Manga Review: The Ancient Magus Bride [Volumes 1-3]

Chise Hatori is an unwanted orphan. Having been pushed around from relative to relative, she finds herself standing at an auction as a slave. It isn’t a human who buys her, but an magician with the head of a dog skull. He buys Chise with the intention of making her his apprentice. Accepting her fate, she goes with her new owner who transports them to his home, and at the same time, transporting Chise to a whole new world full with magic, fairies, dragons and other fantasy creatures. And if that wasn’t life-changing enough, the strange magician declares Chise to be his wife.

The introduction to the manga is just as unique as the world it presents, and it continues to  feature those elements as we get to see Chise get assimilated into her new environment. All Chise wants is a new home. Despite her new owner being a magician for a dog skull for a head, she isn’t particularly surprised by the change in caretakers. In fact, she isn’t very startled by the sight of inhuman creatures, but rather s hates her abilities to see them. However to argue against her, Elias claims to one day make her feel proud of her power.

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The main setting for our characters is the countryside in England, but the story’s use of otherworldly elements, makes the readers think otherwise. For each chapter, Chise and Elias head to various places for errands, and with errand, the world the characters in live gets expanded; for both the physical locations and attention to detail inside them. If possible, the author could have wrote a full chapter over the interior of their house and the elements and creatures that reside in.

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Following that, no two environments are the same. They might use similar physical characteristics but each of them has their own unique spin to it, creating an entirely new atmosphere. For example, in the first volume where the fairy takes Chise away, the backgrounds are drawn as a very dark forest with small visual effects of white space, appearing as the visual form of temptation. Meanwhile in the second volume,  the large tall trees in chapter eight is drawn with the idea of vast space in mind, as if it was expressed to represent large amount possibilities between Chise and Elias.

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Chise Hattori has a lot of emotional baggage to her. She isn’t wanted by anyone and the story often conveys that. Through her interactions with other supporting characters, Chise  reflects on her past, inferring even more traumas; but we only see enough information to get a small tease. A reoccurring memory that pops up from time to time is her mother’s neglect and death as it has heavily affected Chise, up to the point of complete apathy.

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Elias on the other hand, we know very little about. Elias Ainsworth is mysterious man, filled with plenty of secrets. He acts as Chise’s mentor and almost fatherly figure, but at the same time, he holds back because he doesn’t want anyone to look deeper into him. Any details about who he was back then, is conveyed through the other characters, but he still remains locked within that dark figure and expressionless face, despite being one of the more expressive characters.

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Over the course of the two volumes, the two main characters remain hidden in secret and their relationship feels like a lack of genuine dependency on each other. It wasn’t until volume three that this issue was somewhat remedied. We can feel their relationship grow and change in development, such as Chise recognizing her unhealthy dependency on Elias, and Elias’s decision to open up. However, these developments feels as if we only scratched the surface of our main duo.

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The artwork drawn in is manga is fantastic. To start off, the attention to detail is astounding, for both the environment design and the character design. There are plenty of visual keys that help physically conceptualize the world of The Ancient Magus Bride, such as Elias’ house in volume 1, the garden of dandelions in volume 2, and the lake scene in volume 3. The artwork is effective both as a backdrop casually and as a highlighting feature for the more dramatic and darker scenes.

As for the character designs, they are very distinct with an extra layer of creativity for the mythical creatures. Each character introduced has their own unique style and clothing that fits into the world. Something noteworthy is the larger profile poses for Chise and Elias. These drawings help highlight the bonding relationship between the two, and yet the author also makes it clear that the relationship between the two isn’t a passionate romantic love but rather of a more compassionate kind.

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The writing of the story balances the progression of the event while providing world-building details at the same time. In terms of how the writing affects the setting, a helpful comparison would be that the illustrations express the more physical characteristics of the world while the writing takes care of the more abstract details. While the essence of progression is present, the events have a small tendency to have a repetitive causation. Usually, the events starts off with Chise and Elias running off to do some sort of errand and then the chapters splits off into their own unique concepts they want to tackle, resembling an episodic rhythm.

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If I were to summarize the volumes in order: Volume 1 focuses on the introduction of the characters and the world and creates a strong foundation for the series. Volume 2 handles the more darker content and the motivations of the characters, adding antagonistic character into the mix. And lastly, Volume 3 takes a deeper look at our main two characters, while leaving traces of future development for the duo.

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The Ancient Magus Bride is a phenomenal manga with its highlights being the creativity of the world and its inhabitants and its wonderfully drawn visuals. I highly recommend checking the series out.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Afterword:  Personal Preference – Volume 1 > Volume 3 > Volume 2


Author and Illustrator: Kore Yamazaki.

English Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment

Translator: Adrienne Beck.

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