Humanity takes a back seat to something much grander in the mystifyingly beautiful The Ancient Magus’ Bride anime
Chise Hatori is a human girl with nothing to lose. With a dark, lonely past constantly nipping at her heels, she decides to sell herself into slavery. Whatever happens, happens, right? She’ll be sold off to the highest bidder and left to live a new life; one that is, at the very least, different from her own shunned existence. Little did she know that every other mage would be outbid significantly, with the winner paying out a cool five million pounds for her purchase. Chise isn’t just any ordinary human, you see, she’s a Sleigh Beggy with a ton of magic potential. Thankfully, her buyer is also a Magus unlike any other.
This curious character intro sets the stage for The Ancient Magus’ Bride anime, based on the manga by Kore Yamazaki. It’s a tale of romance, magic, and what it means to be human in both our world and one completely separate from it. Thanks to its recent release on Blu-ray and DVD, even more anime fans can see why this particular spell is so undeniably alluring.
There’s something really special about any story that treats humans as a minority. It’s like having the veil lifted on a big secret that’s been hiding just under the surface all along. It’s Ghostbusters with more Ghosts and fewer Busters. It’s the kind of feeling you get when Tetsuro and Maetel visit an especially bizarre planet in Galaxy Express 999. This is what The Ancient Magus’ Bride oozes from the very beginning: a romantic mysticism that makes the audience feel just unwelcome enough. Both the viewers and Chise are trespassers in a world that’s much older than anything constructed after humans started meddling with it all, and at its core is a very large, very imposing, yet somehow strangely disarming skull-faced Magus named Elias Ainsworth.
Elias has a fractured past of his own, but as it stands now he is one of a dwindling number of mages with the ability to perform miraculous wonders as if they were second nature. As prestigious as he may be, his reputation for being a misanthrope precedes him, and his unique disposition is one of many reasons he sought out the help and companionship of Chise in the first place. Their relationship isn’t just going to be one of master and apprentice, though. As the title already implies, Elias wants to take Chise under his caped wing to introduce her to the world of magic, but he also aims to eventually make her his wife.
If the initial mention of slavery and trying to wife a new purchase throws up some blazing red flags, that’s totally understandable. Outside of its otherworldly trappings, though, The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a surprisingly tender series that frequently toys with a grander overarching romance. From almost the very beginning, Chise is far from captive. Sure, Elias paid for her, but he puts no further binding on her person. He doesn’t want to keep her locked away in a cottage, he wants her to want to stay there of her own free will. Chise is given plenty of agency in The Ancient Magus’ Bride, even if her primary goal in the early episodes simply involves figuring out what to do with herself now that she isn’t constantly wrestling with loneliness and the bitterness of the road behind.
The burgeoning bond between Chise and Elias isn’t one that goes unquestioned. Alchemists enter the picture and clash with everyone’s favorite Bone Daddy, familiars weave themselves into Chise’s life, and plenty of concerns are dangled before her eyes along the way. Is she being used? Does Elias really just want her for the power inherent to Sleigh Beggies? Is it even possible for someone as damaged as she is to find a place she can call home without any reservations? Chise’s new world is just as, if not more, fraught with peril than the one she previously knew, but at least she’s not alone in this one.
A Whole New World
Beyond the central relationships, one of the most entrancing aspects of The Ancient Magus’ Bride is the world it weaves from one episode to the next. It’s a world your average humans will never be able to see with their own eyes, but Chise’s powers are such that she can even lift the veil a tiny bit for those around her. It’s a good thing, then, that we have her as our own personal guide, because the environments, spirits, and creatures of Kore Yamazaki’s universe have been brought to splendid life thanks to the efforts of WIT Studio.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because WIT is the powerhouse anime studio behind hits like Attack on Titan, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Seraph of the End, and the upcoming Vinland Saga adaptation. It’s clear from the very first episode that it was the right choice when it comes to breathing even more life into Yamazaki’s vivid creation. From sprawling fields of flowers to colossal dragons and writhing corrupted souls, the entire production pops off the screen.
It’s one thing to pull a visually arresting world from already excellent source material; it takes a smart team to figure out how to properly unfold a story like this one. Director Norihiro Naganuma—who has primarily served as an animation and episode director outside of this, the Hiyokoi special, and the first Yowamushi Pedal movie—handles the job with a deft hand. Combined with scripts by Aya Takaha (Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us), the team at WIT leaves just enough space for the story to breathe and advance naturally.
Whether you’ve seen the series before or are coming to it completely blind, Funimation’s recent limited edition Blu-ray/DVD release is a fantastic way to experience it. In addition to containing 12 of the saga’s 24 episodes, the first set packs in the three-episode OVA that preceded the TV anime adaptation. Those Awaiting a Star is a prequel story that serves as another compelling part of the whole, and having it all together in one place with a handful of interesting extras is certainly worth the price of admission. The forest beyond may be tricky—overgrown with nettles and full of friends and foes in equal measure—but getting lost in it all is half the fun.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Part One is now available on Blu-ray/DVD from Funimation.