Magi has surprised with more depth than I had ever seen before from this quaint little comic.
Story & Art: Shinobu Ohtaka
Translation/Adaptation: John Werry
What They Say:
Aladdin and Alibaba have entered the Dungeon of Qishan hoping to find hidden treasure—but danger’s found them! A horde of slimes closes in on them, while Lord Jamil and his slaves head into the dungeon looking to intercept Aladdin and grab any riches he may have found! But these rivals have more to worry about than each other, and new friends, new enemies and amazing riches are yet to be discovered!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
We start the second volume right where the first left off, in the dungeon. Aladdin is dead tired, a consequence of summoning Ugo. As he says, he needs lots of food and sleep to regenerate his energy.
The real action starts when Jamil, the lord of the town they were in, enters the dungeon and encounters Aladdin and Alibaba when they’re at their most vulnerable. Alibaba doesn’t want to show off his stuff just yet (that comes later in the volume) and Aladdin is sleeping. With two servants remaining, Goltas and soon-to-be main character Morgiana, Jamil all at once overtakes Alibaba and Aladdin with charisma alone—or at least that’s the way he thinks it happened. For now, Alibaba’s playing dumb and striking when he has to.
The dungeon exploring is minimal. Before we get to when Alibaba and Aladdin explore by themselves after escaping Jamil, it’s nothing fancier than an Indiana Jones dungeon, save for a giant dragon head entrance, which was cool. I think the simplicity plays as a nice parallel to Alibaba, as he’s acting just as the dungeon is, and the dungeon certainly is acting. These dungeons simply appeared and they each have a djinn inside of them that’s basically controlling them. The personality of the dungeon very much reflects the djinn, and the one in here will only show his cards after you explore a little. That’s exactly the parallel I’m talking about as well, with the cards. Alibaba isn’t willing to show what he’s truly capable of—high level translations, swordplay, and other things only nobles would learn—until he’s put into the corner. This will perhaps be the nerdiest reference I make, but it reminds me of Kurama from YuYu Hakusho who has likes like “You should know better than to corner a fox; we have a tendency to show our teeth.” and “Never show your hand early and always keep an ace up your sleeve.” Alibaba in these first two volumes is the living those two mantras to a T.
But when he does show his hand, just like Kurama, it’s terrifying. They’re a beautiful and horrifying panel on page 91 where Alibaba holds his sword up to his face after decisively defeating Jamil with the silhouette of a king behind him. He is the very epitome of what Jamil should, and wants, to be and to Jamil, Alibaba is a mere commoner. It’s a great contrast between the classes, which Magi plays with a lot.
For example, Morgiana. Her and Aladdin have a great back-and-forth when Aladdin is kidnapped by Jamil and his crew. He says that she should just break her chains again and be free of the tyrannical Jamil. But she screams, angrily, “You don’t know a thing about life as a slave.” She breaks the very concrete underneath her while doing so. In one sentence, Aladdin’s naiveté is exemplified, as is Morgiana’s entire character of wanting SO BADLY to break out of this stupid caste system, but unable to do so no matter what. Sometimes, Magi can be very on-the-nose with what it’s trying to do, especially with its internal dialogues. But with scenes like this, and the metaphor of the dungeon to Alibaba, it is truly great.
The metaphor is extended when Alibaba and Aladdin finally get together. After being beaten down by Morgiana and taken advantage of by Jamil, Alibaba is saved by Aladdin. Aladdin uses the rukh and magic to ultimately defeat him and the djinn, Amon, shows up to declare that the dungeon has been captured by Alibaba. But when they finally come together, the formerly stone artifacts are transformed into gold. When they both finally come together and reveal themselves to each other, which they have been either unwilling or just haven’t done yet, the dungeon itself reveals its true nature.
The best part of the volume to me was the dialogue between Goltas and Morgiana. Morgiana is maybe my favorite character in the manga and anime, so that’s part of it. But the other part is legitimate, because she is certainly shackled by more than just the chains around her ankles. She’s shackled psychologically to Jamil, who has literally tortured and tormented Morgiana from a young age. We see in a flashback where he’s stabbing her tongue with his sword and proclaiming his superiority to him. But Goltas, just as Aladdin in the first volume, forcibly broke those chains from her and freed her. The metaphor here is put on heavy, but it’s emotionally impactful. Morgiana is the type that is never untrue to herself, but needs a push to do what she truly wants to do—and she wants to be free.
After the escape the dungeon, the comic devolves to mere setup. But I use the word devolve for lack of a better one, as the panels are necessary, so to speak, they just perhaps go on too long. It starts as Alibaba and Aladdin are alone on the portal that Amon made for them to escape and they have a nice back-and-forth, which they haven’t really been able to have as simply characters (as opposed to as both characters and as devices to move the plot forward). They promise to adventure once again, which sets off the rest of the chapter’s goings on of Alibaba. We see him using almost his entire wealth from the dungeon freeing the slaves and ensuring their extended well-being. A conversation that I won’t spoil spells the coming events of the next volumes.
The volume’s story ends with Aladdin being picked up by a tribe seemingly led by a blind old woman who “sees” by the rukh. We know that Aladdin doesn’t know much about rukh and we know that he’s about to learn.
The book itself, I believe fittingly, ends with the final installment of the about me from Shinobu Ohtaka. She says, “Unlike the characters in the manga, I can’t use magic, but by wielding my pen, I hope at the very least to create a manga everyone can enjoy.” I may have overanalyzed metaphors of characterizations, but the very core of Magi still remains. It’s a very fun shonen action story that has these layers, but is definitely enjoyed without them.
I don’t know why, but I enjoyed this second volume more than I had the entire first season, what’s out of the second season, or the first volume. Perhaps being able to look back on it in this different lens, knowing what I know about what’s to come, subjects my view more than I know. But what I said above still rings true. Magi is at once simple fun and a deep story, and that’s all I really want out of the media I consume. The amazing artwork, like that of the chapter 14 title page, doesn’t hurt either.
Content Grade: A
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: October 8th, 2013