Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Original Run: October 7, 2017 - March 24, 2018
Number of Episodes: 24
Genre: Romance, Supernatural
Based on the Series Created By: Kore Yamazaki

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Chise Hatori (voiced by Atsumi Tanezaki) has given up. Her life has been nothing but suffering and abandonment. As she sees it, no one can accept her and understand what she can do. Since she was a child, Chise has been able to see the world of mysticism and magic. But this has only ever meant pain.

With no sense of self-value, Chise sells herself into slavery. At her auction, the bidding is fierce until one patron offers up an unbelievable amount for her life. Although Chise did not care where she would end up, she did not expect to go where she did.

Chise’s buyer turns out to be a mysterious mage named Elias Ainsworth (voiced by Ryota Takeuchi). Elias tells Chise that part of his intention is to make her his first apprentice. Unbeknownst to Chise, she is a rarity in the magical world. She is a being that possesses unlimited power. Unfortunately, the strain that power puts on a person is too much for the body to take.

Elias wishes to save Chise from that fate. In the meantime, Elias offers up his home and hopes Chise will feel comfortable in her new surroundings. For you see, Elias’ second intention is to one day make Chise his bride.

Having been prepared to throw her life away, Chise may have just found the thing she had thought she lost many years ago, a family.

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Series Positives

I have been waiting to get to The Ancient Magus’ Bride. My anticipation heightened when I realized this show was twenty-four episodes long. My original plan was to review this series back in January 2018. Low and behold, I came to learn it was only half over. I still needed to wait two more months.

Two months later, here we are.

One of my goals of 2018 is to highlight as many new series throughout the year as possible. That way, when the year is over, I can ask myself, with greater confidence, “What was the best?” With the 2018 Winter season now complete, I need to start my considerations. And knowing what is coming down the line, to say I am excited would be an understatement.

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Except where does that leave The Ancient Magus’ Bride? I’m not sure if I’m correct in thinking this or not, but I’m counting it as a 2018 series. While it may have begun airing back in October 2017, it’s final episode came out in March 2018. I’m having that last episode date determine what is eligible for my Top Ten consideration.

None of this is important for the moment. Instead, we must focus on whether The Ancient Magus’ Bride was any good. My answer is about to get quite detailed, but I can also sum it up in three simple words. But let’s start with the longer response.

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Although I am considering this to be a 2018 series, The Ancient Magus’ Bride has one distinct calling card of 2017. While the year did have its share of duds, 2017 saw several outstanding anime. Princess PrincipalKobayashi-san chi no Maid DragonDemi-chan wa Kataritai, the list is quite impressive. That list also includes Made in Abyss which was phenomenal.

But in particular, the Fall 2017 season, the time when this show began airing, had several outstanding releases. For example, Shoujo Shuumatsu RyokouNet-juu no Susume, and Land of the Lustrous.

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What I’m getting at is, it would be the ultimate testament to such an outstanding year if the best series of 2018 were a holdover from 2017. I understand the unlikelihood of such an outcome given how we are just starting to look at a year filled with promise. But The Ancient Magus’ Bride set a pretty high bar.

That segues into my shorter answer. This was fantastic.

It has been a while since I have seen a twenty plus episode anime like this. Granted I did recently do a relook at both Toradora and Azumanga Daioh, both of which were brilliant for their own reasons. Except neither show was in the same vein as The Ancient Magus’ Bride. To rely on technicalities for a moment, this was a tale not a story.

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What I mean by that is, the scope of The Ancient Magus’ Bride was much broader.

The last time I looked at a narrative such as this, but not necessarily at the same level of quality, was Fairy Tail. Or if you prefer, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. To be honest, there were a few aspects about The Ancient Magus’ Bride that reminded me of Fullmetal.

That notwithstanding, Fairy Tail and Brotherhood still aren’t the best equivalents to this show. If you want a more digestible, I-can-finish-this-in-a-day comparison, go with Little Witch Academia (LWA), one of the best shows to come out of 2017. What The Ancient Magus’ Bride and LWA had in common was the journey between the first and last episodes. Where these shows ended was nowhere near where they finished.

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That said, don’t go thinking The Ancient Magus’ Bride and LWA are the same thing. LWA was fun, goofy, and energetic. It was a comedy through and through. Despite plenty of moments with heart, the show never lost its humorous nature. The Ancient Magus’ Bride was closer to LWA’s opposite. There was a much more mature atmosphere to this one.

