I have once again fallen victim to an anime being hyped up, only for it to turn out a giant snooze fest. Ah, a tale as old as time.
I can’t say I was duped by the chatter of the anime community and what I’ve heard online, either, because The Ancient Magus Bride had a promising start. British mythology is rife with magical creatures and concepts that an anime could take advantage of, but few seem to have done so. All it needed was some solid characters and a cohesive overarching plot, and The Ancient Magus Bride could stand far apart from the competition.
But if that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this. If I’m going to be honest, then The Ancient Magus Bride isn’t so bad that it deserves special attention. Instead, it’s worse than that; it lures you in with an intriguing premise, only to reveal that it doesn’t have any good ideas, fleshed-out characters, and the story is just tedious.
Oh, and the romance, because this is ostensibly a romance, but it’s kind of terrible. I mean, there’s a lot of reasons that this doesn’t work, but age of consent laws aside, the real crime being committed here is a lack of chemistry.
Chise is a sleigh beggy. Would you like to know what that means? I hope you’re prepared to watch an inordinate amount of this show before they bother explaining it. A sleigh beggy is a human born with an affinity for magic, but no means of controlling it. Chise and other sleigh beggies are prized by mages, but their volatility results in a drastically shortened lifespan.
Have you ever been so done with life that you sell yourself at an auction? No? Well, imagine that you did, and a seven-foot tall bone man purchased you and called you his puppy. That stuff you’re tasting right now is your own vomit, so grab some mouthwash before continuing.
Yeah, so Chise is purchased by Elias Ainsworth, a…I honestly don’t know what he is. Maybe the series explained it, or they didn’t, but he’s a skeleton magic man. As you can tell, The Ancient Maguys Bride does not subscribe to showing or telling, just repeating the same terms and assuming you’ll either figure it out or quit asking.
Chise becomes Elias’ apprentice, and also fiancée, because what else is she going to do, go to school? Psh, I can’t blame her. The vast majority of women I know would gladly retreat from society to a cottage in the forested countryside surrounded by fey and woodland spirits, weird skeletons or no. Chise will learn to harness her powers while Elias struggles to prolong her life, and she’ll meet many of the benign or malevolent creatures from the magical world she now inhabits.
So, Chise is basically Harry Potter if Dumbledore was a Discord mod. She does suffer from blank slate protagonist syndrome; she spends a lot of time asking simple questions, her default mood is confused, and her personality is nonexistent. Normally, I’d forgive that; exposition is necessary, but they had 24 episodes to characterize her, and I can’t tell you anything about her.
She’s not especially smart, or driven, and her magical talents develop steadily but almost entirely off-screen. You could argue that she’s kind, but in a story about meeting and helping different kinds of people, that’s the bare minimum in character writing. She only gets to show a different side when Elias tries to murder a child because he’s jealous of Chise splitting her time between them. Sorry, but being anti-child murder is not a personality trait.
And she has no agency whatsoever. For the entire story, she never gets to do anything, and every arc involves her being kidnapped or endangered. After that, it’s only a matter of time before Elias shows up and magicks the problem away, so there’s no stakes.
Mentor characters usually have to die or take a step back in your hero’s journey; Chise has no room for growth since she is always accompanied by a more powerful character. The mentor is her romantic interest, so he can’t die, but she never gets to take the lead either.
Chise only gets to be an active protagonist when Elias is in trouble, and that stems from his emotional turmoil, rather than any story development. That could work, as the two have different skills to offer one another, but it doesn’t change that she has no meaningful internal conflict, and Elias is just a garbage person.
Elias is a supremely powerful mage, but he has the emotional intelligence of a teenager. It’s the series’ way of demonstrating his and Chise’s compatibility; she leans on his experience and power, while he relies on her social skills and maturity. I don’t know if this dynamic is inherently flawed, but if it isn’t, the anime seriously botches it. The way it’s portrayed has Chise as a perpetual damsel in distress, and Elias is a petulant and borderline psychotic child.
There’s a thousand ways to effectively write a nigh omnipotent character learning their humanity, but using a dying teenage girl as a crutch is not one of them. At best, Elias is an ignorant jerk, and at worst, he’s manipulating a child who has been deprived of love and affection her entire life for his own ends. He’s so petty that when they make him sympathetic by revealing his vulnerabilities, it feels like they’re just making excuses for him.
