Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Magi: Adventure of Sinbad
Before he became the king of Sindria, Sinbad was a poor boy born to a wounded soldier-turned-fisherman in Parthevia, a kingdom perpetually at war. After witnessing the cruel treatment his father received, young Sinbad vowed to create a world without war, beginning his journeys by creating an influential merchant company. He begins by conquering the world's first dungeon, where he meets a Parthevian prince. From there, he starts to journey around the world as the increasingly well-known Sinbad the (Merchant) Sailor.
Thirty years before Aladdin, Alibaba, and Morgiana meet in Balbadd, a boy was born in Parthevia to a wounded soldier and his wife. Does that sound a bit melodramatic? So is the very beginning of this spin-off for Shinobu Ohtaka's Magi manga, Magi: Adventure of Sinbad. Despite a somewhat rocky start, Sinbad's origin story does find its feet before coming to a somewhat abrupt conclusion, leaving us with a show that's a lot of fun in the middle and ends far too soon.
The story covers the first sixteen years of Sinbad's life, so roughly the years before Alibaba's birth for those looking to align these events with the main storyline. Opening with Sinbad being born and then spending time with him at ages three, five, and fourteen, the earliest episodes look to show us the world that shaped Sinbad into the man he later becomes: a wise yet goofy ruler devoted to the happiness of his people. This is perhaps best illustrated by his father Badr, a man wounded in Parthevia's seemingly endless wars with Reim, who returned home without a leg to become a fisherman. Badr's strength is both physical and emotional, and he'd clearly rather rely on the latter. He recognizes that his son has great potential (but so does the entire world, as we see in one of the more bizarre moments of the first episode), and he tries to instill the futility of war in Sinbad before his inevitable tragic ending. While it is effective, it's also the basic cliché superhero origin, only instead of dressing up like a giant bat, Sinbad decides to use economics to force the world to come together.
Of course, all of this is facilitated by a Magi. In Sinbad's case, that's Yunan, who viewers of the original story will recognize as the man Morgiana eventually sets out to find. Yunan and Sinbad meet while Yunan is posing as a simple traveler, and it's Yunan who encourages him to go out and try to do great things, pushing him to start by capturing the first dungeon. This sets Sinbad on his way, and he gains acclaim as the first Dungeon Capturer, which allows him not only to save his village, but also to set out on the seas to accomplish his goals. At this point, the cast begins to assemble everyone who will eventually help Sinbad rule in Sindria, most notably his right-hand man Ja'far, who gets an origin story just as detailed as Sinbad's.
By this point, you may be able to tell that while you don't strictly need to have read or seen Magi to enjoy this, you will get more out of it if you have. The same goes for if you've read the original tales of Sinbad the Sailor from The Arabian Nights, as there are several little references to the text that are more faithful than any of the references in the main series, interestingly enough. (This may be due to the fact that while Ohtaka designed the characters, Sinbad's manga version was written by Yoshifumi Ōtera.) The most obvious tribute to the tales comes when Sinbad survives by telling stories of his adventures in Reim; at several points in the original, the tale is framed by him telling it to someone else to secure food and shelter. Likewise, other mythologies are represented within the series, most interestingly the nation of Artemyra, which owes a lot to Grecian Amazon legends and even contains the hunting goddess Artemis's name.
The series itself looks really good. There's some beautiful animation, particularly in the opening theme, where Sinbad performs the sword dance Morgiana wishes she had, and there are virtually no moments of obvious clunky movement or clear cheap-outs. There's a nice diversity of character designs, with child characters such as Ja'far and Pisti recognizable as the adults they will become. Sinbad changes slightly as he grows older, which in a medium where people tend to get taller but otherwise not change as they age is an especial treat; the difference between fourteen-year-old Sinbad and sixteen-year-old Sinbad is particularly well done. On the whole, the voice cast is also very strong, with Daisuke Ono doing a terrific Sinbad and a very good (albeit brief) performance by Katsuyuki Konishi as Badr. A few voices are too deep for the characters, such as Tomokazu Sugita's Drakon and Wataru Hatano as Spartos, but both do a good job despite that. (Hatano also plays Spartos' older brother Mystras, which is interesting.)
The pacing of the series is more of an issue. It's clear that a lot is being left out in this adaptation, with scene changes often feeling abrupt and no clear sense of how long anything takes. While we can mark time to some degree by Sinbad's changing appearance, it still creates a sense of disorientation at times that's detrimental to the story. On the other hand, there's a good balance of humor and more serious content, with the Artemyra section being particularly amusing with its fig leaf jokes and Mystras' increasing frustration. The portrayal of the Artemyrian men is a bit less funny than it wants to be, but given the attempt at showing gender role reversals, it's easy to see where it's coming from.
At only thirteen episodes, Magi: Adventure of Sinbad doesn't tell close to a full story, but it does make for an entertaining time. Young Sinbad is an engaging character, and his adventures are fun to follow, from his badass geyser-surfing in a dungeon to his brand of economic diplomacy. For fans of the original series, it's easy to see how he would be drawn to Alibaba, Aladdin, and Morgiana later in life, and we can hope that time will bring an announcement of a second season or a license for the manga.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Fun and engaging story, nice visual diversity in the cast and locations, good animation, easy to see how the characters develop, nice blend of humor and drama
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