Oftentimes people fear that which they don’t know or understand. But sometimes someone comes along who looks for the beauty in the unknown or the mysterious. Such were the creators behind the mystical and beautiful anime named The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Among the many things this anime does very well, the way its writers portray magic is one of the […]
Oftentimes people fear that which they don’t know or understand. But sometimes someone comes along who looks for the beauty in the unknown or the mysterious. Such were the creators behind the mystical and beautiful anime named The Ancient Magus’ Bride.
Among the many things this anime does very well, the way its writers portray magic is one of the best. It’s fairly unique in a world of anime that mostly portrays magic as a story element of limited importance in lightweight shows. The mystical way the writers display magic in this series is a big highlight. And yet there’s something else about this show that plays off this that makes this anime magnificent and absorbs my entire consciousness whenever I see it.
I love this series. I can’t get enough of it. I already like this kind of fantasy anime, but even though I was already prone to liking it at that rate, this show overwhelmed me. It’s as close to perfect as it can get overall, but in this particular genre it arguably is perfect. It’s one of those shows that seeps down into places in your mind, your memory, the place people call the heart, in ways other anime cannot. It is truly beautiful. As beautiful as most anime is, I don’t hand out that statement lightly. Every serious anime fan should see this show.
I won’t make you wait. That other thing about this show that puts it over the top for me is Chise Hatori.
I can hardly type her name without catching my breath. She is truly breathtaking. She is an amazing character, from her appearance to her personality to her voice acting, this character’s beauty is nearly indescribable.
Her appearance is the first thing that stopped my thoughts. We rarely get to feel that love-at-first-sight feeling, but that’s the best way to describe what I thought when I first saw her. But I’ll delay talk about her appearance until the Artwork section. I just want to talk about her.
I say “love at first sight,” but that’s not quite accurate in the sense that people understand it. That usually refers to romantic love. While I’m sure I could easily fall in that kind of love with Chise, that’s not what I felt. I thought a good bit about this, and ultimately I concluded that what I felt was just “love.” Not of a type, not with some intention behind it, just love. I wished she was my daughter. I wished she was older and I could marry her, or that I was younger. I wished she was my sister. I wished she was my best friend. Anything that could put us together where we know each other and could simply know each other better, where I could have been there for her when she needed it most. Any of those or others would have been amazing. It would have been more happiness than I deserve.
That’s a pretty unusual reaction. Not just for me—I’ve never felt like that before ever—but I’ll venture to say for anybody. When I say she took my breath away and made my thoughts stop, this is what I was experiencing. I was feeling something that could not be described, something human but foreign all at once. It was a magnificent experience, almost an otherworldly experience. She absorbed my attention completely and made my heart feel things I never could have imagined.
I love her personality. A lot of people complained about her personality. I imagine a lot of this has to do with how lifeless she seems, or perhaps her “lack” of personality. I liked all this however. This poor girl is a very broken character. Her personality manifests this and draws you in to her.
Her personality is one of reticence and fearfulness bottled up in heart that’s given up on life, making her demeanor apathetic and lifeless. I’m not sure why so many anime fans thought of this as a lack of personality and so disliked it. I imagine the average anime fan has many self doubts and things they hold locked in their hearts. I imagine the average anime fan doesn’t easily express themselves and is often fearful of doing so. You’d think more anime fans would see themselves reflected in Chise. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I think she’s such a sympathetic character.
Actually I think she’s one of the most sympathetic characters I’ve ever seen in anime. I’m not sure exactly why I think this, but my level of sympathy with her was extremely high from the outset. Possibly because that outset was seeing her contract herself into slavery, a twist on the usual suicidal character type we often see in broken characters. But it was effective either way, and my sympathy for her never waned. I felt bad for her when things were bad, I felt elated when things improved, I felt excited when her emotions would bubble to the surface, and I felt peacefully content when I saw her look with beautiful adoration into Elias’s eyes.
Much of her personal beauty comes from her personality, in my opinion at least. A lot comes from her visuals, which I’ll get into more below. But a lot also comes from her voice. Atsumi Tanezaki voices Chise. Tanezaki hasn’t done many main roles until 2017 or so, also the year this anime aired. But since then she’s done several memorable vocal roles, notably Rio Futaba (Bunny Girl Senpai), Anya Forger (Spy x Family; I know, I could hardly believe this either), and most importantly Vivy from Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song. Rio Futaba, if I remember correctly, has a similar tone as Chise here, but Anya of course has a very lively little girl voice, so Tanezaki can do the variety thing well. It’s her role as Vivy that intrigues me the most. That role is all about the voice, if you recall that show, and Tanezaki does a great job with Vivy, including the singing that’s key to that show. As Chise she speaks very softly but very clearly, often without much emotion but also very humanly, if such an adjective can be applied to human speech. It adds to Chise’s character significantly.
