have become regarded as a “uniform” for alchemists, though, and indeed the general “look” of each new generation’s protagonist throughout the Arland series tends to follow the same general theme.
In Meruru’s case, her outfit gives a few hints of her privileged background. The bodice of her dress is coloured and shaded in such a way that it looks to be made from a luxurious, soft material such as silk, and the same is true for the shining, colourful lining of her cloak. You just have to look at Meruru’s art to know that her clothes likely feel very nice to the touch, and were probably very expensive. This doesn’t stop her fighting monsters and traipsing through the undergrowth in them, of course, but thanks to the wonder of video games, she never gets dirty or damages those lovely clothes.
While Meruru makes a point of not “acting like a princess” at the best of times, she does at least acknowledge her royalty through the fascinator she wears in her hair at a jaunty angle. This resembles a classic European-style coronet, albeit one which makes use of heart-shaped ornamentation rather than traditional heraldic symbols such as crosses or the fleur-de-lis. No-one ever really comments on this as part of her outfit, it’s just part of the overall ensemble.
That said, during a late game scene towards the end of Meruru’s friend Keina’s personal narrative, where the pair of them swap outfits, Keina is not shown to be wearing the coronet, despite wearing the rest of it. (Except for the bloomers, interestingly, which is a somewhat perilous choice given the length of Meruru’s skirt. But I digress.) And in several of the ending images, Meruru is shown deliberately not wearing her coronet any longer — a silent acknowledgement that by the end of the game, the merger with the republic of Arland means that Arls as an independent kingdom is no more, and Meruru is no longer a princess.
While Meruru is, of course, sad to leave behind a defining era of her life, the idea of no longer being a princess doesn’t bother her all that much. Indeed, she admits throughout Atelier Meruru that she’s never been much of a princess by the traditional definition, and is much more interested in getting her hands dirty — initially with the study of alchemy under Totori, and subsequently with the development of Arls kingdom through the use of that alchemy.
Meruru’s father Dessier is hesitant to allow Meruru to spread her wings and find her own way, despite her obvious talent for alchemy and her enthusiasm for making use of it for good. The exact reason for this isn’t immediately apparent, but there are clearly some unresolved issues from the family’s past that relate to alchemy, and to some of the things Meruru finds herself doing over the course of her adventures. But that’s something to explore further another day.
For now, all you really need to know about Meruru is that she’s a charming, dedicated, enthusiastic young princess who is keen to do the best thing for everyone, is fiercely loyal to her friends, and is modern enough in her attitudes to be entirely supportive of those living lifestyles outside of what society defines as the “norm”. If you, err, know what I mean. Mimi.
In short, she’s the kind of friend everyone should have. And while honest-to-goodness Merurus may seem tricky to come by in reality, at least we can spend a protracted amount of time in her thoroughly likeable company thanks to the game in which she stars. And when times are tough, sometimes that’s plenty to put a smile on your face!
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