If I could use magic, I’m not sure what I’d do with it. Maybe I’d make a real Magic 8 Ball.
As of late, the animation production company Wit Studio has managed to produce wonderful and memorable series. In fact, the quality of their productions is impeccable. However, it was only a matter of time before the studio produced an anime series or film that was of subpar or even poor quality. Thankfully, the series that had the honor of being one of Wit Studio’s poorest wasn’t a season-long series or a feature-length film. If it were either of those it could have been difficult for the studio to recoup its losses. So then, what was the anime series that could potentially be labeled as Wit Studio’s weakest work thus far? It was none other than the first installment of The Ancient Magus’ Bride OVA (original video anime) series, The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito (魔法使いの嫁 星待つひとMahō Tsukai no Yome etc.). The reason the installment was lackluster for a Wit Studio’s production stemmed from two factors: a general lack of characterization and the lack of narrative structure. The latter statement about narrative structure was possibly the most upsetting aspect of the OVA because rather than following an established dramatic structure, the story had two first acts. Yet, what the OVA lacked in terms of a narrative and characterization was more than made up for by the animation.
I regularly talk about how the characters or narrative make a compelling anime or manga series. While I stand by that statement, in truth it’s the structure of the work that has the largest impact on whether or not it’s captivating. There are a plethora of narrative structures for authors and directors to utilize, but the most common in anime and manga are the three act, dramatic, or kishotenketsu structures. Granted, the dramatic structure is more of a theory on the progression of a narrative, but it also provides a person with a method to construct his or her story. Thus, without proper structure a story can fail before it ends. In fact, Japanese people are particular about story structure, as a few Japanese people have told me it’s not worth telling a story if there’s no discernable resolution. However, the average Japanese person’s sensibilities regarding narrative structure revolve around comedy rather than telling a story for the sake of telling a story. That being said, Japanese authors and directors have a very well developed sense of narrative structures—if they didn’t we wouldn’t have amazing series like Sazae-san.
Even Wit Studio has created fantastic series with a beautiful structure to its narrative. But, like all production companies it was only a matter of time before the studio created a subpar story. It’s actually a good thing it was The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito because it was not only short, but it also was a great example of what makes a poor narrative structure. To put it simply, the installment had two first acts—and one of them wasn’t a preface. This is exceptionally odd considering a story really can’t have two first acts. Yet, somehow the OVA managed this. Although I wouldn’t say this flies in the face of conventional wisdom concerning story structure, it certainly made the installment difficult to watch. Consider, when the film began the audience was shepherded through the story of the protagonist, Chise Hatori, receiving the books and tools to begin her wizard’s apprenticeship with her mentor, Elias Ainsworth. This created expectations about the progression of the story. However, there was a distinct shift in the narrative halfway into the OVA.
This narrative shift began a whole new story revolving around Chise’s past. While I have no animosity in telling such a story, where it was placed and how it was resolved made it another opening act rather than the final two acts of the installment. True, the way the story was presented was in line with the presentation of a three-part OVA series. Nonetheless, dividing the opening installment into two distinct stories made it virtually impossible to watch. So then, what made the second opening act difficult to watch? Honestly, it was in the presentation of the story. I understand the production team was trying to present what prompted Chise to study magic, but having two stories that conveyed the same plot point seemed superfluous, except perhaps to make the audience feel sympathy towards her. In this regard, the second opening act succeeded in an ineffectual manner. I realize this sounds odd, but the ineffectual success affected the second aspect of what made the installment weak.
As much as I’ve stated how odd the structure of The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito made it difficult to watch, the lack of characterization of the characters made the OVA frustrating to watch as well. There are actually two ways to approach this issue: through the lens of fans and of those new to the franchise. Regarding the former, the lack of characterization wasn’t an issue for fans because they already had an understanding of the characters. However, because the installment was shown in select theaters before being included with the limited edition sixth volume of the manga series, those unfamiliar with the material were certainly in the theaters to become familiar with the series. As such, without a proper introduction to the characters and the basic story it was difficult to become enamored with the narrative. Most writers will say this, but when presenting a story, topic of discussion, or industry terms it’s important to make sure the intended audience understands the underlying concepts. For instance, a good friend of mine was in a business presentation where an industry specific term was used. Yet, he stated there was a good chance most of the people at the meeting had no idea what the term meant. The same was true with this OVA. Fans understood the underlying concepts of the series, but nonfans needed something to help engage them with the story.