I think Tanezaki’s performance as Chise is easy to overlook, but could not have been an easy one and certainly is very well done. Playing a lively voiceover in animation is probably easier than playing a dull voice, if I had to guess. People expect exuberance and unnatural effusion in animation vocals. We rarely hear a voice this calm and composed and natural in animation. It fit the character so very well that it got my attention, which is kind of odd if you think about it. I’m not sure anyone could have done as good a job with this particular voice as Tanezaki, and I will forever remember her for this role.
The “Sleigh Beggy” thing was an interesting aspect of her character. While this is a creature of legend (more on that in a minute), it’s hardly applicable here. It was basically a curiously named version of the special-because-main-character trope, but it felt unique enough to not seem tired. I think this element was a little overshadowed in the series—it was the reason she was involved so heavily in most of the adventures of the show but wasn’t much more than a plot element at that rate—simply by Chise herself. This aspect of her character probably has more to it than we know through one season. We’ll see what happens further down the road.
Needless to say, I could go on about Chise for a long time. But I must move on. There are several other characters I definitely need to give attention to in this section. But I must say that Chise Hatori is very nearly one of those top-tier female characters that we only see once every decade or so in anime. As of S1’s conclusion I wouldn’t quite put her in that category because she hasn’t quite done or exhibited anything that gets her into that tier, but she’s very close. Honestly, the reason she probably doesn’t make that tier in my mind is because she is so subdued, even compared to some of the characters I put in that category (Revy, Black Lagoon; Zero Two, Darling in the Franxx; Violet Evergarden, Violet Evergarden). She doesn’t quite have the power that those characters have; not yet. We’ll see what S2 produces. I look forward to that with the greatest of interest.
Elias is an interesting character, one that perhaps missed a little on his potential. A lot is poured into this character. He’s mysterious, and his past is given only a little explanation through S1. It’s pretty clear that he’s somewhat “childlike,” even without the author overtly having characters point that out here and there. He’s a monster hovering on the edge of humanity, a major literary topic on its own. It’s interesting that he has all these various attributes about him, as they do account for an extensive amount of development in his character, yet most of these attributes don’t get a lot of individual attention by the writers. So he’s both very developed and very undeveloped at the same time.
Elias’s best character element is the “childlike” part, which contains a lot of related parts beneath it. “Childlike” in quotes because that’s not a completely accurate description, but I lack a better one, and it does derive from dialogue in the show itself. I think Lindel put it best when he described Elias as “missing something.” I thought this was very interesting, particularly in the context of Elias being like a child. What was it he was missing? I wondered about this off and on throughout S1 but haven’t come to a conclusion yet.
I definitely hypothesized that it was emotion he was missing. But I abandoned that hypothesis by the time I finished the series. But I think Elias thinks he’s missing it, or at least is misunderstanding emotion fundamentally. His relationship with Chise is a good example. He really does think, somewhere inside himself, that he simply obtained Chise for some purpose, as if he were Ainz from Overlord and had some heartless goal in mind, be it good or evil. He regularly asks Chise to explain things about emotions to him, asking her to be his “human teacher” just as he is her “magic teacher” (something I thought was simple but cute). But it’s hard for us the viewers to actually believe he’s not motivated by emotion. His vicious reaction to the threats on Chise’s life are a great example of this. Anger is not a choice. And, perhaps most interestingly, this angry, emotional reaction actually pulls the monster out of him, and he becomes more monster than human. That’s a really nice piece of writing in his character, but is such a potentially extensive topic that I must simply touch on it in passing here and continue on for now.
The anger is one example of Elias’s emotions, but I personally prefer the love he exhibits as the true sign of him having emotions. He loves Chise. He loved her from the moment he saw her. In the confusion he has with this thing called “emotion,” he exhibited that love by paying an exorbitant amount for her at the auction (ugh I hate mentioning that part of this story…let me loose in there and I’d do worse than Luffy could’ve ever dreamed of). And thereafter even though he doesn’t understand what he’s feeling, he’s definitely feeling love for her. If the way he holds her and looks at her isn’t enough to convince the viewer, there is no better evidence—and no sweeter moment—in this show than in ep11 when he seems listless at home when Chise is gone and he tells her via the water mirror that it’s cold there without her. He’s misunderstanding what he’s feeling and so expressing it very imprecisely, but it’s so sweet because we all know exactly what he’s feeling, and it’s such a wonderful way to describe it even though it’s imprecise. It’s really sweet.
These two main characters are almost enough to carry the show by itself. This show is at its best whenever the the focus is on Chise and Elias and their relationship. That being said, there are some really nice supporting characters in this show. They’re nice for a large variety of reasons too, as you will soon see.
