Reviewby Carlo Santos,
In modern day Japan, magical ability is measured by the number of times a person can use magic in their life. Regular folks don't get much more than a hundred, while the gifted students at Aoi Academy average about eight thousand. Then there's 17-year-old Kazuki Shikimori, whose lifetime count is a pathetic eight. However, his ancestry consists of history's greatest magicians, so if the power's not in Kazuki, it's got to be in his next of kin. That's why three of the school's hottest girls—naïve Yuna, outspoken Kuriko, and sword-swinging Rin—are determined to get into his pants. From childhood promises to troubled ghosts to mythical beasts, it seems that calamity awaits Kazuki at every corner, waiting to exhaust his magic count ... as if he isn't exhausted enough trying to escape the clutches of three crazy girls.
Ah, the harem genre! What would anime be without it? A much more tolerable form of entertainment, probably. Maburaho is another entry into the fanservice-choked "moe" trend of the early-to-mid-00's, this time bringing magic and spellcasting to the table. If you like big pouty eyes and even bigger boobs and random scenes of undressed girls, then make sure to add this to that ever-growing list of guilty pleasure titles. Some of the better scenes are inspired enough to be appreciated without raging hormones, but to fully enjoy Maburaho, you've got to be ready for the familiar premise of a below-average guy fending off girls who literally want to have his babies.
This series starts out like so many others: Kazuki wakes up late for school, but not before having a childhood memory that totally telegraphs all the major plot points. The first touch of originality comes when we see Aoi Academy students flying into campus, and again when a student leaves a doppelganger in his seat so he can skip class. Unfortunately, all those clever touches are forgotten as soon as Kazuki's love interests arrive, and it rapidly descends into a directionless love comedy. "Comedy," of course, is a subjective term, and most of the jokes here—senseless violence, lingerie peeks, boobs in the face—get old really quickly. Add in all the filler with the girls making mushy romantic proposals to Kazuki, and the result is an entertaining premise wasted. By Episode 4, most of the magic just involves energy attacks, turning this into some kind of Dragonball Potter ... with more girls.
But what could be wrong with more girls? Well, the ones in Maburaho are so stereotypical that you can't even call them rip-offs, because that would require them to have enough personality to resemble other characters. Yuna, Kuriko and Rin are taken straight out of a character creation handbook, minus the embellishments that would make them unique. Kazuki has the same problem; he's the typical loser guy that stars in every harem series, and the historical background behind his magic ability is an overused story device. Taking the choose-your-own-bishoujo formula and throwing the concept of "MAGIC" at it does not automatically make a series appealing; it's about building interesting characters within that formula.
Shinichiro Kimura, a veteran of this genre whose resume boasts Hand Maid May and Burn Up Excess, takes the helm here and demonstrates how to space out the timing of panty and lingerie shots. This makes for some odd pacing, like a girls' changing room scene right after a dramatic rescue in Episode 3, but it can all be explained with magic anyway. J.C. Staff handles basic animation duties, achieving their usual fanservice standards (see Ikki Tousen) with glossy hair and perfect curves for the girls. However, the childish linework robs the character designs of any finesse, and when the animators do go into detail, it's only for several seconds at a time. The behemoth in Episode 4 is beautifully designed, yet it only gets a few minutes on screen; similarly, the snow scene towards the end of Episode 2 is an emotional triumph that makes everything else in the show look even duller by comparison. Flashes of brilliance aren't enough to support a series if it's filler everywhere else.
The soundtrack has the same problem as the artistic quality—remarkable at times, but otherwise packed with filler. There's some strong dramatic scoring when Kazuki's magical history is revealed (along with a great visual montage), or when Kazuki and Yuna remember their childhood, but the rest of the background music is synthesized light pop at its most mediocre. The theme songs are just as fluffy; they're cute and pleasant to listen to, but hardly worth remembering.
Language enthusiasts might be interested in the interview with translator Richard Kim on the DVD, but even a translator's insights can't save an English dub that sounds strangely artificial. It's not that the voice cast overacts or goes into monotone, but everyone seems to be putting on a plastic imitation of emotion, rather than speaking with actual feeling. Then there's the exciting guessing game of how to pronounce Kazuki's surname—is it ShikiMOri? ShiKEEmoREE? ShikkyMURRAY?—making this a disc that would be best enjoyed by switching to subtitles. Make sure to look in the DVD case, though, because the "Magic Times" insert contains some cute 4-panel comics by Kuriko and Rin's Japanese VAs (who happen to be pretty decent with a pencil).
Maburaho feels like more of an unfinished prototype for the harem genre than an actual anime series. The plot is there, but it lacks any defining elements besides the general theme of magic; the characters are there, but they don't have any particular traits apart from being, well, the one loser guy and the cookie-cutter hot girls chasing after him. There's the occasional promise of great animation and great drama, but not enough of it, and the plain artwork makes it look like the staff forgot to put the finishing touches (except for the T&A, of course). If they had just taken more time to think about what to put into the story, and how to make the visuals stand out, but then you'd be watching Negima instead... which is more fun anyway.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : C+
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Occasional moments of artistry, especially with magical effects.
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