「Live and Let Live」
In a time of new beginnings, endings seem to hit even harder.
The first series finale of the season (for me) is certainly from one of the best shows airing, Mahoutsukai no Yome. This is one one of those series review posts where my impulse is to talk more about the series as a whole than the ending – whether that’s an implicit criticism of that ending or not, I can’t say. I do know that on balance I don’t consider the series’ final arc to be its best, or the second cour to be overall as strong as the first. But when you’re starting from as high a baseline as The Ancient Magus’ Bride, that still leaves a lot of room above the Mendoza line.
On some level, a showdown between Cartaphilus and Chise was always going to be a bit of an anti-climax as a series-ender, no matter how well it was brought off. And I don’t think Yamazaki-sensei ever intended it to be one – it’s just a matter of timing, really. This is where the manga is, so the anime either had to focus on this storyline or come up with an altogether original ending (just how original this ending was won’t be known until the next manga chapter releases, which should prove interesting indeed). There isn’t the same level of emotional buy-in as there is with the central characters, no matter how important a villain Joseph is.
To be honest, I’m not absolutely sure I understand exactly what did happen here. It’s obvious that Chise cooked up a plan in advance with Elias (a temporary truce was in effect on that front). Chise more or less goaded Cartaphilus into attacking and seemingly killing her – with the endgame being Elias fusing she and Cartaphilus into one being. Cartaphilus gets some help from Ashen Eye, but he seems more interested in relieving his boredom than actually being an ally. This is the problem with beings that ancient – be it eternal rot or immense boredom, the odds are thin that anyone can be sentient that long and remain sane.
That’s where it gets confusing. Cartaphilus makes mention of being inside Chise with the dragon and coming to an agreement – he’ll keep her alive for a while, and the dragon will someday kill her. But we later find out that the dragon is back with Lindel – and we see Joseph in a hole in the ground seemingly asleep, visited by Chise. There may be an implication here that in fusing Cartaphilus with herself, Chise freed Joseph – and the one in the bed is he alone, freed of Cartaphilus (though that wouldn’t account for the dragon thing). Honestly I think it’s a bit of a jumble, executed (by necessity, albeit) quite a bit too quickly.
At the very least, this whole situation has again revealed what a compassionate creature Chise is. As someone who’s suffered a great deal herself, Chise is more likely than most to empathize with what Cartaphilus has gone through, no matter how many nasty things he’s done. But compassionate or not, I felt that she forgave Elias and Ruth quite a bit too quickly – that was another loose end that I think was tied up too neatly out of expediency. Ruth I can see – he’s just a dog in the end, and his very existence is defined by his loyalty to Chise. But what Elias did was a transgression against everything Chise believes in, and she was far too quick to move past it.
Of course, Chise doesn’t just move past it – she effectively initiates marriage proceedings with Elias. Stella has thrown her a surprise party, and – for some reason – given her a wedding dress. So, adorned as a bride, Chise waits for Elias in the woods and exchanges rings with him. I know it’s a broken record, but this all happens way too quickly for my tastes – even setting aside the two of them just having had their most serious fight, I never got a sense that Chise was ready to make this step. But it’s the final episode and the name of the series is “The Young Magus’ Bride“, after all . It will be very interesting to see if that scene is repeated in the manga.
That all came out sounding more negative than I expected when I started writing this post – I actually thought this episode and this arc were very good, for what they were. Would I have wanted something a little more sanely-paced and elegiac to conclude such a profoundly beautiful series? Sure – but on balance, this way does a good job of giving the anime a sense of finality while still leaving the door open for something more in the future, once the manga has surged ahead by a few dozen chapters (if indeed it lasts that long).
Taken as a whole, I think The Ancient Magus’ Bride firmly stamps Wit as one of the bright lights in anime. They can be relied on for outstanding production values of course, but they also have a sense of how to adapt material faithfully but not slavishly. Anime are not manga, and Wit seems to understand that in a way not every studio does. The best moments of this series were right up there with some of the most beautifully drawn TV anime of the past decade – not just fluidly animated and detailed, but full of soul and creativity.
While there are a few awkward elements to Yamazaki Kore’s writing, on balance I think Mahoutsukai no Yome is a series of considerable power and substance. It explores damaged souls in a way few manga or anime have been able to do, and offers perhaps the most compelling and authentic Japanese take on European mythology in recent years. As a love story, it works – in spite or perhaps even because of the strangeness of it. That two people as lost as Chise and Elias could find each other is a small miracle, but the difficulty for two so broken to forge a healthy bond is never glossed over (apart perhaps from a bit in the finale) or sugarcoated. It’s a great anime, nearly but not quite a masterpiece just like the manga, and I would certainly love to see it someday get a finale fully worthy of that.