What They Say:
Alibaba is a young carrier who dreams of gaining enough money to buy a whole country. To achieve this goal he must venture into a mysterious ruin called a “dungeon,” which is said to hold secret treasures deep within its labyrinth. Unfortunately, Alibaba lacks the courage to carry out his plan and remains a worker. Until… One day, Alibaba meets a mysterious boy named Aladdin who can summon a mighty blue spirit from a flute and travels across the continent in search of Djinn Metal Vessels. Hoping to harness Aladdin’s magical power, Alibaba invites Aladdin to join him on his dungeon-capturing expedition. Along the way and through numerous encounters and farewells, both of them will come to learn the truth about their destiny!
The audio presentation for this release is one that’s a mixed bag, though it’s a positive in that we get a bilingual release. The original Japanese language track makes out very well as we get it in stereo using the uncompressed PCM format, making for a strong forward soundstage presentation both with dialogue and the various bits of action and music. The English language track is done in stereo as well but gets the expected Dolby Digital treatment, but encoded at a lower than usual 160kbps. It’s another situation where it feels like the English dialogue track is getting less respect in a way. It’s a decent track overall but doing back and forth comparisons can show the different with a decent sound system in terms of depth, impact and general bass during some of the action scenes. Both tracks work well for the dialogue side of the show as they come across clean and clear without any problems such as dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This set comes with twelve episodes that are spread across three discs with four episodes to a disc. Animated by A-1 Pictures, Magi has a very appealing look with its color design, detail in the animation and it comes across well here in this standard definition release. Colors are bright and vibrant with a good solid feeling and there’s only a bit of banding in some of the sky backgrounds that comes from the source material itself. Detail holds up well with little in the way of noise around it and there’s generally a very solid feeling throughout the production. The video bit rate keeps to about 8mbps for most of it with a few minor dips here and there and with it spread across four discs, there’s not a ton of space for competition here, giving it enough room to breathe.
The packaging for this release is compact, a bit weighty and a touch tight overall as we get a standard sized clear keepcase to hold three discs and a booklet. The release comes with a slipcover that gives us a great shot on the front of our three leads as they walk along in the countryside with plenty of Rukh about them, giving it some additional life. It’s vibrant, colorful and very appealing in showing off the core characters. The back cover continues the countryside design but it’s done with all the other material overlaid on it where the top third breaks down the show with a good premise that covers a lot without giving too much away. The middle beraks out the discs features, extras and the bonuses in the set itself while the bottom hsa the episode breakdown by number and title as well as a small technical grid that lists things out clearly.
The case itself uses a similar kind of idea but gives us Sinbad and his crew at the forefront while using Balbadd as the backdrop, which has a different kind of color and richness to it. That also wraps around like the slipcover does and gives us a good expansive look at the city while also bringing in Ugo as Morgiana and Aladdin ride him through the streets. The cover also gives us a reversible piece with artwork there where the left side has the breakdown of the bilingual cast while the right side has a beautifully dark full panel image of Judar on it set against the moon. The set also comes with a gorgeous set of foil embossed postcards that you really want to frame up in a set as well as a small booklet that breaks down the episodes as well as some great looking artwork, a lot of which makes up the cover art as well as the menus. They’re both great inclusions but it’s practically popping open the case with how much is in there.
The menu design for this release is kept simple with static screens but benefits from having some gorgeous pieces to work with. Each menu uses a different grouping of characters from the series, tied to the episodes at hand, where they’re set against the locale that’s being dealt with. The first disc for example gives us a look at the city from the outside and really pushes the beautiful blue skies of the area while putting our two leads in the foreground and some of the supporting characters from the arc alongside them. It keeps each disc fresh feeling and there’s definitely a lot of pop and mood setting as you check out each volume after the locked loading sequence. The release is easy to navigate though I dislike the way it defaults upon starting to going right into the show itself instead of to the menus so I can set my languages.
The extras for this release are pretty minimal and all kept to the first disc where we get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as the English language trailer for the series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Shinobu Ohtaka that began in 2009, Magi is a twenty-five episode series animated by A-1 Pictures that came out in 2012 with its first season. The original manga is still ongoing and is at nineteen volumes so far and going strong, which made it easy for a second season to kick off in late 2013. The series gained a lot of fans during its original simulcast and added more along the way as it ended up dubbed by Aniplex and got a Neon Alley run, which furthered its engagement. The show is one that takes us to some familiar characters and areas but provides its own spin on it, which is what definitely allows it to work since it’s constrained to what most Western fans know of the characters of Aladdin and Alibaba and the djinn out there.
The series avoids being tied to the real world by coming up with its own alternate world to play in, which helps avoid any name problems or locale issues that could cause someone offense, thereby freeing it to truly create its own direction. Within this world, we get a lot that’s familiar as it presents a Middle Eastern kind of area in terms of design, aesthetics and with how the characters dress, though it also expands outside of the sandy areas as we get to deal with the Kou Empire as well, which has some serious grasslands and mountains that they’re expanding into. The main focus of the series though is on a young man named Aladdin, a young boy who has been kept away from the world in many ways until he left on his own to explore it. He’s young, kind of naive to be sure but also quite powerful. He doesn’t understand what he is, but he’s told repeatedly over the season that he’s a magi, a being chosen by the will of the world that can pick kings for kingdoms. His power comes from the Rukh, the life force within each person, as he’s able to access Rukh from anyone rather than how most people can only draw on their own energy.
