The Ancient Magus’ Bride volumes 1-6 by Kore Yamazaki ✦ Translated by Adrienne Beck ✦ Published by Seven Seas, 2015-2016 ✦ ISBN: 9781626921870 (volume 1) | 9781626921924 (volume 2) | 9781626922242 (volume 3) | 9781626922556 (volume 4) | 9781626922846 (volume 5) | 9781626923508 (volume 6)
After an early life of misfortune, teenage Chise Hatori finds herself being sold to a mysterious, skull-faced man who calls himself a magus. He tells her she has special powers related to the ability to see and use magic, and that he will make her his apprentice and his bride. Chise finds herself embracing this new world of fae, creatures, and magic, and wanting to know more about the inhuman Elias Ainsworth as she comes to care for him.
I picked volume one of this series up mostly on a whim from Barnes & Noble. It sounded interesting enough from the concept, although I admit the idea of a teenage girl being sold as a commodity gave me some pause (and I still wish the series hadn’t really opened that way). After reading the first volume, I was hooked.
I’m going to try to make this review as spoiler free as possible, but I also do want to talk about all six volumes so there may be some small spoilers, particularly for characters who don’t show up in the initial volume! Sorry about that.
This is a manga with a slow build. There’s chapters where basically nothing happens, while the characters (mostly Chise and Elias) develop slowly over the six volumes that are currently out in English. They’re guided by other characters, a mishmash of magic users and fae creatures, and they face obstacles of both human and inhuman designs. Yamazaki does a great job of revealing truths about the world she’s developed through Chise, who is obviously new to the world of magic but has a strong curiosity about everything she encounters (a curiosity that often gets her into trouble).
The worldbuilding in this series is excellent. Yamazaki clearly has a long-standing love of fairy stories from the British Isles, and the world of the comic is steeped in it. Her own inventions meld seamlessly with legends of fairies and black dogs, creating a vibrant world full of rules and customs Chise must learn to keep herself and others safe. The divide between humans and non-humans is presented as one that is easy to cross over but difficult to cross back again, which seems to be a theme of the series.
Chise is a compassionate girl, despite her troubled childhood, of which we are shown bits and pieces of over the course of these volumes. She is the type who will risk her own health and safety for the sake of others, something that Elias has difficulty coping with, especially since part of her willingness to risk herself is because she has very little sense of self-worth. Both Chise and Elias have difficulty being honest with their feelings, Chise due to her upbringing and Elias due to a fundamental lack of understanding of human emotions, as he is certainly not human himself. They mystery of what exactly Elias is will likely be drawn out over the entire series, and while we are given hints, we are not really given answers in these six volumes. Still, Elias and Chise clearly have a need for one another, and the other major theme of the series is their growth in relation to one another. Despite the title, it’s hard to call the relationship between them (at least at this point) “romantic,” and there is certainly no physical relationship between them. After the first volume, the idea of Chise being Elias’s bride comes up only occasionally.
Although Elias and Chise are both fascinating characters in their own rights, the secondary characters of this series are really my favorites. The apprentice alchemist Alice, who is first introduced as an antagonist and later sort-of befriends Chise, and her master Renfred; the black dog Chise adopts as a familiar; the free-spirited dragon-keeping magus Lindel; the Silver Lady who looks after Elias’s home… Characters introduced once always seem likely to return again later, and the way each of them contribute to Chise’s understanding of the world adds even more richness to the story. There is also the seeming antagonist to the series, the alchemist who Elias calls Cartaphilus, who is really the only hint that there may be more to the comic than the slice-of-life pacing of the majority of it lets on.
The art of the series is excellent, with expressive characters balanced well with ornate, beautiful backgrounds. The volumes have some bonus material on the inside front and back covers, including the layout and breakdown of various parts of Elias’s home and other places, which I particularly enjoyed seeing. The Neighbors and creatures all have interesting designs as well, making the art as visually rich as the story is. Again, Yamazaki has clearly done her research in portraying the small town in an unspecified part of England where Elias lives, right down to details like the types of trees and flowers growing in Elias’s garden, and the washing machine being in the kitchen.
Overall, The Ancient Magus’ Bride is an innovative and slow-moving fantasy series that’s well worth a read if you enjoy fairy tales and folklore. It’s not a series to read for magical battles and monsters, although it has its share of those, but one to read for the well-crafted worldbuilding and characters and the beautiful art.
Story: 5/5; Slow-paced and slice-of-life interspersed with magic and peril
Art: 5/5; Art that well-suits and enhances the story