Alibaba is desperate to save the people of Balbadd from becoming enslaved by the powerful Kou Empire. But who can help him? Aladdin is still unconscious and even Alibaba’s childhood friend Cassim has turned against him, urging the impoverished citizens to rise up against the palace and destroy everyone inside. Sinister forces are at work behind the scenes and as Cassim transforms into a powerful Dark Djinn, it seems as if Alibaba will be unable to prevent the fall of Balbadd. But help is at hand – as well as revelations that the dark forces manipulating these disastrous events, the Abnormalities of the World, are members of Al-Tharmen, the Organization. A trip to Sindria, Sinbad’s kingdom, gives the opportunity for the three young heroes to train with three of Sinbad’s famous Eight Generals. The arrival of Ren Hakuryu, an earnest young prince of the Kou Empire, leads to Aladdin, Alibaba, and Morgiana setting off with him in tow to try to capture another perilous dungeon. However Al-Tharmen are not so easily thwarted and a vicious snakebite places Alibaba – and all Sindria – in mortal danger.
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is that all-too-rare phenomenon these days: an anime TV series that not only makes for compelling viewing but also repays watching again – and again. It’s closer in spirit (and in ‘older’ content – this is a million miles from Disney’s Aladdin) to Fullmetal Alchemist than Fairy Tail or older role models like Dragon Ball Z.
Morgiana is one of the most charismatic characters in Magi. She’s resourceful and strong-minded, as well as possessing the extraordinary physical strength of her people, and it’s a pleasure to see her break free from the years of servitude and come into her own here. The famous scene in which she dances at the feast in Sindria is both touching and inspired. In contrast to her quiet fortitude, conflicted Prince Alibaba agonizes over every next move, fiercely determined to protect his people, yet constantly reminded by his own conscience of all the mistakes he has made along the way. And Aladdin? The young magi has still much more to discover about his extraordinary powers and his mysterious origins. Mangaka Shinobu Ohtaka’s Aladdin is reproduced faithfully in the anime, including his strange (pervy?) tendency to squeeze boobs – which I think is supposed to be funny but is just rather…unfunny. The other charismatic character, par excellence, is Sinbad – and here we get to see at last just how powerful he can be (he’s already earned his own spin-off series). The minute the action moves to Sindria and the dark forces of Al-Tharmen threaten to exterminate Sinbad and his people, Magi takes off, presenting a series of nail-biting magical fights in which the outcomes are never certain. And even if victory is attainable, it will not be earned without some considerable personal loss to the main protagonists.
We have many volumes to go before we catch up with the manga of Magi in English translation, so as the first anime TV series comes to an end, so there’s no way of saying how faithful it is to the source material. (Although mangaka Shinobu Ohtaka’s distinctive chibi drawings are unmistakable when used here for comic effect.) But the colourful character designs and luscious settings are attractive and the animation is especially good in the fight scenes, when the golden and black rukh swirl through the sky like glittering or stormy clouds.
Both Japanese and American vocal casts are settling nicely into their roles, even if both actresses playing Aladdin (Kaori Ishihara and Erica Mendez) sound a little too girly for my tastes. And new cast member, Darrel Guilbeau provides a sympathetic portrayal of young Ren Hakuryu, the Kou prince with several issues of his own to resolve.
Shiro Sagisu’s soundtrack continues to impress and baffle in equal measure. His main orchestral theme for Magi (the one that plays behind the menu) brims with exotic eastern promise and gets it absolutely right (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade meets Holst’s Beni Mora head-on in the backlots of 1940s Hollywood). His use of wailing voices set against thundering rhythms is menacingly effective and atmospheric. But – oh dear me! – what is this peculiar use of jazzy saxophones? And then those equally bizarre string quartet moments… Worst of all is the emergence at a key dramatic and emotional moment of a throbbing electric guitar solo that has wandered in from some 70s prog rock, twinned with a totally inappropriate trumpet solo, straight out a hotel lounge. Is it supposed to be enhancing the drama? It pretty nearly killed it for me. Much more refreshing is the new up-tempo Opening Theme: “Matataku Hoshi no Shita de” from the ever-reliable Porno Graffiti which is set to a dazzling piece of animation for the opening titles. Also likable is the new Ending Theme: “The Bravery” by supercell; classy stuff.
The final episode leaves us with many tantalizing glimpses of what is to come in the second season Magi: The Kingdom of Magic; so many, in fact, that this part repays repeated viewings.
The only extras are textless Opening and Endings.
The exhilarating magic carpet-ride (or turban-ride, in this case) that is Magi continues, bringing the First Season to a richly satisfying conclusion. A must-watch for shounen fans. Bring on Season 2!