The Ancient Magus' Bride
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Ancient Magus' Bride ?
The Ancient Magus' Bride hasn't been short on dark underlying themes, but this week still marks a shift toward something darker on a greater scale. It look like we're about to catch up with the events foreshadowed at the end of the first cour, with the kidnapped dragon hatchling becoming a frightened and frightful medieval version of its once-cuddly self, ready to rain down fire on everything and everyone standing in its way of going home. With major emotional and physical damage on the horizon, the pace is noticeably accelerating, resulting in some corners getting cut in the visual details of longer shots. Hands and feet don't look as pretty, and there are more story details the viewer has to fill in themselves that might have normally been shown.
The cold open sets the tone nicely – or rather uncomfortably, as we watch the dragon whelp watch his friend get dissected, expecting to be next. Lots of eye close-ups pull us into the dragon's state of mind, and by the time the OP kicks in, no images of the last cour's brighter moments can wash away the underlying feeling of dread and disgust. Chise's dream/vision/spiritual link with the one responsible for all this suffering adds eeriness more than creates sympathy for Cartaphilus' own suffering, no matter how uncomfortable it is to witness. Ayumu Murase once again has no problems bridging creepy and innocent, and the discovery that two souls might be dwelling in his character's heart gives him plenty to play with. There's so much I want the know about Cartaphilus/Joseph that I'm afraid the remaining episodes won't have time to explore.
Of course he didn't catch himself two dragons to simply sell them off to the highest bidder – not before conducting experiments on at least one of them, probably trying to find a new arm replacement. There doesn't seem like much for him to gain from a dragon running amok in London, except for some minor entertainment. The majestic creatures are a means to an end, and after his first plan fails, at least there are some funds to be made. What pushes the surviving dragon over the edge into an unintended transformation via an alarming amount of black goo is witnessing his friend's death – very different from the peaceful way Nevin went, unlikely to be followed by a spiritual afterlife. We're familiar with that ominous goo from Matthew and Mina's corruption story, but here it looks like a self-inflicted corruption out of maddening fear.
Other details bear similar disturbing resemblances. Cartaphilus' tentacles don't look so different from the ones Elias almost strangled Chise with, and the transformed dragon isn't too far from Elias' more monstrous form either. There have been enough hints at something about Elias being "disgusting" or unclean in one way or another that discovering his origin is unlikely to be fun. His new human form, on the other hand, is extremely attractive, second only to Alice sporting a suit.
But this is Chise's episode. She uses her traumatic experience from Elias trapping and threatening her (and his guilt that comes along with inflicting these emotions) to get him to help the dragons who are experiencing something similar. It's bold and slightly creepy at the same time, especially as it takes her back to the place where she was at her most desperate. By contacting Seth, she shows great resourcefulness and no hesitation to face her past. Now that she's learned about the very tempting option Elias tried to withhold from her, I'm hoping that next time his growing need to possess her takes things too far, she'll be able to consider more appropriate actions.
But Chise's first concern is saving the dragon, who is now a giant, scary, fire-breathing monster driven by fear. The preview hints at a price to be paid, but if that's going to be nothing more than Chise fainting and falling asleep for X amount of time, I'll be disappointed.
It's not all doom and gloom. The differences between mages and sorcerers aren't irreconcilable when something greater is at stake. The unfortunately named Adolf having been a student of Lindel's and the friendship between Chise and Alice create opportunities for exchange. Chise wanting to confirm Alice's age was indisputably funny, and even if Tory's goofiness isn't half as entertaining as the idea of a drunken Renfred losing all of his precious self-control to a pity party, at least we know now what Alice's Christmas present was.
Also, whoever added both Kenichi Suzumura and Maaya Sakamoto to the cast in the same episode deserves a hug.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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