Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, May 31st 2014
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
DVD - Set 2
Aladdin and Morgiana have come to Alibabba's homeland of Balbadd only to become embroiled in a life-or-death battle for the kingdom. Later the three travel with King Sinbad to his island kingdom of Sindria, ostensibly to be kept safe. But a world in which the evil organization Al-Tharmen exists is not a safe one, and soon the three find themselves in danger again. Could hope possibly lie inside an unconquered dungeon? There's only one way to find out!
Based on the manga of the same name by Shinobu Ohtaka, which is loosely based in turn on the medieval Persian collection of tales known as The Arabian Nights (among other things), Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic's second half plays with your emotions and the early texts themselves as it brings old characters together and introduces new ones. Even if you aren't familiar with Ohtaka's inspiration, chances are you know who Alibaba and Aladdin are, and probably Sinbad as well. What's more interesting, however, is that many of the characters present in these episodes also come from the original book – Morgiana, Mariam, Cassim, Judar, and Ja'far (originally Ja'afar) all play roles in some of the 1001 nights' stories. Mariam and Judar's parts are unique to Magi, but the others' actions actually do have some relation to their original stories, adding another dimension to the show. And while the plot of Magi's second half is interesting in its own right, it is really the characters who make the series.
The story picks up with Aladdin and Morgiana having finally made it to Balbadd to reunite with their friend Alibaba. He has gotten involved with a group of thugs bent on taking down the corrupt Balbaddian government, which would be fine if a particular group of evil people weren't behind it, manipulating his childhood friend Cassim, and events quickly escalate to the point where Alibaba is fighting in the palace and Aladdin appears to be unconscious. Thus begins the end of Alibaba's Balbadd arc, and it gets very dark before it is finished and really sets the tone for his character for the rest of the set. Unlike many shounen heroes, the protagonists of Magi mostly suffer from very low self-esteem. Aladdin, who fills the basic literary archetype of “the wise child,” and the adult Sinbad are exempt from this, but they also are much less the focus of the story. Alibaba and Morgiana both suffer from extreme self-doubt, with a helping of guilt thrown in for good measure in Alibaba's case. We see the origins of that in the end of the Balbadd arc, and the repercussions of both his actions and Cassim's reverberate through the rest of the episodes, making Alibaba interestingly flawed. He constantly doubts that he can succeed, which is a departure from the usual shounen adventure hero. Morgiana, likewise, has no real grasp of her own power or ability to help. While we may wonder how it is possible that a girl who can stomp through stone floors couldn't know how strong she is, it is worth bearing in mind that in her country, that's perfectly normal. Sure she hasn't been there in a long time, but people have been telling her that her strength is just something the fanalis have, not anything all that special. As the episodes go on, we see both of them coming to understand themselves a little better – with Aladdin's help, of course – and in some ways that's even more satisfying than watching them kill bad guys.
The theme of friendship is a major one for this part of the show, with lots of hands being extended and clasped in solidarity and love. This theme is also behind much of the emotional pull. One of Magi's strengths is that it can have you chuckling at one episode and quietly wiping away tears at the next, and the idea of friendship is key, particularly for the sad parts. The characters draw strength from one another, something we see keenly in both Morgiana and new character Hakuryu, a Kou prince who enters in the second half of the set. It doesn't come off as preachy, another strength of the story, and in some cases almost slips by before you realize what the motivating factor is.
The dub is generally quite good and feels very well matched to the original Japanese. There are a few changes, the most notable of which is that the corrupt king of Balbadd, Ahbmad, is given a lisp by Sam Regal. The one major nitpick is in some pronunciation: “magi” is said “mah-gee” instead of “maj-eye,” which just sounds strange in English, although it matches the Japanese pronunciation. Likewise, Morgiana's name is said with a hard g, which is contrary to the way I at least have heard the name spoken.
The background music is a bit of a mixed bag. In some places it sounds as if Shiro Sagisu is trying to conjure up Rimsky-Korsakov's “Scheherazade,” while in others the music is western enough to be distracting. Other pieces, especially those with vocals, have a much more traditional (or stereotypical) Middle Eastern sound. All in all it would probably have worked better to stick with one type of music.
With some distinctly spiritual moments, a little religous imagery (so many crowns of thorns!), and a wide range of emotions, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic comes to an exciting, satisfying end that primes us for the second season. The sense of adventure is high, and with all of our heroes together for the entire run, it really feels much more cohesive than earlier episodes. It takes a bit too long on the final battle and Durnya's character thus far feels extraneous, but overall Magi ends on a high note, with a lot to enjoy along the way.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Wide range of emotions covered, interestingly flawed protagonists. Neat dungeon design, good nods to original Medieval text. The usual excellent phyiscal extras.
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