My favorite supporting characters is Lindel. In my mind and heart I would like to pick another of the supporting characters as my favorite (see below), but I cannot. The beauty of Lindel as a character is almost unfathomable. A male character Hawk? Yep, but not in the way that you might expect.
Lindel is fascinating to me. He’s some ancient mage that’s wondered the British Isles, perhaps further, for time untold. He’s ageless in some senses. He has the physical appearance of a Briton even, tall and broad and pale, hair so blonde it’s practically white. He’s peace-loving and gentle, but he is immovable, and while he expresses emotions mildly 99% of the time, when it’s time for action he pours out wrath like a boiling cauldron. There’s so much about his design and the story behind him that I could go into: his role in this tale, his connections to the undercurrent of British legends that run through this story, his place as dragon-friend and how that could apply in any number of ways to this story and Chise or Elias—I could write a lot about him.
But none of that makes him my second favorite character. All of that plays a role, but it’s not any of that which makes him unavoidably memorable to me. It’s his VA, Daisuke Namikawa. And even more specifically, it’s that moment in ep11 (and again in 12) when he sings that cemented this character forever in my mind and heart. Namikawa sings a song to invoke the fae near the river to cause the flowers to bloom there, flowers that only bloom when the fairies dance at that hour. It’s the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard in anime.
I was enthralled when I heard it. I’d already been through the experience of feeling the surrounding world disappear from my consciousness several times already in this show when I’d looked into Chise’s eyes, but I felt it again, though somewhat differently, when Namikawa sang this song. I couldn’t believe it. And it wasn’t just the song itself and the singing. It was who it was singing it. This man plays Hisoka from HxH! Jellal from Fairy Tail! Rock from Black Lagoon! Ruijerd in Mushoku Tensei! I had no idea this dude could sing! So many characters, bad boys characters at that, who I knew and loved (some of them at least!) were played by this man, and here he was singing the most beautiful song I’d ever heard in anime. That was a shock, in the best sense. It was a magnificent experience, and I shall never forget the character Lindel for that reason.
Lindel was responsible for one of the unforgettable moments of this anime and so he forces himself into the place of the best supporting character in this show for me. But the one I would have liked to choose instead was Titania. I have a couple of big reasons for this, neither of which are physiological (ahem).
Who decided to cast Sayaka Ohara as Titania?
This couldn’t have been a coincidence. The true anime fan will immediately recognize the connection here. Sayaka Ohara plays Erza Scarlet in Fairy Tail, and Erza bears the title of “Titania, Queen of the Fairies” in that series. I don’t know who decided to do this, but whoever made this decision to cast Ohara in this role here because of her role as Erza is going to get one of those wild running-crashing-smashing hugs from me one day when I meet that person, because I love this.
This is a little detail somebody on this production staff recognized the importance of, and that’s magnificent. Because when I notice something like this I get really happy, and really excited, and I start saying weird things about hugging people. I really enjoyed the fact that Ohara is playing this Titania given her link to the Fairy Tail Titania. It made this character 1000% memorable to me.
The second reason I really like Titania is that invoking this name for this character once again ties myths of the British Isles into this series. While this is an aspect of Titania that I really like, many such myths and legends are tied into this show, and done so very well. This is somewhat unusual, but I like this for two reasons here. The first is is that I personally always enjoy seeing the peculiar fascination the island nation of Japan seems to hold for the island nation of Britain. We see this pop up here and there throughout anime, and it’s almost always interesting when it does. The second reason is that it simply demonstrates effort and knowledge and perhaps even research by the writers, both of the manga and the anime. I must applaud that very strongly.
This is evident in a number of characters. Titania is perhaps the most notable, her name hearkening back to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (where she is also married to Oberon, like in this show). Her behavior seems to draw on other ancient Britannic fairy legends as well. Titania seems obsessed with getting Chise to come and live in the world of the fairies, often attempting to persuade or trick Chise to coming there. This behavior is pretty typical of fairy lore that most people are familiar with. Another familiar behavior is short attention spans; what we might call “flighty,” interestingly enough. They can’t stay interested in one thing for very long. This is another pretty familiar fairy trait.
Other characters exhibit traits that are accurately drawn from Britannic lore as well. Silky is a banshee, and she is depicted in her past as a lost and sad spirit, mourning the loss of those she loved. While not technically the exact definition of a banshee, it’s close enough to be a good fit for her character. Her sadness is consuming, and it’s hard to watch just because of how brokenhearted she is, even though this flashback to her past only happens for a brief moment in a single episode. It’s easy to believe that she fits the description of a spirit associated with mourning and tragic loss. I liked Silky already, but I liked her a lot more once she touched us with this sad tale.
