「Any Port in a Storm」
Having some experience with the source material for Mahoutsukai no Yome, there have been a few arcs that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing adapted (principally this one and the “Kingdom of Cats” arc). It’s not because they aren’t good – quite the contrary, in fact. It’s just that mangaka Yamazaki Kore pulls no punches when she goes dark, and while it doesn’t happen all that often, she can go very dark indeed. There’s no despair fatigue to blunt the impact as is the case with something like Devilman Crybaby – when Mahoutsukai goes for the throat, you really feel the cut.
Such is certainly the case with this arc, which was teased by last week’s (weekly) cliffhanger ending. We spent a good deal of time getting to know dragons young and old in the early days of this story, and they all made a big impression in their own way – both on Chise and the audience. So when dragon children are kidnapped by poachers – still worse when they’re shown to be working for Cartaphilus – it certainly sets a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. This is not going to be pleasant, that much is obvious – though just how unpleasant it turns, and how quickly, may be a bit of a shock.
As always, Mahoutsukai finds time to drop in a few interesting teasers about the mysteries of the story – like the mention that Chise is officially dead in Japan (not to mention Chise musing on whose face Elias “borrows” later in the episode – but we’ll get to that) – while it lays out the plot. As Chise lies asleep, Mikhail is in London working with a pair of students – Adolf Stroud (Suzumura Kenichi) and Tory Innis (Konishi Katsuyuki) – to try and prepare to track down the missing dragons. As it happens these two are college students – but this too is a teasing reference to something deeper in the story, a college whose nature Elias seems keen not to share with Chise.
Chise, meanwhile, has a rather disturbing vision/dream where she meets Cartaphilus in London. He seems not himself – his memories not fully intact, roiling in agony from his stolen arm – but his nightmarish visage is enough to finally wake Chise from her two-day repose. The full cast from the college is there, along with Lindel’s Selkie familiar, and it’s clear that they’re all very keen on bringing Elias into the rescue effort. This is a pattern we’ve seen repeat itself numerous times – Elias would just as soon mind his own business, but is more or less forced to help by Chise’s insistence. And given her relationship with the dragon children, there’s no chance Chise is going to be persuaded to sit this one out.
The path of least resistance is to simply purchase the dragons when they come up for auction, and to this end Chise enlists the help of Seth, the agent who brokered her sale to Elias. But this is going to take an enormous amount of money – more, perhaps, than even the combined wealth of the college and the money Seth tells her she (and Elias) is owed from her own sale. There’s another offer of help, too – from a mysterious woman who catches Chise’s ear when the auction seems to be going badly, but is invisible and inaudible to everyone else. Elias, meanwhile, has taken on a form which gives us an insight into his inner thoughts that’s considerably more informative than his usual visage. It’s quite a revealing development for his character in many ways.
In the end, though, all this takes a back seat to what’s happened to the dragon child – and we’re spared none of the gut-wrenching depth of his despair. From being experimented on by Cartaphilus to being bound and manhandled in a cage, the creature has been driven to madness by terror and pain – and Chise is able (whether she wants to or not) to share his emotions. We’re not told the exact details of how the dragon’s transformation happens – whether this is something all magical creatures are capable of it driven to it, or only dragons, or whether it may be a result of Cartaphilus’ experimentation. But whatever to cause, it renders the auction price moot quickly enough – and leaves an enraged fire-breathing dragon rampaging in London (it’s as if Boris Johnson were mayor again). Rarely in Mahoutsukai has the potential for tragedy seemed to exist on so many levels – and to be unavoidable.