The Ancient Magus’ Bride First Impressions
Please watch this. Mature, well written fantasy anime are increasingly rare and TV anime rarely looks this amazing (thank you Production I.G.). The Ancient Magus’ Bride is one of those anime titles that people will hopefully be talking about for a long time. For a more detailed analysis, please read on. Please note that this First Impressions review is not based only on the first episode of the TV series. It also includes an analysis of the 3-part OVA that aired over the past year in preparation for the show’s release.
The story focuses on Hatori Chise, a red-haired Japanese teenager who is cursed with the ability to see things that no one else around her can (spirits, demons, curses, magic itself, etc). These abilities only seem to cause her to despair. Her mother commits suicide after attempting to murder her as a young girl. Her foster families hate her because her presence always seems to cause strife and discord amongst the families. Even a young man she meets in a magical library in the woods (just roll with it) who is kind to her ultimately ends up getting eaten by dark spirits in the form of a giant rat with a mask on its head (like I said, just roll with it) because of a mistake she made.
After years of this torment, she is approached by a shady businessman who offers to buy her on the premise that, “If you are tired of living your life, why don’t you give it to someone else?” (his words not mine). She agrees, and is immediately put up for auction where she is bought for 5 million pounds by Elias Arnsworth, aka The Thorn Mage. He whisks her away to his little cottage in the English countryside where he intends to raise her to be both his apprentice and his bride. He reveals to her that the reason for her constant strife is that she is what is known as a “Sleigh Beggy” (the Japanese audio says beggar but the subtitles say beggy), a being who is something akin to a queen bee of the spirit world who all spirits of all kinds feel compelled to help. Unfortunately spirits don’t often understand the human world very well so their idea of “help” is often harmful. This includes everything from slime balls with mouths eating her breakfast to literal faeries trying to drag her into their dimension. Luckily, a strong connection with spirits is essential for magic so a little magic training might help Chise improve her lot in life.
As you can tell from that nearly page long plot summary, this is a very intricate and plot heavy fantasy anime. Despite the mellow tone, slow pace, and mundane dialogue, there is a lot happening subtextually and in the background. The 3-part OVA gives you a pretty good understanding of who Chise is as a person (so I insist you watch that first), but Elias is still mostly a mystery. The OVA and the first episode give you some hints as to who he is as a character, but there is once again a lot below the surface that hasn’t been revealed yet. Still, the two have great chemistry and are capable of some very funny low key comedic scenes. For example, the towering six-foot man with an animal skull for a head (sorry if I forgot to mention that until now) gives the teenage girl a bath and while she is obviously embarrassed, he treats the whole thing like he is giving an uncooperative pet a bath to reduce the smell. There is absolutely no hint of sexuality to the scene at all which is why it is funny instead of creepy.
It is worth mentioning that the OVA starts after the beginning of the first episode of the TV series, but most of its content is a flashback to way before the story of the series begins. So there won’t be too much confusion in terms of story continuity. It does however show several characters that will be introduced in later episodes which of course leads to questions like why Chise has a talking shape-shifting dog or why a wizard in London mails Elias things using a flying contraption that she animates to become a real crow (you heard me). These problems with story are relatively minor as they are clearly just setup for later and thus don’t really bother me. The only major complaint I can mention story wise is that the series is dense with important terminology and concepts that the series often will not explain for a while (particularly if you watch the OVA first). So I can see audiences yelling at the screen occasionally in hopes that the series will explain itself. It always does explain itself, but not necessarily right away and because there is so much that needs to be explained to understand what is going on, following the story can be a little daunting at first.
As an extra bonus, this anime is GORGEOUS. The OVA and the show are being produced by Production I.G. who almost never a product that is at least interesting to look at if not beautiful. The show’s color palate is broad and the show makes effective use of all the great designs from the manga. Elias in particular is a sight to behold with his flowing robes and the amount of expressions they manage to get out of a skull head. Furthermore, the anime’s bright pastel colors can run the whole gamut of tones and is also capable of deliberate contrast between what’s happening on screen and the colors being displayed. These things mean that you get to enjoy a visual feast while you sink more into the many layers of the story.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is definitely a must-watch for this season. The series will throw a lot of terminology and background plot at you rather quickly and may take some time to explain itself, but the story is interesting and the characters are very engaging. The premise may sound a little creepy but the darker implications of the set up are dispelled rather quickly and you can just follow along with Chise as she learns from Elias and hopefully finds a modicum of happiness in her future. Definitely worth a watch.