Years ago, many magical "Artifacts" were stolen and scattered throughout the world. They fell into the hands of people who were not supposed to know of their existence, causing misfortune to those who abused their power. The Hoshisato family of magicians has special access to the Artifacts, and they take it upon themselves to return them to their rightful place. Despite her inexperience, Kana "Hatena" Hoshisato wishes to aid her parents Mamoru and Maeve in their quest, doing her best to improve. Meanwhile, her childhood friend Makoto Shiranui has come to their mansion to study magic under her father's tutelage as part of a promise they made years ago. Hatena is excited to see her friend again, only to be utterly disappointed when the person she thought to be a girl all these years turns out to be a boy, leading to a bitter reunion. Before long, Makoto comes to know of the Artifacts and the true identities of the magicians he admires. Unfazed, he continues to strive to fulfill his promises and stay true to why he learns magic—to ease the sadness of people around him and, most importantly, to become a person worthy of being Hatena's partner. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
I’ve had a soft spot for magical mysterious thieves since Saint Tail, so Hatena Illusion was definitely on my radar as something to watch out for. This first episode isn’t quite what I was hoping for, but it still does have potential, with the main issue being that the heroine, Kana, who is also Mysterious Thief Hatena (because the kanji that makes up her name can be read as both “Kana” and “Hatena”), embodies some of the more irritating tropes of a shounen female. Primarily that means that she follows the template firmly established by Naru in Love Hina – she blames Makoto for things that aren’t his fault (and she perceives as somehow “perverted”) and reacts by punching him and she seems to just hate boys in general. She also appears to have a very difficult time admitting when she’s at fault, as we see in both her anger at Makoto for not being the girl she thought he was and also when she insists on drinking her coffee black, snipping at her younger sister when she tries to pass her cream.
That some of this may be due to anxiety over her missing mother could turn out to be a saving grace here, because as is established in the opening minutes of the show, mom Maeve is a mysterious thief who uses what appears to be actual, not stage, magic. Her magic looks as if it might be rooted in Irish folklore, which is even more intriguing – she has a familiar named Findabair, who is a figure in Irish mythology and one of the origins of Guinevere in Arthurian legend. It’s also specifically mentioned that the house the family lives in was moved over from Europe and has been in Maeve’s family for centuries, which opens the door for other figures of Irish folklore to pop up as the series goes on. Whether or not this means that Dad really is only using stage magic and that only blood descendants of Maeve’s family can use true magic could be another interesting thing to watch out for going forward.
As a whole, the episode is strongest in the start and finish than in the middle. That’s where the mysterious thief bits are, while the rest is Hatena being bratty, Ema the maid scheming, and Makoto just being generally confused. (Yumemi barely figures into this at all.) There are some sense-defying moments, such as no one having corrected Hatena about Makoto’s gender before now or why in such an enormous house where he’s to act like one of the family Makoto is put in a tiny attic bedroom, but mostly it feels like the episode is struggling with what it needs to do to both establish the characters and intrigue viewers. I’ll probably give this another episode, because it does have potential, but right now it’s about equally hit and miss, even if it has a butler named Jeeves Wodehouse.