The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
The Ancient Magus' Bride
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Ancient Magus' Bride ?
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How was the first episode?
The first episode of The Ancient Magus' Bride is strong in whatever language you prefer watching. From the sound design to the restrained use of music to its wondrous and eerie brand of magic, every aspect of the execution is on point with an emphasis on developing characterization. The premiere of Funimation's dub provided me with an excuse to go back, re-watch, and love the show once more.
SimulDub Preview: With its UK setting and (with the exception of Chise) European cast, I was curious to see if ADR Director Kyle Phillips would opt for British accents, but as Chise and Elias have done quite a bit of travelling in these episodes already, adding that kind of regional flavor would probably get confusing rather quickly. Dani Chambers captures Chise's world-weariness nicely, but differently from Atsumi Tanezaki's more detached approach. Short outbursts are equally poignant, but all in all, Chambers' Chise is still more actively engaged with her new surroundings, which some of the simulcast's viewers who are critical of the character's passivity might enjoy more. A faint reverb distinguishes her inner monologue from spoken lines, which I find takes away some of the intimacy of the Japanese version, where no such effect was used. I'm not a fan of the prolonged "e" at the end of Chise's name (almost making it sound like "Chisay"), but these are very minor grievances.
Brian Mathis' Elias seems less awkward around people than Ryota Takeuchi, whose voice has a touch of innocent mischief to it that made moments like him calling Chise his "puppy" feel less patronizing and more socially inept. For their different voice qualities (old-school semi-arrogant gentleman vs. dotty but caring recluse), the liberties of Bonny Clinkenbeard's script are interesting to note. In Japanese, Elias told Chise "to make [her]self worth looking at", while he tells her to "carry [her]self like someone who is worth looking at" in English. His Japanese line is ambiguous and could simply refer to his desire for a well-groomed bride. English Elias, on the other hand, already seems much more concerned for Chise's lack of self-esteem and mental well-being. Other similar examples reinforce the impression that Elias is softened from the buyer of a suicidal teen bride to a likable oddball who could actually help her comes from the voice acting in Japanese and the script itself in English. It's a difference in interpretation that happens to achieve the same emotional bottom line, feeling much more natural in the English language than a more literal subtitle translation would and making this a very successful localisation so far.
AT LAST, IT'S HERE! Not in recent memory has an anime series been this hyped for this long, partly because the manga (which I've not read) is so beloved and partly because the OVAs (which I have seen) were lauded well in advance too. For my part, I've tried to go into this series as unspoiled as possible, but the anticipation was definitely working its magic on me long before this premiere finally aired. For one thing, I had seen the OVAs, which I loved in a "Natsume's Book of Friends but more Hollywood" kind of way. More importantly, Celtic folklore and Beauty-and-the-Beast tales are some of my favorite things that made a big impact on me in childhood, so I was chomping at the bit for an anime that would do right by these nostalgic appeals. And finally, Elias is just, well—he's very cute. I honestly don't know why; I've never had a crush on a skeletal character before. Obviously manga author Kore Yamazaki knew what she was doing in the "supposedly scary but actually just hot" character design department, and I cannot explain it. Teach me your sorcerous ways, Bone Daddy.
I was all primed to welcome Magus Bride into the fall season with open arms, so it came as a surprise to me when the first episode, despite being a sharply animated and carefully written little half hour of entertainment, seemed to be intentionally holding back rather than showing off. There's very little music in the episode, even during the highest moments of magic and wonder, and the production design is fairly standard and conservative compared to the fluid animation and fantastical concepts in play. But rather than being disappointed by this, I was intrigued. Instead of trying to impress us with drama and grandeur in its premiere, the first episode of Magus Bride exudes quiet confidence instead. The tone is muted to put us firmly in Chise's headspace of disassociation and depression. Unlike the much flashier OVAs, this episode prioritizes helping us understand its characters above immersing us in the majesty of a fantasy world. So while this episode may not knock your socks off, this tradeoff will probably pan out better for the show in the long haul, hopefully upping its spectacle over time after we've already fallen in love with its cast.
Speaking of which, one of the most divisive aspects of this story will doubtless be how hard it's playing to the Beauty and the Beast fetish, which in my experience is as common as it is specific and thus very hard to get just right. Magus Bride gets off to a pitch-perfect start by playing on Chise (and the audience)'s extremely relatable need to feel wanted, and giving that desire extra weight by making her a recovering victim of actual abuse rather than an everygirl. On the other end of things, Elias thankfully does not fulfill this need by being abusive himself in any way, just completely obtuse and inhuman in his accidentally-charming lack of social skills. Viewers with a soft spot for beastly suitors will probably be endeared by him treating Chise like a new puppy he doesn't yet know how to care for, and viewers who aren't into that sort of thing aren't likely to enjoy this kind of romance anyway.
To make a long story short, Magus Bride looks just as promising as everyone's been saying, but in a much quieter way than I expected. If this first episode isn't enough to pique your interest, I'd at least recommend the three OVAs for a more high-energy and visually entrancing introduction to the story.
Finally, after days of middling or underwhelming premieres, we've got a number of excellent shows coming out this weekend, and The Ancient Magus' Bride is one that I've been greatly anticipating. I've never read the manga nor seen the OVAs that preceded this episode; I've just followed along with some reviews and generally kept track of the positive buzz this story has been getting for what seems like forever now. I'm happy to report that Studio Wit has done an excellent job, because The Ancient Magus' Bride is one of my favorite new shows of the season so far.
In a way, I was bound to enjoy this series from the start, at least from a visual standpoint, because its European fairytale is aesthetic absolutely riveting to watch. Diving into this first episode, I was delighted to find that author Kore Yamazaki has really done her research into the look and lore of European folk stories, and Studio Wit's work in translating her authentic and dreamlike landscape to animation has paid off. Even when the animation isn't top tier, the color and lighting of each frame is lush and inviting, and the whole episode has a confidence that marks the best anime premieres.
