The Ancient Magus' Bride
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Ancient Magus' Bride ?
Last week, we experienced the events in Ulthar almost exclusively from Chise's point of view – a good choice to keep things much more personal, frightening, and sad. Before we say goodbye to the kingdom of cats, we get at least a glimpse into Elias' mind. After what Lindel hinted at and Renfred then brutally dropped, it was time for us – and Chise – to learn more about Elias' motives for taking her in. What we get is a thrilling mix of honesty, vulnerability and hints of tragedy hidden behind his expressionless face, whose eyes possess the glimmer of a child's according to Chise. But maybe childlike innocence isn't the only explanation for his awkwardness around her.
From Renfred's "You can neither become human, nor return to being a fairy", to Oberon's "I wonder how long you can keep up your false kindness for this one person", to Spriggan's "Think of all the people and spirits that were lost because of him", we can piece together a puzzle of a being who stands torn between worlds, no longer quite belonging to any one but desperately longing to feel like he belongs somewhere. I'm an instant fan of the idea that Elias got himself a human ward/mate to understand what it means to be a human. It adds a possibly tragic component to his awkward attempts at acting like he presumes a human would in any given situation, from bathing Chise without any clue as to why she would be embarrassed to treating her like an adopted pet in an effort to make her feel more comfortable.
Elias is part fae, beings who will help and even worship individual humans but have very different conceptions of what's actually good for such disgusting "shells" (according to Spriggan, at least). Elias' fairy self can care for Chise while still confusing curiosity and devotion for what humans would call love. His partly human self longs to bridge that gap and find a place in the world by creating one for Chise. He's doing something kind for selfish reasons, which is already a very human thing to do. He understands why humans cry, but he wants to feel this emotion too. It looks like Oberon's improper remarks have already gotten him to notice some weird inexplicable physical reactions within himself. Heck, even the cats are shipping them now.
While we don't get the full exposition dump of how Elias ended up between worlds or whether or not he was at fault for what happened to him, we learn just enough about his past and motivations to quench the immediate thirst without satiating the curiosity required for a story in which fascination and fear of the unknown are essential to maintain the sense of wonder.
Speaking of which, Junichi Matsumoto's soundtrack reaches wondrous new heights this week. When Titania enters the scene, it truly feels like Spriggan's deep, mesmerizing voice is compelling the forest to sing, turning what qualifies as this episode's insert song into a powerful diegetic experience. With Titania enters, her considerable female assets result in a not entirely successful attempt to walk the fine line between establishing her as a sensual presence (and possible symbol of fertility, calling herself the mother of all creations of the night) and outright fanservice, though her breasts do surprisingly bend to the powers of gravity unlike most anime bosoms. I found myself distracted when I didn't want to be, and her bickering with Oberon didn't work as well as comic relief compared to some more restrained moments, like Jasper the cat jumping up and down at the edge of the screen to catch the atmospheric ghost lights.
Overall, the queen and king of the faeries did add a lot to Magus Bride's world in addition to simply providing more background on Elias and his motives. While Simon seems pretty open-minded for a priest, willing to reconcile his faith with the fairies around him, Titania banishes him from her forest for worshiping a god she perceives to be incompatible with their world. We don't know how representative Simon is of general church policies, but the coexistence of Christian and pre-Christian mythological elements continues to paint a holistic background for the story, just as the music continues to be mesmerizing during Titania and Oberon's exit.
In the aftermath of her two encounters with death, the all-important question must be what all of this has done for Chise's outlook on life. When she finally wakes up, her expression is different from before. Less tired and more alive, her new "look" is later emphasized by a change in hairstyle. Most importantly, she smiles while hugging Elias, expressing her wish that his experiment to save her will succeed. Things will surely look brighter for her from here.
It also looks like we haven't seen the last of the ruthless, manipulative sorcerer from Ulthar, probably as a recurring villain. Renfred, on the other hand, doesn't feel like a straight-up bad guy. Both his relief at the cleansing's outcome and Alice's reaction to their silver-haired colleague waiting for them in the forest tell less a story of conspiracy and more one of blackmail. (This is pure conjecture on my part, as I haven't read beyond this point in the story.) I'm happy that the show has established such a strong and colorful cast of supporting characters by now, who are all shaped by their shared world in different ways. Even a mostly passive character like Silver has something to contribute, when she blankly stares at her neatly packaged, out-of-season pudding in the fridge, waiting for Chise to come home. And Christmas will indeed come soon.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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