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Magi The Labyrinth of Magic Complete Box Set Blu-ray Anime Review

15 min read

Magi Season 1 Blu-rayA new take on the adventures of Aladdin and Alibaba that’s definitely intriguing and more fun than one might imagine.

What They Say:
Alibaba is a young carrier who dreams of venturing into a “Dungeon,” where secret treasures lie deep within its labyrinth, to gain enough money to buy an entire country. One day, Alibaba meets a mysterious boy named Aladdin, who can summon a mighty blue spirit from his flute. Hoping to harness Aladdin’s magical power, Alibaba invites him on his dungeon-capturing expedition. Along the way, through numerous encounters and farewells, both of them will come to learn the truth about their destinies.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo using the uncompressed PCM format while the English mix gets the same, something that the DVDs didn’t get as the English dub there was a fraction of the form. With the track here largely being the same as a stereo uncompressed there isn’t a lot in the way of a noticeable upgrade but it’s definitely welcome to have it here in this form. The series is one that works some very fun action sequences throughout the run that gives the stereo design a good run but it also gives us some very well done quiet scenes where the whispers of dialogue and sound effects come through in a very good way 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.

Video:
Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-five episodes are spread across five discs with five episodes per disc plus a few extras. Animated by A-1 Pictures, Magi has a very appealing look with its color design, detail in the animation that had me loving it during the HD simulcast run that I saw and frustrated a bit by the SD DVDs previously. With this incarnation it’s back to where it should be, and better thanks to better compression and more space to work with, as the colors are bright and vibrant with a good solid feeling throughout that helps to smooth what little banding there was visible before. Detail in the backgrounds is definitely nicely handled with the encoding as it avoids noise or breakup during high motion sequences. This show made a big impression on me when it aired and the encoding here with the room to work it at a high bit rate brings out the quality of the source material perfectly.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is something I haven’t seen in some time as it’s essentially a thinpak case that holds the five discs with the panels inside so you have to open it up multiple times to get to each section. The case is inside a thin slipcover with a soft cardstock that’s nice even if it dulls the colors with the artwork aq bit. What we get there is a great full cast shot that’s got a good mix of seriousness and fun with lots to take in while not looking too busy. The back panel goes for something a little darker with a bit of classic elegance to it with a mix of blacks and subdued golds that holds a few shots from the show and a clean but simple look at the summary of the premise. The number of episodes is clearly listed as are the extras. We also get a clean and simple breakdown of the technical elements that makes it clear what’s available. The case inside uses different artwork that focuses on our core trio on the front while the back lets the supporting cast shine, all of which is set against a black background instead of the white we’ve seen before. Though there are no inserts included we do get material on the reverse side with a blue sky with clouds design. The left side features a look at the episodes by number and title with what disc they’re on while the right side breaks out the production information and cast.

Menu:
The menu design for this release keeps things nice and simple but with some appealing pieces to definitely engage with. Each disc works a static piece of artwork as the background that takes up the bulk of the space where they’re from the Japanese releases. These are bright and colorful or dark and threatening as related to the material with each disc but they all look great with a lot of detail and colors design that draws you in. THe logo is mostly kept to the middle with the volume numbering below it while the bottom has a consistently same strip along it that has the easy navigation points to it where it works well both as a main menu and as a pop-up menu during regular playback. Everything is smooth and easy to get around with and while the color style may be a touch hard to read in some cases when it comes to the episode sections and the like it’s not that big of a deal.

Extras:
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. There are several versions of the ending sequence as it changes up over numerous episodes so there are a few with each disc.

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 starting in 2012 with its first season. The original manga is still ongoing and is at thirty-three volumes so far and going strong. 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 fair bit of distribution from there on to different destinations, getting it in front of a lot more people. 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 early part of the set works through these stories well, but it’s close to the halfway mark 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.

This half of the series has to wrap up the events of Balbadd and it’s an interesting if complicated situation that’s dealt with in a kind of light hand way. With the deal that the king had made with the Kou empire that would basically sell its people into slavery in order to keep his life as grand as it was, it’s no surprise that Alibaba has to step in to do what he doesn’t want to, but what’s right for the country. With so many afraid of change of any kind, it’s welcome to see that he wants to move it from a kingdom to a republic and to have people represented in their interests, but it has its own complications that are glossed over in just how easily it can be done. What does get focused on is the way that there are deals that were made with the Kou empire that must be honored, and it’s up to Alibaba to figure out how to get it out of it. Lucky for him, Sinbad is in the area and that means he’s able to nudge things a little, before largely taking care of the bigger issues of policy later on behind the scenes so it can wrapped up tightly.

