Shelf Life
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

by Paul Jensen,

I started playing the Fate/Grand Order game this week, and boy is it stingy with rare characters. I'm used to low odds from the Love Live rhythm game, but it still stings to keep getting three-star Julius Caesars when you know your five-star waifu is out there somewhere. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

On Shelves This Week

Cardcaptor Sakura - Complete Series [Standard Edition] BD
NIS America - 1750 min - Hyb - MSRP $149.99
Currently cheapest at: $112.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After accidentally releasing a set of magical cards from the book that contained them, Sakura Kinomoto must capture each card and return it to its rightful place.

Extra: Most of this week's releases didn't have their own pages when I put this list together, so their title links will take you to the main show pages in our encyclopedia instead. Our most recent review of this series is here, and you can stream the show and the movie on Crunchyroll.

Gatchaman Fighter - Complete Collection DVD
Sentai - 1200 min - Sub - MSRP $79.98
Currently cheapest at: $47.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: When Leader X regenerates into Leader Z and gathers a new evil army, the members of the Gatchaman force are called back into action.

Extra: We don't have much on this Gatchaman sequel, partly because this seems to be the first time it's been released on disc in the US. Earlier parts of the franchise are available streaming on HIDIVE and The Anime Network.

Hanasaku Iroha: Blossoms for Tomorrow - Set 1 [Standard Edition] BD
NIS America - 308 min - Sub - MSRP $49.99
Currently cheapest at: $37.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: When her mother runs off with a new boyfriend, Ohana Matsumae must live and work in her grandmother's hot springs inn.

Extra: You'll find reviews for this first half of the series here and here. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home [Standard Edition] BD
NIS America - 60 min - Sub - MSRP $29.99
Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Ohana discovers a logbook from when her mother worked at the Kissuiso inn as a young girl.

Extra: We have a review of the older premium edition release of this movie. Unlike the TV series, it doesn't appear to be available to stream.

Hyouka - Part 1 BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.51 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Hotaro Oreki is pressured into joining his high school's literature club, where he meets the irresistibly energetic Eru Chitanda.

Extra: This series spent a long time in licensing limbo, so we don't have any reviews of it just yet. However, our user ratings are pretty positive with an average of 7.8 out of 10. A couple of episodes are available on Funimation, with more scheduled to go up soon.

Kuromukuro - Set 1 BD
Ponycan - 310 min - Hyb - MSRP $150.98
Currently cheapest at: $120.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As scientists from around the world gather at Kurobe Dam to study a mysterious artifact, an ancient samurai awakens to defend the world from an invading force.

Extra: We have reviews for the first and second halves of this series, and you can stream it on Netflix.

The Boy and the Beast [Hosoda Collection] BD+DVD
Funimation - 119 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $36.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A human boy and his adoptive beast-man father must face off against a dark force that threatens the human and beast worlds.

Extra: You'll find reviews for this Mamoru Hosoda film here and here. Some clips and interviews are available on Funimation, but not the movie itself.

Shelf Life Reviews

After getting a DVD release a few years ago, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is finally out on Blu-Ray in the US. Here's my take on the new collection.

The “coming of age” shonen adventure story is a format that seems to be evergreen in the anime industry. The titles change from decade to decade, but as long as there's a show about ambitious kids traveling through a grand fantasy world, there will be an audience for it. I'm old enough (and have been watching anime for long enough) that a series in this genre has to be pretty darn good to hold my interest, so it's an encouraging sign that I enjoyed watching Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. If a grumpy curmudgeon like me had fun with it, then it must be doing something right.

The story starts with an encounter between two adventurous youngsters with big dreams. One is Alibaba, who aspires to conquer a mysterious tower known as a Dungeon in order to obtain the treasure and magical items inside. The other is Aladdin, a young boy with incredible magical powers. The two of them decide to team up, and their first trip into a Dungeon sets them on a path to a much bigger and more dangerous journey. Along the way, they meet new allies like the enslaved warrior girl Morgiana and the legendary Dungeon-conquering hero Sinbad.

If you've ever watched a big shonen adventure series before, then many of the core plot points in Magi will feel familiar. The show assembles its team of plucky young heroes, gives them some helpful mentors, and pits them against enemies from a large, sinister organization. That's probably enough to entertain a young audience, but there's some extra substance for us old folks as well. The storylines in this season delve pretty deeply into subjects like slavery and economic upheaval, and there's plenty of political intrigue for the characters to get caught up in. Even if the writing sometimes tries too hard to be insightful, it's nice to see a series in this genre with a brain to back up all of its energy and fighting spirit.

It helps that most of the lead characters are reasonably compelling, whether they're messing around in the show's more humorous episodes or fighting their way through the serious sections. Alibaba and Morgiana are arguably the more interesting members of the main trio, since both of them have plenty of old grudges and emotional baggage to work through. Aladdin tends to be on more of an even keel as the show's moral compass, but even he faces an intriguing personal dilemma or two. Sinbad is a welcome addition as the obligatory badass grownup of the series, and his various lieutenants are a reasonably colorful bunch. The weak point here is the antagonistic end of the equation; while individual characters like Cassim and Judar make good foils for Alibaba and Aladdin, the evil organization and its cronies fail to leave much of an impression. Evil masterminds need to do more than just being evil for evil's sake.

More than anything else, it's the emotional appeal of a grand fantasy adventure that sells this series for me. The scenery chances from one story arc to another, and the environments are always eye-catching. The Dungeons in particular feature some neat designs, and on the whole this is the kind of fictional world that makes you want to dive in and start exploring. Some of my favorite episodes in this set were the initial introductions to new locations, be they dusty desert towns or lush island kingdoms. Variety is key to keeping things fresh in a long-running series, and I never really felt like Magi got bogged down or spent too long in one place.

The animation never quite grabbed my attention to the same extent as the backgrounds, but it's generally pretty good. The characters are expressive enough to cover their broad range of emotions, and there's a nice sense of movement in the action scenes. This set includes a reasonably solid English dub, and I was able to switch back and forth between the two audio tracks without finding one to be hugely preferable to the other. That said, I'd recommend the Japanese audio if you're on the fence; it's just a little bit better in most areas. On-disc extras in this set are limited to trailers and clean opening and ending sequences, though the physical packaging itself is quite nice. Whether or not that justifies the price of entry depends on how much money you have to throw around.

My lasting impression of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is one of a show that's never quite perfect, but always has something good working in its favor. I could go in and find flaws in all of its major story arcs, and I could just as easily find a bunch of strong points. The good news is that the positives outweigh the negatives by a healthy margin, and I definitely came away wanting to see more (good thing the sequel season is already in my review pile). Magi strikes me as the kind of fun, accessible adventure series that could jump-start a person's interest in anime if they watched it at the right time, and its “gateway show” value alone makes it worth checking out.

That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from CatSword:

"My shelves were previously featured in the "Girls und Anime" edition of the Shelf Life column in January 2014, when I was twelve years old. I'm (barely) sixteen now, and post on the forums as CatSword...figured it was about time for an update!

As one can see comparing my old shelves with my current shelves, I still have a problem with buying volume 1s of everything/not finishing series. But I've come closer! Recently I've been trying to fill my shelves with things I really want to read instead of just buying everything in sight when I have money.

Don't mind my hand in one picture, it's just obscuring a picture of myself on that board."

The "volume 1" pit is real and bottomless; I fall into it all the time with new manga titles. Thanks for the update, and for sticking with us at Shelf Life for all these years!

More shelves! More shelves! I'm always looking for more collections to show off in Shelf Obsessed. Send me your photos at [email protected]!

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