The Ancient Magus Bride demonstrates Happiness and Love are Not Equal

"The Ancient Magus Bride" | Art by Shumijin. Used with permission.

The first two rights in the Declaration of Independence, life and liberty, have always been givens for me. But the last, the pursuit of happiness, is something that requires striving for. As a child, I did everything I could to attain it, playing video games, spending time with friends, and of course, always searching for sweets. As an adult, I haven’t changed much. I’m still pursuing happiness, even if candy isn’t what elicits that feeling (well, not always).

But happiness isn’t the ultimate goal for everyone, and maybe I focus on it too much. In The Ancient Magus Bride, a moody but absorbing anime about a teenager thrust into the world of magic and fairies, none of the main characters are particularly happy, but neither are they actively reaching for that goal. For them, happiness is rather an occasional by-product of more foundational pursuits. And considering the fleeting nature of happiness, I think these characters have it right.

In a world of pain and suffering, the ability to endure and even thrive is a strength I desire to have.

As the series begins, an abandoned and defeated Chise, the eponymous bride, has given herself to slave traders who sell her at a magical auction. Elias, a refined but fearsome figure (he has what appears to be an animal skull for a head incised with glowing red eyes), purchases her and tells her that she will become his bride and pupil, learning how to become a magician like him. After he rescues Chise, she quickly grows to care for Elias, though outward expressions of delight are seldom seen between them.

Other members of their household find similar contentment. Silky, a banshee who lost the loved ones she previously haunted to a house fire, finds quiet satisfaction in acting as their housekeeper. Ruth, Chise’s familiar, lost his previous master, a young woman, to a tragic death, and now dutifully guards his keeper in a most serious manner, rarely with a smile.

But this doesn’t mean that the household is gloomy. Chise frequently shows a modest smile when speaking with others. Silky cheerfully prepares meals and sweeps the home. And Elias—well it’s hard to tell through his skull what his expression is, but there are certainly times he demonstrates strong feelings of longing for Chise.

Happiness is not what defines each of these characters. It’s not what they seek for nor what they center their lives upon. In fact, each seems to have found meaning in something more foundational. Ruth, usually in the guise of a shaggy black dog, time and time again expresses a self-sacrificial loyalty associated with the animal. Silky longs to simply be around her magical family and pours out her devotion to them through caring for the household. Chise encounters all sorts of beings—both human and magical—and expresses kindness toward them, often by helping them even though it endangers her own life. Elias is often simply trying to understand this foundational quality that all the rest are expressing: love.

Happiness isn’t the ultimate goal for everyone, and maybe I focus on it too much.

I often equate love with happiness, but my experiences tell me that it isn’t always so. I find delight when spending time with my family, but there are daily occasions where I have to grind through difficulties and challenges, responding to family members who push too hard,  children who refuse to listen, friends and church members who make choices that bring them suffering (and pain to me as well). Love is so much more complex than the emotion of happiness; it takes energy and work and endurance, with happiness sometimes merely being a result of loving others.

I’ve come to realize that more important to me than being in a continuous state of happiness—which isn’t possible, by the way, at least not if I’m going to engage imperfect people in relationship with my imperfect self—is to have joy, which is having the heart to “love anyway” through the ups and downs, to be able to bounce back when I’m hurt, and to find a measure of satisfaction and contentment even when things go awry. I’m able to push through that way because of love, both that which I believe has been poured onto me according to my faith, and which I try to give to others as I care for them.

The pursuit of joy, then, is what I aim for. It’s so much more foundational than happiness, and it doesn’t come and go with the wind based on possessions, experiences, and chemical reactions. And in a world that may not be magical like that in The Ancient Magus Bride, but in which pain and suffering are ever-present, the ability to endure and even thrive when life isn’t cheerful is a strength I desire to have, and one that is worth pursuing.

Charles Sadnick

Charles Sadnick

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Converted from the moment he first heard Han Solo reply, “I know,” Charles resisted his nerdy urges until Hayao Miyazaki, Spike Spiegel, and Evangelion Unit-01 forced him to confront the truth of his inner geekery. Baptized into otakudom, Charles masks himself in the not-so-secret identity of TWWK as he blogs endlessly about anime and faith.

He can also be found, however, feeding his other nerd habits, including A Song of Ice and Fire. Charles also remains hopelessly stuck in the 90's, maybe best demonstrated by his unexplainable passion for The Phantom Menace.

A historian and director at a government agency by day, Charles joins in the work of college and digital ministry is his off-time, while growing each day in the round-the-clock charge of being a husband and father.
Charles Sadnick