The Ancient Magus' Bride
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 20 of
Ancient Magus' Bride ?
Choosing the title You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs feels almost cruel – like it's taunting Chise, who leaves this episode more cursed than she already was before. Her decision to save the poor corrupted dragon whelp once again puts her life on the line. The following action scene was visually less engaging than I hoped given last week's preview. Cutting between close-ups masks the lack of fluidly animated movement, and moments like Elias taking the hit for Chise turn into blink-and-you'll-miss-it impacts.
Once Ruth and Elias are temporarily out of the picture and it's up to the frail but powerful Sleigh Beggy to save the day, things play out in the familiar pattern – Chise makes a sacrifice with her power, falls into water, then falls unconscious, only to wake up later with someone ready to explain the cost of her actions to her. Well, some things are unexpected, like Chise's new curse being physically visible – and her first reaction being a delightful "wow", which was surprisingly funny in context. Less funny is Lindel's explanation that "sooner or later, your body will fall apart", not just because that's a sad thing to hear in general, but because these threats have lost their urgency. Chise has been frail and doomed to die an early death since the beginning. Adding a third curse only raises the stakes superficially.
It's up to our new cast member Mariel to put a much more concrete expiration date on Chise's life. Suddenly confronted with a reminder that having Chise make potions and shear woolly bugs might do wonders for her psyche but nothing to extend her life, Elias takes an unusual turn. He admits to himself that he might not be able to save her on his own, puts aside his jealousy, and agrees to try allowing others to help, in this case witches. The brief display of magic we've seen from Mariel looks interesting, if possibly cruel given the preview's suggestion of the price for Chise's survival. We might be seeing someone else make a sacrifice for a change.
While most of the action happens in the episode's first half, the second half contains all the story's highlights. Chise's walk through the snow feels like a wonderful mix between indulging her time back home and saying goodbye to it. Junichi Matsumoto's grave, thoughtful, wonderful soundtrack muffles all sound like the snow that covers the landscape, Joel's flowers included. Soon his house will belong to someone else, and the physical memory of him will fade while the emotional ties live on.
Just when Chise seems way too much at peace given her situation, a gust of wind blows up her cloak, reminding her of her cursed reality in a wonderful example of visual storytelling that's unsubtle but effective. She would have fallen if it hadn't been for Elias, ready to catch her. And as Chise admits how they both used each other and Elias learns that even humans don't especially understand human emotion sometimes, Ruth holds on to her legs so she won't be blown away. It's very sweet, even if I'm scratching my head about Elias' sudden ability to accurately understanding how Chise uses self-sacrifice to reaffirm her self-worth.
We also learn that Cartaphilus didn't intend for the dragon to break free, that Stella is now his involuntary spy, and that there's simply too much of a visual match between Chise's cursed arm and Cartaphilus' need to make himself a new one for this to be a coincidence. If a dragon's vestigial organs can return to working condition, then what about magi, who used to be so much more powerful in the past?
But the sweetest and at the same time saddest image is Chise's feet being pulled out of her slippers by Elias' embrace. As they hug and she plans to stick around long enough to have a birthday party, we clearly see the drops of blood she just coughed up at the edge of the screen. With only a month of airtime to go and not that many manga chapters left to adapt, I don't think we're going to find a cure for Chise before the cour comes to an end. I just hope we'll get something more satisfying than a read the manga cutoff.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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