The Ancient Magus' Bride
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Ancient Magus' Bride ?
Welcome to part two of Elias' backstory in this dizzying, disgusting, and beautiful world of magic. Mostly dizzying and beautiful this week, but with a powerful pinch of disgusting to round things out.
In terms of main plot progression, Chise gets herself a haircut and almost a wand this week. But The Ancient Magus' Bride doesn't have to concern itself much with getting the plot from A to B if everything in between continues to be so thematically rich that episodes rarely feel longer than their insert songs. (And this week offers an extra special treat in that department.)
Given that both Lindel and Elias got their names from Lindel's master Rahab, and at least in Elias' case she didn't exactly take forever to find the most fitting one for him, the power of names is a curious theme to play with. But beyond their human names, mages have other, truer names. Lindel's is Echos, and this episode's insert song shows us why, when nightly flowers bloom and elves invite Chise to dance in one of the show's most magical scenes so far. Just when I was starting to express concern about the magic wearing out in recurring patterns, trying too hard to push emotional buttons, The Ancient Magus' Bride ups the ante by making the next song diegetic. Chise is listening to Lindel's singing the same as we are, and by making it part of the narrative, its mesmerizing beauty can be much more intimate, immediate and powerful. I was glad no one thought it necessary to subtitle the lyrics, whatever they might mean, enabling us to enjoy an experience beyond words, just like Lindel encourages Chise to do. Our intuitive understanding beautifully emphasizes the connections between everything in this world, culminating in the water mirror scene where Lindel's song and Chise and Elias' longing for one another transcends space just like the image of people warming themselves around fires transcended time in the scene before.
While the first thing we see this week is a burning fire, the last image this episode leaves us with is that of a cold, dark, unlit fireplace. At one campfire, Lindel tells Chise that her master, teacher, and betrothed used to be a man-eating monster, something Elias confesses to in the warmth of a similar fire that ominously illuminates his bony skull. Regardless, Chise still wishes he was there to see the beauty of the nightly flowers. At the same time, Elias laments how cold home is without her, despite the stove being on—except that, after their magical video call, the stove isn't on. Maybe the fire's warmth didn't help to alleviate the loneliness so he just stopped bothering, or maybe he's sufficiently warm after talking to her so he doesn't need the fire anymore—once again, it's up to us to decide.
The messenger bird being buried is an equally powerful though much less ambivalent image. The show might not tell us if Elias killed the poor thing out of anger, or if (thinking back to Angelica's magical/mechanical messenger bird) maybe the thing wasn't really alive in the first place, so it "died" once it had fulfilled its mission. Since Elias apparently has no desire to reply, it simply stopped working. No matter the exact circumstances, the symbolism of an dead bird being buried following Elias' refusal to let Chise return to the human world, despite the advice of others, is powerful in its subtlety and possible foreshadowing, given the constant bird references directed at Chise.
Merely telling us the story about a man-eating monster wouldn't have been enough—from what we know, the Elias taking in Chise has long been tamed and humanized by years of living among them. The Ancient Magus' Bride takes an extra step not to leave us with the beauty of the water mirror or Elias and Chise missing one another, but with the image of a dead bird and an unlit fireplace, making sure Rahab's quote about the disgusting and beautiful world hits home in full.
As always, there was more beauty to appreciate outside the main plot points. Yet again, Chise falls into some body of water, but she's perfectly capable of both saving herself this time and appreciating the wonders her fall enables her to witness by accident. From the underwater creature's scales shimmering in the light to the water playing with Chise's hair, their brief encounter is simply gorgeous. When Elias attacks the villagers for hurting Lindel, an effective mixture of full and limited animation paints a scene of shock and fear on both sides. Lindel comparing Elias to a child reinforces what the show's been hinting at, and how cute is asking a fire fairy to dry the wood for the wand by sleeping on top of it? This week, The Ancient Magus' Bride delivered beautifully on the magic it's always promised us.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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