Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 10th 2010
Sub.DVD - Collection 1
Itsuki Iba, prototypical teenager, one day has the presidentship of a magical temp agency dropped in his lap. His father's company, Astral, rents out the services of a wide range of magic users to those in need. When his father disappeared, the supervisory board of magicians handed Itsuki leadership of his father's company. Itsuki is at first reluctant, but soon throws himself into reviving his father's legacy. Amongst his employees is Honami, a Celtic witch with ties to his past, Mikan, a pint-sized Shinto priestess, Kuroha, an apprentice who makes a mean cup of tea, and Nekoyashiki, the only remaining member of his father's original crew and a talented onmyōdō mystic. With their eclectic blend of magics, and Itsuki's seriously evil eye, they struggle to eke out a living while dealing with magical pollution, haunted hospitals, corrupted magicians, malignant necromancers, obsessed alchemists, and rival agencies. And all while suffering through the jealous rages of Itsuki's many would-be women. Who ever said that magic would make life easy?
I like to imagine that the first production meeting for Rental Magica went something like this: The producers meet to discuss adapting Makoto Sanda's novels. "Man," one says, "it's got everything. Magic, action, drama, romance. What else could you ask for?" "Originality," replies a more difficult member. "Hey, it has like ten different systems of magic in it," another shoots back, "what could be more original than that?" "I dunno, it just doesn't hook me," counters the dissenter. "Dude, one of the girls wears a witches' hat. How is that not a hook?" "Oh right," the difficult one says thoughtfully, "that is something...but it needs something...more. Something no one else has ever done." The others pause pensively. "How about," a voice posits tentatively, "and I know this is gonna sound completely crazy...but how about we broadcast it out of chronological order?" "Oh my God," they cry out in unison, "that's it! How come no one's ever thought of that before?"
I also like to imagine the same group watching the completed product for the first time. "That was awesome!" they enthuse. "I really love the part where...where...um, what did we just watch again?" There's nothing overtly wrong with Rental Magica. Okay, maybe that's a lie, but there's nothing lethally wrong with it. It's just that it leaves no impression at all. It's like the kid in school who tries so hard to be like everyone else that he becomes invisible. The series hits all the expected notes: convoluted magical systems, single guy surrounded by obsessed hotties, flashy fights, villains who aren't really villains, conveniently unremembered childhood friends, lead with massive untapped powers and flawlessly nice personality, hot springs episode. And in doing so it sabotages every chance it has of establishing an identity. Even its chronological gimmickry is colorless. Unlike The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's, which was a natural outgrowth of the series' impish sense of humor, Rental Magica's is pure gimmick: a sad attempt to add individualism to a pathetically conformist series.
Like anything, it does have its positive and negative qualities. Honami, for instance, is an unusual and forceful female lead, and occasionally a snippet of cool atmosphere will leap from its boring surroundings. Likewise Itsuki is a blistering rash that you can't reach to scratch, and Jun Ichikawa and Takahito Eguchi do their level best to beat your quivering eardrums into submission with a violently obvious score. But when combined, the bad and the good tend to cancel themselves out, leaving...nothing. After unwittingly raising some tension with the alchemist arc (three whole episodes long!), the series follows up with the awful hot springs episode. Sum? Zero. And everything else is so quietly mediocre that it does nothing to tip the balance either way. There are Minako Shiba's pleasantly forgettable character designs, ZEXCS's aggressively average animation and largely unremarkable backgrounds, and director Itsuro Kawasaki's completely featureless synthesis of them all. Each has within it their own ups and downs—a clunky ghost dog versus some neat flying broom maneuvers, for instance, or Honami's girl-next-door charm versus her primary rival's laughable princess pomposity—but the ultimate sum is always zero.
The only thing unimpeachably great about the series is Right Stuf's presentation. Even amongst their other fan-friendly releases, Rental Magica's treatment is special. Not only does Right Stuf preserve the series' original broadcast order, but they also provide a chronological version (whose episode line-up includes several from the second box set) and without resorting to multiple-disc nonsense a la Haruhi's limited edition DVDs. The box itself is gorgeous, and the booklet...well, it's monstrous. Fully 128 pages long, it's a massive compendium of everything you could ever want to know about Rental Magica and plenty more that you'd rather not. There are interviews and commentaries by cast and crew, episode overviews, character profiles, lengthy explorations of the series' schools of magic, in-depth explanations of things like ley lines and magical contamination, suspect history lessons on King Solomon and the Celtic peoples, and discussions of death and the many forms of the afterlife. It takes longer to read than the set takes to watch. Random fact: Kana Ueda, Honami's voice actress, is a longtime acquaintance of Sanda's and he wrote Honami with her as a model. Freaky circular. There is, as is Right Stuf's understandable habit, no English dub.
Need proof that recombining genres doesn't create anything new? ("Hello Impoverished Handypeople, meet Magical Action and Harem Comedy.") Watch Rental Magica. Need some background noise while practicing your triple axel or writing the great American novel? Watch Rental Magica. Want to know what the entertainment equivalent of drinking water (minus the health benefits) is? Watch Rental Magica. Want modern magical action with a hint of romance? Read xxxHOLiC. Neither bad nor good, Rental Magica passes without even a passing impression.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : C
+ Multiple systems of historical magic; periodically atmospheric; isn't painful.
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