Mahoutsukai no Yome – 13

This week’s cold open drips with dread as an evil-sounding guy asks what the adorable Chise will find “at the end of her journey with the failure born in the shadows of the forest”, which doesn’t strike me as the nicest way to describe Elias Ainsworth. Maybe the guy has some kind of grudge? Or maybe he’s jealous that Elias found a Sleigh Beggy?

After that, things take a much lighter tone, as Chise, Ruth, Elias and Silky deal with a sudden infestation of “woolly bugs” in dire need of shearing. Just when Elias steps away for a moment, an icy bug steals Chise’s body heat, but she isn’t in any lasting danger. Elias merely needs to warm her back up.

As a result of that objective, Elias stays with Chise until she wakes up, and the opportunity arises for the two to finally talk a little more about how they feel about each other. Chise had been torturing herself about the “timing” of what she’d say, not the content, and that’s evident here as she’s quite eloquent once the obstacle of when to tell him is gone.

She’s able to clear up a couple of things with Elias—that she’s not afraid of him like most humans are, and that she wants to keep the memory of him going wild, even if it wasn’t pleasant, because it’s the memory of “someone important to her”, which is to say, someone she cares about.

Elias continues to emphasize that he can’t truly emphathize with Chise, or even honestly tell her what his feelings are, because the creature that he is just doesn’t allow for that, or at least hasn’t up to this point.

Elias can say that his home was dreadfully cold when Chise was gone, now it’s much warmer, and he prefer the latters. He also knows that while he may be Chise’s magic teacher, Chise is his human teacher. They have a lot to teach one another.

Chise, unfortunately, doesn’t know not to answer the door alone late at night if she’s not expecting someone, and Elia’s door sadly lacks a peephole, so when Chise opens the door to find the many millennia-old Ashen Eye on the other side, she’s wide open for whatever Ashy might want to do.

Ashen Eye is, of course, the creepy guy we heard talking at the beginning. He seems to be obsessed with Chise, but at least partially informed by a longstanding resentment of humanity he’s built up over the centuries.

He claims he has no intention of “harming” Chise at all, but apparently “transforming her into a red fox” doesn’t fall under the “harm” category of “harm.” So what’s Ahsen Eye’s game, and how will Elias (or Fox Chise, for that matter) deal with him?

I’ve learned not to immediately think everyone who does something weird like this to Chise is automatically a villain with ill intent. It’s possible he’s just teaching both of these youngins a lesson in not answering your door. But that creepy cold open weighs on me…it’s more likely he’s up to no good.

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Mahoutsukai no Yome – 12

As a restless Elias lounges around the house, lacking the energy to do anything even though there are things to be done, Chise completes her wand (an exhausting process) and basically “contracts” with it by sharing a bond of fate with Nevin, source of the wand’s wood.

She and Nevin meet in a nebulous space between the worlds of the living and dead. There, Nevin hears Chise out, then gets her to address her appalling lack of self-worth and confidence, believing as she has since her mother discarded her that she is readily disposable.

But rather than curse the parents who messed their kid up so much, Nevin thanks them for everything they did, because that string of actions and inactions led Chise to him, and she allowed him to fly again in his last moments.

Nevin also asks Chise to consider everything she’s done and the people she’s met and saved. If a savior such as Chise believes herself of so little value, that reflects poorly on the value of those she saved.

Having concluded her talk with Nevin, Chise returns to the regular world, and wishes to head back home so she can say the things she needs to say to Elias. Can I just say how it feels like she gives us this spiel about wanting to say things left unsaid in every episode, and yet it never happens.

This episode is no exception, though I can forgive it for using the conceit of Chise simply running out of energy, because she did, after all, use her wand to fly home by herself, utilizing fire faeries to transform herself into an elegant phoenix.

Visual similarities to Ghibli films notwithstanding, Phoenix-Chise’s extended journey through the sky was a high point of the episode, with Chise relying on her own power and embracing both the freedom her new wand allows her and the more advanced magic she, a sleigh beggy, can pull off with ease.

The trip knocks her out, and she has a dream involving her parents unlike any other she’d had before: a dream in which her mother isn’t crying or angry, but rather happy and smiling, even at Chise.

We see a glimpse of her life that she had forgotten, as it had likely been buried under years of emotional trauma. Her mom, pregnant with her little sister, and her dad, enjoying a lovely sunny day.

