This is my first review on MAL, it's more of an analysis though really, and it was written while the show is as-of-yet incomplete. Spoilers on events only up to episode 12 may be present.
Ancient Magus Bride is a story of humanity and reliance billed as a show about magic. With excellent animation, surprisingly slow pacing, and a few bangin' tracks, this is a show that wants to suck you in.
With producers like Production I.G. and animators like Wit Studio, you might expect more than you get here (Many conflicts are resolved without the loss of half our cast of characters lives, so sorry SNK
fans.). This show very much fits into the Slice of Life genre.
Our most visually striking character Elias is a "man" with a skull for a head and a powerful and seemingly wealthy mage. After literally purchasing our protagonist Chise from an auction he transports her to his quite modest home.
"It certainly doesn't appear to be the home of a man with ill-intent?", one might think, but the torture room could still be pending.
Nevertheless, after kindly breaking her chains. Elias strips Chise naked kicking and screaming and sticks her in a bathtub, so he's either a sociopath with zero intention of treating her like anything other than an object, or he's a woefully ignorant and awkward man with little knowledge of human shame. Thankfully, it's the latter. It doesn't stop the viewer from wondering though... is Elias really as docile as he appears? (hell if i know)
Chise, the titular "protagonist" here, certainly seems to hold the qualities of one, but not without complications. In the beginning Chise is lost. She sells herself into slavery, seemingly because she holds no value in her own life, but is desperate enough to think she would be made more useful as a slave? I'm unsure. She very quickly grows an attachment to her captor, probably something like Stockholm syndrome, who knows. What's more intriguing though is Elias' own attachment towards her. Multiple times throughout the story he contradicts himself as to what she is to him. His apprentice? His family? His daughter? His bride?! While the bride one is quite awkward i think it shows that the sometimes childlike, sometimes predatory Elias is a man who, well... isn't really a man at all. Elias imitates man through observation, and Chise was simply another means for which him to observe, that's all she really was originally at least. Meanwhile though he is unknowingly teaching Chise more and more about her own humanity. He introduces her to others who teach her about life and death, independence and dependence, love, and self worth. She has uncovered so much more about herself through staring into his beady little red eyes than i would think is possible.
This show certainly does address some very serious topics. Human trafficking, child abuse, etc. What it doesn't do though is give the audience any indication that it's trying to speak for reality. It's an entirely fantastical story, with characters who act at times entirely inhuman (whether that be intentional or unintentional). It can be in bad taste at times, and sometimes i wonder "why is this fairy lady wearing nothing but lingerie?" (well, traditional depictions /would/ have her wearing nothing at all) I then have to slap myself in the face and realize it's a fantasy anime, and i'm lucky i haven't seen a topless centaur by now. (followed immediately by the inclusion of a topless zombie spider lady, oh well.)
It's not a groundbreaking show folks, but it's certainly one with character development (which is saying something), and it has some interesting things to say, even if they've been said before more tastefully.
If I could make a prediction from what we have so far, I'd imagine by the end of the show we'll see some role reversals. I'd love for the show to climax with Chise being our powerful savior, and Elias are lost soul, reliant on her wisdom. If not though then it still certainly has still has moments that make it work a watch.