The poppy flower, death, and life in The Ancient Magus’ Bride

“So you like poppies, Chise?”

-Elias Ainsworth to Chise Hatori, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Episode 2

It’s no coincidence that the flower most associated with Chise Hatori is the poppy. Last week, in The Ancient Magus’ Bride‘s first episode, poppies only cropped up in the opening sequence and later at a distance in Elias Ainsworth’s fields. Yet, they were the first flowers to be shown in a series that appears committed to using floriography or hanakotoba as a secondary narrative, running concurrently to Chise’s development.

Chise has lived with magic her entire life. Before Elias took her as an apprentice, magic only meant pain and suffering. The majority of flowers surrounding Chise in the series’ first episode all pointed to death and rebirth, including the ubiquitous poppy flower.

Due to the sedative properties of the opium poppy, poppy flowers have been symbols of eternal sleep or death since Ancient Greece. In Greek and Roman mythology, poppy flowers symbolize the netherworld itself and became offerings to the dead. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s World War 1 poem “In Flanders Fields” immortalized the red poppy as a flower of remembrance for death. Remembrance Day, which celebrates the end of the first world war, is often casually called “Poppy Day” and citizens of the former British Commonwealth wear red poppy pins honoring the dead.

In a way, Chise has been brought to the netherworld and has been reborn. In an opening flashback, we see her looking out an airplane window on her flight from Japan. One of the proprietors at the auction house where she sells herself reiterates that Chise had said upon leaving that she didn’t care whether she lived or died. Despite this, there’s the tiniest glimmer of fight left in her. She doesn’t deal with pain well, she says.

Angelica Varley is introduced in this episode, and acts as a catalyst for Chise’s first bit of purposeful magic. Chise recalls a poppy field, which symbolizes her mother. It’s no coincidence that Angelica comes off as a motherly figure here — patting Chise on the head, telling her that her accidental field of crystal poppies is hardly Chise’s fault. Even before she hands Chise the crystal, the first thing Angelica gives Chise is a warm mug of tea. She asks after Chise’s well-being, and reprimands Elias for his weirdness. It’s Angelica, not Elias, that teaches Chise her first bit of magic, and the end result is a happy — or, at the very least, not sad — memory that Chise has of her mother, preserved in cool crystal.

“I’m not sure if I actually like them. It’s just something I remembered,” Chise says when Elias asks her if she likes poppies. She stumbles over Angelica’s simple task to think of her favorite flower because it’s not likely something she’s ever thought about. The poppies come to mind because at one point in time, Chise experienced a field of poppies with her mother. It’s a rare moment that Chise has with her mother that isn’t tainted with sorrow and loss.

This episode opens with Chise’s mother saying that she should have never given birth to Chise before jumping out a window and dying. Despite this, Chise also remembers experiencing the beauty of a field of poppies with her mother, a moment in time that appears alongside the emotional baggage that Chise carries.

When Chise was a child, she watched her mother kill herself. Chise believes that she is at fault for her mother’s death and this guilt is palpable throughout the episode, although somewhat eased by the happy memory of a poppy field and Elias’ words.

In the West, red poppies mean remembrance. In the East, they symbolize passionate love and success. In the West, white poppies mean a peaceful rest. In the East, they’re used for remembrance at funerals. The appearance of both in the poppy field of Chise’s memories hint at the complex emotions that remain following her mother’s suicide, and Chise’s own rebirth in the world of magic, which has already begun.

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4 comments

  1. I immediately thought of you in this episode when the poppies showed up, and you of course did not disappoint 🙂

    I would also love some thoughts on the flowers in the first episode of Children of the Whales. I couldn’t place the name of the ones used for the funeral and was hoping you could enlighten us.

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