Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 10th 2010
Sub.DVD - Collection 2
Astral may be a business, but you wouldn't know it by looking at their work. Most of Astral's jobs, it seems, involve bailing Astral employees out of personal crises. Goetia honcho and Astral stockholder Adelicia has her demons stolen by an underling, so Itsuki rushes to the rescue. Mikan is kidnapped by her own family for use as an oni-sacrifice, so Itsuki and Honami head to the mountains for some oni-hunting. Honami's quest to cure Itsuki's eye leads her to break a very dangerous taboo, so the entire company flies to her side to set her right. Even when they get an outside request, it turns out to be an ex-comrade of Nekoyashiki's out to revenge himself on the onmyoudou mystic. That isn't a profitable business model, and the beach trips, martial arts training and same-sex weddings aren't helping fill any coffers either. They've got a high employee retention rate, though.
Rental Magica is one of those shows that it hurts to criticize. It's earnest, well-intentioned, and pitched at a slightly more sophisticated audience than your average magical-action harem romance. You can tell by the voluminously researched systems of magic it uses. Neither does it have hateful or irritating characters. It's never unpleasant or painful or reprehensible. It's impeccably good-natured and harmless. So it pains one to have to say things like: "Its effect on your memory would make a meal of Rohypnol and vodka look benign." Or to suggest that it should change its name from Rental Magica to The Further Adventures of Bland-Boy in Magical Mash-up Land. But honesty demands that we must, because for all its apparently good qualities, it just isn't a good show.
It wasn't when its first half had us counting clichés to stay awake, and it isn't now, even as it nears something like a climax. Aside from the disposable one-offs about mermaid-infested beach vacations and training in the mountains, these are the series' big stories, the kind that put major characters in major pinches and lead to major developments. There's no reason why they shouldn't hit hard; there are a lot of emotions in play when Honami is fooled by a duplicitous friend into endangering the city, or when adorable little Mikan is practically hand-fed by her own grandmother to a ravenous magical beast. And yet somehow they don't. By some evil alchemy of uninvolving characters, lax execution, and narrative spinelessness (who really believes that the show will let an ogre eat Mikan?), the scenes are rendered entirely inert.
And it isn't just the dramatic sequences that end up that way. Rental Magica tries its hand at many things, and like King Midas in reverse everything it touches turns to dust. Its action scenes don't excite thanks to their forgone conclusions and endless, incomprehensible spellcasting. A complete lack of subtlety and convincing psychology renders the romantic interludes more embarrassing than touching. Its sense of humor only goes as far as assigning silly quirks to characters (Nekoyashiki likes cats! Sekiren is idiotically honest!) and throwing in the occasional harem-comedy gag, every one of which fails because...well, because they're harem-comedy gags. It can't even get fan-service right. Clunky animation and a staid eye for the female form bludgeon the beach episode's titillation factor to death, even before the show abandons surfside hijinks for magical mermaid mayhem. It has some minor success with atmospherics, thanks to superior background art and the judicious use of CG magical effects, but even that is undercut by the spotty animation and uninspired scoring.
So what does a potential viewer have to look forward to when choking down all of that dust? The character designs are fairly attractive: kid-Honami and kid-Adelicia in particular are pretty darned cute. And the realistic color palette is a nice change from the kandy-colored nightmares of your average harem(ish) series. Plus its episodes aren't in chronological order. Crazy risky. The episode order, though, isn't as much a factor here as it was in the first set. The arcs all stand more or less by themselves, and events within each play out more or less chronologically, so even if they're jumbled about a bit it doesn't make a whole lot of difference.
Viewers can also look forward to Right Stuf's presentation of the series. If between this and Junjou Romantica the quality of Right Stuf's catalogue has decreased, the quality of their releases hasn't. This is another of their solidly constructed box sets, with four thinpak DVDs in a hardy box decorated with art so gorgeous that it makes one lament the simplifications used in the actual animation. The discs themselves have the usual collection of trailers and promos and character profiles and also present the series in both broadcast and chronological order. Included in the usual (though massive, at 150 pages) booklet are in-depth character profiles, voice-actor interviews (predictably Rie Kugiyama's is the best) and a handy reference translating and explaining the written parts of the series' strange next-episode previews. The bulk of the book, however, is given over to exhaustive, and exhausting, explanations of the onmyoudou, Shingon Vajrayana, and Shinto magical systems, as well as mermaids, wedding ceremonies and glam sight. If only half as much effort went into writing the characters.
If you are already a fan of the series and not likely to be deterred by its failure to provide any form of viable entertainment, you could hardly ask for a better release. If you're not already a fan, don't bother. Relentlessly mediocre and frighteningly forgettable (it's worrisome when you have to use Wikipedia to remember events you watched just hours previous), Rental Magica is the definition of a waste of time. And, yes, that did pain me to say.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : C
+ Good character designs, realistic coloring and superior background art provide something pretty to look at; relatively painless.
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