It’s now officially Fall! …Or that’s what the calendar tells me, but the unwelcome persistence of 80 degree weather (that’s 27~ degrees Celsius to you Celsius-using folk) is weaving a different tale. In an effort to prove that temperature doesn’t rule my life–even when I’m dying and making offerings for those crisp fall days to come the fuck on already–I’ve started to dive into that good seasonal content. Of course, that means witches and magic!
Back in March of last year I talked about how excited I was for the upcoming anime adaptation of the manga The Ancient Magus’ Bride, and just recently the three part OVA, Those Awaiting A Star, finished airing in Japan. Despite being unaware that an OVA was even happening, I eagerly dove into the three 25 minute episodes. It was advertised as a prequel story, so I was a bit hesitant that the OVA would be focusing mostly on the situation that brought heroine Chise to her living arrangements with her fiance, the titular ancient magus; doing so would almost certainly mean focusing on the neglect and abuse Chise suffered, and three episodes of that sounds kind of like the worst thing ever. It’s impossible to avoid that completely, as the episodes focus on Chise’s childhood, but if you share my concerns, I’m here to tell you that the OVAs didn’t turn into the Chise torture hour. More importantly, Those Awaiting A Star subtly shows off the environment Chise comes to thrive in as well as her relationship to Elias (the magus) in a way that quells the worries I, as someone who hasn’t read the manga, had about that too!
Those Awaiting A Star starts on a normal day at Elias’s home, with Chise, Elias, and Chise’s familiar Ruth sharing a peaceful breakfast. Their peace is interrupted when a shipment of learning materials that Elias ordered for Chise arrives, spilling out across the floor due to the sheer amount of it all. Taking care of this mess leads to Chise offering to clean up Elias’s dusty old study, and as they all work together to dust, shake out the curtains, and sort the newly delivered books in with the old, Chise notices that one of the books that came with the delivery is not like the others. Indeed, this book is no magical tome, but a children’s picture book–more specifically, a picture book that Chise used to own before she left it behind. Her attention to it interests Elias and all the other magical creatures in the room, so Chise begins her tale of why this picture book is so important to her.
While the OVA doesn’t get into the slavery-specific parts of Chise’s childhood, it does show or mention in passing the parts that built up to her believing that a life of slavery would be preferable to living her own life. Chise’s memories start with her mother committing suicide, complete with the “I never should have given birth to you” line. From there, her relatives take her in, but become frustrated and cruel when Chise doesn’t “warm up” to them; they’re unwilling to be sympathetic to her trauma and are ignorant of the fear that she lives in each day from seeing creepy monsters all over the place. Chise isn’t entirely neglected, but the OVA points out both how difficult it can be to live with an invisible illness (seeing creepy magical creatures that are invisible to other people may not be an allegory for mental illnesses, but it sure seems like it) and that some people are more content to sit and wonder what’s wrong rather than actually trying to help. Chise’s nervousness and bleak outlook on the world only begin to ebb when she stumbles upon a library hidden in the woods which is run by a kindly mage named Riichi. Riichi gives her all the support and kindness Chise lacked from her relatives and society as a whole, making sure she knows she can return to the library at any time and read any of the books she wants.
Riichi’s kindness also shows us the unfortunate repercussions of a relapse when Chise’s new haven is taken away from her. The monster that had been lingering near Chise, the one that didn’t let her rest in her relatives’ home, manages to sneak into the library, destroying all the books within it and killing Riichi in the process. With his dying breath, he gives Chise a reason to move past the current tragedy in front of her, rather than remaining by his side and getting devoured by the monster as well. Yet upon completing Riichi’s request to return a book to the woman he was in love with, Chise no longer has any reason to go on. She gives up hope, leaving the book Riichi gave her–the picture book–behind as her relatives send her away for the last time.
While Riichi didn’t exactly have his life in order, he does accentuate how much better Chise’s life is now that she’s living with Elias. Riichi was able to extend a hand to Chise as he knew a very basic way to help her. However, having sealed away and forgotten his own trauma, Riichi is unable to offer Chise the amount of support she needed to build her own means of support; when the library disappeared, so too did all the healing that Chise had gone through because it was connected entirely to Riichi and the library. Everyone at Elias’s home, however, is dedicated to both giving Chise the tools–emotionally and physically–to succeed and better herself, and tirelessly make sure that Chise is okay. I was shocked watching the interactions, honestly. For example, in the middle of Chise’s story, Ruth worriedly asks if Chise is all right with continuing the tale. If the story had been too painful for Chise to relive, Ruth didn’t want Chise to continue just for the sake of everyone else’s curiosity. This sentiment is also echoed by Elias and the other creatures listening in. Even after Chise finishes, Elias asks if it’s really a good thing that they keep this book if it evokes such a painful memory from Chise’s past. Though he worries in good faith, the important thing is that he listened to Chise when she said she wished to keep it, and it’s more important that Elias asked to hear Chise’s opinion on it after she states she wants to read it again with new eyes. Not only does Chise get the opportunity to grow and heal, she is allowed to do it on her own terms.
Lastly, I want to state how impressed I am with the depiction of Elias and his relationship to Chise. Given that Elias is probably like, a billion years old at this point–he’s part fae and has a skull for a head, so I can only guess–his relationship and engagement to a young human girl could become creepy at light speed. However, he is always respectful of her and her boundaries, and there is nothing openly romantic at all within the OVA. No weird attempts at kissing, no butt pinching, no lewd comments, no heated lingering stares, nothing. Furthermore, he goes out of his way to tell Chise that she is on an equal level to him: he is teaching her to understand magic, but she’s teaching him to understand humans. Again, this could become easily creepy, but Elias never pulls those abusive lines like, “you’re the only one who can teach me” and such; Chise is never weighed down by his expectations or overwhelmed by these types of dangerous thoughts. While it’s potentially an impossible task to have it be functionally true that Elias and Chise have the same amount of power, the narrative makes it clear that even if Elias is more powerful, he won’t abuse his power against Chise, and that if he even thinks about it, all the other magical creatures will destroy Elias.
Those Awaiting A Star is an excellent primer for what audiences can expect when The Ancient Magus’ Bride starts in October. Though Chise will constantly be working to overcome the struggles of her past and the impact it still has on her, she will be working alongside people who love and support her. Her new family will learn to take the good with the bad, and won’t abandon her to her fears. Once again my excitement for the series is renewed, and I hope that my anime-enjoying readers will join me in giving it some support!