That’s the day that awaits Chise back home in the waking world, albeit with a sky full of floating sheep insects waiting to be shorn. After a bath and breakfast, Chise slips back into the warm comfort of her life as an ancient mage’s apprentice. Realizing the “bride” part, however, will require more time.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 11

Lindel’s fireside infodump-er-saga with Chise continues as he recounts his early travels with his new apprentice Elias. While making a house visit to heal a sick child, the child’s sister has “the sight” and spots Elias in Lindel’s shadow.

The girl assumes it’s an evil demon, and before long the entire village is mobilized against Lindel and Elias. When Lindel is injured by a thrown rock, Elias loses his temper and attacks the villagers with his thorny vine appendages, basically confirming their worst fears.

And here is the start of the trouble with Elias Ainsworth that I’ve had for the past ten weeks; a problem no closer to being solved in its eleventh. As Lindel’s master noted, he has a tiny amount of human in him, but there just isn’t enough humanity for me to fully emotionally connect.

That’s made any exploration of Elias and Chise’s relationship—in terms of her status as his future wife—feel incomplete and unsatisfying. As Lindel said to Chise, Elias “seemed to be missing something”, and for me, he’s still missing it.

(There’s also the little matter of Elias having a vague memory of—and occasionally feeling the urge to—eat humans, though Chise claims she’s never once feared Elias, even during that tense bed scene.)

But perhaps I’m not being open-minded enough with the premise that it isn’t that Elias isn’t human enough, but that for all the years he’s lived, Elias is still a child, and not just in Lindel’s eyes.

As a child, he’s insecure, emotionally stunted, and prefers the shadows. Chise, with her own stunted childhood, is in a similar state, leaving us with two would-be “lovers” who really have no clue what they’re doing.

A large part of that is neither Elias nor Chise have really taken the time to dig that deeply into who they are and what they want, aside from the big things like “survival” and “being wanted/needed”.

But never mind that for now; we’ve got a long way to go with these two crazy kids. For now, Chise gets tossed back into the water by baby dragons, meets a leviathan (neat!) and then sets to work whittling down a wooden log into her wand, which is meant to be an introspective process.

When night falls, Lindel, AKA Echos, sings the song of a hundred flowers, and all number of magical beings emerge and join in a dance. Chise dances for the first time, and then inadvertently opens a “water mirror” through which she can communicate directly with Elias.

Chise says Elias “looks troubled”, which is a bit silly since his bony face never really changes that much, and then the two remark at how much they miss one another, despite not having been apart all that long.

Home is cold without Chise, and Chise wants to show Elias the beautiful scene Lindel has created. “Two kids”, as Lindel said, both trying to figure out who they are and what the other person means to them.

And since Chise has learned so much about Elias—things he couldn’t or wouldn’t say—she wants to reveal to him more about her self; something she hasn’t yet been able to do to her satisfaction.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 10

Lindel sends a selkie along with one of the young dragons (now big enough for a human to ride) to invite Chise to the Land of the Dragons so the “Robin” can have a wand made. For this journey, Elias will stay behind, though Ruth will remain by her side.

Chise’s dragon ride through the wind and clouds is appropriately epic in presentation, with stirring orchestral accompaniment to boot. It’s also nice, for once, to have an episode without any imminent or even perceived threats. There are more sides to Chise’s life than peril…procuring a wand, for instance.

Nevin’s Tree is as big and majestic as ever, and Lindel directs Chise to saw off a piece of it for her wand. Her lack of surefootedness in the tree results in a spill and a demonstration of how crucial it is she have a familiar nearby to, among other things, catch her. Back home, Elias notes how quiet it seems without Chise.

While she’s hardly a Chatty Cathy, she’s a motormouth compared to Silver. Then Elias receives a message via bird-intercom from Adolf Stroud of the College administration, who’d like to learn more about what Elias has in mind for Chise’s future.

That night, Chise arms and hands are covered in scrapes and scratches, which Lindel instantly heals with a touch. As a “bedtime story”, and because Elias hasn’t told her, Lindel regails Chise with the tale of how Lindel met Elias.

Lindel himself didn’t even have a name before his master found him, and Elias has a similar “birth”, one brutally wintry day simply appearing out of seemingly nowhere, nameless, without any memories or idea of what he was. Lindel gave him a place to rest and a meal, but its clear if either of them want any answers, the best bet is to take him to his master.