Redcurrant is another good example. She is a leánnan sídhe. The anime uses the familiar appellation kyuuketsuki for her, but she’s definitely not a vampire. The leánnan sídhe of legend is a female fairy who attaches herself to male human lovers and drains their life force. Redcurrant does exactly this (and has been doing it up to the point we meet her) but with a little difference. She really does love poor Joel Garland, an aging man who has lost most of his family and is left alone with his solitary house and rose garden. The whole side story for those two is really sweet, a nice touch on this show.
Ruth is another fairy character drawn nicely from Britannic myth. A church grim is a dark creature said to guard church buildings, and single entities are said to reside at single churches. This myth seems a little less developed than some of the others used in this show, and so Ruth himself is a little less developed in his fairy aspects. Still, the fact that he’s drawn from perhaps a lesser-known fairy myth in itself demonstrates that someone did a great deal of research on these myths, either for this show or otherwise, and once again I admire that in this Japanese work. I also like how uncomfortable he is with his canine instincts. It makes for a couple of funny moments.
The various fairies we meet share a couple of general aspects that also nicely relate to the myths they’re drawn from. They all, or most, have pointed ears for one thing. One might think this is a minor detail, as we often see such things in fantasy characters in anime, notably elves. I think this is intentional here, because the line between “elves” and “fairies” is not so clearly noted in Britannic lore as it perhaps is to the modern human (Lindel refers to elves actually before he first sings his song). Another curiosity I liked about the fairies here was the unusual choice of wording that slipped into the dialogue occasionally when human characters would refer to them: “neighbors.” The writers used the Japanese word for this (as far as my knowledge goes, I believe), but it’s clearly meant to mean “neighbor.” Interestingly, you see this word in ancient Britannic texts sometimes referring to what we might call “fairies” as a group. It’s a curious usage of the word, one that’s become archaic over time, but somebody, probably the manga writer Kore Yamazaki, seemed to take note of this word choice as well, and therefore included it in the writing. I really like these kinds of details.
I liked three non-fairy characters really well too. The first is Angelica. She was an easy like for me. Tough, strong, tomboyish, mature, smart, and just a little opinionated—I like these types a lot. A lot of the magic in her scenes is really creative, and we get a big dose of that magical feeling I mentioned about this show in her scenes.
The second is Simon, the priest assigned by the Anglican Church to observe Elias. Sidetracking for a second: I generally like how the Church is not treated as the “foreign god” institution in this anime, unlike in most in anime. Likely this comes down to the author’s research once again. Where Japan might generally feel that way about the Church, there wouldn’t be any reason for the inhabitants of Europe or the British Isles to feel that way about the Church. It might for ancient inhabitants of Britain (see the histories of Britain and its introduction to Christianity), so it might makes sense for Elias to treat Simon with no more than polite toleration, but still he doesn’t hold any hostility towards him or the Church. Simon himself isn’t some conniving nuisance either, as Church characters often are in anime unfortunately. He’s really just a country Englishman of the cloth, and he honestly and kindly is open with Elias about his mission in regards to him. He’s just a nice guy who quite readily acknowledges what’s going on in front of him and understands its place within his beliefs through it all. He’s a nice link to the Church in this show, a link which is appropriate given the setting. More on that later.
The third of these non-fairy favorites for me is Nevin. Dragon lore is inextricably bound up with any fantasy tale of England and Northwestern Europe in general. It is therefore highly appropriate that dragons feature in this tale—in fact it would be a gross error if they were not included in a story such as this. Nevin is one of those dragons, and I love his design. He’s old and wise, and for once a character of this type truly acts like that. It’s not easy writing an “old and wise” character, given that most authors are not “old” in the first place, and many are not wise either, some less than others. Yet Nevin’s dialogue is extremely thoughtful and precise and beneficial—it’s very wise, in other words. He says exactly what Chise needs to hear because he has the wisdom to know what to say to a young person like her. He says insightful words to her because he has lived so long and has seen things that Chise cannot imagine, experienced things many years in the past that she is only just now experiencing. His encounter with her is engrossing, and a lot of this has to do with his design and dialogue. This is 100% Kore Yamazaki at work again, and I really like it.
The only real villain is Cartaphilus, the one who combined with Joseph, the gravedigger boy of old. I didn’t care for this character. He’s drawn from the myth of the “Wandering Jew,” a man cursed to live on the Earth until the Second Coming of the Christ since he mocked the Christ at the Crucifixion. As far as that Wandering Jew myth goes, once again the writers adhere pretty correctly. Cartaphilus is immortal but is pained as if he was dying. His body rots and wastes away, but he himself cannot die. Once combined with Joseph, at least his body isn’t as dilapidated as before, but his pain remains.
