Like many others, I highly anticipated Mahoutsukai no Yome. Maybe that was my mistake, and I expected too much. But even anime that fail to live up to expectations usually fail them this hard.
So where did things go wrong? The plot? The characters? The worldbuilding? All of the above?
I’ll start with what I liked about Mahoutsukai no Yome. It’s beautiful. There were scenes that were, for a lack of a better word, magical. The soundtrack is also worth listening too.
But despite having high production quality and a magical world to explore, Magus Bride falls flat thanks to its dull cast and lack of subtlety.
The side cast is composed of characters with similar “blandly nice” personalities with few exceptions. If you described these characters by personality alone, you wouldn’t be able to tell most of the cast apart.
Our heroine, Chise, isn’t much better, which is really a shame. The story about a young woman overcoming depression through love and exploring a magical realm has great potential, but this supposedly traumatized girl ends up swapping overly dramatic and intimate backstories with every person she meets. It happens too often, which, in addition to losing its effectiveness, also makes it hard to believe Chise struggled to connect with people prior to the story.
She also makes a poor first impression. In the first handful of episodes, the only action she takes is selling herself into slavery. She barely even walks on her own. I get that she’s depressed, but a character is supposed to entertain, not act like a living blob.
Once she finally shows interest into something other than the 400+-year-old man-child who bought her, she grows more interesting, but falls into the same “blandly nice” personality as the rest of the cast.
Elias, our hero, has a personality at least, but it’s not one I’m a fan of. He’s a man-child who throws a magical hissy fit the second Chise talks to someone he didn’t tell her to. While the show does call him out for some of his more possessive behavior, it often gets played off as humorous instead of dangerous.
The show’s premise doesn’t do Elias any favors. He starts the story buying an underage girl and calling her his bride. I get that Elias doesn’t quite understand the connotations of the word “bride,” but the mangaka does. That is the connection the writers wanted the audience to make.
While I think people often overreact to this, since the story seems aware of the problematic aspects of Chise’s and Elias’ relationship, it takes all the mystery out of their relationship. It frames everything they do automatically in a romantic light, rather than leaving room for mystery, magic, and interpretation.
This might not have bothered me except that the entire show does this. Everything is so blandly obvious it feels like the producers are holding up cue cards to the audience saying “cry now” or “find this magical” rather than subtly guiding the audience or letting them make up their own minds.
Every single episode has some grand moment where the music gets big and characters exchange tragic backstory and Chise has some “magical” moment of character progression and on and on. This is fine if done once or twice, but it’s done so often it feels hamfisted rather than genuine.
The show also seems addicted to cliff-hangers. Characters how up and threaten Chise, only to reveal themselves as good guys within a minute of the next episode. It gets old quick and makes you wonder why these supposedly nice people wanted to come across as creepy kidnappers during their first impression.
I really wanted to like this show, but it lacks the magic similar shows like Natsume Yuujinchou and Mushishi mastered. In the end, when you look beyond the exceptional backdrops, stunning soundtrack, and excellent production, there’s just not much there.