When Chise, a fifteen-year-old orphan girl, is sold at auction, she finds herself bought by a horned, skull-faced magician. Taken under his wing as an apprentice, and one day bride, Chise now begins her life anew in a world brimming over with ancient faerie magic.
Having been able to see the magical world for many years, Chise Hatori has found herself shunned by her relatives and outcast from her peers. However, when Chise becomes part of the household of the ancient mage Elias Ainsworth, she learns that her ill luck is due to her fate as a “sleigh beggy” - a human who retains a wellspring of magic - making her irresistible to the creatures of the faerie realm. As she learns to live full time in the magical world, Chise finds herself confronted with all kinds of strange and wondrous places, creatures, and magic.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride is at heart a classic European faerie tale, taking place in the magical world hidden in the deep forests and obscure countrysides of the modern world. Anyone who enjoys old European faerie stories, classic Disney fare, or Harry Potter will find something to like.
This first volume of The Ancient Magus’ Bride starts off strange enough. Opening on Elias’ surprise crashing of Chise’s auction and his immediate declaration of wanting Chise to become his apprentice, things only become stranger once they return Elias’ country home surrounded by their faerie “neighbors.”
Chise is a strange protagonist, a dejected young girl unfazed by death. Chise’s initial passivity and her ambivalence towards the state of her own life come through from page one, from the self loathing in her face to the slump of her shoulders. This entire volume is mostly about her finding a home, a family, and discovering that she really does have a life worth living. From her initial awkward welcoming into Elias’ home, to her discovering her own power, to her later interactions with magical creatures, it all revolves around those themes. Every step of this initial journey finds Chise confronted with the beauty and the melancholy of life, as the entire volume leads up to her becoming a person who can love the world enough to try and heal it.
Elias Ainsworth himself is an enigma, having an expressionless skull for a face (most of the time). It’s actually surprising just how much emotion he really conveys. Elias is at first a towering presence, slightly menacing and strange, but he quickly shows himself to be a bit of an eccentric recluse. He’s caring and thoughtful, though not really cognizant of Chise’s discomfort, or of what a normal person’s reaction to his own actions would be. Some of the more amusing moments of the book are actually due to Elias’s gaps in human understanding, like being called out when he announces that he bought Chise “fair and square.”
Chise herself also has a few great moments, though the more humorous ones are actually some of the smaller reactions where the art becomes much more chibified. They’re small moments, tucked away in the frame, and if you don’t pay attention you might miss them. If you do pay attention, a lot of Chise’s personality and strength of will come through in those moments. In less capable hands, she very likely might have been a bland brick of a character. But I assure you as long as you take the time with this book, the depth of character really is there on the panels.
However, really you should be taking your time with this manga anyways, because this artwork is gorgeous. Kore Yamazaki really knows what she is doing, making some exquisite pieces full of background details and some very nice use of blacks. Possibly my favorite aspect of this book is just how well it captures the atmosphere of faerie-tale England perfectly. From the stone walls lining the roads of the town of cats to the cobblestone streets of London, its stylings are perfectly evocative. It makes this setting feel real, like it takes place just beyond the borders of our real world England.
The other thing the volume does well is the presentation of magic. The use of its effects and compositions gives the world a fantastic but earthy quality. Much more based on traditional western pagan myth and faerie tales, there is a sense of wonder and mysticism rarely seen in other stories where “magic” is portrayed more like superpowers. The creature designs are also fantastic and distinctive. Elias himself is the most prominent example of course, but the faerie “neighbors,” with their taloned feet and the dinosaur-esque earth dragons are also highlights.
If there’s one complaint I have with the art, it is that there are a number of long haired blondes that fall squarely in the female- to-beautiful-boy range that all look similar. It is not a huge complaint, though it is sometimes difficult to judge some of these characters’ genders, or tell them apart from each other quickly. (Funnily enough, many of the one-off characters, especially the men in the auction house, didn’t seem to have this problem.)
Nothing about that hampers the experience of reading this volume though, as it is enthralling end to end. It does pace itself a bit on the slower end of the spectrum, but there are plenty of beautiful details to make every page worth it. It also allows the relationship between Chise and Elias’ to grow naturally, not going too fast from the almost master-pet relationship the first few pages exhibit, to a real sense of family by the end. They actually side step the questionable origin of their relationship fairly well with Elias being respectful and nurturing to Chise. It is clear by the end of this volume that their relationship has become much more of a genuine two-way street. Their continuing relationship is definitely one I am eager to see more of.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a beautiful book, one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It has an intriguing and well developed fantasy world, whose more western-inspired origins really stand out amongst other more “modern” fantasy takes. It also has an excellent pairing of main characters whose strange but ultimately endearing relationship keeps you wanting to come back for more.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride Vol. 1 was published in English by Seven Seas Entertainment, on May 12, 2015, translated by Adrienne Beck. It covers chapters 1-5. The original work was created by Kore Yamazaki, and published by Mag Garden, first in Monthly Comics Blade, and later in Monthly Comics Garden. Vol. 4 releases April 12, 2016.
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