Lindel finds his master with a sprig of spruce and a red string. When they arrive, when Elias is too big to enter the house, he shrinks himself to child-size. The master, kind and curious, pegs the creature as almost a fairy; as close as one can get, yet still with a bit of human, which pretty much describes the Elias we’ve come to know.

She’d normally chalk his state to the result of a human transformed after abusing black magic, but she keeps her other guess close to her chest. All she can get out of him memory-wise is a color: red. She tells Lindel to take care of him, giving him the name Elias. Lindel is initially hesitant, but when Elias starts to take off (not wanting to be a bother), he agrees, though makes sure to call him his “acquaintance”, not his “apprentice.”

Back in the present, Elias’s bird-call from Adolf is interrupted by Renfred, who warns Elias that he’ll “ruin” Chise if all he does is let her live with him. Everyone from the college to Lindel wants her to spread her wings, but Elias is taking things slow, and Chise, happy simply to be wanted by someone, is being complacent on purpose.

Of course, this episode only provided part of Elias’ past, and we still don’t know exactly who or what he is, particularly before that scene in the forest where he had to fight back wolves. Ultimately, Chise’s future is up to her and no one else, but she’ll need more knowledge before making any concrete plans.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 09

After the dispersal of Cartaphilus, life returns mostly to normal for Chise, who enters a nice, steady routine along with her new familiar Ruth. The part that isn’t normal is Elias: he’s confined himself to his room and Chise doesn’t dare enter. Eventually, Silky tires of her standing by Elias’ door and throws her and Ruth out of the front one with spending money.

It’s not long before Chise runs into Angelica, and the two do some sightseeing and shopping around town. Angelica first tells her she needs to learn to rely on people more, but later wonders out loud if she’s being too dependent and fixed on Elias. While Angelica apologizes for saying too much, Chise latches on to her latter point, and turns it into a larger criticism on her own perceived “selfishness” for not wanting to be abandoned.

Obviously, Chise’s being too hard on herself. Considering how much she’s already lost in her sixteen years (and how few years she may have), I’d say she deserves a measure of selfishness. Besides, even as an apprentice she’s touched a number of lives in meaningful ways. She’s a good person becoming a good mage.

As if she heard my words about her, Chise decides to do what she wants, which is storm in Elias’ room and ask him what exactly is going on. The Elias who she meets is even farther from human than usual, and he warns her (with a steady voice that belies his fearsome appearance) he’s having trouble controlling his body. I couldn’t help but think of Howl (of the Moving Castle) when he’s extended himself too far and become beast-like.

Chise was startled initially, but doesn’t remain afraid for long (thinking it’s because she’s cursed). In fact, she spends the night with Elias, during which she dreams of him on top of her turning into her mother, who tells her she should never have given birth to her. How creepy and messed up is that? She wakes up to find Elias gone and a note saying he’ll be back that night.

That’s not sufficient for Chise, who didn’t get all the answers she wanted, and initiates a search for Elias with Ruth. Along the way, they encounter an old man apparently in thrall to a leannan sidhe, a kind of vampire that gives their host talent in exchange for their blood – but she is invisible to him.

The thing is…while Joel Garland is a big reader and occasional writer, he doesn’t have the talent or fame one would expect the Sidhe to give him. Nor does she even take his blood, because he lacks the ambition that is usually the opening her kind uses to gain a host.

Instead, she fell for him, years ago, when they met eyes. They meet eyes again, and the Sidhe believes it’s because Chise, a sleigh beggy, is there. She gives Chise a couple of kisses as thanks and asks her to come see Joel again some time, but insists, almost tsundere-like, that she doesn’t actually love the guy, since she can’t give him talent or take his blood.

Chise doesn’t think she can talk of love when all she can think about is herself…but is she really doing that? Does she only worry about Elias because he saved her; because gives her a reason to live; because she benefits?

Ruth finds Elias resting in a pool and Chise races to him, demanding more answers even though she expects only a few mixed with half-truths and deflections. Elias always assumed a minimum of information was needed since she understands and accepts him so quickly.

What he didn’t realize was that Chise cares about him to the extent a note and a little bit of explanation isn’t always going to cut it; she’s going to want more sometimes. Elias, taken aback by her “new faces”, now understands, but still needs more time to recover and gather his thoughts.

