Review for Magi The Kingdom of Magic - Season 2 Part 1
There’s that love-hate relationship thing that I have with Kazé Entertainment again. I can always find nits to pick with their releases, discs that carry a wide range of flaws, and a complete lack of communication with the UK anime fan-base. But then they go and do something like this, release Magi: The Kingdom of Magic on Blu-ray, just as they did with The Labyrinth of Magic, and still, to date we are the only English speaking territory in the world to get Magi in HD; the US and Australia have to put up with DVD only, and with the US getting their DVDs in expensive Aniplex livery. That’s something worth doing a happy dance about.
Magi is set in an alternate history of sorcery and magic, where kings are chosen, not just born to power. The ones who do the choosing are the rare embodiments of magic in this world, the Magi, and those chosen must battle through mysterious towering dungeons to gain artefacts of magic and power to earn the right to rule. Aladdin is a young boy who knows he’s a Magi, but knows precious little else about himself, other than an instinctive appreciation for all things bosom-y in life. In a desert-bound town that hosts a dungeon, he encounters Alibaba, a hard working ambitious young man who dreams of conquering a dungeon, but who has trained himself to choose expediency over doing the right thing, despite his natural instincts. They also meet a young slave girl named Morgiana, who is shackled more by the chains in her mind than those on her legs. Circumstances lead them into the dungeon, and set them forth on an adventure that will change all of their lives.
The end of the first season of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic saw our heroes encounter the hero king Sinbad, and travel to his nation of Sindria, where they hoped to undo a curse that Alibaba had picked up. That curse would see them travel to another dungeon with a wayward prince of Kou, but at the same time, the threat to the world in the form of the Al Tharmen group revealed its designs on Sindria and launched an attack. That attack was repulsed, but Al Tharmen’s threat didn’t go away, while the adventure in the dungeon revealed that the magical kingdom of Magnoshutatt was in some way implicated. At the start of this second season of Magi: The Kingdom of Magic, our three heroes come to the decision to go their separate ways. After all, Magnoshutatt discriminates against non-magic users. Aladdin decides to go there alone, to further refine his abilities and learn more about himself, and also find out just how Magnoshutatt is involved with Al Tharmen. Alibaba has to go to the Leam Empire, as while he managed to break the curse, he can no longer do a full Djinn Equip, and he needs the help of the Yambala nomads (some of whom work as gladiators in Leam) to relearn that ability. Meanwhile Morgiana has decided to find out the truth about her past once and for all by heading south to the Dark Continent, and learn what really happened to her people, the Fanalis.
13 episodes of Magi: The Kingdom of Magic are presented across two Blu-rays from Kazé Entertainment thus.
1. Premonition of a Journey
3. Setting Sail
6. A Kind Person
7. Ren Koha Appears
8. Days of Training
9. The Leam Empire
10. The High Priestess
11. The Great Rift
12. A New Emperor
13. Titus Alexius
Magi: The Kingdom of Magic gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these Blu-ray discs. With 8 episodes on one dual layer disc, and 5 on another single layer platter, and not much in the way of extra features, there’s little issue with compression and the like to contend with, and the anime comes across with detail, clarity and rich colour. There isn’t even much evidence of digital banding, which makes this one of the better HD anime releases. That’s all for the good, as Magi is a show which really excels in the world design, basking in the Middle East setting, rich in architecture, ambience and style, and you can bet that there’s a lot of faux Arabic calligraphy, plenty of Persian rugs, and lots of rich detail to make you glad that you’re watching this in High Definition and not pesky DVD.
The same can’t be said for the character designs though, which underneath their Arab robes, fezzes and turbans wind up as pretty generic for anime characters, although the impressive djinns are yet to make an appearance in this second series. When I first watched the show online my initial concern was for these characters’ teeth. There’s something weird about how their mouths are animated, which makes me think that their dentures are coming loose. The same was true for this home video viewing.