Prior to the start of the series, he had been involved in something that introduced him to Ugo, a djinn that he managed to befriend. Drawn to him because of his power as well, Aladdin is able to talk and understand him and command him to do things, though the two come across more as friends, which is an impressive thing to realize when you understand that we never see Ugo’s head, as he’s unable to draw it out of the flute. Aladdin and Ugo are a lot of fun to watch together since it almost has a boy and his dog kind of feeling, but one filled with a whole lot of power behind it. What helps to change his life all the more is when, through his hunger habits, he stumbles across as scrappy young man named Alibaba. Alibaba is your go-getter type that is trying to make his way in the world, which makes sense as we see a lot of his past in the second half of this collection, but he’s also one with really big dreams. Alibaba wants to head into the Dungeons that exist in this world, extradimensional places where there are numerous riches and treasures that would give him the ability to do anything he wanted to do. He just lacks the power to get here, and as he finds out once there with Aladdin as the two become fast friends quick, Alibaba also realizes he lacks what it takes to survive and escape the Dungeons as well.
The pairing of the two is definitely a smooth and easy piece and the first episodes show us their relationship well as they adjust to each other and explore the Dungeon, which also clues us in to how much of the mechanics of this series works. This arc also brings us into contact with a slave girl named Morgiana, someone that Aladdin ends up saving twice and freeing along the way. She’s not like the others as she comes from the Dark Continent and is one of a group of very powerful beings, but she’s been beaten down into submission and breaking from that takes some time. Time with Aladdin definitely helps that. The opening arc in the Dungeon works well for all of this, but the series takes an odd turn after that which, during the simulcast, left me a little less enamored with it. But in marathon form here, it definitely comes together much better.
After we get this core group and their introductions all set, they’re all sent off to different places and away from each other, a plot point I never care much for. Aladdin ends up off in a countryside local with a group of nomads, which further expands our understanding of the world. It also brings into play the Kou empire, which is doing its best to acquire new lands and territory through various means. With this tribe, it’s outright force, enough so that they’ll even destroy one of their very own with a princess that’s trying to find a way to ease the tension. This opens us up to learning more about Aladdin and his nature but also eventually brings Morgiana back into play, letting the two of them spend time together so that we get more out of Morgiana. They aren’t exactly a big traveling show, but they act differently when it’s just them and seeing that play out is very cute and educational as to who both are.
The first half of the set works through these stories well, but it’s the second half where it starts to look at the bigger picture, which ends up consuming a good part of the next collection as well when that hits. This story brings us to the city of Balbadd, which Morgiana needs to get through in order to reach her home destination. The kingdom is in dire straights with the citizens close to death and revolt because of how the king, Ahmbad, has handled things. We do learn of how he’s fallen for one of Kou’s tricks in subverting it, but he’s also the type that has no real care beyond his own leisure and pleasures. Where things become intriguing is that there’s a group causing problems in the city by trying to balance the scales in a way known as the Fog Troop. And as you’d expect, this is where Alibaba ended up, falling in with an old friend of his from his younger days in the city named Cassim.
Alibaba has a simple presence about him as we saw in the opening arc, but the Balbadd arc is heavily about him as it explores his true past, the way he was raised in the slums with Cassim and the kind of relationship they developed because of their separate parents and the paths it took. It’s definitely interesting, though Alibaba’s takes a very different turn due to a chance meeting that places him in a whole other world that he’s kept hidden. It’s all difficult for Aladdin to reconcile, which is made more complex since he and Morgiana arrived with another strange man named Sinbad. Sinbad has his own connections to the city and we get a lot of his bragging about his accomplishments once he reveals who he is, which in turn lets him put the screws to Alibaba in some ways. It’s not closed out in this set, but we get a good bit of politics, finance, social unrest and intrigue playing out here that reveals how the city works and some of the real problems behind it.
I had no idea what to expect when I first started watching this series when it first came out, but I was drawn in by the beauty of the animation, the designs and that it was a non-standard anime setting. It plays to certain tropes to be sure, but it also has a fresh feel about it that keeps it moving easily. We have some really good characters to work with here and this half starts to flesh them out, though it’s surprisingly Alibaba that gets the most time and exploration. Aladdin and Morgiana are well handled and I loved the inclusion of Sinbad and his particular style, to say nothing of his actual introduction. Magi is a series that definitely captured a lot of attention and rightly so for what it did. It’s a smooth, easy show to slide into and enjoy but it builds into something larger and more complex as it progresses, which keeps you thoroughly engaged with it. It’s a show that I definitely enjoyed the first time around and got a lot more out of the second time as I knew more of the themes and connections that binds it together.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening, Textless Ending, English Trailer
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: January 14th, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.