For whatever reason, the myth ends there. All that ends up being the backstory behind him, and is unnecessarily complex, meant to suddenly make us sympathize with a character that’s been creating chimeras from dead bodies and using them to heartlessly attack the innocent. One of these creatures had parts of the body of Ruth’s beloved sister mutilated and attached to it, and Cartaphiius intentionally had this creature bothering Ruth in that brief set of episodes. He’s a bad guy, and I didn’t understand the writers’ attempt to make him seem like less of a bad guy later on. I get it if it was meant to add to Chise’s character, but we kind of already knew she was wholly sympathetic with anybody’s suffering, so her behavior towards Joseph doesn’t tell us anything new at that point.
I gotta throw in a paragraph for Merituuli. She’s the selkie (another Britannic legend) that hangs around with Lindel. She’s in just a couple of episodes, but she’s sweet and happy. She’s happily dancing in the near distance in anticipation of Lindel’s song in ep11, making for a very memorable visual to go with the crescendoing audio. She’s a little sweetie.
I kind of liked Alice, Renfred’s apprentice. These two first appeared during the cat-killer mini-arc, and continued to reappear from time to time after that. She gave an opportunity for Chise to make a friend outside of those in and around Elias. They have a fun relationship and have a number of nice conversations. Also I liked the Will o’ the Wisp guy. He was so small and fun! I’m not sure why but he struck me right. I thought he was a fun little addition.
A lot of other characters come and go within the mini-arc format this show follows for much of its duration. They all do a good job giving us a nice framework to watch the story of Chise and Elias develop. Unfortunately for them I must leave them at that and continue on for now.
This is a really nicely created set of characters. Between Yamazaki-san’s writing, the director’s vision, the artists’ beautiful care and attention to detail (more on the artwork next), and the voice actors’ work with these characters, these characters have a power that the vast majority of anime fail to attain in their characters. This isn’t a slight on the vast majority of anime: it’s a compliment to the exceptionality of these characters. A lot of things work really well together to make this a great anime, and these characters are a big part of that. They’re fun, evocative, beautiful, and above all memorable. That, above all, is the highest compliment I can give to anime characters.
Chise herself is a magnificent character, the details which I have already elaborated on above. But it was her eyes that first brought silence to my thoughts. It was her eyes that first entranced me. It was her eyes that opened my own to all the details of her character. It was her eyes that made my heart skip a beat for the first of many times thereafter.
I regularly say that anime is all about eyes, and these artists showed me how truly well they understood this. Chise’s eyes are completely indescribable. Everything that made Chise Chise is encapsulated in those ineffably beautiful eyes of hers. I would catch my breath as my heart would skip that beat at the sight of her, and into my mind would flood every single memory of her that I’d experienced up to that point. It was quite an experience.
To give the artists further credit, there are a ton of frames that prominently feature her face and eyes. Even fairly ordinary reaction shots of her would cause that reaction in me, not to mention the frames that really were meant to evoke an emotional response to her appearance. Nearly every frame that focused on her was like this. And it didn’t matter if it was daytime, nighttime, whether the lighting was natural are magical, whether she was experiencing a positive or negative emotion—almost every solo frame of hers would prompt that same reaction from me. There were different degrees of the reaction: the passing frames would make me catch a breath, but the impact frames would absolutely stop my thoughts and make me say “wow” out loud. These frames were plentiful and amazing.
The second most notable thing about this artwork is a bit of an unusual item. This story ultimately is a kind of romance, but given all else that’s going on in the story one might think the romance could be overshadowed. Other than some sweet moments between Chise and Elias there isn’t a lot of “romance” going on, although I will note that those sweet moments are very heartfelt and one of the best parts of this show. But the creators behind this show kept the romance in our minds another way, and a pretty unique way all things considered: Chise and Elias touch each other a lot. Like, many times in each episode.
Most of this touching occurs when Elias is carrying Chise, which he does a lot. That by itself is kind of odd. Their size mismatch is an interesting part of their romance also, but this outgrowth from it, him carrying her all the time, is one of the most interesting. A lot of the times he’s carrying her she ends up touching his face. She touches his face a lot even when she’s not being carried, but it regularly happens when he’s carrying her. And there’s no hand holding or arm linking or any of those more typical romance anime maneuvers. There are hands on faces, headpats, heads touching heads, and occasionally Chise sleeping with her head against Elias’s chest.
All of this might be very ordinary by itself, but there’s definitely something about the way they touch each other that’s extraordinary. While the touching itself might remind you this is a romance anime, the way they touch each other will touch your heart. I’m not able to describe what they’re doing exactly that’s causing this. It could just be the gentleness of their touches, or something along those lines, but it’s very effective visually.
