Over the last month I was dealing with some pretty significant changes in my mood. It's an issue that I am still struggling with, but these changes led to a change in my writing schedule, which is to say that it killed it. For nearly a solid month, I had zero motivation to write or do anything productive so I did the one thing I do when I’m feeling that way. I binge watched a bunch of tv shows and anime.
Now, whether or not spending a significant part of my free time consuming media was worth my time is debatable. What I did come across is probably one of my new top five favorite anime of all time: The Ancient Magus Bride. I am taking some time away from my normal writings on RPG’s to instead talk about some of the media that influences my writing and GMing. So, this is a new format and will probably see some refining along the way.
First, I’m going to split this up into two major parts. The first is going to be completely spoiler free and an overall opinion that I have of the show and highlight a few non-spoilery parts that I thought made the show stand out. Second is going to be the spoiler zone. This is where I want to sit down and break apart specific details and moments in the show that I think are worth talking about from a critical point of view. So, if you don’t want spoilers feel free to enjoy the show and return to read the spoilers section. So let’s kick this off.
The Ancient Magus Bride is the story of Chise Hatori and her relationship with an ancient magic user known as Elias Ainsworth. Chise sells herself into slavery and is bought by Ainsworth who reveals to her the truths about the world and aims to teach her the ways of magic while also hoping to make her his bride.
When I first heard this kind of description of this show I was actually a little put off. Ainsworth immediately came off to me as a horrible monster who was just buying a wife. What got me into the show was hearing that the magic system that the world uses is based on real world folklore. This show is one of the best examples of a show that I have seen that establishes its world and brings the audience into it.
Spoiler Free Review
To start off, at time of writing this show has one season at a length of 24 episodes. It is also one of the rare cases in anime where the anime is caught up with the Manga. Sadly, this means that a season 2 is quite a ways out since the creators are sticking to the original source material instead of going the way of Fullmetal Alchemist. Knowing it’s not over, but may be a longer time, will give hope that some of the stories loose ends may actually get resolved (see more in the spoiler section).
From the very first episode of the show its visual style and lighting techniques are some of the best I have seen. All of the grim parts of the show are highlighted with a darker coloring and lighting which makes the bright happy reveals that much more significant when it feels like the screen is exploding in colors. The color palette of the main characters are beautifully symbolic of who they are and mesh very well with the setting.
I mainly watch dubbed versions of all the shows I consume, since reading while watching is taxing to me. With that in mind, my opinion of voice acting is purely from the English dubs. Overall, I love all of the voices that had been done in the show, I was even able to recognize a few voice actors from some of my other favorite shows. I didn’t notice specific areas in which the voice overs pulled me directly out of immersion and all the actors do a wonderful job of adjusting their tones based on the situation within each scene.
If there is one complaint I have, it is that I have issues with the plot. It is fairly loose and it starts out with not much more than a checklist of things Ainsworth is obligated to do. In time there becomes a more persistent threat, but the payoff for it feels almost handwaved. Most of it seems to be an excuse to see various parts of the world, which I’m not against since I am completely in love with the setting. Although, I can’t completely blame this on the show, since it is largely about the relationship of Chise and Ainsworth. The plot does get incredibly dark in places which is absolutely amazing by my standards since the root of the lore IS dark. I can’t complain too much about the story when I have found just as much enjoyment out of watching Pacific Rim. I came for the world and the magic, not so much the plot and I got more than I asked for. I will address quickly in this part my concerns about the potential message that comes from this show, but it could be my overanalysis of it.
I saved the best for last, the world building. Holy crap! I love everything about what they set up with a few minor nit picks (see spoilers). Much of what exists in the world is heavily based on real world lore, which fits nicely as one of the very many “hidden magic world” stories. As mentioned earlier, I love the magic system. While Doctor Strange is my favorite example of somatic components for D&D, the Ancient Magus Bride is my favorite example of using material components in spells. Each item they use in the spells and rituals has some symbolic meaning behind what they are attempting to accomplish. While the story progresses we are learning various aspects of the magical world along with the character. Even by the end of the season, magic is still mysterious without feeling like we’ve been cheated entirely out of an explanation. I was left with very few questions and they were more about the origin of certain things. My hope is that with future seasons we get more lore about the world and the origins of some characters.
From a 3000 foot view I adore this show. Its pacing is fast and manages to grab you by the face and not let go. I binged the entire show in two sittings and lost sleep over thinking about it and how to use it in my stories. I got invested in the well being of many of the characters, even the seasons main villain. With its few flaws I consider this show to be one of my favorites.
I have several other shows that I would like to do this kind of review for, but if there are any shows you think I should watch or review (maybe I’ve already seen it) make sure to leave a comment or tweet at me @your1_nightmare. I would love to hear about your experiences of this show and what you thought about it!
There are several elements of the plot that simply were not answered. Knowing there is a season 2 at some point in the future gives me some hope compared to when I believed this was all we got. This section I will also be airing some of my grievances of the show. These are all relatively minor and don’t have too much bearing on the plot, they are things that as a storyteller I desperately want to know.
The explanation we get in the show is pretty bare bones. Which to a degree is understandable as Ainsworth doesn’t fully understand it either. We get that he once ate humans, was running from them to avoid it, and only remembers the color red. This is all before he met Lindel and started his training to become a Mage. Speaking of who was Lindel’s teacher? How on earth was Rahab wearing a lab coat if it was somewhere in the hundreds of years ago? What is going on with the Rahab character? It seems to have been quickly covered and discarded. Current theories state that Ainsworth is a Wendigo, which is an interesting theory to follow, but having a direct say from the creators would be a really nice thing to cover.
In more a more recent past, Ainsworth nearly performs a human sacrifice for Chise. This point seems pretty well forgotten about near the end of the series despite very little time passing. Having an explanation of how this is easily forgotten would have made the ending a bit more satisfying.
I love this villain. They are crazy but methodical in their own way. The part about these two that drives me crazy is who on earth Cartaphilus is and why he has a curse of immortality. There is a brief theory that he is one of the individuals who threw stones at Jesus near his execution and for that was cursed. However that is stated by Joseph and not Cartaphilus himself, so the real reason is unknown.
I am all for malevolent beings that cause all sorts of problems in the world. He listens to exact wording and plays games with people to watch them suffer. As a villain he creates some interesting conflict on a per episode basis. My issues with him come down to the inconsistent nature of when he shows up. He seems to randomly appear and have relationships with characters without any context. His existence feels flat in the world for when the writers want some crazy old magic to show up and cause problems. What he is, is also a mystery. Its assumed he is a faerie but we already know that sorcerers exist as well. He isn’t a mage because he shows clear disdain for them. This character is a wild card and I want more information about him.
Chise’s Father and Brother
A problem I seem to be having with recent media is the lack of parental information. For instance, the current Star Wars trilogy (Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) seem to create some plot point about who the parents are and have a villain basically blow off the entire idea. In this case my issue is the question of why Chise’s father decided to abandon her mother and her. While Joseph (much like Kylo) says he abandoned her and her mother because he couldn’t stand to protect them any longer, I don’t believe it for a second. There is a crucial moment in the series that shows Chise’s father looking out to the balcony to see one of the creatures that up to this point have been after Chise. He had shown no signs of wanting to abandon them up until that point and even looked as if he wanted to take Chise with him. Something is going on here and we desperately need some closure on this.
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