Magi – The Labyrinth Of Magic Series 1 Part 1 (Episodes 1-13) (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 318 minutes approx.
As sure as night follows day and sun follows rain one can also be sure that any world history or popular folklore will one day get the anime treatment, with our Japanese friends putting their own esoteric spin on it, turning it into something vastly unrecognisable, borderline ridiculous, yet still perversely enjoyable.
The latest victim is Magi – The Labyrinth Of Magic, a liberty taking but fun interpretation on the legendary tales of the One Thousand And One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights), as envisioned by mangaka Shinobu Ohtaka. Forget everything you already know about these epic yarns as they are about to be distorted beyond all recognition.
Aladdin, is a ten year-old boy and a titular magi – someone with the power to choose ordinary men to become kings – who asks a giant Djin called Ugo for a wish. We aren’t told just yet what this wish is but we do learn that instead of rubbing a magic lamp to summon his genie, Aladdin uses a recorder to make this hulking blue beast – sans head – appear.
He then goes on to meet a young lad named Alibaba who would rather earn his wealth through robbing the great dungeons and treasure troves of the world than a hard day’s work as a slave. Learning of Aladdin’s power, Alibaba decides he has found himself a travelling partner but his selfish ways are soon tested and he has a rethink on his priorities and decides he will act for the good of others instead.
This may seem like a stark about face but as the show progresses a look back into Alibaba’s history informs us of the hardships the lad has suffered over the years which have shaped his selfish yearnings. Thanks to the naive but precocious Aladdin choosing Alibaba as a prospective future king, he redefines his cause and vows to be the saviour of the downtrodden in order to fulfil this prophecy. The duo are joined by Morgiana, a slave girl with incredibly fighting power, whom they rescue from the abusive Jamil. Much like Alibaba, Morgiana has led an equally unpleasant life thus far, taking the opportunity to do something positive with her life with both hands.
The early going of this series somewhat hard to warm to as it hurtles along at a lightening fast pace, literally jumping forward in time with little care for continuity or audience comprehension. Having been teleported from the dungeon from where they first teamed up with Morgiana in episode three the trio are then summarily split up to go their own ways en route to reuniting with each other.
Aladdin gets caught up in a blood feud between the Koga Clan and the Ko Empire (historical Japanese factions that have nothing to do with Arabia!) while Morigana joins a caravan to reach her hometown of Balbadd. She eventually meets up with Aladdin before making the acquaintance of Sinbad, the King of Sindria, who is on a mission to seek a coalition with the rulers of Balbadd to ward of the threat of a criminal group call the Fog Troupe.
We don’t know exactly how much time has passed since the separation but it must have been a while because it transpires that the leader of Fog Troupe is none other than Alibaba! What has caused this second change of heart? Again this is explored via flashbacks which in turn play a part in affecting the interactions and allegiances of the other characters, bringing this volume to close amidst its first substantial story arc.
It’s fair to say that the events of this development will be the deal breaker for anyone who has yet to be fully drawn into this unique fantasy world after the jaunty and directionless opening instalments, the depth and intelligence of the storytelling making for a engaging watch. The major cavil here is that the changes in Alibaba’s attitude aren’t so effective since we have barely got to know the character thanks to the choppy, breakneck pace of the establishing episodes, but the much needed focus in this story salvages the show and successfully pulls the viewer back from the brink of abandonment.
As much as there are narrative and pacing issue to contend with, many familiar shonen fantasy conventions are also strictly adhered to, most notably the constant tonal shifts between frivolous comedy, dazzling action and dark drama. Despite the kiddy friendly character designs, this show explores some very adult themes including slavery, child abuse, poverty and political oppression, in some case facing them head on in a rather unflinching in manner.
Then rather infuriatingly, it will contrast this with bouts of puerile humour, including our ten year-old magi burying his face in the ample bosoms of his female co-stars! A surprising trait to have come from the mind of its female creator – unless she knows her audience too well! Thankfully Morigana is one of many females in the show who are not eye candy and kick butt with the best of them, proving to be the most interesting of the cast members thus far.
On the visual front the artwork and interpretation of the Arabic settings are wonderfully observed if a little cliché, but are nonetheless top notch. The character designs are a little uninspired with some of the main cast not always sticking out from the pack as they should but Aladdin is at least instantly recognisable. However as the show rolls on, the odd sing of corner cutting and laziness crops in as the long time enemy of animators surfaces – a tight budget afforded to a full season show.
Magi – The Labyrinth Of Magic in all honesty is not a paradigm shifting show but what it does do, it does well within the conventions of shonen fantasy anime. Get past the unfocused first few chapters and the rewards slowly begin to reveal themselves. Perhaps not essential viewing but certainly an enjoyable enough way to pass the time.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Disc 1 only:
Textless Opening 1
Textless Ending 1
Ratings – ***
Man In Black