Fantasy! Magic! Faeries! Witches! Dragons!!!!
The world that Kore Yamazaki created is one where faeries and other magical beings live in the human world, but humans can’t see or sense them. Chise Hatori is one of the few that can see and interact with them, though, this isn’t as fantastic as one would think. We learn from early on that she has been treated as a freak since her childhood due to this ability.
As a child, her father took her younger brother and left, never to return. She witnesses her mother commit suicide. Then was left with distant relatives who only abused her and made her feel unwanted. At the age of fifteen she decides to sell herself so she no longer has to worry about her place in the world. She ends up in a kind of secret society auction where wizards and those aware of the magical world go to buy rarities.
Cue Elias Ainsworth, the Child of Thorns, a centuries old magus of unknown origins with fae and human-like qualities. He purchases Chise and makes her his apprentice as well as future wife. Yep, you read that right. The manga does go on to explain that Elias has a disdain for humans so is a bit out of touch with certain finer aspects of human society and norms. One of the main reasons for buying her, though, is because Chise is a Slay Vega (or Sleigh Beggy depending on the translation). She is a human that possess a rare and valuable ability to use and absorb massive amounts of magic from her environment and within herself. This comes at the cost of her life, however, as each use of magic puts a tremendous strain on her body and cuts her life short.
Elias whisks her off to his home in the English country side where she begins her journey as a magus apprentice. She soon learns that all the faeries and other more nefarious magic creatures she has seen her whole life were only the tip of the iceberg. The manga plunges you into a world with forest gods, centaur, cat kings, witch covens, and the Land of Dragons.
The manga touches on a lot of emotional themes about loneliness, the need to feel wanted, and about what it means to be human. We see this in the way that Chise goes from being in constant fear of being rejected and abandoned by others to learning to trust and open up to all the new people and beings she meets. As she learns more about the magic realm and how to deal with and manage her powers she also gains confidence and soon finds her place in the world and with her new found family.
It is described that Elias’ initial understanding of emotions were more like someone learning about them from a textbook or observing how people react to feeling them. Through caring for Chise, however, he learns gradually how to relate to humans by learning to identify his own emotions.
Even though the title of this manga implies it, the romance in this story is light, and the whole Elias proposing to Chise is later used more as a joke to bring some humor to the story. The manga is heavier on the character building. Oh and the lore of course! Let’s talk about the lore in this beautiful manga! The story is set mostly in England and uses many elements of it’s rich folklore. Spriggans, church grims, werewolves/were-creatures. It gave me a whole Harry Potter feel with a side of Studio Ghibli-esque whimsy and gorgeous art. The story isn’t all rainbows and unicorns though, and can get a bit dark when we revisit Chise’s memories of her past and especially some of the background stories of the people she saves, including Elias himself. It has a good mix of fantasy along with characters that are relatable and human. No one in the manga is perfect, nor is anyone completely good or bad, and each have their own ambitions, hopes and fears.
The art is enough to make me go ooh la la, as the backgrounds help set the atmosphere and the attention to detail is always a plus. The characters themselves are drawn with much care to their expressions, which is necessary as at first we learn a good portion of what Chise is feeling based off her facial expressions and thought bubbles. Even though Elias is literally a bonehead, he also gets fair treatment and small changes in his facial expressions also give us a clue to what he’s thinking.
One of the few problems I had when reading this manga though, was the flow of the story. It has a bit of a slow start, but soon gets through setting up the world and gets to the meat and bones of the story. Also, I had a problem being able to distinguish whose speech bubble was whose. Some panels would have multiple characters talking over each other ending in some confusion. I found myself rereading panels once I found the flow of the conversations. This problem will hopefully be non existent in the anime adaptation that’s scheduled for October 2017.
Speaking of which! The first three episodes of the upcoming anime will be airing in a special showing in the U.S. in select theaters on July 26th. It’s going to be one night only event which is part of Crunchyroll’s Anime Movie Night. The trailer is right here!
All in all, I give an 8.5/10. With it’s solid use of folklore, story telling and well executed art to go along with it, The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a wonderful adventure and well worth the read.