The Ancient Magus’ Bride Part 2 (Episodes 13-24) (Cert 15)

4 Discs DVD/Blu-ray Combo (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 309 minutes approx 

The unusual teacher and student relationship between a depressed orphan teenage girl and a reclusive mage with a goat’s skull for a head that is destined to end in marriage continues. At this point in the story, both Chise Hatori and Elias Ainsworth have seen the worst sides of each other in this world of magical beings, dragons and demons, and have reached a comfortable stage of understanding and emotional reliance between them.

Now Sleigh Beggy Chise has her own bespoke magic wand she is looking for advanced challenges, but they are interrupted by the arrival of a faerie named Ashen Eye, an old acquaintance of Elias’ claiming to want to give Chise’s a graduation gift but instead traps Chise with an animal hide that transforms her into any creature. Initially causing more problems for Chise and Elias this odd present eventually comes in handy.

Ironically, it is thwarting one of Ashen Eye’s own evil plans that this magical gift pays dividends for Chise, which must have stuck in Ashen Eye’s craw. Having possessed the body of a young boy to make his family forget he existed, his elder sister Stella turns to Chise and Elias for help, but they are caught out but Ashen Eye, transporting Elias and the boy to another place leaving Chise twenty-four hours to find them, which she does by changing into a bear to trace Elias’ scent.

However, this isn’t the last of Ashen Eye, returning throughout this second volume as a regular source of meddling and disruption for our mismatched protagonists, but a more pressing problem is an associate of his, a dastardly chap by the name of Cartaphilius. His first act of notoriety is to kidnap two baby dragons from the Dragon World and sell them at an auction.

Similar to King Kong, one dragon becomes traumatised by being shackled inside a cage whilst its future is being decided by the highest bidder and erupts in a fit of anger, transforming into a chimera version of itself. Working together, Chise and Elias try to calm the rampaging dragon down, but by discarding her magic limiter and using her full power, Chise ends up with a mutated arm through absorbing the dragon curse, leaving her with little time left to live.

And so we have the main drama set for the final few episodes of this unique fantasy series, based on the manga by Kore Yamazaki, but it is not without some decidedly fluffy distraction before we get there. The first episode in this set is built around shearing some sheep like creatures that absorb heat, whilst Chise and Stella meet up when both are out Christmas shopping.

Christmas and fantasy worlds aren’t regular bedfellows in anime or any other medium, but this version of London in The Ancient Magus’ Bride isn’t the same as the one we all know apparently. Quite often, it is hard to tell what world they inhabit, since the current day aesthetic of our nation’s capital is in stark contrast to the Victorian style existence of Elias’s country cottage, not to mention the magical forests and other hidden domains all within the same proximity.

Maybe not a major issue to hold against this show, but one that isn’t addressed at all, suggesting Yamazaki had many bold ideas to give his creation a quaint touch but without knowing to how bring these disparate elements together. Elsewhere, there is the ebb and flow of show’s tone, fluctuating between gentle slice-of-life musings and dark, violent fantasy adventures.

The final arc involving Cartaphilius and Chise is unapologetically bleak, psychologically testing and unpleasantly gruesome in places, yet tinged with desperate melancholy that underlines the folly of having what everyone believes is the ultimate in life – immortality. One thing it does do and effectively so, is remind us that Chise was laden with heavy emotional baggage when we first met her and these chapters explore this in depth.

None of this makes for pleasant viewing, and often veers into the baffling with its surreal, existential explorations into Chise’s past so typical of anime that only make sense if your surname is Freud. Chise is of course not the only damaged soul, as we learned in the first volume Elias has a dark history, as does Cartaphilius, but he was less well equipped to handle his fate, hence his bitter malevolence.

One area that isn’t developed as much as it should is the central relationship between Elias and Chise, formed on the understanding Elias would teach Chise magic and Chise would teach Elias about human emotions. This isn’t overlooked completely, with some cute symbolic little stories charting their ever-growing fondness for each other, but these do take a back seat to the fantasy adventure aspect a little too often, likely designed to keep the male viewers from walking away.

Such drama is necessary to put their burgeoning feelings into some form on context and to test their emotional resolve, but this odd couple pairing is actual strong enough to have worked without the bombast of the magical exploits. To be fair, Chise’s maturity and life experiences are shaped by the encounters she has through her magical training, so it is not as if this is incongruent to the overarching narrative.

Age difference aside, Chise and Elias do make a nice couple and their interactions are sweet enough without being cloying, hopelessly contrived or overwrought that they feel credible enough that the physical disparity barely feels like major issue. Then again, they live in a world full of elves, faeries, dragons, mages, shape-shifters, demons, and who knows what else so it’s no wonder eyelids are barely raised.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride suffers from a surfeit of ideas that don’t always gel within the distinctive diegesis Yamazaki has created, and the tone is occasionally too variable for this own good, yet there is something tangible and palpably enchanting about it that makes it an unexpectedly pleasurable watch.

 

Extras:

English Language 5.1 True HD

Japanese Language 2.0 True HD

English Subtitles

Disc 1:

Episode 21 Commentary

Disc 2:

The Ancient Magus’ Bride At Anime Expo 2018 – Interview with Gorge Wada & Norihiro Naganuma

 

Rating – ****

Man In Black