Alibaba’s dream is to capture a Dungeon. These mysterious structures appeared fourteen years ago across the whole world and are said to contain treasures beyond imagination, not to mention metal vessels through which all-powerful djinn can be summoned. So the young man joins up with a mysterious and unworldly boy, Aladdin, who just so happens to possess a metal flute in which a djinn, Ugo, resides. Aladdin is trying to find out who he really is – and as the answer may lie in the Dungeon of Amon, he and Alibaba enter and are plunged into a terrifying world beyond its portals.
But this is just the start of their adventures – and no sooner have the two become firm friends, than they are wrenched apart. Aladdin is determined to find Alibaba again and on the course of his journey, he discovers much more about himself and the mysterious powers he wields. It seems that he is a Magi, one who can choose a king. But all is not well in Aladdin’s world; the force of the mighty empire of Kou is reaching out, trying to bring all the surrounding countries under its yoke. And slave-trading is rife; Aladdin has already encountered and befriended Morgiana, a young girl born with extraordinary strength, who has endured years of slavery since early childhood and, freed by Alibaba, is on her way home to the Dark Continent to find her people. However, when Morgiana and Aladdin reach the country of Balbadd, hoping to find a ship out, the harbour is closed because of attacks of the Fog Troupe, chivalrous bandits who rob the rich to give to the poor. And it just so happens that, at the helm of this notorious crew is someone they both know well…
Aladdin; Alibaba; Sinbad; Morgiana… these names from the Tales of the Arabian Nights conjure up so many rich associations, ranging from panto to Disney. However, Shinobu Ohtaka uses the exotic settings and the evocative names from these ancient stories to make something new and very much her own in her hugely popular shounen ongoing manga on which this anime TV series is based. And these are characters that you really come to care about; at the end of Episode 13, you’ll be impatient for the second set to be released, to find out what happens next…
Magi, with its bright primary colours, djinns and child protagonist, looks at first sight like a children’s series. Don’t be deceived! That 15 rating is there for a reason and it’s not just the boobies jokes in the first episode. It’s faithful to the manga (by and large) which means that the flow of the narrative feels a little disjointed at first. It’s more than likely that the mangaka was asked to write a single adventure for her heroes by Shogakukan and then the series became popular enough to be commissioned as an ongoing serial. But Ohtaka is not just spinning a fantastic but superficial magical tale flavoured with a spicy dash of eastern promise; Magi takes a long, hard look at power and the way power corrupts. Alibaba, good-hearted but naive, has some harsh lessons to learn on his return to Balbadd, his native country. It’s not for nothing that one of the most sinister people he meets there is the financier Marchio who has wormed his way into King Ahbmad’s confidence. The brutal immorality of slave-trading is another underlying theme, with Morgiana’s early experiences providing a dark foreshadowing of what may be to come for Balbadd. There is also a fair amount of explicit violence – and some breathtaking magical battles which are dazzlingly animated.
The character designs by Toshifumi Akai are for the most part faithful to Ohtaka’s original drawings (although something of Aladdin’s wonderfully winning smile has been lost in the animation.) Also, even though the main characters’ features are portrayed in detail, the thousands of extras are given rather short shrift. (The animators have also retained Ohtaka’s love for depicting her main characters’ extreme reactions in chibi form for comical effect.) However a great deal of resource has gone into the animation budget and the magical confrontations are dazzlingly animated.
A tale of this richness and complexity deserves a big orchestral score – and it gets one from none other than Shiro Sagisu, probably best known as the composer for Bleach. Admittedly, there are some rather odd passages for recorder consort that seem to have been adapted from a sixteenth century European Danserye – and some equally inappropriate piano passages (was he improvising, silent film-style?) but apart from these, Sagisu does a truly impressive job, producing a score that evokes the grandeur of Hollywood epics and yet also with a flavour uniquely his own. The music crashes in from the moment the menu page appears on the screen, setting exactly the right exotic and stirring atmosphere. The first Opening Theme is the exuberant “V.I.P” by SID (eps 1-12) and the attractive first Ending Theme is “Yubi Bōenkyō” by Nogizaka46. PornoGraffiti (them again!) supply the second Opening Theme: ”Matataku Hoshi no Shita de” which first appears in Episode 13, which concludes with the second Opening Theme: “The Bravery” by supercell.
On the voice acting front, the original Japanese version has the benefit of a glittering cast with (to name but a few stalwarts) Daisuke Ono as Sinbad, Shinishiro Miki as Ithnan, and Jun Fukuyama as Cassim. However, the US voice actors are also well worth listening to, with some relative newcomers to the world of voice acting doing an excellent job. Particularly worthy of merit are Cristina Vee as Morgiana, Erica Mendez as Aladdin and Erik Kimerer as conflicted hero Alibaba, alongside Matthew Mercer, who puts in a convincingly swashbuckling performance as Sinbad. Among the better known voices, we find Liam O’Brien having a fine old time playing evil Lord Jamil and the creepy Banker, Marchio, while Todd Haberkorn is excellent (as ever) as Aladdin’s sinister rival, Judal (Judar in the manga).
Extras – on the Blu-ray – are textless Opening and Ending Themes.
Magi – The Labyrinth of Magic starts off rather unevenly but, once it gets into its stride in the kingdom of Balbadd, it’s well worth the journey. Grab hold of that magic carpet and come along for the ride; it’s full of fantastic surprises!