An Archdemon’s Dilemma: How to Love Your Elf Bride – Episode 1

By: Alex Henderson April 5, 20240 Comments
Zagan blushing comically while he pulls Nephelia along behind him.

Content warning: discussion of enslavement, sexual assault, and torture

What’s it about? Zagan is a powerful sorcerer who’s good with magic and bad with people, and considers relationships more trouble than they’re worth. That is, until he sees the beautiful elf Nephelia being auctioned off as a slave and falls in love at first sight. In a rush of affection, he buys her for a fortune. But what’s he supposed to do now that she belongs to him?

Whether they’re embarking on melancholy quests, navigating the perils of dungeon cuisine, or playing video games, it’s safe to say that elves are in in anime at the moment. As this Elf Era continues into Spring 2024, we now get to add a… er, rom-com about slavery to the mix.

Sometimes you experience a piece of media that’s just ideologically rancid all the way down, despite it loudly singing that that’s absolutely not so. Let me tell you what happens in the first episode of Elf Bride. The first scene after the upbeat, fun-and-colorful opening credits shows a young woman being attacked by a sorcerer with no skin on his face. He cuts her dress open and gleefully jokes that this isn’t “the kind of assault [she] is hoping for” because he’s not going rape her, he’s going to flay her and use her as a virgin sacrifice in a magic ritual.

But don’t worry! This poor maiden is saved from the evil magician by… well, Zagan, who is also an evil magician, but he’s a good evil magician, you know? He’s a good guy. He knocks them both out with a spell and is like, “Oops! Did I overdo it? Aw man, now I’ve got two bodies in my yard and all I wanted was peace and quiet!” He’s just a goofy little goober, see.

Chibis of Zagan and Nephelia. He looks flustered and angry, she looks adorably confused

And the tone here is meant to be “goofy”—this scene of a woman nearly getting horribly brutalized is followed up by comedic chibis and ends up bundled into a gag about how awkward Zagan is. He teleports the abused girl off his property and we never see her again. The audience, one presumes, are not meant to worry about her, because Zagan’s a good guy and anyway, we need to shift our focus to the episode’s main and more important abused woman: the elf bride herself.

Nephelia is presented as an object, being auctioned off as a piece of merchandise. The announcer talks about her high level of mana and usefulness as a sacrifice, but oh, don’t worry, he also makes sure to mention that she’d be great as a “love slave” while the camera pans over her downcast face and delicate body. It’s during this scene of awful dehumanization that Zagan falls head over heels in love and decides on impulse that he simply must have this elf for himself.

He also takes care to establish that the collar on her neck can’t be removed because of magic reasons, ensuring that the thing that signals her enslavement will remain a part of her character design throughout the series. Between that and the chain imagery in the (again, cute and boppy) opening credits, Elf Bride really does not seem shy about the slavery aspect of its premise. I’d argue that it revels in it. But again, like, don’t even worry about it, because Zagan is a good guy and will be a good slave owner. See how cute and nice he’s being to the woman he owns as property? He has a crush on her! Aww!

Closeup of Nephelia's chest, clearly showing the chain dangling from the collar around her neck. In the background, the auctioneer is waving to the crowd. Subtitle text reads: Let's start the bidding at ten thousand...

We are asked to sympathize with Zagan, invited to laugh with him as this silly little sorcerer fumbles his way through his first conversations with Nephelia. It’s a joke that she assumes he’s going to torture and kill her. It’s a “funny” second-hand embarrassment gag when she lifts up her skirts and shows Zagan her panties, assuring him plainly that she’s a virgin and making him blush. (Both Nephelia and the nameless woman at the start are both wearing perfectly modern lingerie under their historical-ish fantasy costumes, by the way. That’s not important, really, but it does say something about the show’s lazy commitment to providing fanservice for the modern viewer.)

The audience is asked to laugh along and eagerly watch as Zagan and Nephelia fall in love with each other. While unfortunately not alone in its premise—we exist in a hellscape in which fantasy protagonists purchasing enslaved women is an industry trend—Elf Bride is particularly abhorrent because of its insistence that all this is fun and cute. The ending narration invites us to observe as their love story begins, but I will not be watching another minute of it.

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