Just then, Echo’s familiar appears on behalf of Lindel, to invite Elias and Chise to the Land of the Dragons where he has “business” with her, revealing the setting for Chise’s next adventure.

Fate / Zero – 20

This week is 95% talk and 5% action, resulting in an episode that’s 75% “8” and 25% “9.” Kiritsugu’s backstory duology was fantastic, as well as instrumental in helping us understand him more. One could also argue that positioning it after the Mion River Battle made sense, as all the Servants and Masters who survived the battle would require resting-up.

But the fact the two episodes are wholly self-contained, with no ‘bookends’ to tether the story to the present-day rest period, is a double-edged sword. The bad edge being that we simply time-traveled to Kiritsugu’s past; no one in the present was reminiscing. That meant a hard stop to the present-day story, which is a little jarring from a momentum and pacing standpoint.

It also means we barely skipped through the rest-and-recovery period for the Servants and Masters post-battle, so we’re presented with them now. Of course, Tokiomi getting killed and replaced as Archer’s Master was huge, but much of the episode that preceded that event felt like time-marking.

Fate/Zero’s long talks in dark rooms are always tolerable at worst and momentous masterpieces of the spoken word at best, but setting aside Kiritsugu’s past episodes, the proportion of present, legitimate Holy Grail War action set pieces and those of static dialogue has felt imbalanced.

That imbalance is amplified by the similar orientations of so many of the participants in those talking scenes, which are so simple in their execution one wonders if the studio was being more conservative with its budget post-Mion, post-Arimago, and post-Natalia. But they weren’t all bad. There were just a lot of them.

Iri is on her back, her body continuing to weaken as the War’s end draws closer, giving Kiritsugu Avalon since he’ll be needing it from now on. Their exchange is sad but also comforting; a kind of love has indeed taken shape in their nine years together, and there are no regrets, only the hope that Ilya will be able to avoid fighting in the next War, because there will be no next War. (Never mind that we know ful well there will be, of course…only adding to the tragedy).

Waver is on his back, in a full-length sleeping bag in the woods, trying to do all he can to restore Rider’s physical form and mana after having to use Ionian Hetairoi a second time (and saying there won’t be a fourth). They may have started out as comic relief, but they can pull off their share of dramatic scenes too; they’ve come a long way.

In the weakest scene, Kariya, while not supine, is strung up crucifixion-style, back under the tender care of Zouken, Evil Dad, who implants in him a crest worm that “first tasted Sakura’s purity”, and thus contains a lot of her life force, which Zouken then blames him for stealing, which is kind of like a bully using his victim’s own hand to hit him in the fact while saying “stop hitting yourself.” Such a creepy dick.

We don’t see Tokiomi, but we can assume he’s supine in death (unless Kiritsugu chose a more creative way to dispose of his body). And then we’re back to Iri, being watched by Maiya. As Kiritsugu infiltrates the Toosaka mansion and discovers Tokiomi is dead, Maiya answers Iri’s question about why she’s stood  beside Kiritsugu all this time.

We learn that as Natalia did with him,  Kiritsugu delivered Maiya from child soldier hell and, by taking her under his wing, inserted her into a different kind of hell that was better simply because neither of them were alone anymore. Despite Maiya’s believe that should she survive the war she won’t have a purpose any longer, Iri implores her to live life perhaps to find out what her name was and if any of her family still live.

A non-main character being told she has her whole life ahead of her is usually a sign that character’s hours are numbered, and so it comes to pass when Rider suddenly busts in their hideout, kidnaps Iri, and mortally wounds Maiya when she tried to stop him. The suddenness of Rider’s vicious attack really awoke me to the fact that the time for parlays, truces, and mercy is quickly waning, if it isn’t already gone.

That brings us to the final—and best—scene of a character lying on her back, the dying Maiya. Saber arrived almost immediately when Kiritsugu blew a Command Seal, but Iri had already been taken, and there was no time to heal Maiya and go after Rider.

By the time Kiritsugu reaches Maiya, she’s too far gone, which means Kiritsugu has to endure watching yet another person he loves die before his eyes. But the world without fighting he wants to build isn’t meant for him or Iri or Maiya; they’re all merely tools. That world is for his daughter, for all the world’s sons and daughters. So he will press on.