#1 Beauty and the Beast
Chise Hatori has magical powers. Since childhood she has been able to see monsters invisible to everyday people, yet in time this caused her to be ostracized by society and abandoned by her parents. She has lived life lonely and in fear, and eventually decided that she would end it. However, her suicide was interrupted by a curious man who offered to let somebody else have her life instead.
Due to her magical powers, Chise agreed to be sold off at a secret auction where mages and alchemists gather to purchase wares. At this auction, the English magus Elias Ainsworth approached the podium and put down an enormous sum of money to buy her on the spot. He’d take Chise home with him and make her his apprentice… and bride.
The love between a woman and a monster is a classic story and this particular couple is an enchanting one. Elias is a creature that doesn’t entirely understand human emotion, but is trying to improve and does genuinely feel different when he is around Chise, even if he can’t quite identify the sensation. Chise, meanwhile, is endlessly thankful for having a home after a lifetime of neglect, but she is fearful of losing it all if she ever upset Elias or he’d grow bored of her. Their relationship is an unbalanced one and a lot of the story deals with the two finding ways to grow closer together and better understand their partners, while also overcoming their own, deeply-ingrained shortcomings.
Chise has to rediscover her self-worth and learn to see Elias as more than just the person who saved her and who she is dependent on. Elias, meanwhile, has to find his inner humanity, give voice to his mysterious feelings, and open up to a human girl he doesn’t quite understand.
#2 Amazing fantasy world
Ancient Magus’ Bride is a damn beautiful anime. Set mostly in old-timey London and the surrounding countryside, it’s made exceedingly clear that the team at Wit Studio was determined to take viewers into Chise’s world.
The team actually went to England to take in the atmosphere and study how Chise’s world should look. In interviews, director Norihiro Naganuma even remarked how his team paid attention to how the skies of England look and what the weather is like. This dedication has truly paid off, as Ancient Magus’ Bride is a show full of eye-candy and animation that is consistently impressive.
The various creatures are another nice touch. While some of the “evil” monsters look a tad generic, the show does a solid job of populating its scenes with interesting fantasy critters and fae creatures. The most famous of which being the Wooly Bugs, which get an entire episode dedicated to shearing them. I don’t know who has the rights to make merchandise for this show, but they need to get some Wooly Bug plushies on the market.
#3 Elias’ design
Not only is the world of Ancient Magus’ Bride breathtaking, but I am also very much in love with the design of Elias Ainsworth. This is one of those manga that I just bought based on the cover art alone; one glance at that image of a formally-dressed magus with an animal skull for a head and I was sold. I wanted to know more about him.
In animation, Elias’ design is just as cool as it was in the manga and I took a liking to the reserved voice given to him by Brian Mathis. It’s very dignified without harming the mystique of the character.
What exactly Elias is remains a question throughout much of the show. He’s neither Human nor Fae, yet discriminated by both. Alchemists, the church, other mages, the fae, everybody keeps him at arm’s length and openly mocks him. Episodes that dig into his past are very interesting and an important part of Chise getting to know just who she is falling in love with.
#4 Road to learning magic
Magic, in the world of Ancient Magus’ Bride, is dying out. Magical creatures have gone into hiding and those who still practice sorcery and alchemy do so under the scrutiny of the church and largely out of sight. In Elias’ words: if Chise learns how to use magic, she may well be part of the final generation of mages.
It’s a thought-provoking setting with many clever details and it’s fascinating to watch Chise learn how to use her powers. She is a Sleigh Beggy, a special type of magus that both generates and absorbs vast quantities of magic. This allows her to start using high-level spells not long after Elias begins tutoring her, yet it also makes her unstable and prone to self-injury. On top of that, Sleigh Beggies die young due to how much magic they exhaust.
Elias’ main ambition throughout the story is to find a way to limit Chise’s ability and extend her life expectancy, but this is frustrated by Chise herself. She knows that she has power and wants to use it to help people when she can. Whether this is selfless and heroic or youthful stupidity is up to the viewer to decide.
The romance between Elias and Chise is the main appeal of the series and, while there is an overarching storyline with a villain that needs to be defeated, I actually find that to be the series’ weakest aspect. Truth be told, Ancient Magus’ Bride is at its best when it focuses on short storylines with semi-recurring characters.
As I mentioned before, Chise is the kind of person that can’t just ignore it when somebody is having a hard time. Elias isn’t as selfless, but owes the church some favors and is often asked to sort out magic-related problems around the world.
The short stories always involve interesting characters, many of which are introduced earlier or stick around and become part of the recurring cast. This allows the show to have impactful, emotional storylines, such as an episode where Chise helps a dying man meet the faerie woman he fell in love with many years earlier, but who he can’t actually see under normal circumstances.