Review: The Ancient Magus’ Bride – Part 1 (DVD / Blu-Ray Combo)

Having been rejected by her family and ostracised due to her ability to see strange creatures, Chise Hatori has lost all meaning and purpose in her life and sells herself at an auction house to the highest bidder. Interestingly, the highest bidder is a mysterious mage by the name of Elias Ainsworth, an imposing humanoid figure with an animal skull for a head. Elias reveals that Chise is what is known as a ‘Sleigh Beggy’, a being with an aptitude for magic who is capable of drawing power from their surroundings and within themselves. Elias takes Chise to his home in Britain, teaching her magic as his apprentice while she in turn teaches him what it is to be human. However, Chise quickly learns that Elias not only intends to make her his apprentice, but his bride as well.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a fantasy of dark and comical proportions nestled into a setting that feels timeless thanks to great world-building and a solid sense of reality. It follows the story of Chise and her mysterious teacher Elias, as Chise learns how to navigate the world and her understanding of it now that she is learning magic. This release by Madman includes the first half of the series and covers Chise growing accustomed to her new life and responsibilities as Elias’ apprentice, while learning the fantastical and dangerous aspects of magic and the different lengths beings will go to use it. The series expertly introduces intriguing characters and premises that either hint at things to come or work to expand on the internal rules of the world, and although romance plays an important role in the narrative, the series excels in its portrayal of a found family. Elias and Chise are also compelling protagonists, and it’s honestly refreshing to have a ‘monstrous’ character whose arc does not revolve around their appearance or desire to look human. Elias’ animalistic and monstrous characteristics are simply a part of him and present challenges at times but are not something he is actively seeking to separate himself from. It reminds me of the film Shape of Water and the similar respect and affection it showed for its monster character.

Chise and Elias’ relationship is a major focus of the series, and although the first few episodes where he makes comments about her being a puppy get old quickly, they lessen the further the series progresses and the mutual respect and fondness between the two grows. Generally when it comes to their relationship, The Ancient Magus’ Bride attempts to brush over the fact that Elias literally bought Chise by lampshading their situation very early on in the series several times. It then avoids the implications of their dynamic for the most part by instead focusing on Chise’s growing affection for Elias, although it does have some self‑aware moments. At one point, Chise’s growing co-dependency is questioned by Angelica (a witch and friend of Elias and Chise who honestly needs more screen time), however Chise merely reacts by punching a wall and being minorly introspective, and this is never adequately addressed or resolved in any meaningful way. I personally hope this element of Chise’s relationship with Elias re‑emerges and has some catharsis in the second part of the series as only addressing it for the sake of acknowledging it and not working through it as a character arc would be a missed opportunity.

The balancing act that the series pulls off also has me astounded, as it is no small feat to create a narrative that contains modern technologies, talking cats, fae creatures, and horror elements that co-exist quite seamlessly. Aside from the final episode of this release feeling like a filler ‘greatest hits’ episode, the pacing was excellent and enjoyable, and it was always exciting when characters introduced early on like the witch Angelica or Lindel, mage and caretaker of the dragon sanctuary, made a return to the plot. The three-part OVA included in the bonus features Those Wishing Upon a Star is also an excellent addition to this release of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, shedding some light on Chise’s childhood and contextualising her emotional state. Although I would recommend watching Those Wishing Upon a Star after finishing the first 12 episodes in this release, it’s a fine standalone story with its own cast and conflict that really makes you feel for Chise and her situation through some really visceral moments.

A few comments before my final recommendation; newcomers to The Ancient Magus’ Bride should definitely skip the show’s opening, as it contains footage from later episodes that, while they aren’t technically spoilers, do spoil some exciting moments and reveals. The English voice cast also deserves praise as the English dubbing for The Ancient Magus’ Bride is fantastic, especially Dani Chambers’ performance as Chise (although I must stress that the entire cast does a great job). It’s difficult to review the first part of a series when arcs or concepts haven’t reached their culmination or may be just around the corner. In the case of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, separating the series into two parts for its release has made it difficult to criticise or speculate on character arcs and overall enjoyment of the series as a whole. However, as it stands now, I have genuinely enjoyed this release and am looking forward to learning more about Elias and seeing how Chise’s newfound family grows and changes as her narrative develops.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.