GROUND RULES: If you know how The Ancient Magus’ Bride ends DO NOT TELL. If you don’t, feel free to throw something on the floor.
Okay, this is the next to last in my continuing series on The Ancient Magus’ Bride, previous posts here and here and here. What I’m trying to do in this series is look at a story as it goes along, and examine how and why it works as a story. (How a story DOESN’T work as a story might also be interesting, but it would also be an exercise in masochism! And I don’t swing that way.)
As I said, it has a good start that developed characters that had the potential for narrative tension, a middle that actually first expanded those possibilities, and then started to resolve them as it began to zero in on the end of the narrative.
As I write this I’m about three quarters of the way through both the anime series and the manga books; I’m going along with both of them more or less at the same time. So far the anime has done an excellent job of reflecting the fundamental story of Ancient Magus given the differences between the media, much as the Harry Potter movies did. Yes, there’s some stuff left out and the pacing is a little different, but the anime is true to the story in the manga.
So, about three-quarters through, and bearing in mind that while at least the first season of the anime is finished, the tenth and supposedly last manga volume hasn’t reached the US yet, it might be time to make some notes on how it looks like the conflict might be resolved from this perspective. Then those of you who KNOW how the story ends (Do NOT tell me!) can have a good laugh when I make a fool of myself. Or we can all laugh together once we all know.
Now, the end of a narrative has two jobs: to resolve the basic conflict and to tie up the loose ends. Tying up the loose ends is a detail, and some great anime – like Cowboy Bebop, for instance – did a crappy job of it. We’ll worry about that sometime when I’m running out of material.
So: How is it going to end?
I can see a bunch of possible endings. Let me list them from what is in my opinion the most likely…based on how the story is going at this point…to least likely.
First of all, we have to be aware that this is Chise’s story. Elias is timeless in comparison to Chise, and it’s stipulated that Chise can expect to live no more than three more years. That’s the conflict that underlies much of the long-term tension of the story: In the absence of something happening, Chise will die.
Yep, she’s one doomed little girl.
Once we’ve stipulated that, we can start to narrow down the possible directions the story can go.
1) Chise dies, heroically.
This is clearly a direction the series is heading. They are currently cautioning her not to use her powers, but her development as a human character keeps making that impossible. Remember: at the start she was an unloved girl sold as a slave; she had no one in the world. But by now she clearly loves, in her way, Elias, and also her friends, Ruth and Alice and Stella and the baby dragons. It’s easy to see Chise making the decision to give her life for another, leading to a tearful death scene and a satisfying conclusion. This could be a seriously powerful scene, equal to the end of Bebop, if handled right.
2) Chise is transformed somehow.
Chise has many friends in the magical world, starting with Elias himself. It’s possible that Chise would sacrifice herself, as above, but one or more of her fairy world friends, possibly Leanan, the fairy associated with young death, uses their powers to turn her into something else that will last. Recall that she was friends with the old dragon, Uncle Nevin, who transformed into an enormous tree on his death, and that Uncle Nevin was one of the first to remind Chise (and the audience) that Chise is doomed. So Chise may become a tree or a spirit or…
Doctor Who fans will recognize this, or should I mention River Song by name?
3) Chise is killed, directly or indirectly, by Cartaphilus
Cartaphilus/Joseph is not exactly bad, simply amoral, and he wants to lay his hands on a sleigh beggy. Perhaps it would do something for his constant pain. Plus he hasn’t been heard from in a while, and what’s the point of having a villain if he doesn’t have something to do at the end of the story?
If he just kills her, that would negate the elements of the story that deal with the growth in her personality, and that wouldn’t work well, but if she chooses to die to thwart his plans and save someone else (see above), then it could be made to work.
4) Chise is saved by the joint actions of the fairy world.
This would seem to be a sort of cheat, but if it was handled right it could make sense and it would have the advantage of providing a happy ending. Chise is well-loved by many creatures in the fairy world, not to mention by a number of humans, and the growth of that love, for her by them, and her learning to return it, is a subtext of her growth as a person. So this might seem a bit cheap but could work out if it was played right. It would have to be played VERY right, though: part of the fairy world as portrayed in the story is that when the time comes for you, it comes. See Uncle Nevin. They would need a BIG reason to violate that expectation and make it work.
5) Chise is saved by something Elias creates.
This has been what he’s been trying to do all along, of course, but at the same time his progress up until now has been largely in terms of the equivalent of staunching the bleeding. He’s given her a bear doll that absorbs her extra energy at night and a bracelet that keeps her from using magic, but those are not even close to solutions. Plus, frankly, for him to save her would a) sound like a bit of a deus ex machina b) ruin the tragic tone of the rest of the series and c) redefine the dynamic between them, once again make her less than him. I think this would be VERY unsatisfying.
6) Chise is saved when the humans take her away from the fairy world.
There is tension between the mages and the alchemists, for instance. Perhaps the alchemists might create something that destroys her contact with the fairy world, essentially making her no longer a sleigh beggy.
This would be a very unsatisfying ending, and not because Chise’s human friends and contacts are bad people. Quite the opposite: one of the real joys of this series is that all of the minor characters seem so real, and with the exception of Cartaphilus, who, as I said, is not evil so much as amoral, most of them are pretty good people, and that includes the humans. But it would be unsatisfying because at the end of the series all of a sudden Chise is something different, not the sleigh beggy she’s been all along, so now she’s … what? It’s the end of the series. There’s no time for her to develop her new identity. This would end up being a cliff-hanger that would not resolve the story; instead, it would lead to The Ancient Magus’ Bride Part II: The Melancholy of Chise Hatori.
Okay: What other possibilities are out there? If you KNOW, keep it to yourself. But if you’re guessing, like I am, what’s your best guess?
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.