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The Spring 2024 Anime Preview Guide
An Archdemon's Dilemma - How to Love Your Elf Bride

How would you rate episode 1 of
An Archdemon's Dilemma - How to Love Your Elf Bride ?
Community score: 3.6

What is this?


Zagan is a super-powerful sorcerer but lives as a recluse. And now he faces his greatest test… falling in love. The masses fear Zagan as an evil sorcerer. Both socially awkward and foulmouthed, he spends his days studying sorcery while beating down any trespassers within his domain. One day, he's invited to a dark auction, and he finds there is an elven slave girl of peerless beauty, Nephy. Having fallen in love at first sight, Zagan uses his entire fortune to purchase her, but being a poor conversationalist, he has no idea how to interact with her properly. Thus, the awkward cohabitation of a sorcerer who has no idea how to convey his love and his slave who yearns for her master but has no idea how to appeal to him begins.

An Archdemon's Dilemma - How to Love Your Elf Bride is based on a light novel series written by Fuminori Teshima and illustrated by COMTA. The anime series is streaming on Crunchyroll on Thursdays.

Content Warning: This episode contains a scene of attempted sexual assault.

How was the first episode?

Richard Eisenbeis

In my notes for this anime, the first thing I have written down is “The Ancient Magus' Bride but crappier.” Now, I know why I wrote that. An Archdemon's Dilemma - How to Love Your Elf Bride is, after all, also a story of a powerful magic user buying a young girl as a slave due to her magic power—only it lacks the deep personal introspection of The Ancient Magus' Bride. However, upon further thought, I don't think that statement is exactly fair. While the general plot setup may be the same, the purpose of the anime is different.

How to Love Your Elf Bride is about a person inexperienced in love falling in love at first sight. To add to his problems, the object of his affection is a girl who is being sold for parts—meaning, if he doesn't buy her, she dies. Now he's left in a situation where he's her “owner” but doesn't want to be. But how is it even possible to go from a slave/master relationship to one of loving equals? That's the big question of the show—and one that Zagan is horrendously ill-equipped to answer.

Zagan has all the social skills of a rock. Oh sure, he knows how to act like an arrogant, indifferent bastard—but that's just a survival skill based on the fact that he's trying to succeed in a world full of evil MAGES. Showing any kind of weakness in front of them could get him killed. However, this also makes it more than a little difficult to make himself vulnerable enough to properly explain to Nephi why he bought her.

Of course, at this point, Nephi probably wouldn't believe him even if he did. Her social skills are just as stunted as his. She's, simply put, resigned to her death—expecting it, even. This inability to communicate is the crux of the show's humor—and is what makes it work overall. I can see a story of a cute couple growing out of this one. How the magic and infighting among MAGES. will turn out, who knows? But the core relationship looks like it could be a good one.

James Beckett

Let it be known that I did not go into the premiere of An Archdemon's Dilemma under the assumption that a fantasy rom-com about a sorcerer who purchases an elf bride at a slave auction had to end up as terrible trash. I'm not exactly a fan of the slavery-romance trope, especially in the ways that it tends to be exploited by most anime of such ilk these days, but I always say that it doesn't matter how trashy, clichéd, or lame a premise is, because execution trumps everything. If An Archdemon's Dilemma ended up being incredibly hilarious, shockingly heartwarming, or exceptionally well-crafted in its storytelling and world-building, I could surely find the strength to put up with some tired and/or tone-deaf tropes.

As you can probably guess based on the number of stars in that rating up there, the show didn't turn out to be any of those things, but that isn't to say that it's completely irredeemable. If anything, though, I might have preferred if An Archdemon's Dilemma went the whole hog and reveled in the schlockiest of shlock because then it would be interesting to write about. Instead, what we've got here is an absolutely run-of-the-mill fantasy anime with virtually nothing to make it distinguishable or memorable. The setting is generic but functional. The art is nothing special, but it looks good enough to get you to the end credits without reaching for the ibuprofen. The music…well, I'm sure it exists because I would have noticed if the premiere was completely lacking in a soundtrack, but I couldn't whistle a single tune of it back to you even if you threatened to clap me in chains and sell me at auction.

The series' total commitment to making no impression whatsoever extends to its characters, and that's really the nail in the coffin for An Archdemon's Dilemma because a romance lives and dies entirely on the strength of its leading characters' chemistry and likeability. To that end, while the show certainly goes out of its way to play up Zagan's awkwardness and Nephelia's meek fragility, nothing about their interactions ever rises above a mere execution of the expected beats and gags. It's the kind of show where you could file down the serial number and swap out a few basic parts to repackage ad infinitum, and it would be impossible to tell who was ripping off who. Next season, we'll probably get A Skeleton Lord's Quandry: How to Care for Your Shut-In Goddess Bride. After that, The Exiled Dragon Prince Who Found Himself Betrothed to the Goblin Slave Princess. Then, of course, we'll have to suffer through Reincarnated as the Demon King and Married to the Hero!?!? I wouldn't be surprised if that one premiered alongside Reborn! as the Demon Emperor at Level 99 with a Harem of Heroines Who Are Also Maids, and Also One of Them is Maybe My Step-Sister.