Similar to this, and tying in nicely to the attention Chise’s eyes get in this show, is how Elias and Chise look at each other. Her eyes were beautiful already, but when she looked into Elias’s eyes something even more was there. It wasn’t pronounced—no wide-eyed lovestruck gaze on the face of a wild tsundere do we see here—but very subtle. It was another moment where I’d feel time slow down a little, partly due to her eyes, but also just because of how the two were looking at each other. Elias’s eyes were not expressive at all, in an anime sense or otherwise, yet in these moments I felt a sweet serenity was there that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. The way they looked at each other with curiosity mixed with the mild confusion of this new emotion they both were surely feeling was a wonderful part of the artwork of this show.
I must again credit the artists here. That extra little something that they envisioned and that the author’s work inspired was brought to life here in an extraordinary way by these artists. You don’t see this kind of special work very often in anime. We see lots of extraordinary works, particularly in eyes, coloring, and animation itself, but you don’t see this kind of ineffable work like this very often. It makes this anime worth watching all by itself. It is one of the greatest compliments I can give to an anime’s artwork when I can make that statement.
The scenes with the fairies are very well done too. A lot of these involve a lot of extraneous wisps of light and ribbon-like bits and pieces of color thrown into the surroundings of a scene. Some of it flashes by quickly, like parts of Chise’s firebird flight, and some of it is very slow, like Titania’s entrance. But these scenes are enchanting, and you can always tell the scenes themselves are important just by looking at them. That, again, is a big deal for an anime if it accomplishes it, and this one certainly does.
In general the artwork is pretty typical of late 2010s anime. Outside of the spectacular parts I’ve already mentioned, much of it is very ordinary in some senses. The coloring is varied and a little too saturated in some places, like inside Elias’s study where the red is very red, and I’m not sure why. The eye-popping color is important in Chise’s eyes of course, and in places where red accents are important like Elias’s and Ruth’s eyes (and Chise’s magnificent red hair too). And it makes the lighting more interesting in certain scenes as well, notably where magic is being cast.
The lighting is mostly good, but definitely has some low moments. The lighting in scenes like Chise’s night dance with the fairies in ep11 and her conversation with Nevin in ep12 are examples of where the lighting is really nice. But some of the scenes that take place in the dark are too dark. When Elias is recovering from his flare of passion when he protected Chise in his wild form, Chise goes to visit him in his dark chambers, where he’s a little uncharacteristically rough with her in his wildness. I couldn’t see anything that was happening in that scene because of how dark it was. Elias has that thorn-vine form that he had assumed at this point in the anime, and that combined with the darkness made it visually incomprehensible. It’s a small thing, but little things like that could have been better here and there.
But overall, given Chise’s appearance, the way magic is shown, and the loving touching Chise and Elias do, this artwork is a wholly positive experience. A lot of effort clearly went into the design and execution of these designs and drawings. Above all, it’s Chise’s eyes that are the key to her enchanting presence. These artists understood the importance of her eyes and they hit that target dead center. That alone is enough to make the artwork very good in my eyes.
There are so many things I want to touch on about this story and all its parts. I’m gonna dive straight in and keep it brief with each.
I love how this story handles and portrays magic. Most of the time in anime we see magic portrayed as exciting, fun, fantastical, crazy, etc., but almost always as a simple element in the broader story. In The Ancient Magus’ Bride, not only is it a major feature, but it’s portrayed with a kind of awe we rarely see. Magic in this anime is amazing yet scary, fascinating yet dangerous, nearby yet foreign, earthly yet otherworldly. It has a curious and enchanting feeling about it.
The best way I can describe the feeling I got from this magic is by likening it to Mushishi. That show has an aura of the fantastical that’s so powerful I could hardly watch more than two episodes in one sitting, it made me so oddly uncomfortable, though in a good way. This show was very similar. As much as I wanted to drown myself in Chise’s eyes, I would have to stop watching this show after just a few episodes. It was prodding at something inside of me that I couldn’t understand, trying to awaken something in me I could not fully experience here on Earth. Or at least that’s how it felt. I don’t know what the writers’ intentions were in portraying magic in this manner, but I know it created a very strange feeling in this anime. I like it.
Another thing I liked was the mini-arc format. We were introduced to a handful of new characters whose storyline lasted three episodes or so, and then that little issue was resolved and we were off to the next adventure. This format gave us a manageable amount of new characters that we could easily keep track of and it gave plenty of chances for the overarching story of Chise and Elias’s relationship to develop.
I did not like when the Cartaphilus storyline took over the entire show, therefore. It was inevitable that it would become an overarching storyline, as it reared its head in the Ruth mini-arc, so it had to be resolved at some point. But it ended up feeling like it was a major part of the story instead of just another mini-arc, which it ultimately was. It ended up feeling like a secondary main plot, and I didn’t like that. And I didn’t like him doing the eye swapping thing with Chise—that bothered me on a lot of levels—but I stray. It distracted from Chise and Elias and almost forced Joseph/Cartaphilus into the main character group. This show was best when the focus was entirely on Chise and Elias and whatever they were dealing with at the moment, and this brief storyline with Cartaphilus detracted from that. Chise and Elias’s relationship should have been the only overarching storyline.