While there were comedic elements and the series got playfully enjoyable, I will never consider The Ancient Magus’ Bride to be a full comedy. This show was more a fantasy story. A fantasy story that wasn’t afraid to pull from some heavier topics such as depression, suffering, and finding acceptance. That and the show had no problem going much darker.

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I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. While this show was never overly graphic, it also wasn’t free of disturbing scenes. Please don’t let that stop you from giving this series a look. But don’t be expecting all sunshine and rainbows either. Both extremes were here, and the story used them fittingly. Thus, this made the entire experience an amazing watch.

I might have had a slight setback in January when I failed to realize the episode count. But I can ensure you, The Ancient Magus’ Bride was well worth the wait.

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The Animation and Art

The Ancient Magus’ Bride was stunning.

There was something this show understood. You would think this would go without saying, but that is the precise reason why I feel the need to say it. The Ancient Magus’ Bride was a story with magic. It existed in a setting where the grand and the fantastical existed. There were no limits on the imagination. As such, the series presented itself accordingly.

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Whenever the show used magic, it felt like magic. Spells were flashy. Incantations were powerful. There was a sense of another world separate from our own with a unique understanding of how things worked. A place us non-magic users have only heard of in fairy tales.

There were plenty of examples of breathtaking animation throughout The Ancient Magus’ Bride. But an instance that was simply unfair came in episode twelve, Better to Ask the Way Than to Go Astray. Even if I could describe the details of this moment, I wouldn’t. To give you an idea though, as with most series with stellar artwork, you will usually find an incredible soundtrack playing in the background, thus making the whole thing more awe-inspiring. This show was no different.

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And while episode twelve may have had the series’ most beautiful animation, it wasn’t the most impressive. That came in the beginning. The Ancient Magus’ Bride showcased a terrific mastery of facial expressions.

While not a typical element I bring up, this is a critical component when it comes to visual storytelling. When reading a book, through the combination of words and explanations, you can picture what is going through a character’s head and piece together an idea of their life. In a visual medium, especially in animation, you can learn all of that by merely looking at a character’s face.

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Let me take the chance to say this now. Chise Hatori was a beautiful character. She has one of the prettiest smiles I have seen in anime. Making that smile of hers more striking was the fact she often didn’t have it.

From a protagonist standpoint, Chise had many of the qualities you would expect for a story such as this. She had a painful past. For most of her life, she lived with unloving and resentful relatives. She could see magical creatures that others thought were imaginary. This ostracization took away any sense of home she had. In the beginning, she was alone.

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Over the course of the series, we learned more about Chise’s life. But when we met her in episode one, we didn’t need to know that history to understand the gravity of it. One look at Chise’s face said more than enough.

In her eyes, you could see the hardship Chise had been going through, and the weight of it all was relentless. She was long past the point of exhaustion. She had given up and no longer cared about anything. I can’t even begin to imagine the circumstances in which letting go of your freedom appears to be the better option. The story didn’t need to rely on an exposition dump to get across how hard Chise had hit rock bottom.

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The last time I remember seeing a pair of eyes express so much meaning was back when I watch the second season of Attack on Titan in July 2017. Granted, the meaning of that glare was less sad and more someone-is-about-to-get-murdered, but it was no less apparent. Here’s hoping Attack on Titan season three continues this.

In regards to The Ancient Magus’ Bride, the animation and artwork were in top gear. I don’t expect and would be against a continuation, but should one ever come, this is an area that needs to return.

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The Dialogue

To preface this section, the best dialogue exchanges in The Ancient Magus’ Bride involved Chise and some other character. I imagine you are starting to get a sense of what my favorite element of the show was. But I’ll hold off on that for now.

And though I’m referring to dialogue exchanges, I can’t think of a better place to mention a certain moment from this series. It was less a back and forth, and more one person was telling a story. The segment in question was between Chise, the listener, and the caretaker of the Land of Dragons, Lindel (voiced by Daisuke Namikawa), the speaker.

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Here Lindel went into some of the history Elias had been neglecting to discuss with Chise. This led to the revelation of one of Elias’ darkest secrets. And this, in turn, resulted in an essential confrontation between Chise and Elias.

This confrontation was one of many fascinating conversations between these leads. Seeing how these two were our main characters, it makes sense why some of the best dialogue moments were theirs. And one of those moments was a discussion concerning these two’s relationship.

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Chise and Elias filled the other’s respective needs. Neither concerned themselves with more noble goals such as companionship. They were aware of how they were using one another to a degree.

And while I said Chise and Elias had some of the best conversations, I didn’t say they had the best conversations. That distinction goes to two exchanges between Chise and two other characters.

