Chise Hitori was a child nobody wanted. Told by her own mother that she should never have been born and passed from one neglectful guardian to the next, the young girl has grown up feeling lost, hopeless and emotionally numb. At age fifteen she sells herself into slavery, desperate for a home where somebody- anybody- actually wants her to be there, and is purchased by a mysterious being with a skull for a head. He whisks Chise off to his home in England and introduces her to a world of talking animals, dragons and faeries, declaring that she is to become his apprentice in magic... and also his bride!
April showers bring May flowers
One today is worth two tomorrows
The balance distinguishes not between gold and lead
Everything must have a beginning
Love conquers all
The Faerie Queene
Talk of the devil, and he is sure to appear.
Let sleeping dogs lie.
None so deaf as those who will not hear
We live and learn
Lovers ever run before the clock
Better to ask the way than go astray
Story: Every so often, one stumbles upon a story that just nails the aesthetic of a “hook” at a single glance. Tolkien has his hobbits, Star Wars its lightsabers, and Mahou Tsukai no Yome its cow-skull-headed magician. One pass over the title and the characteristic image of Elias, and the average fantasy/romance consumer is going to grab this title in a heartbeat. Indeed, the hook of Mahou Tsukai no Yome is spectacular, not only in static presentation but also in that of its first episode. The series opens with a dead-eyed, red-headed girl being paraded in front of auction framing her as a sort of exotic slave. As bidding is about to close, an impeccably-dressed magician steps to the front, glowing red eyes set inside a hollow skull, purchasing the girl for twice the asking price amidst an awe-struck crowd. Almost immediately, as the mysterious interloper pulls his prize into the back room, the viewer is whisked away, through a torrential whirlwind of thorns and shadows, into a verdant field with a quaint cottage in the London countryside. Little is explained, but the stark juxtaposition of scenery, backdropped by our enigmatic and esoteric skull mage, creates a stunning and captivating setting. “Be my apprentice,” the mage named Elias says to his slave girl Chise, and the credits roll. This trend of powerful imagery will continue for several episodes, carried strongly by a macabre undertone that implies everything around Chise is far more sinister than it may first seem. Indeed, without so much as an inflection, Elias’ blank, silent stares possess a whirlwind of emotion – curiosity, contempt, hatred, contentment – and each time the viewer sees his face the deeper question surfaces: just why would this demonic-looking mage buy a slave girl to make her his apprentice? As the series continues its exposition, unfortunately the answers are far from satisfying. Chise wears an armor of plot device that rivals the infamous Mary Sue herself, and no scene truly manages to hold suspense when the a favorable outcome for Chise is already known. That said, the story remains quite good at weaving in twists and turns regardless of the fact that it refuses to let itself become genuinely dramatic and serious. True, the intrigue and depth of the story is curiously placed alongside a sort of weird child-like narrative, with oddities like winged rhino-dragon-things, random fanservice, and an array of comedic-relief characters with poorly-expounded backstories saturating the bulk of the twenty-four episode run. But behind this shoddy presentation lies a very interesting cast of characters, Cartaphilus particularly, who manages to keep an overall narrative going which reaches its conclusion very nicely in the last quarter of the series. When all is said and done, both the climax and conclusion to Mahou Tsukai no Yome are satisfying despite their fundamental lack of suspense. Animation: Outside bizarre watermelon boobs and eight-eyed flying rhinos, Mahou Tsukai no Yome is visually stunning. Well, for a while. Many scenes seem written more as an excuse to draw a particular setting rather than to advance the story, which is definitely odd but harkens to the sort of aesthetic