Their relationship itself is a very curious one. We have this small, broken, unhappy girl with no place to call home and this tall, strange, animalistic mage who buys her at an auction. Sidetrack: Chise selling herself into slavery was heartbreaking for me. I never like the slave thing in anime, but it was particularly gnawing in this show. Slavery in the manner it’s shown here didn’t exist in England or Japan in the timeframe (I believe) this show is based in, so it’s confusing enough at that rate. But add to that it’s Chise and the way she’s treated in this professionally subhuman manner made me angry. I’m glad that didn’t last long. The first several minutes of this anime clawed at my heart in dangerous ways.
That aside, the result was strange and sad human paired with strange and emotionless monster. And he was intent on making her his “bride.” So we basically have a “beauty and the beast” story here. It took me longer to realize that while watching the show than it should have. But that’s exactly what this is. I don’t want to dive into the dynamics of all that goes into a story like that—that forest is very deep—but I will say it was effective here. Their relationship makes you feel a little uncomfortable, and it’s supposed to. Yet it slowly grows on you too, as you realize how much they’re learning to love each other, and how otherworldly that love seems even though it’s a very human thing. There’s a lot packed in there, and I really like how the writers handled this, from the manga writer to the anime writers.
I mentioned this story takes place in England. This isn’t that unusual for anime. In fact this is always something I enjoy. These two island nations are on opposite sides of the globe yet share peculiar similarities, and I find that fascinating. I already lauded Kore Yamazaki’s, the manga writer’s, knowledgeability about Britannic legends and how she incorporated that into this story. Britain is a very magical place in a lot of respects, an ideal location for any tale based on magic. I very much appreciate when a writer makes that much of a connection with the environment he or she is placing his or her story in.
But the other big thing about England that the writers got right was the role of the Church in all this. They didn’t have a big role by any means, but they had an interesting role nonetheless. The reason this is important at all is because of the Church’s historical role in the legends of the British Isles. Primarily that means the preservation of those legends. The Church made written records of many of the legends the heathen Britons and such peoples kept, without which we wouldn’t know them today. The ancient Britannic tradition was to pass these tales down through “song”—what we’d think of as epic poetry—by memorized and spoken word only. When the Church heard these legends they found them fascinating. History tends to give too much weight to their hostility towards these heathen legends, neglecting the fact that they recorded a vast number of them in writing, and with the eye of a curious observer, not of a judgmental conquerer.
The point of all that is that the people of the Church, while intent on spreading the Gospel and combatting anything that outright opposed that work, were nonetheless amazed by these tales. They lived alongside them and partook of the culture that had passed them down for centuries. They helped to shape these legends as we know them today.
This anime does a nice job portraying the Church of England in this position. We meet only one Churchman, Simon the priest, but he mentions his superiors and their positions on the fairyfolk and the magic of the land. They are watchful and suspicious, but also tolerant and even supportive, realizing that they as a group do not have all the answers to the issues that might arise in this area, whereas those steeped in the ancient traditions of the land very well might. Simon gives three missions to Elias that his superiors want Elias to look into. He doesn’t command Elias to do them, nor threatens him into undertaking them. He acknowledges that the Church would leave these matters to the ancient beings of this land and moves on.
On the other hand the fae are rather hostile to the Church. A good example is Titania’s first encounter with Simon. Titania playfully but seriously remarks that the Church holds the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as evil (she’s mistaken in this, which might be interesting by itself, but I won’t go into that now), and so its members are not welcome near her, whereupon she snaps Simon several hundred yards away from Elias, Chise, and herself, again playfully but nonetheless. This hostility also makes sense historically, and once again shows good research by the author. While the Church acknowledged and recorded these legends, they did not tolerate those who perpetrated them as a “religion,” for lack of a better word, and history documents well their disdain for the “druids” and such. If there had been such a thing as the fae in the real world, they would have been natural enemies of the Church. There’s a lot that goes into this, more than I wish to cover here. Suffice it to say that it again shows insight by the author to have these unusual entities at odds with the Church.
While characters are the core of this show, the storylines running among these characters are well done. It plays its role well and has many interesting parts incorporated into it. It has a powerful and unusual aura that few anime have. It’s engaging, even engrossing, almost always easy to follow and understand, and shows off the characters very well.
