First Impression: The Ancient Magus’ Bride S2

Alchemist Adolf Stroud is seated on the overstuffed sofa as he invites Chise Hatori to attend the College for sorcerers where he works. He doesn’t want to pass up the opportunity to study her unique physiology as a twice-cursed mage and Sleigh Beggy, and offers her the opportunity of an education in exchange for her willing participation, with the promise of access to a social environment that has always eluded her: a class of young people her own age, and similarly not-quite-human. The choice belongs to Chise, and she decides that it is time to go to College—a new chapter in her life has begun! By the end of Chise’s first day on campus, with her faithful “dog” Ruth and the Ancient Magus himself, Elias, by her side, it is clear that the days ahead will see her encounter all sorts of new beings, including the many-armed caterpillar nurse, talking cats who serve as dorm matrons, and a range of unusual potential friends and potential rivals-turned-friends—some more prickly and mysterious than others. She will also navigate a new kind of relationship with Elias, where she has greater independence, stepping into the maturity that she has won through the challenges and suffering of the first season (the list of near-death experiences that constitute her medical history attests to that!). But the true test that lies ahead for our earnest heroine will be in learning to value herself and find a way to live courageously rather than dying so. It’s time for Chise to embrace life! And what an exciting new world in which to do so!

Chise is ready for College…and a new era in her life

Wow. Pauses, inhales slowly, exhales…just wow. I was a little concerned when I heard that Wit Studio would not be handling the second series of mangaka Kore Yamazaki’s gorgeously rich celebration of Celtic, English, and Welsh lore translated to the modern(ish) world, but I am very pleased to announce that my misgivings were misplaced: newcomer Studio Kafka is on point!!! The animation is spectacular, folks: crisp, dynamic, and full—absolutely brimming—with movement and intrigue, right from the opening title sequence. This is going to be a studio to watch! The attention to detail, the glorious lighting (you can practically feel the warmth of the carefully rationed beams of sunlight), the lively play of the shadows, and most of all, the surreal reflections in shot after shot make this a layered, compelling viewing experience that is a delight for the eye and the mind as well, as certain of the extreme low angle shots and canted angles seem to bespeak hidden tensions and subtle psychologies to what would otherwise—without such creative layouts—pass by as pretty mundane sequences in any other anime. Suffice it to say, the visual language is lush here, but also (apart from the occasional slightly jarring angle) easily absorbed without forcing the viewer into the unwanted labor of decoding the images. Chise’s character design is aged up slightly, as befits the second season.

Speaking of which, although this is the middle of Chise’s story, excellent groundwork is laid in this episode to make this premiere accessible to new viewers, and provide enough reminders—without being repetitive—for old fans as well. The first few minutes clearly establish this season as a completely new phase in Chise’s story, as she articulates all that she learned from the previous season’s journey, and her aspirations for the road ahead. The sound design is somewhat experimental, with atmospheric, slightly ominous echoing birds and the discordant soughing of trees at times, orchestral swells at others, and jazzy piano riffs in between. Like the animation, there is plenty to sink your teeth into sonically, here, or equally, you can just let it set the mood and wash over you. Crucially, Junna is back with her mildly Celtic-inflected vocals on the OP. In short, this premiere manages to maintain the best elements of the first season, while setting up season two in a class of its own. Overall, the mood is quite serious and a touch somber throughout much of the episode, which is appropriate given the traumas that Chise has undergone recently; yet there are persistent moments of humor as well, and the promise of a wide cast of characters to lighten Chise’s mood and teach her to be a carefree youth, at least a little. Ah, the riches that are in store for us here, my fellow viewers! This is going to be the anime of the season for me, I think! I am well pleased.

The Ancient Magus’ Bridge S2 is streaming on Crunchyroll. Get in on the start of what will surely be the rise of a wonderful new studio!

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