that Violet Evergarden was very successful in conveying. The magic scenes are all spectacular, especially those with Elias whose waves of thorn and bone starkly capture his self-statement as the shadow-aspected magus. Around the halfway point, however, the budget clearly took a hit. Framerates during Chise’s songs look painfully out of place, and more and more chibi-style scenes are used to cut costs and push the blithe comedic injections. Still, there are some nice moments and the introductory arcs are quite well done, so not too much worth docking in this category. Sound: While I enjoyed much of the music as the series progressed, with its high orchestral charms as Chise and Elias throw out sparkling spellcraft, it started to lose much of its flair as the dramatic edge of the show dulled itself on sequential blunders. The whole premise of magic being fueled by a sort of creatural vampirism warrants the soundtrack for a time, but the show is no Mushishi in either its ghost designs or its musical aptitude. While the tracks themselves were fine, they felt at odds with the presented themes and felt simply out-of-place in the narrative that was presented. Characters: Of the ever-bloating cast of characters, most of whom end up being out-of-place comic relief fillers, Chise, Elias, and Cartaphilus are the only three worth mention. Having listed them in order of worst to best, perhaps the most telling aspect of Chise is not that she is a bad character per se, it is that her role in the story is poorly defined. Much of the narrative’s confuddled twists and turns comes from Chise being given too many roles to fill – tragic-scarred heroine, buddying optimist, prodigy magician, and planet relationship counselor...all at the ripe old age of 15. Despite being surrounded by a legion of sinister entities all wishing to use and exploit her hidden powers, the Power of Friendship ™ turns out to be her true hidden virtue, and no real genuine tragedy befalls her despite the constant emphasis of her being a harbinger of said misfortunes. Elias’ role, initially that of manipulative and mysterious magician, ends up being completely questionable in the pattern of events that unfold. Hints of his backstory are dangled in front of the audience at times, but are never explored beyond some vague shoutouts in the dialogue amongst the fairy elites. Indeed, Elias is the hook that grabs the viewer and keeps them there the entirety of the show, and yet his crowning scene all but crumbles with a fundamental lack of follow-up in the ensuing episodes. At the end of the day, the only character left really worth his salt is Cartaphilus, and his story is quite interesting from start to finish. Were the ending of the show willing to be a bit more risqué he could have been done exceptionally well, but he still functions appropriately given the backdrop the story places him in. While many a psychopathic serial killer has been done in the anime realm over the years, his twisted fate aligns and foils with Chise quite well, and his envy toward her is surprisingly believable. Reigned in quite handily by an ever-present upbeat vibe that the show must maintain, however, he never really becomes the cursed sadistic anti-hero that, say, Caster does in Fate-Zero. Overall: At the end of the day, Mahou Tsukai no Yome tries to be a dark drama and a romantic comedy simultaneously, which inevitably squanders too much potential for it to salvage into a solid storyline. The level of detail and thought put into the premise, the characters, and the setting is truly admirable, but their composition is executed poorly enough that disappointment is the only strong memorable emotion I find myself left with. What could have been a truly unique series can instead be summarized, quite blandly, with a simple “So what?” Spectacular hook or not, all that is left at the end of the day is a mediocre slice of life, a pedestrian romance, and a simpering suspense-thriller all mixed together to form a forgettable-but-watchable twenty-four episode run. A watch worth the time for fans of the genres, I suppose, but an otherwise passable title in desperate need of an editor and a solid set of cajones.