Some of the music is really nice, some of it is jarring and unpleasant. The songs make up much of the “really nice” portion, while much of the instrumental music accounts for the “jarring and unpleasant.” The instrumental theme for the show was really nice and is pretty recognizable. The good instrumental music is like the good singing pieces, where they have that “magical” sound about them. The jarring pieces are dissonant and…well, unpleasant. They’re supposed to be that way: many of them occur in the more intense moments during the show. But they’re not, as they say, my cup of tea.
It’s unusual for me to prefer the songs in a series to the instrumentals, but without a doubt the songs are the highlight of the music. The Lindel song is the high point. A few of the other songs were beautiful too. Some of those, and the Lindel song also, made me wonder about something: their words were completely unknown to me. Far be it from me to claim I’m familiar with every language out there, but the words sounded very strange. They weren’t Japanese for sure, and I’d know if they were English, nor were they from any other commonly spoken language. An exciting thought hit me: what if this was one of the ancient Britannic languages? What if it was an ancient Scottish dialect, Welsh, or some Celtic language? This possibility intrigued me, for it would say even more about the quality of this production if someone had thought to include those mystical languages in this mystical show.
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the words are simply made up in some of those songs. I found that kind of annoying given the excitement I had over my hypothesis, but so far it hasn’t impacted my enjoyment of those songs. One of them I’m still not certain about, but it was in the most recent OVA, so as of the time I’m writing this (Nov. 2022) not much information is out there about it. It’d be nice if that song was in one of those ancient languages. It’d be another fine touch on this show.
Episodes 11 and 12 were so good that I think they might be some of the best individual episodes in anime history. These two episodes are epic for all the reasons mentioned so far that make this anime great. The magic, the colliding of storylines, the voice acting, the visuals, the dialogue, the music and the singing—they’re all nearly perfect for what this show should be. They are a perfect example of what makes this a great series. They draw feelings out of you that you might never otherwise experience. That’s what makes a great anime. That’s what makes anime great.
While I was writing this review, I had the opportunity to look briefly over the manga for this series. Now that you’re back in your chair from falling out of it onto the floor, the only reason I did this was to check on a few things I wondered about (and the opportunity randomly presented itself—must’ve been a fairy or something). Chiefly I was curious if the sensation that came from the anime was the same as the manga, and also whether Chise’s astounding appearance was more of a manga thing or whether the anime artists deserved the credit.
I can tell you both are unique to the anime. The manga feels like a fairy tale, which is great, but doesn’t have any of the awe of the anime. The aura of this anime is something only the anime could create. I didn’t sense any of that in the manga. Chise, and particularly her eyes, were even more drastic in this sense. While manga Chise is comely and her eyes get a lot of attention, she’s nothing like the unearthly creature that shocks the senses in this anime. Her beautiful eyes are entirely a product of the work of the anime artists.
I’m really happy about this actually. As much as I credit the manga author for a lot of things in this story, these anime-specific additions, things that only the anime could do that are done extraordinarily well, give me a lot of satisfaction. It makes me happy to see such vision and creativity behind a show. I realize it’s an art by itself to adapt manga effectively. But this show is a great example of one way to do it very well. They took a great manga (by all accounts) and made it something even better. They created something only anime could make. That says a lot about those involved in this production and about this art form itself.
This is one of those shows that makes you happy to be alive. I’ve enjoyed every moment I’ve spent watching, thinking about, and writing about this anime. From a quality perspective, from an artistic perspective, from a human perspective, this anime will satisfy it all. It’s powerful, moving, unearthly yet familiar, a great piece in the beautiful starry sky in the world of anime.
I mentioned Mushishi once above, and how the feeling of this show is similar to the feeling of that one. I’ve thought a lot about what that feeling is. While I’m watching it feels like the heart is being weighed down by something, but also that it’s beating quickly and I get the sense I’m excited about something. It’s why I describe it as an almost unearthly experience. The best word I can put on it is “longing.” Why I think that word makes sense I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because the feeling is so similar to the one we feel when we’re missing someone we love very much, even though that’s not really what’s happening here. I’ve only experienced that feeling in a handful of shows, and The Ancient Magus’ Bride is definitely one of them. Only this show has the added element of romance, which definitely makes it tug at my heart a little more. These things all combine to create a very strange feeling in me, and that’s something I’ll always remember about this show. It’s a very unusual and very good anime.
It’s so unusual and good that it makes you wonder if something else, perhaps even something magical dare I say, was behind it. It has that kind of power and awesomeness. Maybe the fae are a real thing and they wove their magic into this series. The Son of God was mentioned in this show; maybe he smiled on this anime, making it a little greater than would otherwise be possible. This show has such a strange feeling and such a power over the viewer’s senses and emotions that it makes you think about things like that, in that strange sense of fear and awe mixed with peace. It’s still very human. Perhaps magic is more unique to humans than we thought. Maybe anime like this one, or maybe this anime alone itself, show us that magic, in a way we might not have expected, actually is real.