The images used in this review (apparently all taken from Part 2) are kindly supplied by the PR and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese (but if you select the other menu when you insert the disc, there’s no French audio this time around, merely French subtitles), all encoded at 2.3 Mb per second. I went with the Japanese audio and was pretty happy with the experience, the actors seemed well suited to their roles, the show’s action sequences came across well, and the music was a key part in selling the Middle Eastern atmosphere and the setting, and since the second half of Labyrinth of Magic, the music has regained its vitality and variety in echoing the feel of this fantasy world. The subtitles flow well and are easy to read, free of typos and accurately timed. A couple of issues might be that the theme songs aren’t translated, while single word or short sentence translations might flash by a little too quickly to read. They really need to linger on screen for longer than it takes the character to speak in those instances. There is a signs only track, but for this series, that amounts to translating the episode title and not much else. Note that if you watch the Japanese version and someone happens to be speaking during the episode title screen, then the episode title will also just flash by, and you might need the pause button to read it. As per usual for Kazé discs, the subtitles and audio permutations are locked away from user access, although thankfully for Blu-ray, you do have the pop-up menu to let you change the audio during playback.
I avoided the English dub this time around, but I still feel it’s a missed opportunity.
Insert the discs and you have the choice of English and French menus. Choose French and disc 1 will autoplay a trailer for Dragon Ball Z Kai. while disc 2 will play a trailer for the Anime Digital Network. Choose English and disc 1 will play a trailer for Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan and Black Lagoon on disc 2, but other than for the language options, the menus are pretty much identical.
The only extras are on disc 1, and amount to the textless credits, and this time they truly are textless; no karaoke subs here.
There’s no handy recap here, no quick jolt to the memory of what came before, so if it’s been a fair while since you last saw The Labyrinth of Magic, it might be worth watching it again before starting on The Kingdom of Magic, as this second series picks up where the first left off, plunging headlong into its story. That said, the first few episodes do serve as something of a breather as they really cover the aftermath of Labyrinth’s conclusion, the battle for Sindria, and the dungeon that Aladdin, Morgiana, Alibaba and Kou prince Hakuryu conquered. At least watch that arc again, so that you’ll know who Dunya is, and why Aladdin is fretting over her at the start of this second series.
It really is more of the same, if you’ve watched the first season. Magi is a shonen adventure in the vein of Naruto or One Piece, but unlike those shows, it’s a lean piece of narrative, with the series being created once the manga is there to adapt, and with no space for filler, recaps or flashbacks. We’re going straight to the Kai version here. So it’s an action adventure series, with plenty of magic, a convoluted plot, an overabundance of characters, and a ‘just one episode more’ compulsiveness. It’s also got something of a crude sense of humour about it, leavening its dark and ominous machinations with unexpected booby gropes from its main character.
Just like The Labyrinth of Magic, it is strongest when its main characters are together, and it begins to drift, and sag once its characters are apart. Circumstances forced them apart in The Labyrinth of Magic, and they worked towards eventually reuniting, but in The Kingdom of Magic, they choose to go their separate ways, and once that happens, the show isn’t quite as much fun anymore. But up to episode 6, this is just what I want Magi to be, Alibaba, Aladdin and Morgiana together, bouncing off each other, letting the comedy character interactions light up the screen. And once again, Morgiana is by far the best thing about the show, the hard kicking former slave girl.
The opening half of the series follows the three main characters, plus Hakuryu coming to terms with what happened to them previously, and coming to their own separate decisions about where to go next. The last battle with Al Tharmen and other incidents seem to point to the Kingdom of Magnoshutatt is implicated in the darkness, and Aladdin wants to go there to learn more. But it’s a nation that practices a form of Apartheid between magic users and normal people, and only Aladdin would be allowed in there, hence his solo journey. Alibaba on the other hand has suffered from a loss of his powers since the dungeon adventure, and he learns that seeking out a certain gladiator in the Kingdom of Leam will help him regain his Djinn Equip powers. Hakuryu decides to go back to the Kou Empire and confront the darkness at its heart, and Morgiana wishes to head south to the land of the Fanalis people in the hope of finding some trace of her past, even if the Fanalis aren’t there anymore.