So... I'm not alone here, right? The Ancient Magus' Bride, winner of Crunchyroll's Best Drama 2017 award (despite not having finished airing... jumping the gun much?), darling to critics and anime viewers everywhere... it's not actually THAT good? Right? Guys? Now it would be very poor form to just leave it at a pithy declaration of cynicism, so I'll elaborate; TAMB has a number of interesting elements and I can certainly see why people were drawn to it initially, based on an interesting premise and world and a dearth of excellent dramatic anime franchises in 2017, but beyond that? It's actually a very fairly confused and incohesive series, and I can't help but be perplexed at its sterling reputation. It stars Chise Hattori, a young girl with the ability to see fairies and spirits, which has led to her being a social outcast (not to mention her tragic family life). After selling herself at an auction as a symbol of her own minimal self-worth, she winds up living with the Thorn Mage, Elias, a being whose origins are unknown even to himself, but who doesn't seem to be either fairy or human. Disarmingly, Elias refers to 15-year old Chise as his 'bride' (hence the title) and seems to regard her as a mixture of interesting test subject (she's actually an entity called a Sleigh Beggy who has endless magical potential) and whimsical puppy. The series then follows Chise and Elias as they begin to understand each other a little better and grow accustomed to the irrevocable change that each effects upon the other. Sadly, despite being the main draw, Elias and Chise's relationship was one of the most underwhelming aspects of the show for me. Their development comes in dribs and drabs, and while I appreciated that the later season problematises the dynamic and makes it clear that this won't be a straightforward "grown man/demon and 15 year-old fall in love" romance (*phew*), I still feel like representing the pairing as more paternal (Chise finally having a stable guardianship after so long) rather than the bastardised mix of paternity, pedagogy and blushing crushes that the show actually decides on, would have been simpler and easier to execute. As it stands, I felt like Elias should have been more of a supporting character aiding Chise's development throughout (given that she's by far the more interesting and the show is mostly her meeting new people and making new relationships via Elias) especially since his own character arcs mostly follow a generic "do bad thing that Chise doesn't like then apologise" formula. This is especially salient as a point of criticism, given that Chise's mental health (which you would expect to be a real focal point in any drama) usually only comes up as a few short lines of suicide ideation once every other episode before another mythological creature comes sauntering in, and it would have been nice to explore Chise's past and mindset a bit more than we already did; if your show has a strength, why not play to it? Otherwise, TAMB produces what I would call a healthy sized cast, but one that it continually mis-manages; characters and, it must be said, whole sub-plots are often dropped in with startling abruptness towards the midpoints or even last five minutes of certain episodes, and a number of them fade into the background just as suddenly, only to pop up again later. The series can go from 1 to 11 in no time at all, with some rather visceral and disturbing scenes cutting in jarringly towards the end, and its this haphazard mix of fantastical slice-of-life, action sequences and hard-hitting character drama that makes TAMB so baffling as an apparent critical 'gem'. One minute we're being introduced to the Fairy King and Queen, then they're gone for much of the plot and we've got a cat murder-related sub-plot to unfurl, then some backstory for a supporting character which doesn't fit in with the rest of its episode and then, oops, Elias hasn't done anything for a while so let's get him back in... for a show which coasts on magic and whimsy and British folkloric adaptations mixed with mild character drama, it can be awfully exhausting to watch. Visually, the show has a distinct artstyle which, though it fits the story content and themes, didn't impress me all that much having watched the likes of Made in Abyss and Land of the Lustrous, two shows which in addition to being straight-up more interesting had really cool animation and art direction. It's kind of like being served high-end supermarket pizza the day after you've been to an authentic Italian restaurant; still pretty to look at, but it's not the kind of show where you can let your mind wander and just appreciate the art design (though characters like Elias himself are admittedly visually interesting). The extended voice cast does a fine job and are all well-cast, particularly Chise, but being someone who mostly comes to anime for outside-the-box concepts well-executed, this wasn't enough to remove the nagging sense that I was watching just to finish the series rather than because I was enjoying it. TL;DR Eh... I know many of the people who will (hopefully, hypothetically) read this will disagree, but there's just nothing in The Ancient Magus' Bride that made me all that invested, and the pacing and plot twists were just too wonky and poorly-reasoned for the story itself to be anything all that engrossing either. Whether you came to this one for the romance, the action, the atmosphere, whatever, I can't help but feel like there will be people (like myself) who will just end up disappointed. I don't like using the 'O' word... but yeah, overrated. IMO. Obviously.
