Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The Ancient Magus' Bride
In a fit of jealousy and loneliness, Elias has transformed and wholly swallowed his young apprentice. Trapped in a strange shadow and gripped by the bones of her mentor, Chise will need to use all her wits to survive Elias' strange magic. And if problems at home weren't enough, it appears the rogue alchemist Cartaphilus has made a new move, stealing two dragons in his quest to prolong his life. Chise never meant to become some kind of magical detective, but her caring spirit and emerging powers find her blocking the path of one of history's most wicked alchemists once more.
The Ancient Magus' Bride's seventh volume opens with the story at its most personal, centering on the relationship that is its heart. Chise has spent long volumes learning from her mentor Elias, but as Elias has come to care for her, he has changed as well. Elias' development of human emotions is a generally positive thing, but as a creature from outside humanity experiencing hurt and love for the first time, his reactions are like those of an angry child. Though Elias has often acted as something like a father for Chise, in this volume, it becomes clear that she is becoming the emotional guide of the two of them. Their uneasy relationship has never been more fraught than here, or more rewarding.
Chise's growing sense of responsibility towards Elias is underlined both in her skillful defusal of his tantrums and in a later visit to her friend Angelica. Meeting Angelica's human husband for the first time, he reflects on the odd negotiations of family and love, and how connecting yourself to another means you're no longer fully your own. From the title on down, The Ancient Magus' Bride has never been afraid to embrace the thorny, uneven implications of familial closeness, and this volume continues its difficult balance of clear danger and well-earned warmth. Chise's nature makes it very unlikely she'll outlast Elias, but it's clear that she's already beginning to outgrow him.
After a pair of chapters that acknowledge the inherent melancholy of this shift, The Ancient Magus' Bride spreads its wings both literally and figuratively, diving into an adventure that ropes in the dragon aerie, alchemist college, and even the auction house where Chise was sold.
At seven volumes in, The Ancient Magus' Bride has established a wide array of distinctive characters and magical institutions, presenting a world of marvelous individual attractions without demonstrating their interlocking parts. This volume's later chapters remedy that lack, roping close to a dozen of the manga's various players into a plot to reclaim two stolen dragons. It's a refreshing and largely positive change - while it's been easy to invest in Magus' Bride's vignettes for their own sake, demonstrating how all these organizations actually interact gives the story a new sense of holism.
That change does open the story up to a new kind of worldbuilding-focused criticism, too. In the past, we didn't have enough information on the world surrounding any individual vignette to question if alchemist shops or magical auctions made sense in this world. In spite of tying together a variety of distinct institutions, this volume still doesn't necessarily convey the sense of a full-fledged magical world. Institutions like the alchemist college lack the lived details of places like Elias' home, and the volume's final spectacle relied on a dramatic twist that made me question how the magical auction house had survived this long. Revealing the skeletal mechanics of your invented world only works if those bones can actually bear its substance.
That said, this volume's dramatic shift easily succeeds both as a propulsive narrative and as a continued reflection on the manga's characters. The competence that saves Chise in the volume's early chapters here makes her perfectly believable as a key player in a dragon heist, validating all the work Magus' Bride has done to build her character. Elias' unsustainable relationship with Chise prompts satisfying sparks with the alchemists, and the auction sequence offers the opportunity for many new kinds of drama. Altogether, Magus' Bride's story embraces its new dramatic scale with relieving grace.
Visually, this volume is a bit more conservative than most. The show's character art is as attractive as ever, but much of this volume is taken up by close panels of faces exchanging words. The manga's tendency to often avoid background art entirely feels like a real missed opportunity here, as new settings like the alchemist college and magical auction aren't given the visual context necessary to inspire wonder or feel real. And while the actual kidnapping of the dragons is a real visual feast, the confrontation at the auction house gets somewhat muddled, its overreliance on closeups somewhat dampening its drama. That said, a below-average volume of Magus' Bride is still a very pretty thing, and there's plenty to marvel at here.
Overall, The Ancient Magus' Bride's seventh volume demonstrates both slight growing pains and satisfying payoff, as Chise starts to become a truly great mage. If this is the beginning of her legend, it's a fine place to start.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Expands the scale of Magus' Bride in interesting ways while still emphasizing the great character work at its core
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