In The Ancient Magus’ Bride episode 1, “April Showers Bring May Flowers,” Chise Hatori, despairing of ever belonging anywhere, agrees to sell herself into slavery. Elias Ainsworth, a tall and imposing figure, appears out of nowhere to buy her — for a substantial sum! Just what are his intentions? Is her life going to be a never ending stream of misery? Or does she have a chance for something better?
Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.
What’s In This Post
3 Favorite Moments
- Hatori’s expression when she first met Elias was amazing (about 4:10). Her eyes were wide and staring, and it looked like she couldn’t breath. She had no idea what he intended to do to her; she had no idea what was to come. But she didn’t cringe or look away. She stared right at him. I thought that moment said a lot about the courage she no longer believed she had, but that was still alive within her.
- After arriving at their home, as Elias explained to Hatori what a Sleigh Beggy really is, he mentions that she’ll attract all kinds of fairies and mysteries. The fairies in particular will want to do favors for her. Then he warns her that the results might not always be pleasant. He said that fairy “kindness and favors don’t necessarily benefit a human” (14:22). That really emphasized the otherness of this magic world and put me back on my guard. I’d begun to feel a little too comfortable with the intentions of the neighbors (the fairies), and Elias’s warning helped me reinterpret the neighbors’ smug little expressions as something other than altruism.
- Hatori deciding not to go the kingdom of the fairies (19:28) was a beautiful culmination of her experiences in this episode. The little neighbors set the perfect trap by referring to Hatori’s dark past, and Hatori even had to dig her fingernails into her arm to break their spell. But she spoke out in favor of her new home and for the first time acknowledged aloud that she was part of Elias’ family, even if she still perceived it as temporary (19:58).
I’m glad I watched the previous episodes/specials that Crunchyroll carried. They gave me a real insight into why Hatori seemed so broken in the series premiere. Her biological family was so weak and incapable that they saw her as a burden, so Hatori tried to make sense of the horrors only she could see alone. Without anyone’s support, and under the weight of accusations of insanity or worse, she sank into depression. That alone would have been enough to explain her plight. But what happened in the library (I don’t want to spoil it — Crunchyroll still has the earlier episodes if you’d like to watch, and I recommend you do!) almost destroyed her. It burned a link between her only positive family experience and terrible guilt, so that even the memory of that happiness couldn’t comfort her. Those three episodes/specials dramatically explained why she would be willing to sell herself into slavery just to find a place in the world. Yet, despite the clarify of the description, there was still something about it that bugged me.
When I was a young ‘un, I wanted to write stories where a brave young man (who wasn’t me, I swear, despite any possible resemblance!) would save the damsel in distress. That’s a common day-dream that gets turned into stories. In fact, it’s a staple of the old fairy tales. I’d go so far as to say I viewed it as something virtuous.
Fast forward many years later. As I was talking to my wife about stories ideas, imagine my surprise when I wife objected to this theme! In even later discussions, my daughter joined in. I’m not saying I didn’t listen to my wife’s arguments and made her wait for an ally to change my mind. I am saying that ingrained attitudes change slowly, and it took both my wife and daughter patiently explaining that the brave young man rescuing a helpless and powerless young woman did not shine the best light on the young woman.* I could still argue (probably without success!) that some stories might still require a helpless or powerless young woman. But now even I have to admit that such a thing is best done with full knowledge of what it implies, so that perspective can inform the narrative and have some meaningful resolution.
I think you can see where I’m going…
At first, I was apprehensive about this show. The art in this anime is beautiful. The world seems huge and engrossing.** The characters and creatures we’ve seen are interesting and vivid. But I was face to face with a theme that looked like something the women folk in my life had convinced me was not cool. I held out two contrasting hopes for the show: that Hatori’s apparent weakness would be important to the plot, or that she really wasn’t powerless or helpless — that she was actually an equal partner in a relationship where they’d take turns saving each other.
I’ve not read the manga. But there are signs here that we might be seeing the beginning of the latter. First, Hatori’s a Sleigh Beggy, which we learn in this episode is a kind of Queen Bee who attracts non-humans. Elias calls this “fortunate,” even though it’s hard for Hatori to understand what that means given her context. Second, when they arrive in the outskirts of London, Elias welcomes her as his new apprentice — someone who will eventually grow in power to rival the master. Third, we saw how the “neighbors” fawned all over her. They clearly recognized her power and worth in the world of magic — her world, now. It looks to me like Elias didn’t pick her to be a charity case. I think he picked her to be his partner.
Now, I think that whether or not he understands the concept of “bride” is a completely different and open question!
What do you think? Let me know in the comments!
* This approach worked because we had a conversation where we all respected each other. Can you imagine how a “conversation” like that would unfold in an internet forum? “You’re disempowering women!” “You’re an SJW!” “You imperialist patriarchal jerk!” You leeeeberial!” It just wouldn’t have the intellectual weight that my wife and daughter’s arguments carried.
** It was apparent depth and breadth of the world that sold me on reviewing The Ancient Magus’ Bride. I couldn’t decide between it, Land of the Lustrous, and Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond. The latter’s something so exuberant that I’d prefer just to watch it instead of try to blog about it — I learned that the hard way withConcrete Revolutio! The Land of the Lustrous, as beautiful of it is, and as much as I loved the style of animation and the characters, had a world that just didn’t feel finished. That, and some folks on Twitter whose opinions I’ve learned to trust suggested I review The Ancient Magus’ Bride. So, here we are!