Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Aug 10th 2013
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
In a world similar to that of Scheherezade's tales, a mysterious young boy named Aladdin drifts from place to place with his djinn Ugo. Ugo lives inside a golden recorder, and Aladdin is on the hunt for his true container, “The Djinn's Metal Vessel.” One day he encounters Alibaba, a poor lad determined to enter one of the mysterious Dungeons that popped up a decade ago in order to make his fortune. Thus the the two begin their adventure in a Persia that never was...
The Arabian Nights' Entertainment (or one of the other several names by which the collection of roughly 14th century Middle Eastern folklore is known) hardly seems the most likely choice of setting for mangaka Shinobu Ohtaka's second series after the very absurd romantic comedy Sumomomo Momomo. Magi - The Labyrinth of Magic follows young breast-obsessed scamp Aladdin, his djinn Ugo, and handsome young man Alibaba on their adventures through a fantasy Middle East, and while it clearly draws a lot of influence from “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” (with bonus “Sinbad” reference), is is also very apparent that Ohtaka is making the stories her own.
Magi's first volume opens with Aladdin desperately searching for something to eat in a caravan town. He meets up with Laylah and Sahsa, whose produce he is munching, and ultimately ends up helping them to resolve a little bandit problem. He does this by calling upon his friend Ugo, a giant djinn currently living in a metal recorder Aladdin keeps hanging around his neck on a string. Ugo can be summoned by blowing into the instrument, but because this is only a temporary home, and not the legendary Djinn's Magic Vessel, he cannot manifest his head. This leads to one of the more interesting, to say nothing of mildly disturbing, artistic moments in the story – a giant, muscular, loin-cloth clad body without a head. (Close examination of the pictures reveals the temporary djinn-house where his head should be.) Ugo, it turns out, is not the only trick young Aladdin has up his proverbial sleeve, but he is the most frequently used. Chapter two completely leaves Laylah and Sahsa behind as Aladdin meets up with Alibaba, a young man working as a wagon driver who has dreams of wishes. It is here that Ohtaka reveals her central conceit – over a decade ago, mysterious edifices began popping up all over the Middle East, called “dungeons.” Each dungeon contains untold riches and magical items, and once they are “cleared,” they disappear. Many try to clear these wonders, but very few succeed. Alibaba aims to be one of those lucky few, and once he sees what Aladdin can do, he determines that the younger boy should be his companion.
It is with chapter three that the episodic feel the story was starting to get goes away, as we gain a recurring villain and a clear goal for the heroes. Unfortunately it is also where it begins to look like Ohtaka really wanted to make an RPG but was stuck with a manga, as there is so much game-speak with “clearing dungeons” and similar lingo as the book goes on that it starts to feel a little much. Ohtaka does try to balance it out with the storyline about Morgiana and JAMIL (presumably meant to represent the character Cassim in the original Ali Baba story), as well as some of the absurdist humor she used to good effect in her previous series. This serves to give the volume an unsettled feel, as if she wasn't quite sure where she was going with the story. While this is forgivable in a first volume, one hopes it evens out as the series goes on, as it interrupts the flow of the narrative.
The characters themselves are interesting to read about, although Aladdin's breast obsession feels like it was thrown in there as a bit of fanservice for the readers and really doesn't add to the plot or the humor. He is a bit Luffy-esque on the whole, and not just because of his appetite, which Ohtaka does come up with a believable explanation for. He's got the same sort of innocent charm that Eiichiro Oda's hero exhibits, and the same surprising depths, although he is clearly more than he seems. Alibaba deserves mention for being more than a one-note character, although his wish for wealth is clearly his driving characteristic. Morgiana has promise, although right now JAMIL is looking like the standard Handsome Bad Guy. (We get standard Ugly Bad Guy too, if you're wondering.)
Ohtaka's art has definitely improved since her last series, with characters looking more proportioned except where body disparities are used for comedic effect, and a less sketchy look overall. The wide variety of faces that she draws is both impressive and fun to look at and some of her backgrounds are beautiful. She does a good job with pseudo-Arabian clothing and different body types, making Magi a fun book to look at.
It is clear that this series is only just getting started. There are some pacing and story issues that look as though they will even out as the tale continues on, and overall Magi's first volume has a lot of promise. It isn't the best that it could be, but it really is a fun time, and while die-hard fans of The Arabian Nights may have some issues with it, overall those looking for a good old shounen adventure story about a couple of plucky kids (with bonus burly djinn!) pursuing their dreams should give this a shot. It isn't perfect, but it is a good time.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Fun interpretation of the classic characters, nice art with a lot of variety in the people and detailed backgrounds. Moves pretty quickly and soon looses episodic feel.
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