The first being the dragon Nevin (voiced by Ryuuzaburou Ootomo).

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Unlike any other character in the show, Nevin was a source of insight for Chise. Having lived for centuries, he provided a much more internal look for our protagonist. In the most elegant way possible, Nevin would force Chise to think about things she had chosen to forget. One of the scariest thoughts being the motivation behind Chise’s parent’s actions. Why did they do the things they did? Were their reasonings as malicious as they appeared to be? And regardless of what their intents were, what her parents did gave Chise the chance to meet the most important people in her life.

Nevin presented many questions, and this show was smart in not giving Chise or us the direct answers. Any story that can get you to ponder something that is usually black and white in a meaningful way is doing something right.

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The other dialogue exchange and the one that was my favorite of the series was less ambiguous. The scene I am referring to involved Chise and Alice (voiced by Mutsumi Tamura).

Chise and Alice had lived similar lives. They both grew up under rough conditions. Not to give too much away, but the topic of drugs and substance abuse is rare to see in anime. Through Alice, The Ancient Magus’ Bride didn’t shy away from this subject. Nor was the show heavyhanded in how it went about discussing this. In spite of a difficult start, Alice, like Chise, found a place she was proud to call home and a family she wanted to protect.

Through the combination of engaging dialogue and outstanding visuals, each character of The Ancient Magus’ Bride had many extra layers of depth. They felt more well-rounded and real even in this fantasy setting. That is something I can’t say about other series which I would argue tried to be more grounded in reality.

This air of complexity helped make this show as good as it was. But nowhere was this more evident than with the element I’ve been hinting at throughout the review.

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I wanted to make this a section about all the characters of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Too bad it quickly became apparent that no matter what route I went down, everything led back to Chise. I love this character. She is the epitome of why this was a great series.

As I said, when we met Chise, a person could not have been any lower. Through her own volition, she had resigned herself to slavery. She no longer had the drive or the energy to think for herself. She wanted someone else to make decisions for her, and it didn’t matter what that could mean.

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When Elias bought Chise, there was a sense of dependency. Due to how powerful a mage she was, there were a lot of parties that wanted to exploit Chise’s abilities. Elias was a kind of protection against that. Although, again, Chise didn’t care that much about protection. What locked her into this relationship early on in the story was when Elias told Chise he considered her family.

Whether this was Elias being truthful or him lying, it didn’t concern Chise. This was the first time in years that anyone had said she was family. I’m not saying this was healthy nor am I saying this was right. For Chise, this was how bad her life had gotten. To make matters worse, she believed even this was temporary. She assumed Elias would one day grow bored and cast her away. To ensure that day came later and not sooner, Chise never questioned whatever Elias did or planned to do.

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How did this result in Chise becoming a good character? That had to do with her journey in rising above her self-deprecation. As the story went forward, Chise’s confidence came back to her. She grew more and more determined to stand on her own two feet. There was a time when she never even thought about requesting anything. Then a moment arrived where she realized she had to do something. She had the ability, the means, and most importantly, the desire to fight back.

The story of The Ancient Magus Bride was about a person regaining their self-worth. One of the most moving moments of Chise’s growth was when she acquired her familiar, the black dog, Ruth (voiced by Kouki Uchiyama).

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While still not in the best of places, Chise had come far enough to give her support to another creature that was suffering from their own heartache. In return for the kindness Chise had shown him, Ruth made the ultimate demonstration of loyalty. Knowing full well of Chise’s weak health, Ruth chose to bind himself to his new master’s consciousness. No matter what Chise was going through, Ruth would be there to lend his support.

By the way, I have been failing to mention something. When this show said Chise was a powerful mage, it wasn’t playing her up. On several occasions, she had to demonstrate the power inside her. Her strength wasn’t in name only. That was why it was so awesome the first time Chise and Ruth stood side by side ready for battle.

And before I forget, I need to let Elias off the hook.

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Chise was willing to do anything Elias said. But Elias never demanded anything, that included obedience. He bought Chise because he wanted to try saving her. Plus, the initial reason for him wanting to make Chise his bride was due to his desire to be human and marriage is a thing humans do.

Elias wasn’t comfortable giving Chise unlimited free reign to do whatever. There were certain things he didn’t like her doing. He never wanted Chise to push her magic too far. But his desire in this area didn’t come from a sense of forbidding Chise from doing something. He was more concerned for her safety. The power residing in Chise was too much for a human body to handle. Nevertheless, Elias would back down whenever Chise made it clear there was something she had to do.

