I still have a hard time fully sorting out my thoughts on the Ancient Magus’ Bride. If you’ve read my 3 (yup 3, 3rd one is scheduled for the last week of June) reviews for the series, you can see just how much my feelings jump around. There are some elements which were undeniably fantastic while others fell sadly short.
However, among the clear highs of the series, was the character of Chika Hatori. I understand why Chika isn’t discussed that much. There’s a whole lot to unpack there and we never really get a clear view of the character until the very end of the series. She’s basically impossible to explore without spoiling some pretty important plot points. Also…SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen The Ancient Magus’ Bride but you want to and also want to be surprised…. I’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by!
Are they gone?
Alright, let’s talk Ancient Magus spoilers! For most of the series, Chise has some horrific flashbacks and nightmares which lead us to believe that she had an absolutely traumatic childhood with a monstrously abusive mother who tried to kill her. Obviously, the trauma has weighed very heavily on Chise and this one event is hugely formative and important to her. We never even get a clear look at her mother. She remains a nameless, faceless presence, recognizable only in the red hair her daughter inherited from her. She’s a boogeyman and a symbol of supreme treason. How can anyone be expected to even understand trust after being betrayed by their own mother in such a way.
Chika is the cause of every bad thing that’s ever happened to Chise. She’s the embodiment of all her pains and fears. She is the worst nightmare a little girl who sees shadow monsters, could ever imagine. And we share Chise’s loathing. There is something deeply instinctual about a parent caring for their children. Something so primordial and ingrained, that violence towards one’s own child seems just a touch worse than anything else. Maybe that’s just me. However, the tone is clear from the get go. Chise’s mom is abhorrent and we are meant to hate her.
And because Chise is so clearly traumatized, so deeply broken, it’s easy to hate her mom. It didn’t even occur to me to question the events or try to understand Chika in any way. My impulsive reaction was to blindly label any mother that would do such a thing as an aberration and unquestioningly stand with the child. And I’m not even particularly fond of children…
It’s not until 3 quarters into the series that I got my first inkling that something was off. Chise somehow managed to recall a long-buried memory. Strolling happily down the street with her parents and brother. This was the first time we had seen either her father or her brother. More importantly, everyone seemed so happy. Smiling and carefree. Her mother was caring, looking out for little Chise, and Chise herself was comfortable and happy around Chika. No matter how we looked at it, this memory simply couldn’t be reconciled with everything we knew about Chise’s childhood.
I really should have suspected sooner. Realistically, Chise was a very young child that underwent a deeply harrowing event. Even in the very best-case scenario, it was impossible that she recalled everything properly. She was much too young to understand what was happening in the first place.
At the time though, my attention grabbed on to the brother and father. I had assumed that Chise’s dad had never been in the picture, let alone that there was a sibling. This new information brought up so many questions.
The only time Chise’s life before her meeting with Elias is described in any detail is in those breathtaking OVAs. By then she’s already a forlorn and terrified child, far from the cheerful little girl we see in that flashback. By now, I’ve watched enough Natsume to know that a life spent have in the spirit world does not make for a happy childhood and the neighbors of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, are significantly more insidious than Natsume’s Yokai.
Suddenly I was thrown into disarray. Why hadn’t Chise ever mentioned the rest of her family? What could have happened? Did her mom go on a killing spree? Was she possessed by a neighbor? Did Chise unknowingly cause the tragedy somehow? I had already devoted roughly 20 episodes to reflexively hating this woman, how was it fair to make me doubt myself now? And more importantly, could I really trust Chise?
I would have to remain on this unsteady ground until the last three episodes when the show finally decided to tell us the story of Chika the woman, behind the myth of Chika the monster.
It seemed that Chise got more than her hair color from her mother. Both her parents also had the sight and her mother was particularly gifted in that regard. This meant notmonly the her parents beloved and understood her completely, but also that they could protect her. Her mother, being physically frail like Chise would stay home taking care of the chores and the children while their father worked. It wasn’t the most glamorous life and Chika regularly worried about not contributing enough to the household, but nevertheless they were a happy family.
Her father seemed like an optimistic smiling man, who would confort little Chise and keep her safe. He dismissed Chika’s misgivings, stating that he preferred that she stay home. The times we see them all together are pleasant and relaxing. These two clearly loved each other. Which is why Chise’s dad suddenly leaving in the middle of the night and taking her little brother was so inexplicably cruel. He even smiled and lied straight to his daughter’s face in the process.
Already, this was showing me the mother in a different light. She wasn’t completely crazy. Being an extremely rare sleigh beggy, Chise had been attracting unwelcomed attention from few creatures of all sorts since birth. It was easy to imagine that this constant threat had finally been too much for her father. I would understand if that’s the conclusion Chika came to and snapped. Except that wasn’t quite it either.
Abandoned by the love of her life and finding herself without a knight in shining armor to protect her from the shadows, Chika immediately set off to take care of her daughter by herself. With no work experience, poor health and being haunted by good neighbors at every turn, I honestly think Chika did her best. At least at first.
With money lower than it had ever been and stress rising higher every day, Chika held on for dear life as she got fired from one job after the other due to fea interference. Coupled with her increasingly weak body, lack of sleep and food, in the end she did finally go off the deep end but it took longer than I would have expected.
And when that absolutely horrific event did come to pass, the reality was both less horrible and more tragic than the nightmare. A frayed and broken Chika had a momentary lapse, a delayed postpartum reaction, lashing out at her daughter but it wasn’t the drawn out painfully unending scene a terrified little girl’s mind created. It was a few seconds of pure frenzy and madness followed by terrorizing realization and a complete inability to cope.
Chika realized right away that her actions where completely inexcusable. She herself believed that her daughter would now be better off without her. That she had committed such a sin as to forfeit her right to life. The just as dubious choice to kill herself in front of her daughter probably just compounded the damage but I’m letting she was thinking straight at the time.
It’s not often that a show can pull off something like this. Take the main antagonist and humanize them in the last episodes while turning the lead character’s motivation on it’s head without ruining the pilot’s internal integrity. Even though reality was quite different from what she remembered, Chise’s action remain completely rational in hindsight and her personality, justified. We are not forced to reconsider the character completely at the last minute. And her mother remains completely unforgivable, in fact Chise’s active decision to deny her forgiveness even after learning of all the events that pushed Chika too far, was a great move on the part of the narrative.
Like Chise I won’t forgive Chika for what she did. It’s not something you can forgive in my opinion. But she wasn’t a monster, she was just weak. And I wish things had gone better for all of them.