Fortunately, the first leg of their journey is together, heading to the port of Actia by ship. It’s on the way there that they encounter pirates using magical tools manufactured in Magnoshutatt, further implicating that nation, but pirates with a difference. These are just children, waifs and the underprivileged of Actia, spirited away from their families by the magical mother figure Madaura, who ‘takes care’ of the children in exchange for their innate magic to power her tools of piracy. She’s hypnotised these children into thinking of her as their mother, and consequently they’re willing to die for her. Seeing that Aladdin is little more than a child in appearance, she kidnaps him to recruit him to her cause. The others follow to rescue him. One of the best moments in this collection is Morgiana kicking her way into and through the pirate base. I could watch that scene on a loop; it’s a thing of beauty. The assault on the pirate base is the last time we see the characters together, and thereafter they go their separate ways. And from here, Magi takes a downward turn as the episodes alternate to see where each character has got to on their personal journey.
Morgiana’s journey is actually the dullest story arc, and it amounts to her getting as far as a rift valley, where she meets a Magi named Yunan, and learns that crossing to the other side, where the Fanalis reside is a one way trip, and she’ll never see her friends again if she chooses to continue (obviously a metaphor for death). Alibaba at least pursues his goal of restoring his powers in the Leam Empire with the show’s trademark humour, and the characters he encounters among the gladiators of the Coliseum are certainly entertaining. It’s here we also meet the final Magi, Scheherazade, who is the ruler of Leam. There’s an episode in the Kou Empire, with a whole lot of politicking and backstabbing going on, following the death of the Emperor, and the ascent to the throne by Hakuryu’s duplicitous and evil mother. This is probably the dullest episode of this collection, weighed down by characters and back-story that you’ll need to have watched the first series to keep on the tip of your brain.
The really interesting stuff is in Magnoshutatt, the titular Kingdom of Magic, or as I tend to call it, the Harry Potter arc. This is where Aladdin attends a magical Academy to improve his magical skills, while also trying to find out the truth about the kingdom, and its involvement with Al Tharmen. His lessons begin with a month of physical training at the whip of a big-busted dominatrix of a magic teacher, which puts Aladdin simultaneously through heaven and hell, but the arc in the final six episodes takes him all the way through to the second year of education, an indication that the foot isn’t coming off the throttle of this particular story. It’s then that he meets a rival student from Leam named Titus, who also appears to be a Magi in disguise (to stop him from standing out, Aladdin is there just as another student, with his Magi powers sealed), and they immediately gets into a life or death confrontation. This leads to Aladdin encountering the head of the Academy, and the leader of Magnoshutatt, Matal Mogamett, and far from being an ominous force of darkness in league with Al Tharmen; he turns out just to be a kindly old man.
Just as unceremoniously as it started, Magi’s second season reaches its halfway point without any fanfare, no particular cliff-hanger, just a ‘to be continued’. It’s a fun show, with very likeable characters, but the way it tells its story is unsatisfying, and it makes the mistake of separating its main trio, when they work best on screen together. The worst thing is that the best character, Morgiana, is hardly in it. Just get your Morgiana fix in the first six episodes, as what follows doesn’t really compare. Of the story arcs, it’s the Magnoshutatt one that appeals the most, and the other episodes feel like distractions from the good bit. But Magi is still very watchable, and it’s never less than entertaining. Good news if you’re looking for more Magi goodness, as while the story is yet to continue in anime form following the Kingdom of Magic series, next year will see a prequel in the form of Magi: The Adventures of Sinbad, showing what the Prince of Sindria got up to thirty years before he attained the throne.