This is a project I’ve wanted to keep track of more or less in real time. When I first wrote about The Ancient Magus’ Bride, I had only seen the first episode of the anime and read the first volume of the manga, and I was able to look at that material as the beginning of a narrative.
The beginning of a narrative is supposed to do two things: attract the viewer and set the scene and characters. Ancient Magus did that really well, if you recall.
One thing that intrigued me at that point was the way they had set Chise and Elias up as simultaneously forming FOUR! complementary character pairs:
There was a time when I knew how to justify this table in HTML, but, alas, the ravages of age…
I liked that. That gave the writers a complex and interesting set of problems to solve going forward, many opportunities to explore this strange and beautiful relationship.
Okay, as of now I’m up to episode sixteen of the anime and through volume three of the manga. Okay, okay, I’ll keep reading … 4, 5, and 6 came in from Amazon yesterday.
Anyway, this is now clearly the middle of the story, and the purpose of the middle of a narrative is to show conflict. Now some of the plots show some conflict with outsiders – Joseph, the amoral alchemist comes to mind – but for the most part the conflict is internal, and it derives from several sources.
No points for being able to guess which is Elias and which Chise.
One is that we’re establishing that the Elias-Chise relationship has at least two MORE dichotomies. Elias is long-lived; as a sleigh beggie (a human able to interact with the fae world) Chise can expect to have a very short life. Also, in a twist, Chise is able to handle much more magical energy than Elias is. So, for the first time she shows some domination in the relationship. Not much, but some, and that starts to address the imbalance in relational power between them. That brings us up to SIX relationships between them, the four above plus long lived/short lived and strong/weak.
Plus there are the relationships that were already established between Elias and Chise and the tension that results between those relationships. Some of those relationships have progressed and some have not. When some of the minor villains try to throw the fact that Elias bought her in Chise’s face, she simply rejects it, so the Master-Slave thing has withered. Much of the Teacher-Pupil stuff happens off stage, possibly to avoid having to actually try to create a magical system that works. (It’s probably good that Master-Slave has withered, because that creates too much of a power unbalance between them.)
The Bride-Groom relationship remains ambiguous. Elias speaks of taking her on a honeymoon, but it’s hard to see them as married. The Parent-Child relationship is much clearer, and greatly emphasized by the difference in their sizes, although if we look at it figuratively Chise is starting to grow up: Elias no longer bathes her, for instance.
There’s also one other thing creeping in and I’m not sure how to categorize it yet. Elias is explicitly not human. What he is exactly is unclear to me. Chise is genetically human … born to human parents … but feels distanced from humanity because she is also a sleigh beggy. (Conflict, internal.) As I’m watching the anime, though (in which I’m further ahead than in the manga), she is starting to recognize that as she was growing up her life as a child was not entirely miserable. She remembers times when she had fun with her mother and received her love. Perhaps as the sleigh beggy nature is getting stronger in her, she is also getting more in touch with her humanity, and perhaps as she does, Elias will grow more human as well.
Or perhaps I’m just seeing things. That’s been known to happen.
The real conflict here seems to be derived from what appears to be the meta-plot: Chise is going to die soon unless Elias finds a way to prevent it. That’s one of our seven basic plots: Overcoming the Monster, the monster in this case being death.
What’s really neat as I watch is that they aren’t letting their hands show on the meta-plot. Yes, Chise’s good nature and willingness to help other people gain them many allies in this process, but at the same time she has made friends with an old, old dragon, Uncle Nevin, who eventually passes and becomes a giant tree. He invites her to make a wand from his branches, and when she does she meets him again in a Neverland beyond life (if you want to look at it that way). There he reminds her that all things die eventually. That’s true … but is he foreshadowing her end?
The life-death tension is heightened by the fact that powerful magic takes great effort from the magician. Both Elias and Chise perform magic that causes to sleep for days afterward; I believe the longest period is a week, but I might be remembering wrong. And sleep you will recall, is sometimes called “The Little Death;” there’s always the threat that one or the other of them will fall over the edge.
The middle of a narrative shows conflict. It’s subtle here, and muted by the terrific animation and the powerful affection they have for one another, but yeah, there’s conflict, and it may be growing. It’s wonderful and beautiful. I look forward to seeing the end.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.