Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The Ancient Magus' Bride
Having fled from Elias' home after discovering his unspeakable plan, Chise finds herself hiding out with the most dangerous of hosts - the ancient and vengeful Cartaphilus. Though the two have crossed blows in the past, with Chise rapidly dying from a dragon's curse, her old foe may now be the only one who can save her. As Cartaphilus begins a bloody ritual intended to resolve both of their curses, Chise will have to once again face the unhappy memories that first led her to lose hope for her own life. Chise may not ever truly forgive her family, but if she wishes to survive this ordeal, she will have to at last leave her painful past behind her.
The Ancient Magus' Bride's eighth volume ended with Elias betraying Chise's trust so completely that he drove her into the arms of their mutual foe, the mysterious Cartaphilus. Across this ninth volume, both Cartaphilus' and Chise's own ancient histories are finally revealed, in a volume that brings this manga's most lengthy and ambitious arc to a roaring conclusion. Volume nine is Magus' Bride at its most poignant and its most propulsive, a cathartic capstone to everything the series has accomplished so far. It is far from a perfect volume, but it's a thrilling conclusion to what may ultimately serve as Magus' Bride's first act.
Cartaphilus has been a figure of menace and mystery in the past, but here, he quickly proves himself to be a direct foil for Chise. Certain that a transplant between their bodies could break at least his own curse, if not Chise's as well, he convinces our heroine to first trade one eye with his, in order to develop a tolerance for the other within each of them. But of course, Cartaphilus is not a person to be trusted, and so his “gift” swiftly plunges us into Chise's memories of her absent parents and first home.
This flashback, and the Cartaphilus-aimed one that follows, demonstrate both great thematic poignancy, and also a fair amount of narrative messiness. Cartaphilus-slash-Josef's story felt a little underwritten to me, while Chise's demonstrated Kore Yamazaki's consistent difficulty making mundane human drama feel as convincing as her more fantastical material. But in spite of those issues, these chapters offer such an emotionally and satisfying conclusion to Chise's childhood trauma that I can't really feel disappointed at all.
There is little solace offered in Chise's reunion with her mother. Though this flashback offers an “explanation” for her actions, it doesn't truly justify them - and Chise herself understands this. Confronted by a ghost of her past begging for forgiveness, Chise finds the strength to honestly say “no, I do not forgive you. But I can move past you.” With both Chise and Cartaphilus suffering from tremendous wounds inflicted by an uncaring world, each of them are forced to come to terms with the fact that the world will never offer recompense, or even a just outlet for expelling that pain. And as flashbacks end and the final battle begins, The Ancient Magus' Bride demonstrates Chise's strength and growth through her ultimate acceptance of that fact, and sympathy for her haunted foe.
The latter half of this volume is dominated by that battle, and pulls in basically every character who's possessed some relevance over the last several volumes. The results are somewhat mixed, particularly throughout Elias' arrival and Chise's first clash with Cartaphilus. I felt the need to apparently draw in all the relevant parties made this sequence feel far too busy and disjointed, and had difficulty making head or tale of the action during Cartaphilus' escape sequence. Yamazaki has never been particularly great at paneling out action sequences, lacking the mastery of beat-to-beat movement and clear storyboarding that makes comic action shine. That, plus the frustrating dearth of actual backgrounds, meant it was hard to tell much what was happening until the feud resolved itself into Chise and her closest allies finally squaring off with Cartaphilus.
Fortunately, that last confrontation is a triumph both visually and emotionally, demonstrating both Yamazaki's remarkable creative vision and Chise's profound growth as a character. Casting ancient curses and malicious tricksters against forest spirits and old gods, volume nine's climax rises to a glorious peak of visual fantasy, only to resolve with the most simple and pure of reconciliations. Both Chise's self-sacrificing nature and Elias' overly protective one are challenged, and though neither of them become genuinely different people, they each learn to acknowledge their own weaknesses and accept the frailties of their partner. This volume ultimately serves as a deeply compassionate reflection on the difficulty of accepting the cruelties of the world, and the strength it takes to accept one another.
All in all, in spite of its occasionally frustrating visual issues and inconsistent writing, Magus' Bride's ninth volume is one of the most captivating and emotionally rich volumes so far, and an inspiring validation of Chise's emotional growth. The manga could very well have ended right here, and consider itself an entirely self-contained and deeply rewarding story of coming to love yourself. I applaud Magus' Bride for hitting this critical landmark, and can't wait to see where Chise and Elias' journey takes them from here.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Resolves both Chise's personal arc and the dragon arc with flair and compassion, demonstrating great sensitivity in Chise's newfound strength
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