Magi – The Kingdom Of Magic Series 2 Part 1 (Episodes 1-13) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 318 minutes approx.
Cast your mind back if you will to about fifteen months to recall the first series of this Japanese makeover of the One Thousand And One Nights, in which Shinobu Ohtaka imagines the world of the Arabian Nights as a sort of Fullmetal Alchemist with flying carpets.
Magi – The Kingdom Of Magic picks up directly after the evens of the final arc of the first series, creating an odd sensation in that the first two episodes really feel like they should have concluded the previous series and not opened this one. This is due to the content featuring a post battle victory party after which the main cast decide to go their separate ways to fulfil their personal ambitions.
This doesn’t happen straight away as Aladdin, Morgiana, Alibaba and Prince Hakuryuu Ren of the Kou Empire initially share the same route for their journeys, enjoying a last hurrah a team when they arrive at a connecting port to discover it has been overrun by pirates – no ordinary pirates mind, these have magical tools whilst a majority of them are children.
Illustrating the darker tone prevalent in this series, this two parter introduces us to a beguiling antagonist in Aum Madaura, a voluptuous woman whose altruistic appearances in given a home to the impoverished children are a cover for her pernicious plans of selfish domination. By using mind tricks Madaura is able to convince anyone she is their mother, temporarily aligning Aladdin and Hakuryuu via such manipulation.
Ending on a rather violent note (depicted through silhouettes but still shockingly graphic) this is a story really could have lasted a few more episodes and become a thrilling mini-arc, such is the emotional hook of these kids being tricked into displaying the intense filial piety they do for Madaura. Hakuryuu’s easy seduction is noteworthy as he has a deep hatred for his own mother for killing his father to gain control of Kou, the scope of which could was open for wider exploration.
From here the characters finally diverge as does the story, giving each character a few episodes each as they take a step closer towards fulfilling their destinies – Alladdin ends up at a Harry Potter-esque Magnostadt Academy for mages, while Morgiana returns to her homeland only to find her people have relocated to the other side of a huge canyon called “the Great Rift” from which there is no return.
Elsewhere Alibaba is also seeking training to improve his fighting skills, arriving at the Reim Empire to study under the Yambala Gladiators, although he is having a worse time that the others, getting off to a very inauspicious start through a series of mishaps. To add political intrigue to the proceedings Hakuryuu doesn’t receive much of a warm welcome home as his mother Empress Gyokuen and brother Kouen are preparing to ensure one of them takes the throne. Stuck in the middle is younger sister Hakeui who refuses to listen to Hakuryuu’s accusations against the family.
A lot is going on but the format so far has been to allocate a couple of episode before jumping to the next story which is detrimental to the flow of the narrative and the overall pacing of the series. This means we are left in limbo with Morgiana’s quest to reunite with her people while we join Aladdin as he gets to grips with his scantily dressed and naturally buxom instructor Myers, who actually encourages Aladdin’s perverted habit of diving head first into a woman’s cleavage!
This is one needless and frankly embarrassing aspect of Aladdin’s character that could have stayed with the first series, especially as he is older now, but we are stuck with it because anime. While levity is never a bad thing the insistence on super chibi forms and similar exaggerations tends to spoil the mood rather than create mirth, but subtlety hasn’t proven to be one of the show’s stronger points.
For the moment, with the individual arcs only receiving piecemeal attention it is not easy to discern which is the stronger, but with Aladdin being the nominal central character his is bound to have the most attention. As it stands however, both Morgiana and Hakuryuu’s arcs have the potential to be the sleeper hits to steal the thunder from the more predictable fare of the other two.
The production values of the first season were mightily impressive and for this second outing the budget seems to have increased as the visuals are rich and lovingly detailed, looking a treat in HD. The backgrounds show greater depth and with a myriad of fresh and varying locations to recreate there is a palpable sense of renewed vigour in the overall appearance.
Character designs tend to vary dependant on the style of shot – hurried in wide shots, detailed close up – while the aforementioned chibi forms feel more like a contrived short cut to avoid drawing the true emotional expression required for the scene. Another facet which deserves a mention is the soundtrack, a superb score of evocative overtures and mood building motifs that capture the atmosphere of this fantasy period suffused with a distinct Middle Eastern flavour.
At this juncture Magi – The Kingdom Of Magic is giving the impression of a show with many ideas but little clue as how to execute them. The entertainment value is there, but intertwining the individual stories with each other may ensnare the audience as they await the next instalment, but does so at the cost of a consistent narrative. Running one story in its complete form before moving onto the next would seem to be the preferable option but it is what it is.
With twelve episodes left it there is everything to play for but with four concurrent threads running, we may end up with four rushed and confused conclusions. However this first volume does a good enough job in setting up anticipation and interest for the next release which means it is doing something right.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Disc 1 only:
Textless Opening 1
Textless Ending 1
Ratings – *** ½
Man In Black