Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
DVD 1 - The Kingdom of Magic
With the dungeons conquered and their goals solidifying, Alibaba, Aladdin, Morgiana, and Hakuryu begin to make their plans for the future. Unfortunately that means separating and leaving Sindria, with Morgiana headed for the dark continent, Alibaba off to Leam to hone his fighting skills, and Aladdin going to Magnoshutatt to learn how to become a true magi. And Hakuryu? With the death of his uncle, the Kou Emperor, his path is becoming a dark one as revenge begins to take over his heart and soul. Will all four be able to survive their time apart? Will the Kou Empire?
Magi, be it the Labyrinth of Magic, as the first season was subtitled, or the Kingdom of Magic, the subject of this review, is one of those series where you're never quite certain where it's going. This season begins in the relatively calm aftermath of Hakuryu's acquiring a Djinn's Metal Vessel and Morgiana getting her Household Vessel, with everyone in Sindria under the watchful eye of King Sinbad himself. Everyone's frustrations and grievances are aired in a much-too-packed first episode, the major outcome of which is Aladdin's horror at what has been done to Durnya. The identity of another symbolically named magi is also revealed, and fans of The Arabian Nights will at last find out where Scheherezade has been hiding this whole time: she is Leam's magi, and possibly 200 years old. Meanwhile Alibaba is annoyed that he can't seem to master Djinn Equip with his Metal Vessel, Morgiana desperately wants to see the land she was stolen from, and Hakuryu is stewing in some deep, dark thoughts about his homeland. All of this adds up to them boarding a ship and setting sail to their own destinies, planning to meet up again later.
Episode three (of thirteen) is where things really begin to take off. While the first two episodes are important, it isn't until they actually climb aboard and set sail that Magi once again becomes an adventure. For Aladdin, the journey is equally about coming to understand and harness his own magoi and abilities and combating the evils that one nation of magic users has committed: Magnoshutatt, the actual Kingdom of Magic. The encounter the gang has along the way with a group of pirate children under the sway of a magician/Metal Vessel holder named Aum Madaura speaks to his concerns and his mission as he sees how magic powers specifically can be misused. The encounter has a serious effect on Hakuryu as well, as Aum Madaura forces him to remember his childhood in great detail, rekindling dark feelings he has been, if not precisely suppressing, than certainly trying to avoid recalling. When he is made to relive those memories, something inside of him snaps, and we suddenly have to worry if he isn't becoming another Cassim. This is driven home by Alibaba's take-away from the encounter, which is that the soldiers of Actia, the land the pirates have been preying on, are unwilling to help the poor who are often their kidnapping victims. Clearly this reminds him of his city, thus reinforcing his determination to grow stronger. Morgiana is the only one who feels like she's still at loose ends. While I don't doubt that she wants to find her people, she's also static in that ambition, and even Hakuryu's words to her before he leaves don't really appear to affect her.
Episode seven marks when all of the characters go their separate ways, as well as what feels like the most awkward scene in the series to date, Aladdin and Alibaba's trip to a brothel. (This is nearly as weird as magic teacher Myers' self-propelled breasts.) The group's separation does cause the story to focus more on Aladdin at the academy in Magnoshutatt, which is only bad if you have a strong dislike of either the character or Harry Potter. There seems to be a heavy Rowling influence on the story once Aladdin enrolls, from the “sorting crystal” to the uniforms, which look like what Harry and his classmates might have worn were Hogwarts located in Puritan New England.
That is not the only location that is reminiscent of an earlier work or world, as original manga author Shinobu Ohtaka has created a setting that is recognizable yet wholly fantastic. Leam (pronounced “Rem” in the English dub) is just an SPQR away from Ancient Rome, while the Kou Empire borrows from images of both ancient China and Korea. More oddly, the island hideout of the pirates bears a distinct resemblance to the seal's enclosed island in Chuck Jones' 1973 cartoon “The White Seal,” although that is likely a coincidence. More striking is some of the imagery, such as Alibaba's brutal gladiatorial battle or Morgiana rappelling down a seemingly bottomless gorge. The child soldiers of Aum Madaura are disturbing in their zeal, and there's something distinctly lizard-like about the ruler of Magnoshutatt that gives him a creepy air, even when he's being kind.
For all that it does well visually, Magi: The Kingdom of Magic suffers in its English dub, which is a shame. The voice actors are good, as we know from hearing them in other shows (Erik Kimerer, who plays Alibaba, was also Haruyuki in Accel World and Cristina Valenzuela is both Morgiana and Sailor Mars in the new Sailor Moon dub), so to hear them sound so stilted here is an unpleasant surprise. And the dub does sound stilted, with awkward pauses, a script that varies between casual and more formal language too frequently for any tonal consistency, and one particularly unfortunate moment where the word “dumbass” is pronounced as two distinct words, “dumb ass,” which sounds like the character is talking to a dim donkey rather than delivering an insult. The pronunciation sticks too close to the Japanese in a couple of cases as well, with the title said “ma-gee” instead of “maj-eye” and one character called “tee-tus” rather than “tie-tus,” both of which are jarring and a little off-putting. The animation is likewise a little uneven, looking great during major plot points but lagging otherwise, and really, the same could be said about the music, although the opening theme is fairly strong, both in song and image.
Being an Aniplex release, the price point is high but the physical extras are pretty nice, and if you're a pencil board collector, that may make it worth it. This one feels a little sparse compared to other releases, with only a DVD version and clean opening and closing videos. The other extras are the obligatory box and reversible case cover, along with a double-sided pencil board (featuring the most peaceful Morgiana we've ever seen) and a small poster of Hakuryu and Alibaba, which is actually a pretty cool picture. And of course, you do get 13 episodes, which feels nice after other premium releases.
Magi – The Kingdom of Magic is a mix of very entertaining and exciting and trying to get to the point when the characters will reunite. It has an uneven feel to it, which is unfortunate, and suffers from a poorly executed dub, but there's just something about the characters and the story that rise above it and still make it difficult not to enjoy. Like its 13th century source story, there's a lot going on as Aladdin, Alibaba, and Morgiana move forward in their tales...and hopefully will not have to use too much force to get Hakuryu back on his.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Pirate storyline is very good, we see much more of the world. Good build-up to the (assumed) eventual final battle. Nice physical extras.
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