「The Faerie Queene」
Today was a very impressive day for anime in general, and more specifically a testament to the gap that usually exists between the premier studios and the mere mortals of the industry. All three tentpole series on my calendar – Hoozuki no Reitetsu, Kekkai Sensen and Mahoutsukai no Yome – delivered superb and beautiful episodes. Kekkai and Mahoutsukai were especially stunning visually, as befits the likes of Bones and Wit (nee Production I.G.). These are studios that generally have reasonable budgets and sane production schedules even for their domestically-funded series, and it really shows – while a series like Made in Abyss will pop up (Kinema Citrus is closely linked to Bones, of course) occasionally, the gap between the top tier and the rest seems to be getting wider and wider.
Earlier I called Kekkai Sensen’s Episode 6 the most visually striking anime ep of the season, but Mahoutsukai certainly re-stated its case in very strong terms with its own sixth outing. Visually these two shows are as different as chalk and cheese but each showed off what makes them special today. The production values for this series have been impressive and consistent, but this ep was especially gorgeous – The Ancient Magus’ Bride is that rare series that impresses both when it’s standing still and when it’s in motion.
I’ve noted that for me at least, there are some elements of this series which hold it back from being an all-out masterpiece, but I will say this – so far at least, whatever issues are present are inherent to the source material. In my view the anime is capturing everything that’s great and good about the manga (which is a lot) – but it’s flat-out better. The experience of Mahoutsukai is more magical in anime form, and the experience is a big part of what makes this series special. It’s a mood piece to be certain, and as strong as the characters and plots are it’s the world-building that allows you to be caught up in them.
The hints about what underpins the story and especially Elias’ character are flying thicker than crane flies at Libra HQ here, but it’s worth remembering that Elias isn’t a stationary colossus, but a river at flow – he changes and develops just like a normal human would. He’s not a normal human, that’s clear enough – half-baked, a shell creature, “not human, spirit or fairy” – Elias Ainsworth elicits many descriptions (not least from himself). But one must ask – is what Chise sees in his eyes something that’s genuinely there, or something she’s projecting from inside herself? A girl with no family who’s never been loved or cared for – surely her desire to be loved and cared for by someone is strong. Is Elias really capable of either of those things – or both?
In the aftermath of her expenditure of magical energy in the Kingdom of Cats, Chise has once again lost consciousness – this time for two weeks. Elias doesn’t seem especially worried as she rests in the cradle of a giant dead tree surrounded by the creatures of the forest, though whether he’s capable of that isn’t yet clear. But Chise’s presence has brought out two very important visitors – the Queen of the Faeries, Titania (Ohara Sayaka) and the King, Oberon (Yamaguchi Kappei, irrepressible as ever). Their procession also includes the dour Spriggan (Yasumoto Hiroki – it’s a Hoozuki kind of day), who seems especially hostile towards Elias (he notes “all of the people and spirits that were lost because of him”).
Oberon proceeds to wake Chise, seemingly with a healthy infusion of magical power, and she immediately runs into Elias’ arms as soon as she wakes. Neither Titania or Oberon reveal much about what’s beneath the larger-than-life personas they show to Elias and Chise, though their interest in both of them is clear. The real show here, though, is the girl and the mage. Something is happening here, clearly. In Chise’s case it’s obvious enough – she’s allowing herself to feel connected to this strange being who purchased her like a commodity. She even allows that she hopes his plan to prevent her from dying in three years is successful – a watershed moment because it shows that Chise is embracing life, certainly, but all the more in that she seems to be embracing life with Elias.
As ever, Elias and his situation are much more opaque. If we study him as a human being, it seems obvious that he too is developing strong attachments to Chise – though whether they’re paternal or romantic (or both) is harder to discern. But of course Elias is not a human being, as he and those who know him are never shy about reminding us. It’s always an interesting question of what we see when we look at Elias – the being himself, or what we (and Chise) project on him? At the very least it can be said with surety that he has aspirations – aspirations to learn about the bonds that govern the lives of humans, and whether he’s capable of not just understanding them intellectually but feeling them viscerally. For all her great magical power, teaching him this is seemingly the most important role Elias envisions for Chise in his life.