The popular fantasy manga gets a worthwhile anime adaptation.

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Title: The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Those Awaiting A Star
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Wit Studio
Original Creator: Kore Yamazaki
Director/Series Composition: Norihiro Naganuma

The Ancient Magus’ Bride has been a surprisingly popular manga on both sides of the Pacific, it has reached bestseller lists in the US and Japan (under the title Mahoutsukai no Yome) which typically means that an anime adaptation is just around the corner. However, The Ancient Magus’ Bride is still a rather short series and it seems like people are worried about killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs if they adapt it into an anime too early.

Studio Wit has therefore taken an unusual approach to this project, while the initial PV for the mini-series looked to be a faithful adaptation of the manga, these three shorts are actually a prequel OVA and detail part of main character Chise’s childhood. The story starts in the current time and it’s clear that Chise is surrounded by people who cherish her and want to nurture her talents, but a memory from Chise’s past brought on by an old book tells a different tale. Unusual for a human, Chise can see spirits and other creatures that other people will never interact with. In her current home in England, the fey we see around Chise are small, friendly, and not intentionally malicious but in Chie’s homeland of Japan the monsters are all made of shadows, staring eyes, and inhuman movements. One must wonder how much these creatures appearances are shaped by Chise’s own reactions to them (especially since the child Chise seems to be all eyes and awkward limbs herself) but regardless, Chise is constantly out of step with the human world as a result and this only adds to her personal tragedies. As Chise is chased by these apparitions the viewer must wonder how Chise managed to live as long as she did, but then Chise stumbles upon a place in a forest where she finds not only a library that these monsters can’t get into but also a man who seems to understand her problems.

Just like the PV, this OVA looks quite lovely and does the artwork of the manga justice. The backgrounds are richly detailed and it’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into the lighting and color schemes of each scheme. The visuals do fall short in one key regard however, and that is the fact that the story is very unambitious when it comes to framing and motion. For example, the first few shots of Chise’s mentor Elias are close and seem to have something to hide, but when Elias finally appears on screen in whole the “camera” decides to have a very plain, straight shot of him. It would have been much more interesting if the camera had continued to only reveal him bit by bit since Elias, as a humanoid creature with a deer’s skull for a head, is both of the most distinctive visuals for the entire story.

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Likewise, when Chise enters the library in the forest it’s clearly supposed to be an emotional moment as Chise takes in the space and indeed, the backgrounds are nicely detailed, the lighting is interesting, and yet Wit Studio once again opts to use a very boring, straight shot of the scene. I would certainly like a bit more imagination in order to help advance the story but I also couldn’t help but notice, these are the simplest shots you could make in these situations. Wit, a subsidiary of Production IG, in infamous in some circles for having production meltdowns and to me this speaks of caution which makes me a little nervous.

Whatever the reason is, hopefully the visuals will be a little more ambitious in the second installment, out next year. While we’ve only seen a small part of the original plot so far, the entire story feels crisp and smartly done, full of small, emotional gestures and a surprising amount of humor as well (keep on eye on Silky in the background in the kitchen for a few giggles!). While there are plenty of fantasy anime each year, it’s unusual to have one like The Ancient Magus’ Bride which wholly eschews both high school and high fantasy settings. While the world it inhabits is large and fantastical, The Ancient Magus’ Bride has always preferred to look inward and that focus creates a connection with the characters that many stories can’t achieve.