The rest of the cast isn’t much better. There’s spirits, mages, and alchemists, but few of them are worth writing about. I guess I like Alice and Renfred, the alchemist apprentice and master duo, but they detract from the show by demonstrating how bizarre Chise and Elias’ relationship is. Alice and Renfred care for each other sincerely, with a complete lack of self-interest, but we’re supposed to be rooting for the guy who bought his apprentice-wife so he could manipulate her.
The cast isn’t utterly irredeemable. Chise becomes acquainted with a human and a succubus who have spent years pining after one another, irrevocably separated by the line between the human and fey worlds. It’s deeply moving, and one of the few times that the series establishes a storyline and then capitalizes on it. However, there’s potential with every story, and yet most of them feel emotionally dead. Oh, and Oberon is horny on main, and I’m living for it, but the show isn’t about him, so it sucks.
I could go on at length about what makes The Ancient Magus Bride so boring, but I understand that’s subjective, so I’ll restrict myself to discussing what the story fails in. When writing a romance, it is usually paramount to creating two characters who have something that the other would want. Why would these two want to be in a relationship?
It feels weird to say that The Ancient Magus Bride succeeds in creating a relationship along those lines, but fell short in every other category. I guess you also have to make your leads sympathetic and compelling. Chise has no real development or reason to grow, while Elias could be interesting, but he’s a pathetic manchild.
This was a hard one to finish. Usually, I’d drop them before letting it bore me this much, but I gave the series the benefit of the doubt. With 24 episodes, you have more than enough time to create profound characters, but it took me a long time to realize that they were just spinning their wheels.
I’ll reiterate my belief that most if not all romance anime should be around the 12 episode mark, and you have to demonstrate why you deserve more than that. This show is no Fruits Basket, so if they had split it up a little smarter, I wouldn’t be so harsh to it.
Or maybe I am being too harsh, because I know this show has its defenders. You can call me a hack down in the comments below, or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I talk about all the anime I’m currently watching. Until next time, thanks for reading.
2 responses to “The Ancient Magus Bride Should Consider a Divorce”
Yeah, it took my friend basically begging me to finish the series for me to get any more than half way through, even though I saw the first three episodes in theaters and was initially really excited for it. Problematic elements aside, its fine, but nothing I would bother re-watching. As far as the relationship dynamic between Chise and Elias, I think that balance between social ineptitude and mastery of a certain skill definitely can work, but like you pointed out, they end up being such white bread characters that the dynamic never ends up being particularly interesting.
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I don’t actually mind how they leave out most of the explanations of specific phrases in the series. I feel like the “magic” described in this setting is not supposed to always be the solution as if it were an extension of one’s hands and legs. From what I felt throughout the series is that “magic” isn’t reliable. It has strengths and weaknesses, and most of the solutions are found by luck and the brains of the protagonist.
I found that Chise was still trapped by her past and therefore wasn’t able to express herself as well as let’s say Alice, the sorcerer. It wasn’t a matter of the lack of personality, rather, it was a statement on depression and her upbringing. I found Chise to be introspective and going along just for the ride because she does not care whether she died or not. I hope she gets more out of her box in S2.
I understand that people generally have a distaste for these odd relationships such as Chise and Elias. But, I would say neither of them are in a space that would call their relationship romantic. In fact, later in the manga it is explained that Elias did not understand the meaning of “bride,” he thought it meant to adopt someone as family (whether it be daughter or wife). Moreover, Elias is not human. He isn’t really understanding of human emotions including his own and his relationship with Chise currently is more of a “we’re teaching each other” relationship.
I really don’t think the romance is part of the main storyline. Rather, they don’t define their relationship; they just know they’re important to one another.
I believe the main storyline is focused on character growth. You keep on talking about how stories are supposed to go. Perhaps this is just not something that you enjoy. To you, it may be bland, but I quite enjoyed it.
She is kind of a baby in the story due to her lack of knowledge, she has no idea what to do.
Honestly, I don’t feel like it is necessary to discredit your experiences or anything. It’s just simple: you don’t like it because it’s not your thing. Sometimes it’s just like that.