For much of the early portion of The Ancient Magus Bride, we only know Chika Hatori, Chise’s mom, as an abusive parent. While alive, she spewed hateful words toward her daughter and even attempted to strangle her. When Chise remembers her time with her mom in a more extended scenario, reconstructed by Joseph during the transfer between the two, those actions remain true, but the circumstances surrounding them are brought to light, and the evil of Chika’s actions become tinged also with sadness and perhaps understanding.
The entirety of the vileness shown by Chika happens in one sequence—by this point, she has been abandoned by the world, whether intentionally or not. Her husband has left, her son is gone, her co-workers reject her, she loses her job (and is unable to find another), and the spirits are more sinister than ever. In an almost possessed state (I wonder who is it that speaks the lies that instigate this action?), Chike begins to choke her daughter. She comes to her senses and relents, but in her depression and guilt, commits the worst abuse of all—she commits suicide in front of Chise.
In my self-righteousness, a condition with which I often wrestle, I might still condemn Chika. Be a better parent. Be stronger. Care for your loving daughter. But I can’t feel that way because I’ve been far too close where she was.
When I had my first child, I wasn’t ready, not at all. I thought I was—I’d been dreaming of fatherhood since I was a young child. But I was far more immature than I knew, and I couldn’t handle a fussy child along with mounting financial stress, which led me to work three jobs (and that in turn causing further stress in the household). I was a bad husband and a terrible father. I couldn’t trust myself to be alone with my son, because I knew I would explode in anger and literally yell at an infant, at a little baby. I could no longer hide behind some false bravado of my goodness: I was no good at all.
It reminded me, as did the episode featuring Chika, of a scene in one of my favorite movies, The Joy Luck Club, where a mother in a similarly “possessed” state drowns her infant. I couldn’t understand that scene when I watched as a teenager, but I comprehended it completely as a deeply flawed parent. I was capable of such sins, of these points of no return.
In my own life, change was slow. It was mired in pain, too, as I failed time and time again, in ways big and small. I also felt alone—I was too ashamed to reach out to church community, and my wife needed me to partner with her, not rely on her. Thankfully, through the failures, I came closer to God and grew to rely on him, as I had no one else to which to turn. I knew God’s grace, but finally, being at rock bottom, I could really know it.
But for Chika, there was no one to turn to, no family to offer support, no friends that could understand, and a child who provided both hope and tremendous challenge. She failed and had no grace to lift her up. How this story would be different if she knew grace, if someone had been grace to her. Down the broken road, Chise now heads toward recovery, but a more joyful path could have been carved by the kindness of another, by anyone at all.
Despair, distress, and guilt can overwhelm, but grace is a tidal wave that can wash away the ugliness and set things anew. But if no one explains it, if no one shows it, that greatest of loves lies dormant, its power tamed. And as Chika’s demise shows, in the place of grace may come a storm that does more than tear away the brokenness—as a lie shouting that there is a “point of no return,” it becomes a reality from which one believes there is no escape, where shame reigns, and where hope is hidden for good, and it obliterates all.
The Ancient Magus Bride can be streamed legally on Crunchyroll.