The Ancient Magus' Bride
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Ancient Magus' Bride ?
With no big bads or tragic chimeras to fight, and no dying dragons or lost lovers to send off to lovely insert songs, Chise has a lot of time to ponder over some equally good stuff: the nature of love and relationships. While she made a full physical/magical recovery after getting her chest pierced, the events at the church took their toll on Elias, be it his transformation or Chise literally eating away at him.
Seeing his (now even more) inhuman form, I especially liked how normal his voice sounded through the door, as if not to worry Chise, pretending to be in control. The way his mouth moved much more than usual after getting his old closer-to-human appearance back also seemed to indicate he was still somewhat out of balance after bathing in that Princess Mononoke-esque pond. One thing didn't change, though. He still struggles with grasping human emotion, and he doesn't seem to get that a be-right-back note after not showing his face for two weeks and pinning Chise to the floor might not quite cut it.
Angelica's visit to check up on Chise offers the opportunity to address what several viewers have criticized by now – why is Chise so set on staying with Elias, who is not human, bought her as a slave, and wants to make the teenager his bride? The unequal nature of their relationship has been a recurring cause for irritation. Even if going back to school and trying to live a more human life is out of the question, Chise's met at least two other mages now, Lindel and Angelica, who she could confide in to explore alternative options. I always found it believable how someone with her history might cling to the first individual offering her a home and accepting her, along with her baggage. But that is not to say Chise can't reflect on her feelings now that she's in a much better place emotionally than ever before. So where are we at with our Ancient Magus and his Bride?
Now that Elias has finally started to nurture her talent and work on preventing her premature death, Chise's trust in him is strengthened rather than weakened, despite knowing how small the grains of truth he's feeding her actually are. Yet she's wondering why she suddenly cares if he's lying to her when she never did before. Her raised sense of self-worth doesn't just mean she's finally able to value her own existence, it also comes with certain expectations. Chise calls herself selfish for not wanting to be abandoned, but the fact that she's begun to take his presence in her life for granted is neither a sign of selfishness nor her initial desperation. The reason she isn't scared of Elias' inhuman form isn't because she's "cursed", but because she's become attached to him as a person, not just the home he provided for her. He's been a constant in her life she learned to depend on, first out of sheer lack of options, but now she likes to return to their house when the light is still on, meaning he might still be awake waiting for her. Ruth is no substitute because it's the other way around with them – she's the new constant in his life.
Now tuned to Chise, Ruth has been able to accept Isabelle's death and his new role in what would technically classify as his afterlife. He's settled in nicely as Chise's familiar, providing some much needed reflection on her emotions that will likely help to keep her more honest, both toward others and herself, which should also help Elias understand what's really going on with her. Ruth has also adopted a younger, tinier human appearance than his (significantly hotter) taller and manlier one, but it's certainly a better visual representation of their brother-sister relationship. I love his giant black dog form the most anyway, and seeing how he still behaves like a dog, patrolling the premises and defending Chise from every approaching stranger before getting excited and knocking her over out of pure affection. In contrast to everyone around him, Ruth can love wholeheartedly. He's just as quick to declare his love as any dog would be, providing a great contrast to all those bottled-up, confused feelings in others around him. He's also spot-on in his bluntness, saying that we don't love for selfless reasons alone, but for our own sakes. Of course, that doesn't mean that love has to be the all-encompassing, destructive obsession of a Celtic vampire.
As the most recent addition to The Ancient Magus Bride's fae world, the Leannan Sídhe is a deadly muse wearing very little clothing, who is strangely attached to an older gentleman by the name of Joel Garland. The usual path these relationships go down is one of passionate destruction – talent and inspiration in exchange for one's life force. She's a mythological interpretation of why the flames of some gifted artists burn out so quickly and the devouring powers of love present in so many vampire stories. It's this version of love the Leannan Sídhe has been familiar with before meeting Joel. She could have made him hers by feeding off him, but for some reason, she chose not to. Him not being her type is the only explanation she has, but when the beams of sunlight flood the room as she's deriding him, the beauty of the scene belies her words. She refuses to call her feelings "love", since love to her would mean destroying what she desires, but what she feels is strong enough to keep her at his side for decades, resisting to ever drink his blood. Even if his literary calling could never burn as bright as it might with her "help", it's his talent alone, and she loves him for his small human passions.
The pair turned out to contribute much more than I would have given them credit for based on appearance. We obviously encounter these two at this exact point in time to reflect on Chise and Elias' relationship, which Chise doesn't have a word for either. It's a nice indirect way of addressing its potentially creepy nature, masked as romantic, as well as the honest feelings that might blossom from clear-cut pairings between unequal partners. For me, what's kept our main couple from venturing into creepy so far is that their physical interactions have always been emotionally intimate rather than sexual, and I very much hope the show doesn't cross this line anytime soon.
Near the end of the episode, Junichi Matsumoto once again proves how important his musical contribution is to this adaptation, choosing the same melody that played when Elias came to pick up Chise from a different clearing in the woods at the end of episode one. Now it's Chise's turn to bring him home. I choose to interpret this as a subtle shift in agency. But first, it's time to be spirited away to the land of the dragons once more. Given that Lindel is bound to know a lot more about Elias' past and true nature than the Thorn Mage will ever share with Chise in the foreseeable future, I'm hoping we'll get some Elias intel in Iceland.
I enjoyed the slower pace and the absence of much action after the recent dramatic events. My only beef would be with Chise's reading ability or supposed lack thereof. Even if school was hell, she still attended for quite a while, and those who've seen the OVAs know Chise had no trouble reading Japanese books when she was much younger, so the problem is probably related to reading books in English rather than in general. Yet she's reading Joel's story back to front cover from an English perspective. I guess some things will always fall through the cracks, no matter how good the research usually is on this show.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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