The Ancient Magus' Bride. An anime that set up one of the best drawn universes I've ever seen with nearly flawless animation & sound.. Just to fall flat on their face following up and ending it. Every grimy detail (where the devil lies) that the series set out to always show and explain to you is ALWAYS extremely brief and vague which becomes more obscene later when they try to sloppily fill these details in which gives me the impression that all the writing for this anime has been an on-the-fly job... Which is absurd, considering it's following a manga. To understand what I'm talking about, this review is gonna have to make some points that go into some mild spoiler territory. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1. In the very first episode, one of the protagonists Elias Ainsworth exclaim his excitement, pleasure and luck for aquiring Chise in the auction. He gives her nicknames like "Puppy" and "Kitten" while going out of his way to force her to take a bath with the sh*ttyexcuse that "I doubt you know how to work the tub" and how he plans to marry her & go onto honeymoons fervently. This is a crystal clear example on how you establish a character and their traits/preferences/behavior/characteristics, etc. What do they do for the other odd 20-23 episodes? Turn the character in his entirety into a textbook psychopath that, despite having been around for hundreds of years, have the intelligence, logical thinking capacity and maturity with that of a toddler while disregarding everything that happened in the beginning (untillthefinalepisodewheretheytieoffthebridethingsortabutnotreally) to the point where he was 'literally' going to sacrifice and kill Chise's child friend in the same house she sleeps in out of some absurdly shallow and surface-level jealously. Why can't I forgive this? Because of this little line in the second episode.. (ontop of numerous other statements made through-out the season): It's proof that he has substantial understanding of emotions and/or the human psyche. If you picked up on this like I did, watching this entire anime's plot and characters (where this kind of shit actually happens even more) makes it an agonizing experience. Especially since: 2. The anime completely and utterly fails explaining even a slither out of all the rules with magic and it's associations. Here's a TINY list of it i made in a few minutess along with a bunch of the illogical/tarded plot holes/scrummy details: Why do the magic "invisible" creatures sometimes fade in out of nowhere when Chise can inherently and naturally see them all the time (not even being able to turn said ability off, something that's elaborated to have caused her a lot of childhood grief)? Why specifically are mages/people who use sorcery and the like a dying breed? "Because of science and people neglecting us n' stuff.." is the only reason ever given which doesn't make sense. More humans should mean more people with aptitudes for magic and if there's such incredibly specific roles such as an "Artificer" for example, there should be entire big magic societies or cities dedicated to the arts but there apparently aren't any and nor is any sorcery/magic known to the public whatsoever (despite a glimpse into some sorcery university that just raises even more questions), despite the series consistently pulling huge (sometime destructive) stunts in populated cities and there being (apparently) published books about a wide variety of it's subjects? What the f*cking f*ck is Cartaphilius and all the hot-potato curse swapping near the end? Why does Chise immediately sink like an anchor in water and seemingly have no human instincts to say, hold oxygen in her lungs to have buoyancy or try to do something resembling dog paddling (something commonly taught to 4 year olds) as a 16 year old? Why are the entirety of Elias's backstory & details & anatomy all COMPLETELY unknown through-out the anime's whopping 24 episodes when he's the main protagonist? Why (ignoring all the other absurdities) is the cat "king", a female, called a "king"? Why did the series intertwine themselves so closely to the book of genesis just to add their own, extremely confusing twist on things like calling the forbidden fruit the "fruit of paradise" and making Cartaphilus be based around a wandering jew legend instead of building on (from the very same book of genesis) with Cain & Abel as it's the same "cursed to be alive" shtick? Why is Mikhail Renfred initially portrayed as some super villian / really huge asshole by trying to squeeze a paralyzed fairy that he has no prior association with into ketchu- HOW CAN HE SEE THEM.. AND WHY IS HE TRYING TO CONVINCE ANYONE OF THEIR 'FREEDOM' WITH A KNIFE TO THEIR THROAT? Why does Elias sometimes go into an uncontrollable "Oh i gotta fucking DEVOUR that hot b*tch Chise" at night but otherwise be in a state of 1500% control by casually licking her neck clean of blood in episode 8 with NO issue whatsoever? How does that ridiculous artificial teleport-in-a-pill crap actually work, and why is it so overused in the plot with a literal unlimited universe of actual magic and creativity to tap into? Why did Elias buy Chise for 5 MILLION POUNDS? He is asked this very question in the anime and the dodgy answer is, and I quote: "I wanna 'feel' emotions, yo." Why does he need a Sleigh Beggy for this, as he admits not even needing her excess magic instead of say, just going to your run-of-the-mill slave trader for 2% the cost or even just your local brothel? -------------------------------------------------------------------------- I could keep going but hopefully you see what i do by now.
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