It may just be me, but I enjoy it when the main character of a story also turns out to be the best character of that story. For The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Chise, that couldn’t be anymore the case.

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Series Negatives

There are two things I have to say. I don’t expect this section will take very long. Through and through, The Ancient Magus’ Bride was solid. However, there were a few things I couldn’t help notice.

The first of these two aspects will be nothing more than a strongly worded nitpick. The second one though is an actual fault of the show.

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For the nitpick, this series had a habit of implementing cutesy, chibi-like character designs. In theory, I have no problem with any show, even this one, using this style. As long as the atmosphere calls for it, doing this kind of thing doesn’t bother me. And for the most part, The Ancient Magus’ Bride knew when and when not to do this.

What does bothers me though, The Ancient Magus’ Bride wasn’t the best at doing this. There were instances where this more comedic style was up against the more serious tone of the story. On occasion, the show would jump the gun a little. Sometimes there was not enough space between the dramatic and the humorous.

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Was this distracting? No, I’ve seen it done way worse. It wasn’t as if these moments were ever unwelcomed. Do you have that friend that sometimes arrives at your house an hour before the rest of the party? They may be super early, but they aren’t going to ruin anything.

That’s all I have to say about that. What I want to focus more on was an issue this show actually had.

In a series of this length, I know I like to see a continuous improvement in quality. The story and characters should become more interesting over time. For The Ancient Magus’ Bride, it hit its peak around the halfway point. Specifically in episode twelve.

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Before I talk about what happened, let me make it clear what didn’t happen. This show did not self-destruct in the second half. The story dipped down and then plateaued to the end. Where it leveled off remained high and enjoyable. Had there been a plummet, this negative section would be a lot longer.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride was never anything except fantastic. That said, the second half of the show got carried away with the secondary plot lines.

Up until the twelfth episode, almost the entire focus of the show had been on Chise and Elias. A story adding more is not wrong. The narrative should expand and explore more ways to push the main plot forward. In this sense, The Ancient Magus’ Bride was fine. Everything that happened in the second half served a purpose.

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The problem, some of these secondary events had little prior establishment. Others had less than that. For those latter, I will let you experience them as they come. For the former, there was one instance that was a bit jarring with how random it felt. That was a shame since had it not been so random, what happened would have been way better.

In episode nine, None So Dead As Those Who Will Not Hear, Chise met a vampire-like fairy known as Leanan Sidhe (voiced by Saori Hayami), who from this point I will refer to as Sidhe.

Sidhe had been haunting an elderly man for several years. Unlike her past hauntings, Sidhe had no intention of interfering with this man’s life for doing so would have required her to eat away his remaining years. Chise suspected this was due to Sidhe being in love with the man. A notion Sidhe denied since that would have ensured the man’s early death.

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Four episodes later, out of nowhere, Sidhe came running to Chise asking for help. What followed was one of the best scenes of the entire series. How is that a problem? It’s a problem because this could have been more.

The show planted the seeds for this moment without warning. Those seeds then took hold without warning. And the effect this had on the main plot, while critical, could have come about more concretely. Having never read the manga, I’m not sure what the show could have combined or removed. But it did feel like something was unnecessary and the outcome, while great, was irrelevant.

I never said these side plots weren’t uninteresting. Too bad the series forced them in when it didn’t have to.

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Final Thoughts

I said it at the start; this show set the bar high for 2018. I expect there to be at least one other series to challenge it. Should there be multiple, this is going to be a good year.

With excellent animation, this series expressed everything it wanted to say without having to rely on words and exposition. That doesn’t mean the story didn’t know how to use its words well. Through conversations, this world and these characters came to life. And leading the charge was an outstanding main protagonist in the form of Chise Hatori.

Even when this show did have the occasional fault, nothing ever slowed down or lost its magic. For a series such as this, what more could you ask for?

The Ancient Magus’ Bride is well worth a look.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? How would you advise The Ancient Magus’ Bride? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

1 comment

  1. I was immensely disappointed with this one. The OVA’s that kicked this series off were some of the best things I’ve seen in my life, then the first half of the show proper (while not as good) did a great job captivating me. The second half was kind of a mess though.

    I agree that it all served a purpose but the show just fell apart for me. I was really let down by some of the decisions made here. When the show was on, it was on, but when it was off…

    I’m finding it difficult to talk about the show because it has been awhile but I know I reviewed this one on my site. I’d have to read through that there to really get specific. Anyway, I’m glad you really liked it though 🙂

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