Reviewby Theron Martin,
Ancient Magus' Bride: Those Awaiting a Star
15-year-old Chise Hatori, who has always been able to see much more than a normal person, has settled into life as the apprentice and possible "bride" to Elias Ainsworth, an English sorcerer with an animal skull for a head. In a shipment of study materials from one of Elias's associates, Chise finds the used book The Lonely Little Star, which evokes memories of her troubled youth from before she met Elias. Back then, after her mother committed suicide, she didn't know how to deal with the strange creatures she saw everywhere, making it difficult for her to interact with the mundane world. After fleeing into a forest from frightening apparitions, she discovers a library maintained by “the magician of the forest,” where she finds solace for a time, along with the fateful storybook. The magician has his own circumstances to worry about however, which will change Chise's perceptions of The Lonely Little Star.
Those Awaiting a Star is a three episode OVA series based on a side story written specifically for the anime production by Kore Yamazaki, the creator of The Ancient Magus's Bride manga. Its episodes were originally released in Japan with volumes 6-8 of the manga but are currently available streaming on Crunchyroll. Both the original release format and the utter lack of establishing explanation in these episodes indicate that the OVA was created for established fans rather than as an introduction to the franchise. However, it also seems like franchise newcomers have had little trouble following and appreciating the events of these OVAs, so in that sense the episodes can serve as an introduction to the particular kind of magic that makes this story work so well.
The story is set some time after manga chapter 18, perhaps even between it and chapter 19 (both in volume 4). Its present-day story bookends an extended flashback into Chise's childhood. Though the manga has shown bits and pieces of Chise's life before Elias prior to this series, this is the first time that those snippets have been gathered into a cohesive story. That allows us to experience Chise's upsetting experience seeing apparitions around here quite vividly, placing stress on the adults around her who could not understand. Overall, the flashback provides considerably greater insight into how Chise ends up with the mindset she holds at the beginning of the main story and why she's so fiercely resistant to being separated from Elias. Newcomers to the franchise can still find a fairly compelling story here about the struggles of this downtrodden girl, the closure she helps grant to others without being old enough to appreciate what she has done, and how the story of The Lonely Little Star became her own story.
Though an engrossing story is being told here, the real charm and appeal of these three episodes lies in the sense of magic and wonder they evoke, giving viewers a taste of what the TV series will seek to accomplish. The ever-present faeries in this story aren't just tiny humans with wings; they are wholly otherworldly creatures. The other spirits present also come in an impressive range of varieties, from benign blob-like entities to monsters resembling only the left half of a ghostly person.
The magic of this world can be awesome, as in the opening scene of Angelica bundling up a set of books and other items to send to Chise, or terrible as in the swarm of mystical book-eating rats. An experience vaguely akin to this has been captured in titles like Spirited Away, but the undertones of Magus Bride are distinctly darker and the approach feels more organic than cute. The result is a world where magic has a wilder feel to it, where it can be potent if tamed correctly and dangerous if not. I cannot think of another anime or manga that conveys this feeling so effectively.
Production comes courtesy of Wit Studio, who are also producing the upcoming TV series, and they definitely brought their A game to this project. Each episode looks gorgeous, with remarkably fluid animation, strong character designs, detailed background art, and a color palette that perfectly complements and reinforces the tone for each scene. The one quibble I have is that they may have gone overboard in portraying young Chise's dejection and world-weariness, but the contrast it makes to her teenage appearance drives home how much more comfortable and peaceful she is now than she was as a child. The musical score impresses less, though it still provides a nicely complementary sound at times. The closing theme “Clockwork Quick and Lightning Slow” has no visuals, but its breathy vocals evoke an appropriate sense of magic.
The one quibble about Crunchyroll's translation of these OVAs is that Chise is referred to as a “Slay Vega” in the first episode. While it certainly does sound like the one faerie is saying something like that, it should be “Sleigh Beggy” instead. (It's a reference to an established – if obscure – type of faerie in folklore.) Crunchyroll's presentation of the first three episodes of the TV series got this right, so hopefully this will be updated in the OVAs at some point.
Ultimately, whether or not these OVAs are better-watched as a lead-in to the TV series/original manga or as a complement to them after the fact is a toss-up. By providing more expansive background on Chise's experiences, her status at the beginning of the story makes more sense, but by watching the TV series or reading the manga first, viewers get a much better understanding of the characters involved. Regardless of which way you approach this story, it's easier to understand the story in these OVAs if you watch them all at once like a film. Though it falls a little short of the storytelling quality in Magus Bride's first few TV episodes, this is still a solid production well worth anyone's time.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B
+ Substantially fleshes out Chise's backstory, impressive technical merits, strong complement to the manga and TV series
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