A Story Advances: The Ancient Magus’ Bride

I’ve come back to this series, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, twice before, trying to take a look at how its narrative structure develops as I watch the anime and read the manga. It’s a way of looking at something in progress, instead of binge watching and doing everything in retrospect.

Okay: As a fan I’m enjoying this thoroughly. Both anime and manga are well done, and the story falls well within my tastes although it is gentle and contemplative in most places. I think some people would find it slow, but that’s on them, not me.

My perspective for this series of posts is as a writer, though, so I’m looking at the story and character and plot and such. After all, that’s why so few of you actually read what I write 🙂

If you recall, I was impressed that the beginning of Bride, which is supposed to introduce the characters and setting, did so in such a way as to create no fewer than FOUR points of contrast between the Ancient Magus, Elias, and his sleigh beggy “bride,” Chise. They were: Master/Slave, Father/Daughter, Teacher/Pupil, and Groom/Bride.

By the middle of the series they had made clear the meta-plot, Overcoming the Monster. (As a sleigh beggy Chise is doomed to die young unless Elias can save her.) They had also introduced two MORE contrasts between Chise and Elias: He is long-lived while she is short (that’s necessary to the meta-plot, of course), and she controls more magic than he does. This was the first time she was the dominant member of the relationship.

Ancient Magus's Bride

Chise and Elias, from early in the series when she was still intimidated by him.

By now I’m about 3/4 of the way through the series, volume 7 of the manga’s 10 volumes and episode 19 of the anime’s 26, and what I’m seeing is that they have started to advance the plot toward the end of the story. It’s not all that subtle, but it IS nicely done.

One thing that happens is that some of the conflicts are already resolved. Even by my last update Chise had rejected the Master/Slave frame, and it no longer appears. (That’s good, because it was kind of creepy, if you think about it.) I also mentioned that the Teacher/Pupil thing had largely gone off screen, and that has continued; all we see of that relationship is Elias warning Chise that if she is to live she must be careful with her powers.

Other dynamics are beginning to shift, especially Father/Daughter and Groom/Bride, and they are shifting in ways that leads the meta-plot to conclusion. For instance, the relationship between Chise and Elias is at the heart of the series, both structurally and emotionally. At the start Elias played the father role exclusively, but by now there is more equity between them. For instance, after Elias has had a difficult time emotionally, it is Chise that puts him to bed and sings him a lullaby; she is sometimes Mother to his Child. (Not that it’s hard to see…Chise’s familiar Ruth remarks on it.)

In fact, that whole scene (Anime episode 18) has huge implications for the overall story. One of the subplots deals with how the two of them come into closer touch with their humanities. Chise, although born human, has had little human contact through much of her life, which is why her mother sold her in the first place; she is rediscovering simple things that give people joy, like just going shopping with her friend, Alice, or making a new friend in 10-year-old Stella.

Elias, on the other hand, is not human, and he’s just starting to figure out what being human means. In terms of human emotions he’s still a child, and it is when his emotional side takes control of him that the roles are reversed between them: when Stella comes to visit Chise, his feelings are hurt and he runs away. It is Chise who must find him and soothe his feelings and bring him home; this is where she plays the Mother role and he the Child. It’s very well done and clearly shows how they are becoming more equal as their lives grow together.

The Groom/Bride dynamic is also starting to clarify. In Episode 17 we find out that Elias doesn’t actually understand what a marriage is: “Aren’t they simply a unit that lives together for an extended period of time, each aiding the other’s survival?” he asks Stella’s eight-year-old brother Ethan (Manga volume 6).

This says a lot about Elias’ human nature. Not only does he not get it, he’s asking an eight-year-old to school him!

At the same time, like a husband and wife, they do occasionally sleep together – just sleep, mind you; more would be just EW! – in the same bed now, for warmth and the comfort of each other’s presence. Again the dynamic between them is starting to swing toward increasing equity.

At the same time the end is starting to head into sight. Again, the key question is “Will Chise live or die?” To ratchet up the narrative tension they remind us of that now and then: Elias gives Chise a teddy bear that will absorb her excess magic, for instance, and a bracelet to suppress her natural magic; if she can’t, she will burn out. And, of course, because that’s what a good sidekick does, whenever she does use magic Ruth says something along the lines of, “But you could die!”

From a narrative standpoint this series is very well constructed so far. If the ending is as satisfying and well-constructed as the open and the middle, it will serve as a great lesson on how to tell a good story well.

Time to order up the last two manga volumes. Except – Surprise! – the tenth volume isn’t released in the US yet. So the finale of this series, and the finale of my series of posts, is going to have to wait. Wish me luck!

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.

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