©2022 Kore Yamazaki/MAG GARDEN-Mahoome Partners
Anytime you try to humanize a truly vile villain, it’s going to be a difficult rope. Having more believable human villains can certainly be a good thing, especially in a character-driven story like AMB. However, an unfortunate number of stories tend to treat relevant motivation as synonymous with redemption as if simply having an understandable or relevant reason for doing terrible things is enough to compensate them. It’s a trap that even otherwise-thinking series can fall into, and one that was definitely on my mind when we first delved into Lizbeth’s backstory.
Luckily, AMB is much more understanding and considerate than that. Everything we learn about Lizbeth is important and helps to better understand how she became the woman she is, but it never excuses her. She is undeniably a victim of the world of magic’s limitations, traditions, and lineage; reducing the family’s ability to produce an heir despite her undeniable magical abilities. Like any child we know and love, we sympathize when she has to live in an overly rigid environment that dehumanizes her and turns her into a tool of power. There is a tragedy when the world she lives in transforms the little affection she has for her son into a cruel, possessive impulse. The sad thing is that she can never even think about taking care of her granddaughter, because the life she has lived has completely destroyed her ability to love. In a sense, she is a pitiful character – so poisoned by the toxic forces around her that she must maintain that toxic cruelty to continue to exist.
However, that sympathy disappears when we return to the present, finding a bitter, vengeful matriarch meticulously prepared to sacrifice her only remaining family. For all the sad or pitiful things about Lizbeth, she ultimately made her own choice to inflict the same pain on everyone around her. She pushed her son to his death, turned Alcyone from caretaker into close friend, and spent a decade trying to crush Philomela’s sense of self until she was willing to sacrifice her life. Lizbeth didn’t start this harmful cycle, nor did she have any more choice to be a part of it than anyone else in this season, but her actions are her own and cannot be denied. that she became an agent of the system that harmed her..
That’s why I was so pleased to see that plan smashed to pieces in a matter of moments. AMB may be published in a Shonen magazine and it may have a bit of supernatural action, but it’s rarely of the kind of grand heroism we usually associate with those descriptions. Here, however, it just tickles your fancy a little and the results are stunning. Watching Chise use her hammer to break Lizbeth’s spell, destroying a magical construct built after years of abuse and manipulation to capture a soul that escaped the old hag’s clutches was beautiful. It’s such a straightforward and simple solution that it risks feeling offensive.
The real climax of this entire plot isn’t Chise’s magical abilities – it’s when Philomela finally finds the strength to ask for help. It wasn’t just that she finally gave her hand, or against her aunt’s wishes. This is the first time in this story—and possibly the first time since her parents died—that Philomela realizes that she doesn’t deserve this; that no fundamental failure in her could justify the cruelty inflicted upon her. She, like every other soul out there, deserves to find peace. The final shot, where Philomela’s broken hands clasp as tightly as possible in Chise’s, is the perfect way to close this whole scene. No doubt there will be more conflict against Lizbeth and our last remaining mysteries to uncover, but this feels like the true conclusion to everything that has come before and it delivers in an extraordinary way.
Bride of the Ancient Magus is now streaming on Crunchyroll.