「Look Before You Leap」
It’s the end of another long day (and night – this is Mardi Gras after all) in New Orleans. And I’m exhausted, with another early morning ahead of me tomorrow. But there’s always time for a show as good as Mahoutsukai no Yome, even if it’s maybe not quite as much time as I’d like this week. With as barren as the schedule is of really elite (and not just very good) anime, a show like this one is all the more noteworthy and valuable. I try not to forget just how good it really is.
This is another one of my favorite mini-arcs from the manga – all too brief in anime form, though one might not despair for that too much given the preview. As many arcs in this series (and a lot of other really good ones do) the Barklem arc functions in two ways – as a compelling side story in its own right, and as a device to shed insight on the main characters in the story. It concerns the Barklem siblings (briefly seen last week) – older sister Stella and younger brother Ethan, both visiting their grandma in the vicinity of Elias’ house.
After a rare cold open revealing that Stella’s parents have forgotten her brother’s name, we jump into this story with the afterglow of Christmas at the Ainsworth house. Elias’ gift to Chise does indeed have a trick to it – it absorbs her extra magic and converts it into crystal flowers (on the bear’s head). Chise has received gifts from many, but has none to give herself – a reflection of how much her life has indeed changed. Simon she can at least thank in person, but she’s barely out the door (with a now-suspicious Elias in tow) when Stella accosts her, desperate for help in finding her brother.
The most interesting part of this exchange for me comes when Elias seemingly possesses Chise in order to demand payment from Stella – obviously this isn’t as invasive as it appears, but it’s a rather jarring moment. The demand for payment seems to be a crucial part of the relationship when it comes to mages, even something as trivial as sweets. An agreement is quickly reached, and the local neighbor population is recruited (bribed) for help in finding the missing boy. Once the magic flowers are exhausted, payment must be extended in a rather more painful fashion.
One wonders if Elias would have accepted the job if he’d known Ashen Eye was at the heart of Ethan’s disappearance – I think not, as much as he “hates old creatures”. Ashen Eye is a terrifying enigma – one suspects that when a being is an ancient as he, boredom must be the greatest enemy there is. The bonds of family are put to the test here, as Ashen Eye gives the children a harsh lesson in the power of words – powerful enough to break a bond between siblings.
The metaphor is clear here – words hurt, sometimes enough to break up a family, and hurtful things once said can be apologized for, but never truly taken back. Of course children say cruel things like “I don’t need a little brother like you!” all the time in unthinking fashion, but Ashen Eye is quick to remind Stella of just how powerful even unthinking words can be. I don’t think he’s evil, this one – but he is both unimaginably powerful (Elias cannot even attempt to stand against him) and mischievous. And that’s an incredibly dangerous combination.
As for Chise, this is bittersweet to say the least – as if her tragic past life weren’t enough, part of what she lost was a little brother. And when Ashen Eye snatched Elias too in a bid to make his day more interesting, she’s reminded in starkest terms just how much he’s come to mean to her. Meanwhile Elias proves to be singularly ill-suited to fend off the curiosity of a child and in desperation, chooses a new form to try and do so. Chise does what she has to do (ironically, making use of the pelt that Ashen Eye gave her) and two broken bonds are repaired. Chise comes away from the deal with a new friend, too – all the more reminder of how different her new life is becoming. As for Ashen Eye, he gets what he came for (in more ways than one) and is satisfied to cede the field, but those eyes of his are always watching…