In other words, An Archdemon's Dilemma made me feel exactly one emotion: sleepiness. If you are desperate for cartoon romance and need your fix now, then sure, give it a shot, but don't be disappointed if a heaping helping of slightly sugary mush fails to satisfy your cravings for long.

Nicholas Dupree

Well, that wasn't as bad as it could have been. I know that's a backhanded compliment, but whenever we get a light novel series with “slave” in the original title, I have learned to expect the worst. So while An Archdemon's Dilemma carries all the baggage typical of shows where a milquetoast dude buys himself a girlfriend, this one is at least less eye-rolling in its character dynamics and (so far) doesn't have any mealy-mouthed defenses of slavery. I'll take what I can get.

That's not to say it succeeds at being as cute or charming as it wants. It still utilizes all the cheap and casually misogynist shortcuts its peers use, like introducing our lead by having him stop an attempted rape to tell us he's a good guy – while still showing the victim stripped to her underwear, so the show can have its cake and eat it too. It still runs up against the mountain-high narrative dissonance of trying to make a cutesy rom-com between a man and the woman he bought while creating a convenient excuse for why he can't just free her. This time, it's a magic collar that nobody knows how to remove. That, plus Zagan being a total dweeb who only comes off as evil because of poor social skills, begs a comparison to How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord. That unapologetically trashy series pulled off this kind of setup far better.

It's just really, really hard to root for a couple when one of them is legally the property of the other, and no amount of softening Zagan's personality or assuring us he's a Good Slave Owner is going to surmount that. Especially not when we're kept exclusively in Zagan's head through this introduction, leaving Nephy to be little more than a tragic waif for him to fawn over. She's entirely resigned to being killed or tortured or forced into bed with her owner, but those fears are treated with the same gravity as a misunderstanding in a high school rom-com. We, the audience, know Zagan isn't the type to kill or torture her, but she sure as hell doesn't, and I'm far more inclined to relate to her fears than Zagan's lovestruck anxieties. Combine that with the cheap attempt at titillation in the opening scene, and an inescapable stank undercuts any attempts to build chemistry or likability with our main couple.

At the same time, at least this show can occasionally put together a decent joke. Nephy isn't much of a personality in this episode, but her constant – almost eager – assumptions that Zagan is about to kill or torture her do make for some darkly funny bits. Zagan's reason for impulsively purchasing her isn't as charming as the show thinks, but the gulf between his puppy love intentions and his antisocial glaring is good for a few chuckles. That's not enough to make me watch more or to outweigh the fundamental problems at the core of the premise, but it at least made watching this premiere less miserable than I expected.

Rebecca Silverman

This was both better and worse than I went in expecting. On the downside, yes, Zagan does buy his bride at the fantasy world equivalent of an estate sale, and she has an apparently unremovable slave collar on. Also, within the first three minutes of the show, a woman is threatened with rape, largely, it appears, so that Zagan can save her, thus showing us that he's Not Like Other Men in the story's world. It kind of works, but when the bar is set so low, it's hard to get excited about the premise.

Said premise is that Zagan has never had a crush on anyone in his life and is incredibly awkward when he's slammed with a wave of love at first sight. He immediately lays down his entire (considerable) fortune to buy Nephy, but once he gets her home, he has no idea how to talk to her without sounding…well, like the other guys in the series. It's meant to be cute and funny, and there are moments when it succeeds. That Zagan and Nephy are so far from being on the same page gets a couple of good bits, but it's tough to root for their love when Nephy keeps waiting for him to do something dreadful to her, and he just bought her at an auction.

It feels like another light novel adaptation that doesn't quite understand slavery. I hesitate to say that that's okay, because it isn't really, even in fiction. Still, you don't get much more fictional than sorcerers and elves, so your mileage may vary depending on how strongly you feel about it as a plot device. It is clear that Nephy's expectations are more in line with how this sort of work typically uses it for titillation: she thinks she'll be killed and/or tortured, and she's quick to hike up her skirt to show him she's a virgin. (Do only virgins wear white underwear in this world?) Zagan is the wild card, and we're meant to applaud him for that.

If you can overlook that base plot conceit, this is kind of cute. Sure, it doesn't look great, but it's obviously trying its hardest to be adorable despite its trappings. I have a hard time with the bought bride angle, but if it can get past that in future episodes, this could be a cute little rom-com.

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