I like the ideas behind it, especially as we get those that are operating in the shadows about the way there is progress and the forward flow of it, but also the way some individuals can turn it back. That gets tested a bit initially with the princess from the Kou empire that’s there to wed the king, of which the country no longer has, but also those with the Black Rukh energy that want the chaos of the world more than anything else. That brings in some of those with the power that can change the nature of an area, including the arrival of Judar, who along with the others twist and prod Cassim into doing things that are very natural for him, but may not actually come to the surface without that prodding. Cassim has some very deep issues with the royalty of the nation that was just deposed and like so many, he can’t let go of the anger and hate, enough so that it starts a riot that leads to chaos. And an opportunity for the Organization to flex its muscles a bit more so that it can move the world in the darker direction it wants. There’s some larger themes to this with those that are playing to the other side of the kind of power that Aladdin is using, essentially a light and dark battle that gets drawn to individuals at times, but it’s touched upon only so far here before things get settled out in Balbadd.

The show takes an interesting approach overall with what it wants to do in this set after it resolves all of this, since there are still issues with Balbadd. Rather than get caught up in it all, Sinbad brings everyone off to Sindria to keep them out of it, and that allows some of them time to train and experience something different for a bit under the tutelage of those that Sinbad has sailed the Seven Seas with. The down time keeps them all busy, with Aladdin learning more of how to manipulate the magic he’s now been infused with that has changed his makeup, Morgiana in her taking her chains and turning them into a powerful weapon of independence and Alibaba as he realizes what kind of weapons and strength of will he has to really go forward. It’s not a reset in a way, but it’s a point where they’re able to breathe after some large events that are playing out away from them.

By taking them out of things for a bit, we do get some good if kind of standard fun material here as the group settles in, understands what happened and the changes they’ve gone through and we even get some time with a bit of a dungeon, albeit a quirky one that’s not like what we’ve seen before and challenges Aladdin to really understand his power more. All of that goes only so far though as events have to come back to Sindria since so much of what’s going on revolves there now that Sinbad has settled many things with the Kou empire – and even has an awkward marriage possibility to get out of himself. Not that his comrades help him much with that when you get down to it. It’s light and fun, but it also sets the quiet before the storm as there are those within the group that are looking to manipulate the situation to the larger advantage, especially since war and what it brings is what they’re all about, going back to that larger theme of those individuals that can push destiny out of whack, at least for awhile, and prevent the flow of progress.

Similar in a way to the end of the Balbadd arc that broke out into a fight, we get the return of Judar here as well and that brings together a whole host of minor issues that force the core group to deal with their recent growth, both in mindset and abilities, so they can try and deal with him and those around him. Part of the problem is that while it does work in the larger context, it’s the way the series feels like it leaps from piece to piece and has now gone so big that it’s so much more than it was at the start. We’ve got so many people with various abilities running around now compared to the beginning when it was just Aladdin and Ugo that it does, at times, feel more like a standard shonen fighting show with a range of powered people going at it in a big way. There’s definitely some good character material to be had in the quieter moments, but it gets kind of washed away through the onslaught of magic based fighting, quips and the larger struggle that it wants to introduce but never quite pulls together cleanly enough.

In Summary:
While there are quibbles to be had with the series, in that it just feels like it’s trying to do too much, too quickly, without building towards it properly or getting the time to breathe, there’s a lot to like in general With our core cast, they go through a lot of changes here from how we first meet them to how we leave them, a lot of loss, and a lot of understanding in order to become the better people that they truly are by the end of the season. It’s a chaotic ride at times to get there, and it’s open ended enough that you can see they can go to plenty of places in the second season, so there’s a lot of optimism to be had here with what this property can do. With this marking me third time running through the series I found myself still enjoying it a whole lot and definitely in finally being able to see the best looking and sounding version of it. The show just looks fantastic with what it’s doing and by giving it so much space to work with the payoff is definitely there. I would have liked some original extras created for this set but a lot of that needed to be done during the production of the dub, sadly. Fans of the show will be very pleased to finally have such a great looking edition..

Features:
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Textless Openings, Textless Endings, English Version Trailer

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: June 27th, 2017
MSRP: $299.99
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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