Well, it's Christmas at last so it's time to wrap things up. There was no question in my mind what this final entry would be. It had to be the series that I've been reading and rereading all year since it first came out. It had to be the second series (alongside Sakamoto) that helped me forgive a lot of Seven Seas's previous sins. It had to be not only the best manga I read all year, but possibly one of the best shoujo works I've read in years.
THE ANCIENT MAGUS' BRIDE (Maho Tsukai no Yome), by Kore Yamazaki. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2015.
Chise Hatori's life has been nothing but endless misery. Orphaned at a young age, she spent her life passed around from one unwilling relative to the next who didn't want to put up with this strange girl who could see all sorts of strange spirits and creatures. Driven to the point of suicide, she finds herself instead sold into slavery and purchased by a towering, skull-headed man named Elias Ainsworth. Elias turns out to be a mage and he wishes to train Chise to be one as well. Chise is what the magical world calls a sleigh beggy, a being capable of absorbing and producing incredible amounts of magic. This ability gives her the potential to be a powerful mage, but it also means that there are others who would seek to use her abilities for their own nefarious purposes.
It's hard to know where to begin when it comes to explaining precisely why The Ancient Magus' Bride is so good. Oh sure, I technically already reviewed this for the other site, but even afterwards it's hard for me to parse what makes it so good without having the conversation devolve into Muppet-like flailings of glee. I will try to not completely fangirl out, but I make no promises.
It certainly helps that the world of this manga is so fascinating to begin with. Like Chise herself, the reader will find themselves immersed into a world of magic that is at once ancient and lived-in but also modern and diverse. It's hard to not make some comparisons to Harry Potter, especially considering that this magical world is tucked and hidden away within our own modern world and that the story is set in England. The story incorporates all sorts of bibs and bobs of European magical mythology, but it's not the sort of story that has to stop and explain everything. It lets the reader infer some things and others it simply weaves into the background. It hints at a greater past and explains the rules of this world through snippets of conversation but only explains as much as is necessary at the moment. It's just enough mythology to pique the reader's interest but not enough to satisfy them, keeping you hooked and wanting to learn more alongside Chise.
It also helps that it's got a great cast of characters. Chise seems fairly normal for a heroine, but she's got an edge of sadness and even a touch of cynicism that distinguishes her from the usual sort of ingenue. Elias, on the other hand, is far more genteel then his appearance would suggest, but he's also very elusive. He rarely gives a straight answer when asked about himself, and he sometimes distracts others with humor. Still, he's a very gentle and accepting mentor to Chise and a very interesting person in his own right. Still, Elias is also upfront about the fact that he bought Chise to be both his apprentice and his future bride, and many of the characters they interact with treat this as an inevitability. I can see some being turned off by the notion because of the inherent power difference between the two, but Elias never pushes the matter beyond a few joking comments and is otherwise a kindly father figure to Chise. As for Chise, she's simply happy to have someone who makes her feel welcome in the world. It's far too early to say how the two might work as a romantic pairing, but it's certainly a good start for a mentor and his apprentice. And that's not even touching on some of the other supporting characters, such as magic craftswoman Angelica Pursley or Elias's old friend and watcher Simon, who also serves as the village vicar.
The Ancient Magus' Bride starts slowly, but that means it can take its time to build up the characters and the magical world around them until the reader is fully immersed and fully invested in them.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is also a damn good-looking book. Yamazake's art is loaded with finely etched details ranging from the swirling blobs of magic to the feathers on a fairy's wing to the swish of Chise's slightly mussed-up hair. Her characters range from lush-eyed women to oddly attractive, angular men. I really love Elias's design - it's not only eyecatching in its oddity, but she manages to get a lot of expression out just by dimming or widening the light in his eye sockets. Her backgrounds are exquisite, but they also brim with natural and magical energy. Even the chapter splash pages are beautiful to behold. Her pages and panels are fairly standard, but every once in a while she expands things to show off some of the more wondrous sights like a stand of crystal poppies. It's just incredibly skillful and beautiful art that looks nothing like most shoujo. I guess that's one advantage to this being published in a shonen magazine. It doesn't have to force itself to be cute; it can simply be itself.
The Ancient Magus' Bride is nothing short of magical. Yes, that's a terrible pun, but I don't care because it's true. It's got a fascinating world that I want to immerse myself in like a warm bath and artwork that makes every page a delight to read. It's a series that feels like something that CMX would have picked up, and it's by and large the best thing in Seven Seas' library. I want this series to be a big hit, and if you haven't already checked this one out you need to make it a priority. If you like good fantasy, good shoujo, and good manga in general, you should be reading The Ancient Magus' Bride.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is ongoing in Japan with 5 volumes available. 3 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.
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