「Talk of the Devil, and He is Sure to Appear」
I can say this about Mahoutsukai no Yome so far – it’s delivering on every level. I was expecting it to be a leading contender for the best series of the fall, and it’s pacing the field right now. I was expecting Wit to deliver gorgeous backgrounds and fluid animation, and they’ve done it. And every episode has been a near letter-faithful adaptation of the corresponding manga chapters, with only very minor changes made for the sake of narrative fluidity. If anything the anime is an even more engrossing experience than the manga, but with this studio and staff on-board that’s no surprise either.
While I have a few niggles with the writing of the manga, on balance I think The Ancient Magus’ Bride is an excellent series that has an undeniable quality of “specialness” to it. And one of my favorite aspects of Yamazaki-sensei’s work here is that she takes her time setting things up – characters arcs progress at a natural pace, and events never seem to be rushed to a conclusion. That’s especially welcome in the era of the light novel, when even many manga rush through development in order to appeal to an audience bereft of attention spans. I have heard complaints that Chise is too passive, too helpless – but given her background, how could anyone expect this girl to overcome her issues and change overnight?
This part of the story is largely concerned with Chise’s education, largely an experiential one. But Elias is teaching her along with life, albeit slowly – at this point she’s helping out in the apothecary side of the business, but her sense of proportion could still use a little work. Her first prescriptions run a little potent (a potion to prevent nightmares turns into a sleeping potion), but before she has a chance to fine tune her skills Elias takes her out on another job – the third and theoretically final one he has to do for the Church.
Why does Elias have to do these jobs? “A long time ago, I made a mistake” he tells Chise cryptically. It’s hard to imagine anyone forcing Elias to do something he truly doesn’t wish to do, but we don’t know what consequences there might be for his refusal. This particular assignment is to investigate a black dog that’s been seen around a village church – a possible “church grim”. This – like almost every legend in Mahoutsukai – is a part of real-world folklore, again from the British Isles and Scandinavia. The church grim does not always have to be a black dog (the reason why it often is one is grim, indeed) but that’s the most common form the apparition takes.
By the time Elias and Chise arrive, a crowd has gathered around a mutilated dead body, horribly scratched and bitten. There’s company here, too – Alice is on-hand. And when Chise wanders into the graveyard to investigate, she sees malevolent spirits gathered by many gravestones – and an especially terrifying one accosts her. She’s saved by a young man named Ulysse (Uchiyama Kouki), who notes that she reminds him of his sister Isabelle before morphing into a black dog, then passing out from what appear to be grave wounds.
The other part of this story is Joseph (Murase Ayumu) who’s blackmailed Renfred (whose arm he’s taken) and Alice into providing him materials – materials he needs to produce chimera (Joseph is not doing the reputation of sorcerers any good). Alice describes him as a kid – which is how we’ve seen him of course – but says that his form appears to be strangely “overlapping”. Alice sees the dog as potential material to offer up to Joseph, but Chise won’t have that – and she (rather proactively) uses her accidental sleeping potion to help Alice take an unplanned nap.
Give Joseph credit – he’s managed to do something no one else has been able to so far, and that’s push Elias into showing his true form. It’s probably just as well Chise was unconscious when that happened (though not that the reason was that she’d just been impaled by a giant thorny tentacle), because it certainly would have been traumatic seeing him that way. The only conscious being who doesn’t seem horrified is Joseph – whose visage is as infuriatingly scornful and mocking as ever. What happens when a sorcerer and a mage stare each other down with hostile intent? In a series that’s overfond of cliffhangers, we’ll have to wait until next week to find out.