As The Ancient Magus’ Bride begins, Hatori Chise feels worthless.1
Shuffled from relative to relative after her father left her and her mother committed suicide, Chise no longer cares if she lives or dies. Cheery. Willing to do anything for a real home, she sells herself as a slave in a magical marketplace.
You see, Chise can see faeries and spirits and control them better than any other mage in the world, but this leaves her with a shortened lifespan. Seriously, how much more depressing could this get?
Rather than see her abused and left to die, a half-faerie mage named Elias rescues Chise. He takes her back to his home in England to be his apprentice, and perhaps someday … his bride.
Elias’s intentions are pure. He only wishes for human companionship. He is too much faerie to be human, and too human to be faerie. So, caught in the terrible twilight, he rescues a girl in the same spot in hopes of claiming some form of humanity. Under Elias’s protection, Chise dares to feel again, and finds herself surrounded by more friends than she could imagine.
Elias is the friend of the elemental creatures, and is kind and gentle, most of the time. He doesn’t quite get humans, and this is not uncommon with faeries in folklore. So Chise teaches him about empathy and other human virtues. Being formerly an Unseelie fae, Elias can’t process emotions as words, only sensations. He has to learn from Chise the names of what he feels. This is the main gist of the show, the reclamation and restoration of humanity.
Since this show is called The Ancient Magus’s Bride, and we are working with faeries and such, there is quite a bit of magic. Elias, Chise, and other mages are seen to be singing chants to the elements to make them do their bidding. Each mage also has at least one familiar, a faerie that helps them him or her do magic. In the context of this series, the familiars are there to help the mage amplify and control their magic, nothing more. So far, fortune-telling has not come up. Necromancy has come up, and is viewed as disgusting and perverted, and something no honest mage would do.
Chise’s faerie is called Ruth, a black dog that can transform into a boy about Chise’s age. He’s a boy dog, but his name is Ruth–like Babe Ruth? Anyway, ln his former life, Ruth, then Ulysse, was the pet of a girl who looked something like Chise. When his girl is killed in a tragic accident, the faithful dog stays by her grave until he too passes. Just when thought it couldn’t get more depressing! Buddhist theology teaches that humans and creatures who do good are “upgraded” upon their death into something better as a reward for their good work. In this case from a normal, if very intelligent dog to a powerful faerie that can take human form. Part of the ceremony that binds Chise and Ruth involves cutting her palm. Also some of Ruth’s lines hark back to the biblical Book of Ruth.
Many characters have Biblical names, and certain aspects of the series are associated with Christianity. One of Elias’s friends is Father Simon, a priest charged with looking after him. Elias doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t mind so long as the church doesn’t bother him. He does favors for the Church in exchange for not having people checking in on him every day. That does not stop him from helping people that Simon sends his way, doling out gentle natural medicines. Chise also goes to Simon for help when she needs it.
The Queen of the Faeries, Titania, refers dismissively to God and the Church (also not uncommon to unseelie faeries in folklore) and both she and King Oberon are morally ambiguous. Elias is put out by the Queen’s dismissal of Father Simon and the faeries’ general moral ambiguity, which is implied to be his reason for leaving Tir Na Nog. Titania says that the human world is toxic to the soul and that’s why humans age and die. (Theologically, can’t say she’s entirely wrong. Sin is toxic.) The forest god Cernunnos and his pregnant bride show up in the Christmas-themed episode for about five seconds. There are also witches who try to get Chise to join their coven in exchange for saving her life.
There are some sexual content concerns. Titania’s dress is very open at the top, leaving very little to the imagination. This pattern is repeated with Cernunnos’s bride and a faerie named Leanan Sidhe (LEE-an-NAN SHEE). Leanan lives in the garden of an elderly man named Joel, but contrary to her type (vampire) she does not hurt him. After his death, she never hurts another man again. In two episodes, Chise tends to a wounded and frightened Elias in his room. This appears to be entirely chaste, though Elias struggles not to eat Chise at one point. Chise also gives Elias a kiss on the cheek. In the first episode, Elias helps Chise get ready for a bath, and we later see her side and back, never anything more than that. Chise is humiliated, but Elias doesn’t understand her embarrassment. And this is all before they get married for real–when Chise is 16.
To his detriment, Elias shows himself to be jealous, possessive, and stalker-y at times, demanding to know where Chise is at all times. He claims it’s so he can protect her, but I have my doubts. Chise is more than capable of defending herself and Ruth does everything he can to protect her, and is often of more use than Elias. Elias does not respect Chise’s personal space, clearly not comprehending it makes her uncomfortable.
Blood is also on display, for instance if Chise uses too much magic it can cause her to vomit blood. There are also incidents of bloody violence, much of it involving Chise. Disturbing monsters and imagery abound, adding a gloss of horror to the this usually strictly urban fantasy genre anime. Recurring villain Cartaphilus (aka, the Wandering Jew) loses an arm, takes one from another man, and then tries to kill Chise. He uses parts from Ruth’s young mistress to create an undead monster. One of the minor characters, Alice used to be a drug addict, and defends herself from her former dealer. A faerie doctor fakes drowning Chise in order to heal her wounds. An Unseelie called Ashen Eye kidnaps Elias and a little boy and uses words to entrap foolish humans, including Chise. There is also the occasional swear word (strongest used is the P-word).
In all, The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a beautiful, but confused mess, much like its hero. The show has much truth and beauty, but it is spiritually confused. Much like Elias himself, it can’t escape its own web of confusion, therefore, my stamp of disapproval rests on this show. Ancient Magus’ Bride had lots of promise, but it embodies everything people criticize about “Beauty and the Beast” stories and fairy tales in general, not to mention it’s just plain depressing. Move over Phantom, Elias is going to give you a run for your money!