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The Ancient Magus’ Bride

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The premise of this series sounded intriguing. Suffering a tragic childhood, Chise Hatori has lost all hope until a mysterious mage named Elias takes interest in her aptitude for magic. She must learn to wield her powers, while Elias must learn what it means to be human. Unaware of what lies ahead, he decides to make her his apprentice and future bride.

The first episode sets off to a pretty rough start. “Tragic childhood” was a bit of an understatement. It begins at the peak of Chise’s misery, a 15-year-old girl with so little will to live she’s selling herself into slavery because someone else might have a better use for her body. My knee-jerk reaction is YIKES no nononono nonono nononoooo get me off this train right now. Do not want. What even is this questionable content?

While Chise may not see much worth in her life, a lot of alchemists and mages seem to value her quite highly. The bidding war is won by Elias Ainsworth, a mysterious mage who appears to be some kind of eldritch creature with a wolf skull for a head with rams’ horns. It is revealed that Chise is a “sleigh beggy”, an incredibly rare being who absorbs magic and draws all sorts of magical creatures with their presence. This is the explanation given for all the misfortune in her life up until this point, and Elias is going to train her to control her powers. That’s not so bad then?

The story quickly relocates to Elias’s abode in the English countryside, which sets the tone and aesthetic for most of the episodes. Many of the magical creatures encountered are from Western mythology, such as fae, selkies, grims, dragons, leanan sidhe, and even two characters who seem to have stepped out of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The exploration of the mythos around these creatures was definitely one of the biggest points that appealed to me. As an aside, I really wish I could have one of the giant land axolotls as a pet! It’s so cute!

Chise has incredibly low self esteem, hints at a traumatic and possibly abusive childhood, and on a handful of occasions even has suicidal thoughts. Her narrative is focused around her very slowly beginning to overcome these issues as she forges new friendships within the magical community. Characters remark to Chise, as well as her often chiding herself, that she needs to stop being so selfish.

I’m not convinced that’s the best thing to be saying to a depressed person, although I understand it’s also somewhat of a cultural difference. It took me a while to catch on to what they were really trying to convey. They were encouraging her to look beyond her own struggles and build empathy with others, that there is a bigger world out there to look forward to exploring.

Another main recurring theme throughout the episodes is coming to terms with grief and loss. I’m struggling to think of a character who isn’t introduced with a sad backstory. This series is a real tear-jerker guys. There will be at least one character’s story that just resonates with you in such a profound and inexplicable way, you find yourself crying over a cartoon.

There are further plot intrigues beyond Chise’s development and recovery laid down for future installments, such as rivalry between the mage and alchemist factions, and a mysterious ancient malevolence. Part One is just the foundation, so don’t expect any closure when watching this box set. We’re only just getting started!

The art style isn’t just pretty, it’s breath-taking. The use of contrasting light and shadows, with soft yet vibrant colours, gives life and an ethereal magical quality to this fictional world. The art style is film quality; not what you’d expect to find in a TV series. A picture is worth 1000 words so instead of describing it to you, here are some more screencaps:

As I’m not familiar with the manga this series is based on, Mahoutsukai no Yome by Yamazaki Kore, I did a little research to see how well this adaptation had been received. The fan reaction seems to be overwhelmingly positive, with particular praise towards how faithfully Wit Studio has recreated much beloved scenes right down to each panel. Many anime watchers are probably familiar with some of Wit Studio’s other big name productions like Attack on Titan and Seraph of the End, to give some indication of the level of cinematic animation quality.

There were a few concerns that The Ancient Magus’ Bride anime was being rushed and may overtake the source material in the future, which other franchises can attest to is something that rarely turns out well. But there’s no point dwelling on something that has not happened yet!

Despite my original hang-ups about Elias purchasing Chise in an auction as a child bride, there weren’t really any overly obvious advances or general creepiness on Elias’s part. He definitely seems to treat Chise as more of an apprentice rather than anything else. Chise’s clothing choices look comfy and practical, like what you’d expect a teenager to choose. Once she’s in Elias’s care, she isn’t drawn wearing anything revealing or put into any compromising fan-service-y positions. That in itself is a refreshing change. So I’ll give it a tentative pass for now. Please don’t let me down in Part Two.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride – Part One box set, available through Madman, comes with both Blu-ray and DVD formats, a fabric poster, art cards, and companion book. The book itself is a life saver, as it provides little blurbs on each character and magical species.

So when you find yourself second guessing what you heard, “excuse me, she’s a sleigh WHAT?” you’ve got the answers right there at hand. There are also several special features included on the Blu-ray, including a three part OVA Those Awaiting A Star, which takes us back to a story from Chise’s childhood. A very melancholic anime. It will strongly appeal to those interested in darker fairy tales and with a taste for bittersweet stories.

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