The Ancient Magus' Bride
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Ancient Magus' Bride ?
It's the time of the winter solstice. For humans in Britain, that means diving into some last-minute Christmas shopping. In the fae world, however, the longest night of the year marks the celebration of Yule. Far from being a festival historically exclusive to the "neighbors" or obsolete, today's Wiccan version still celebrates the seasonal cycle of death and rebirth. The Yule twins warn Chise and Elias about the Horned God, albeit providing little context. After dying in the fall, he is about to be reborn by his Dark Lady.
The adaptation's time constraints create a mixed bag here. On the one hand, lore is lost, and we're left to let our own imagination (or Google) run wild to find out who the woman riding by might be, and why Elias thinks it wise to hide from her. On the other hand, leaving room for wonder isn't necessarily the worst choice in a show thriving on the magical and, in this case, spiritual. We have enough clues to sense something significantly dangerous approaching as Elias and Chise gather what's necessary to propitiate the ancient gods, despite not knowing the repercussions. As always, non-human female characters suffer from a compulsive lack of breast support similar to the show's obsession with cliffhangers. But as part of her very pregnant appearance, the Goddess feels more like an image of fertility than anything fanservicey.
Chise might have missed the Horned God's death and fall foliage, but she's recovered in time to enjoy the magic and beauty of winter – without the hypothermia that should follow running around in English winter without so much as tights. She's even looking forward to waking up tomorrow, which is sure to bring trouble, as the mandatory cliffhanger ending has to rub in. We couldn't just end on Chise snuggling up to Elias' homemade teddy bear, could we? Who'd want to end on something as lovely as that after an episode all about recovery and new bonds, this time with a fellow human caught in a situation similar to Chise's: Alice, the apprentice/bodyguard of sorcerer Renfred.
After finding and bonding with adult human and non-human teachers and gaining a non-human big brother, it's time for Chise to make a human friend closer to her age, someone she can just be a normal girl with. What the two of them have in common creates an instant "nakama" bond beyond being in the same boat, as the meaning of "comradeship" is muffled in translation. It's the sensation of friendship that has Chise all wide-eyed in surprise and disbelief – even though the stuff these two share is significantly darker than average girl talk. Alice is Chise's equal, not just in apprentice status but also in shared trauma. Instead of having her mother try to kill her before committing suicide, Alice's parents turned her into a drug addict so that they'd have a willing dealer. Not a man of many words, Renfred rescues her from a sad life in back alleys. Like Elias, his reasons don't seem altruistic – he needs an apprentice, she has the potential, and if there's some nasty withdrawal to go though or a handsome face to be sacrificed in order to get there, then that's just how it is. He's not the cuddliest of masters, but his loyalty to her opens up a powerful new perspective for Alice. When she breaks down in tears tending to his wounds, it's a promise to return this loyalty, even though her vow to become his bodyguard comes a bit out of nowhere. Simply listening to him next time would do the trick of avoiding unnecessary pain and danger.
As much as I love The Ancient Magus' Bride's sense of supernatural wonder, I'm glad we got to spend some time with its human characters. These interactions are important for Chise to reflect on her own life and growth not just as a mage, but as a person. It's her first time (that she remembers) not just getting gifts, but pondering on what to give to others. The fact that her present for Elias, despite looking not that different, is taking the place of the first gift he ever received from anyone and has since worn every day is just as telling as him recreating the same gift every Christmas because it was successful the first time around. Now it's Chise's time to get a self-made teddy bear, regardless of whether it's an appropriate gift for a girl her age. In her case, with a childhood brutally cut short, Elias sure hits the mark, though I have no idea why Chise would snuggle with a toy when there's a wonderful giant dog right next to her. Did she not see the way he wagged his tail when she kissed him?
Even though I'm disappointed we never got to see what Alice bought for Renfred, Chise going somewhere on her own without being abducted, in need of rescue, or fainting is proof we're finally making progress, with Elias getting excited about identifying the feeling of anger (that was at least part worry) as a nice yew berry on top.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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