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Revised: Examining Anime: The Ancient Magus Bride’s First Season (2017) directed by Norihiro Naganuma.
Revised: Examining Anime: The Ancient Magus Bride's First Season (2017) directed by Norihiro Naganuma.

Revised: Examining Anime: The Ancient Magus Bride’s First Season (2017) directed by Norihiro Naganuma.

“What level of righteousness must one possess to be considered a saint?”

The idea of ‘beauty and the beast’ has recently been a popular trend in the anime community, with shows like “Somali and the Forest Spirit” gaining recognition. However, even before the Satelight and Hornets produced series, there was another anime that deviated significantly from the traditional portrayal of this concept: “The Ancient Magus Bride” based on the manga by Kore Yamazaki.

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Chise Hatori has spent her childhood being passed around by relatives, with no mother or father to care for her. Eventually, she finds herself at an unexpected auction where she is sold as a Sleigh Beggy, a special magus who can harness magic from her surroundings and from within herself. Elias Ainsworth, a being with both fae and human characteristics, purchases Chise and takes her on as his apprentice. As Chise learns about Elias’s world, which includes dragons, fairies, witches, vampires, mad scientists, and ancient evil beings, she is also faced with the startling news that Elias plans to make her his bride. Despite the challenges of understanding Elias’s past and his lack of empathy, the two grow closer as he becomes determined to protect her and extend her lifespan, knowing that her powers will ultimately weaken and cause her to die at a young age, like all other Sleigh Beggys.

Norihiro Naganuma directs a series that has multiple layers and features various popular anime tropes, although not all of them are effective. One of the prevalent tropes is the “villain of the week,” which dominates the majority of the season, unlike most anime that shift their focus to a central plot. The most frustrating aspect of the series is Chise’s constant need to be rescued or collapsing after using her powers, perpetuating the “damsel-in-distress” trope. This repetitive approach makes it difficult to binge-watch the show. Lastly, the frequent use of exaggerated facial expressions and body-swapping for comedic effect may seem overdone to some viewers.

The checkmarks on the benefits category are numerous, and they gain intensity as the plot develops. For instance, the “villain of the week” trope is portrayed in a unique manner, not solely focusing on villains, but also incorporating benevolent characters and compelling side stories. The Leanan Sidhe, for example, who falls in love with an older man unable to see her, is particularly captivating to watch. Similarly, the arc of Cartaphilus, which eventually intertwines with other storylines, becomes a central one with increasing intensity and appeal as the plot progresses, ultimately reaching its climax in the season finale. The transformation of black dog Ruth into Chise’s familiar, Angelica’s maternal role towards the protagonist, Renfred’s missing hand, and Alice’s past as a drug addict all add depth and interest to the overall storyline.

The show excels in developing the two main characters and their dynamic. Despite the issues with Chise, her tragic past and the question of her power’s potential make up for it. Elias’s origins and nature are also captivating, with mysterious traits such as lacking empathy and references to consuming humans adding to his enigma. However, his strength and its comparison to his enemies remains unclear and could have been presented more effectively.

The traits that contribute to the characters’ personalities also play a significant role in their evolving relationship over time. Elias expressing his desire to marry Chise ultimately affects their dynamic, and their unique and unexpected approach to this situation reveals Chise’s acceptance and sets the foundation for the budding romance between them. It is intriguing to observe how their connection evolves, at times resembling a father-daughter relationship and other times a mother-son relationship, especially when Elias struggles to handle his newfound emotions. The varying dynamics of their relationship add depth to the narrative and prevent it from falling into the predictable “will-they-won’t-they” trope, although this element is still present.

Finally, there is another characteristic that largely stems from the previously mentioned. This is the gradual transition towards a darker tone in the storyline as time progresses, with the final episodes of the season reaching the pinnacle of this aspect. However, this darker tone is present throughout the narrative. While Norihiro Nagamura does not fully explore this potential, its inclusion in the storytelling undoubtedly enhances its overall impact.

The emphasis of this show is on its storytelling and characters, however the technical aspects are occasionally lacking and show signs of aging. While Hirotaka Kato’s character design includes appealing characters, some of the female characters are sexualized for fanservice. The transformations, particularly of Elias, are well-done, but the facial expressions are lacking and often appear blunt. The use of “silly faces” does not improve this issue. The changes in background from cheerful to ominous are effective, though lacking in detail, except for the final episodes which are the highlight of the season. The animation by Wit Studio is functional, but not exceptional.

Even though there were technical and storytelling issues, “The Ancient Magus Bride” has a compelling plot and well-developed characters that make up for it. This series will definitely please those who prioritize context in their anime.