The Ancient Magus' Bride
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 14 of
Ancient Magus' Bride ?
We start episode 14 with a shot of Angelica's ring, having fallen from Chise's transformed hand, and we end with the same ring shattering as a consequence of breaking a magical taboo. I appreciate a certain cyclical approach to storytelling, even though the problem of Chise turning into a fox was resolved too quickly after leaving us on what felt like a giant cliffhanger. In the end, the fox hide really was a gift; Ashen Eye just handed it over in a prankish way. While it'll likely prove useful at some point in the future, why create a cliffhanger around the simple introduction of a new magical tool?
At first, Chise's transformation felt somewhat disconnected from the episode's main plot, which was a straightforward depiction of the well-worn if you love someone, set them free message. But if we look at the episode's overall theme of the troublesome human heart (and how much clearer things seem without it), the scene did serve its purpose of easing us into the main act and our second encounter with Joel and Redcurrant.
If the hide answers to one's wishes, Chise's deepest instinct is to run away from human connection. But human Chise doesn't want to be free from it (even going so far as to ask Ruth to stop her should something like this ever happen again). Elias seeks to understand human connection, and Redcurrant gets so caught up in it that she's the one left waiting on inertia against the very nature of her Leannán Sídhe being; things would just be so much neater without the emotional mess of love and loss. That's what Ashen Eye really means when telling Elias that it would be easier to keep Chise around in non-human form, to give her a life less brittle and less fleeting.
When we first met Joel and Redcurrant in episode 9, they provided an important reflection on Chise and Elias's relationship and the question of what might or might not qualify as "love". Adding in the factor of transience that's so hard to fathom from a fae point of view, this episode provides some nice thematic elaborations on these characters' first appearance. Redcurrant found something in Joel that she wanted to preserve instead of following the usual exchange of passion for short-lived inspiration. But just her presence alone shortened his lifespan, which she's initially in denial about just as much as she is about being in love. Admitting her love for Joel would mean taking it all for herself – but human love always involves plenty of taking too. Redcurrant calls humans selfish, but don't we all steal each other's time in order to feel loved?
She didn't inspire his poetry in a way that she usually would in return for draining someone's life. Instead, her presence gave him just enough spark to go back to living beyond his prior existence driven by inertia. My jaded adult mind is determined to take the romance out of this scenario, which my adolescent self would have soaked up gleefully. (I can't help but think that Joel could have discovered many other inspirations worth living for if he'd ever left his rose garden.) But if he regards this as a fair deal, I'll try my best not to ruin the genuine impact of this emotional goodbye.
When Joel confesses to Redcurrant that he always knew about her nature and was still grateful for her love, she has to accept his in return, admitting her feelings to herself and therefore finally consuming him. Saori Hayami's superb acting makes Redcurrant's pain and confusion extremely easy to sympathize with. Her performance is supported by an insert song that's restrained at first, just voice and piano, only to bring out the strings after Joel has literally slipped through Redcurrant's hands and she realizes that her perception of love will never be the same. It's big drama staged well, despite my initial reservations about the situation. By staying there to wait for Joel, the Leannán Sídhe accepts a human definition of love, not moving on to the next target, but mourning her lost love. Her choice to carry him into the garden in recreation of their first meeting makes for a very sweet goodbye, even though her lack of clothing threatened to distract from the moment.
Of course there would be a price to pay for Chise breaking a taboo and putting her body through the ordeal of performing magic forbidden to humans without fairy help. Coughing up blood is a reminder of a Sleigh Beggy's fleeting lifespan, and from the preview, it looks like the healing process will entail more than just sleeping it off for a few days this time. Was Elias aware of how grave the consequences would be? Is his non-humanness preventing him from understanding the full danger of the situation? Or is Chise taking this initiative to reach out such a big step forward that he's just willing to accept the ramifications? Maybe actually suffering through the physical pain instead of falling unconscious will prompt the necessary change in both their behavior.
Some subtitle choices felt slightly rushed this week. I'm sure Chise's "When I use magic, I stare really hard" could have been rendered more poetically. But seeing Ruth sleeping on top of Chise to prevent her from going anywhere just has me wanting to cuddle him even more. And now Chise can ride him too! Maybe she doesn't have it so bad after all.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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