The visuals of Part 2 of The Ancient Magus' Bride are not enough to hide its narrative and character flaws.
Title: The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Those Awaiting A Star
Publisher: Wit Studio
Original Creator: Kore Yamazaki
Director/Series Composition: Norihiro Naganuma
The anime is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Despite the fact that trilogies are a fairly common storytelling structure, the pacing of a trilogy is often hard to nail down, especially in the middle act. In a good middle installment of a trilogy events have progressed such that the conflict is now radically different than the protagonist first thought it was and will have a huge impact in the final installment. In a bad middle volume, the protagonist ends essentially where they were at the end of the first volume.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Those Awaiting a Star takes a bit of a different route and ends part two of this three part story with far more questions than the first part ended with and leaves absolutely no answers for anything.
Chise has been slowly befriended by the librarian at the magical library she discovered at the end of the first installment but there are strange things going on at the library, things that Chise doesn’t notice since she is so used to the strange and scary being around her. Things only continue to become more and more mysterious and judging from the preview for the final OVA it looks like only an exposition dump will bring things into the light.
Those Awaiting a Star‘s refusal to elaborate on anything so far, and indeed only make the new characters and situations even murkier and more complicated, is a knock against it and sadly in general this installment highlights some of The Ancient Magus’ Bride‘s overall weaknesses. While it’s a very common set-up to have the protagonist estranged from their family, both in Western and Japanese stories, this is a trope that often works best if the viewer doesn’t have to think about it so much.
In the main storyline of The Ancient Magus’ Bride (and in Natsume Yuujinchou, a similar story) it’s easy to gloss over the fact that Chise has had a lonely and hard life up until this point with distant family members and terrifying monsters always after her. But when these elements become a larger part of the story like they do here then the contrast starts to bend the suspension of disbelief. How is it that one small, odd but quiet, child like Chise can break apart multiple families without any intentions?
In a longer story we might have a chance to see that these relatives were at their straining point long before this lost, grieving child came into their lives, but Those Awaiting a Star doesn’t have that luxury of time and truthfully Chise’s past is more the purview of the main storyline, as odd as it is to say that about a story exclusively concerned with her past. The fact that every single creature Chise ran into in Japan wanted to eat her vs the large majority of creatures in England who are simply charmed by her also doesn’t quite fit. Again, in a longer story perhaps something deeper could be derived from this, that these elements are heavily influenced by Chise’s human, and therefore unreliable, memories, but Those Awaiting a Star contains no such subtleties in its’ tv-episode length runtime.
The highlight of this installment is easily the richly detailed backgrounds as like the first installment, the settings sell Those Awaiting a Star more than anything else. The character and monster designs seem almost plain by comparison, and given the number of slow pans and outright still shots in this installment it’s a good thing that the backgrounds are so engrossing to look at. As a whole this OVA is a step-down from the manga but hopefully the final installment will bring it all together and if not, there is still the full anime in the fall to look forward to.