If I’m honest, the first part of this episode was a complete snooze for me. I just don’t care that much about Philomela and worse, I don’t even really get why I’m supposed to care. There just hasn’t been the buildup necessary for a storyline to dominate the way this one has. And half an ep spent on a flashback now doesn’t remedy that, it just makes things worse. That problem would be enough to doom this season to mediocrity for me even if there were no others (which there are, unfortunately).
That said, in the B-part all of a sudden we were in Mahoutsukai again. This ain’t brain surgery – it’s patently obvious what makes this series work and what stymies it, and the season has obediently followed that pattern. It’s the Goddess Morrigan (Kawasumi Ayako) who flips the switch here. She’s the crow woman of course, and as with so much of Mahoutsukai she comes straight out of the mythology of the British Isles. In this case Ireland, as Morrigan is one of the ancient Celtic Gods. A harbinger of death, of disaster, of victory in battle. We’ve seen here once before in this series (though I’d forgotten) and she’s back now to collect a debt.
What exactly does this Goddess want from Chise – what “sacrifice”? Elias stops Chise from making the grievous mistake of telling her wish to a Goddess, and he also tells her that Morrigan wants mistletoe. But is it really that simple? Elias is a pretty powerful mage but he doesn’t even entertain the fantasy that he could face Morrigan in battle – all he can do is grovel for forgiveness and hope the Goddess is in a kindly frame of mind. Which she is, after a fashion – she comes to their aid when a band of Grandmother’s commandos show up to stop them from reaching the Sargent mansion. But Morrigan makes it very clear that payment is only being deferred, and will assuredly be collected in full.
There aren’t a lot of shows that do what The Ancient Magus’ Bride can when it’s in this mode. It can be enchanting and mysterious and terrifying all in one stroke. If you love fantasy and mythology it’s a heady mix. But that just makes it all the more galling that the series has chosen to stop itself from being all those things by trying to be like every other anime out there. The damage is entirely self-inflicted, and the remedy entirely obvious if mostly ignored. If we ever do get to a third season (and with the pacing of the manga it will be a long time, if it ever happens), we can only hope Mahoutsukai no Yome returns to the formula that made it such a success, both artistically and commercially, in the first place.