Yet, the lack of character information was more of an issue during the first opening act. The audience was given just enough to see Chise was beginning her studies. However, there wasn’t much in terms of introducing Elias or the other characters and their relationship to Chise and Elias. Added on top of this, there wasn’t much information about when and where the story took place. These may not seem all that important at first, but in reality those details provide viewers with context. For example, if the series took place in the early 1900s, the customs and mindset would be much different than a modern setting. Even the location can inform the audience about the traditions and culture. I mean, as much as Americans may try to deny it, there is a distinct cultural difference between the Midwest, East Coast, West Coast, Rust Belt, and so on. Thus, it was important viewers quickly understood when and where the story took place. More importantly, though, that information would have primed the audience about certain personality traits of the characters.
While the story elements of The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito were grating to say the least, the stylistic choices were incredible. This shouldn’t be shocking considering we’re talking about Wit Studio. Of course, I wouldn’t say the animation team outdid themselves, but they were able to convey the atmosphere of the different scenes extremely well. The opening scene was a great example of this as it demonstrated the wonder of magic in the world of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. In fact, the design of the opening scene was on the same level and even better than some of the animation from Someday’s Dreamers: Summer Sky. In terms of the animation, many of the creatures in the second opening act were wonderfully animated as well. Where the animation of the magic centered on whimsy, the creature animation invoked the grotesque nature of city life. As such, the critters had qualities of sewage sludge and highly viscous liquids. However, when discussing the aesthetic choices of the animation team at Wit Studio we have to address the backgrounds.
As with their previous works, the backgrounds were stunning because they added to the mood of the scene. For instance, Elias’s study was designed in such a way so as to invoke an old and dusty study. In turn, the apartment Chise lived in before studying with Elias had the same cramped feel of Japanese apartments. Much of this had to do with the lighting of the particular background, but that only proved the quality of the animators at Wit Studio. Granted, I wouldn’t call the backgrounds in the OVA the studio’s best work. Yes, they were beautiful to look at and added to the atmosphere of the installment, but I still maintain their best background designs were from The Rolling Girls. Even so, Wit Studio managed to create stunning backgrounds for The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito.
It may sound like a bold statement to say Wit Studio created a poor anime series with the first installment of The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito, but it is unfortunately true. This mainly had to do with the narrative structure of the OVA. Although I may have found the structure of the installment disconcerting, I also recognize it’s important for authors and directors to find new methods of presenting their stories. American film director Quentin Tarantino is known for this and I applaud him for his efforts. The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito could have been influential on the anime industry, but alas the structure felt odd more than innovative. Had the production team focused on creating one solid opening act rather than two, this installment could have smoothly transitioned into the second installment. Yet instead, the audience was presented with a story surrounding the beginnings of Chise Hatori’s tutelage and another involving her past. Yes, it was possible to tell both stories without compromising the structure of the OVA, but it would have required a longer runtime. The lack of a conventional structure also impacted the introduction of the characters. Of course, I understand fans didn’t need an introduction, but those new to the material needed something to help them identify what made the characters interesting or at the very least why they should care for them. Even the location or time period would have been enough, but alas, little was given to the audience in this regard as well. Where the installment excelled, though, was the animation. This isn’t shocking considering Wit Studio is an up-and-coming powerhouse in terms of animation. However, it was the backgrounds that truly added to the OVA. As odd as The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito is, I still think people should watch it. It’s a great teaching tool and is potentially the introduction to a fascinating story surrounding Chise.
Title: The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Hoshi Matsu Hito (魔法使いの嫁 星待つひとMahō Tsukai no Yome etc.)
Under: WIT Studio
Official Site: http://magus-bride.jp/
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ancient_Magus’_Bride