Thankfully, the characters and writing are able to stand up to the show's visual quality. Chise is a broken and lonely young woman who finds meaning in the new life she's given when Elias takes her in, though Elias seems to have his own reasons for taking on a new apprentice around (hint: it's in the title). I will admit that I found Elias' constant use of terms like “my puppy” and his comparison of her adder stone to a collar and bell to be demeaning and off-putting, but I could tell that the bony sorcerer was behaving benevolently, more or less. His technical ownership of Chise does complicate their relationship, especially given his stated intention to marry her, but a number of people have told me that these uncomfortable wrinkles in an otherwise sweet pairing are important plot points that will be fully addressed. This is good, because as much as I loved Chise's trip into the dark woods of the faeries, I don't know how much longer I could tolerate Elias' unironic pet names.
I don't want to say that The Ancient Magus' Bride was “magical” this week (because come on James), but it was definitely a lovely way to start off a highly promising series. My single misgiving would have to be the discomforting vibes Elias can give off, but as long as the show eventually takes him to task in the future and gives Chise more agency of her own, then this series will remain one to watch this season.
Rarely have I felt as much joy over getting to rewatch an anime as I did in this case. Crunchyroll's presentation of the first three episodes in theaters over the summer was a horrible tease, but now it's finally available for streaming on demand. I feel pretty confident that my viewing of episode one for this preview isn't going to be the last time that I watch it in the coming week.
This is a thoroughly enchanting adaptation of a manga that was already strong to begin with. It beautifully encompasses all of the main points of the manga's first chapter while also providing additional context at the beginning, which I think goes a long way toward smoothing out an early rough edge in the story of Chise being sold off like a slave. The opening scenes make it clear that she isn't being taken advantage of, but rather selling herself off by choice out of despair. Granted, that doesn't have great connotations either, but it does drive questions about what circumstances she came from to think that selling herself to the highest bidder would be the only way to find someone who might want her. Scattered flashbacks in the first episode provide hints of this past for those who haven't already watched the OVA series; Chise was passed around by relatives who didn't want her because of her “strangenesss” (the ability to see and attract the supernatural), which may also have had an effect on why her parents aren't present. The depths of despondency can make people do some extreme things.
Fortunately, this isn't a story about Chise being treated badly. Instead, it's about her gradual exposure to the realm of the mystical, which is effectively hers by birthright, and the way she gradually finds a place to belong there. The first episode establishes that impression well enough, as it shows broken Chise's first steps toward beginning to mend. For his part, Elias's behavior comes off as somewhat patronizing, as he alternately treats Chise as a pet or a loved one, but that's more because he doesn't understand human behavior at all rather than being purposefully arrogant. Learning about humans from Chise as she learns about magic from him (and others) is a key aspect of the manga, so that should be a highlight of future episodes.
I've already commented at length elsewhere about how wonderful the visuals are for this series, so I won't go into further detail about it here. Suffice to say that I haven't seen anything yet this season which even rivals it on that front. Add in some winning vocal performances and a strong opener, and the production is a winner all-around.
The only reason I'm not giving the first episode a maximum score is because, as good as this is, it's not the series at its best. Expect even better things to come in the next two episodes.
The Ancient Magus' Bride was one of my most-anticipated shows coming into this season, based entirely on the strength of its source material. Magus' Bride's source manga is rich and beautiful, full of evocative magical details and imbued with great emotional weight. If Studio WIT could pull off a reasonable adaptation, this anime had every reason to succeed.
So far, “reasonable adaptation” seems to be exactly what we're getting. This first episode takes us confidently through the manga's own opening, ending at the same place as its original double-length first chapter. The neglected Chise Hatori, a “Sleigh Beggy” with great magical potential, is sold at auction to Elias Ainsworth, an imposing figure renowned as a great mage. Elias then introduces Chise to her new home, explains his plans for her, and lets her get some rest—until the local faeries make a quick visit to offer Chise a proposition of their own.
Magus' Bride's pacing is solid so far, and the narrative intrigue of the source material carries through as well. Every question answered about this world leads to three more, drawing us deeper into a fantasy realm steeped in English folklore and classical myth. The conflict that finishes this episode is both a great hook and a statement of purpose. This is one of those worlds where magic is both exhilarating and dangerous, a bargain struck with a grinning demon, a covenant kept with the unyielding earth.
Aesthetically, this is an altogether reasonable but not exceptional production. Director Naganuma adapts Kore Yamazaki's story in a relatively straightforward style, favoring a mix of mid-distance conversational shots, brief closeups, and occasional striking environmental shots. The results are visually pleasant and easy to follow, but never as evocative as the embellishment-heavy original manga. Magus' Bride is a story that could have used the visual passion of a director like Rie Matsumoto or even just the uneven linework of Juni Taisen, but it's still a fine production even in this fairly conventional version.
My biggest complaint about the art might be the awkward integration of Yamazaki's superdeformed comedy style. While the style is easy to integrate when you're working with distinct manga panels, seeing Elias randomly assume his goofy round-headed appearance while the rest of the frame stays realistic was a little jarring. And finally, the show's opening song sequence is underwhelming enough to feel unfinished to me—it seems to mostly just crib art from scenes of the show itself with very little identity of its own. All that said, the show's striking background art and subtly effective soundtrack came together wonderfully for this episode's finale, and I get the feeling this style will work better for future episodes' more overtly fantastical images.
On the whole, Magus' Bride's anime offers a just-fine adaptation of a phenomenal story. The artwork is crisp, animation consistent, and underlying narrative an absolute delight. We are in for an enchanting ride.
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