「God’s Mill Grinds Slow but Sure」
One thing which I think is even more noticeable in the anime version of Mahoutsukai no Yome than the manga is the interesting flow of this series. I’m reminded of a river with many meanders, some of which come so close to overlap that one can glance over and see what’s to come, only to have the course of the water flow away again. Then one day, around the latest bend, you realize that the course of the river has taken you back to something familiar but temporarily forgotten.
There’s a strong sense of that here, as the narrative leisurely takes us back to reintegrate with elements from the past and teases us with glimpses of what’s to come. More than anything this is one of those episodes of The Ancient Magus Bride that seems in no hurry to get much done – it revels in the quiet magic of the moment for the most part. This series can make one feel the power ancient mysteries still hold over the human psyche better than any in recent memory – it’s that timeless thing again, the way past and future seem to lose some of their definition. We may scorn ancient superstitions these days, but most have little idea that the customs they habitually live their lives by were shaped by those old rituals.
Christmas is one of those customs, of course – based on the Yule tradition which predates Christianity’s arrival in Western Europe, dating back at least to Odin worship and possibly much earlier. As with most Christian holidays it’s a pagan festival sanitized for the believers’ consumption, but in the world of The Ancient Magus’ Bride the old traditions still hold sway. The “Yule Twins“, the mistletoe (that was even more adorable in anime form), the Wild Hunt – there are echoes of a mysterious world all through Elias and Chise’s preparation for the Day of Yule.
That said, Chise is a modern girl (albeit from Japan, where Christmas is still another sort of festival), and Elias is learning how to act like a modern human, so Christmas has its say, too. That’s especially so when Alice sends a feathered courier asking Chise to meet her in London – a little mystery all to itself. Chise sneaks out, knowing Elias would forbid her to go alone or (perhaps worse) insist on coming with her. As is he sends a little spy, and of course Ruth is along for the ride to Paddington as well. Alice’s request, as it happens, is for some help choosing a gift for Renfred – which prompts Chise to consider that she ought to get something for Elias (remember, in Japan Christmas is more a dating holiday than a gift-exchange one).
Alice is an interesting case, a sort of antagonistic ally so far – she and Renfred representing something very different and generally antagonistic towards Elias. But in many ways she’s quite a natural friend for Chise, who lacks companionship from girls roughly her own age – and both of them have deeply painful pasts (as most in this story seem to have). Alice’s intrudes itself on an otherwise pleasant holiday shopping trip in London, and it’s only Alice’s fierceness and Ruth’s ability to be intimidating that prevents things from getting really ugly. Chise insists that Alice share her story (she’s all about sharing painful pasts now), and it seems clear that even if sorcerers and wizards are naturally enemies, Renfred is a decent and compassionate man and Alice would do anything to protect him.
Chise’s gift for Elias turns out to be a bolo tie (which, if I’m honest, looks to my eye exactly the same as his old one). His to her is a little more impactful – a hand-made and rather enormous teddy which he says “has a trick to it, too”. It’s a quiet and idyllic scene as the two of them sit before the roaring Yule log, Silky silently puttering about the house, the gifts from Chise’s new extended family waiting for Christmas morning. Perhaps most significantly Chise notes that she’s actually looking forward to waking up in the morning – which is only significant when one considers just how much of a revelation that is for her. But as it does, Mahoutsukai ends with a nod to what’s to come, not what’s come before – a coming-together of two, one very young and glimpsed briefly in London, and one enormously old and not to be trusted…