Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The Ancient Magus' Bride
Summoning all of her strength, Chise managed to calm a panicking baby dragon, and save the first of the aerie's two stolen chicks. Unfortunately, disarming this young dragon required taking its magical energy into her own body, and now Chise finds herself beset with a terrible and rapidly life-draining new curse. As Chise's strength dwindles, she and Elias will be forced to rely on allies old and new as they seek some way to break this curse. And with Elias' feelings for Chise now driving him to genuine desperation, the answers he finds may come at a heavy cost, or shake his bond with his apprentice forever.
The Ancient Magus' Bride's seventh volume represented a key turning point in heroine Chise's emotional development. Having started the series at a point where she valued herself so slightly that she literally let herself be sold as property, Chise has gained close friends and confidence, and begun to find value in her own life. Though she's remained a dangerously selfless person, she's gained agency and goals of her own, and both that fundamental selflessness and hard-fought personal strength were in vivid display during her dragon-saving gambit. Volume seven demonstrated a genuine potential future for Chise, a vision of herself that she could actually come to love.
Unfortunately, Chise's bold actions have come at a terrible cost. Volume eight opens with the reveal that calming that dragon required drawing its formidable magical energy into Chise's own body, resulting in a curse that will undoubtedly kill her. From the vaguely threatening death clock of her sleigh beggy nature, Chise has now shifted to a curse whose progression can be measured in mere days, and whose influence keeps her struggling just to stand. Just as Chise has learned life is worth living, she finds herself approaching death's door.
The specter of the dragon's curse lends a welcome sense of urgency and focus to this volume, as Chise and Elias cast about for some sort of cure. It also offers natural chances for Magus' Bride to expand on its magical worldbuilding, as the two consult with organizations ranging from the alchemist college to a local coven of witches, all of whom practice very different styles of magic. Chise and Elias' visit to that coven actually reminded me of early Magus' Bride, where much of the story's appeal came from simply learning how the pieces of this fantastical world fit together. I loved the witches' unusual style of dress, as well as how the tenor of their discussions came off more like a local bridge club than a cabal of spellcasters. Magus' Bride's system of magic and interlocking fantastical societies are ever a joy to explore, and this volume smartly leans on that strength even as it progresses its central narrative.
As far as that narrative goes, while “Chise gets yet another curse” didn't strike me as a particularly novel turn, I greatly appreciated how that curse ends up progressing both Chise and Elias' understanding of themselves, as well as their perspectives on their relationship. From struggling to find any value in her own life, Chise has now come to understand both that she has inherent value, and that others care about her deeply enough for their concern to be a genuine responsibility. Chise's hard-earned wisdom comes through clearly both in her ever-more-careful dealings with magical tricksters, as well as her gentle acknowledgments that she must take care of herself both for her own sake and for the sake of those she loves.
While Chise's new predicament ultimately results in a number of welcome personal revelations for her, its effect on Elias is far more ambiguous. From a position of not even being able to parse the emotions of humans, Elias now finds himself caring for another even more than he cares for himself, and desperate to help Chise in any way he can. Magus' Bride has wrung satisfying drama out of Elias awakening to his childlike emotions before, but the contrasting paths of Chise and Elias feel more poignant than ever here, and their ultimate clash virtually inevitable. I found myself once again stunned by how well this story manages to illustrate unhealthy but emotionally genuine relationships, and the ways fractured people can end up hurting the people they love.
In visual terms, this volume of Magus' Bride falls on the more conservative side, and its heavy conversational focus doesn't leave too much room for stunning setpieces. What highlights do exist are as strong as ever, from the otherworldly reveal of the witches' coven to Chise's negotiations with Kore Yamazaki's beautifully designed fairy folk, and it actually felt possible to see Chise's emotional development in Yamazaki's careful expression work. Likely my biggest complaint with both the artistry and the volume overall would be that some of the paneling through this volume's middle stretch felt somewhat confusing, and made it difficult to follow the course of some conversations. Close-up panels with no backgrounds are one thing, but when you array a bunch of those panels next to each other, and center them on two separate conversations between sets of characters with very similar appearances, things start to get muddled.
That confusion aside, Magus' Bride's eighth volume is a terrific effort on the whole, and steers this narrative into engaging and emotionally gripping new territory. Chise has grown enough to genuinely stand apart from Elias now, and the consequences of that growth are resulting in poignant drama all around. The Ancient Magus' Bride remains a thrilling and beautiful read.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Consequences of Chise's actions result in both vivid personal drama and welcome insights into Magus' Bride's world
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