Love them or hate them, A-1 Pictures has been tearing it up in the anime world. They have numerous successes under their belt and their most recent project, Magi, is looking to keep up that track record.
A few weeks ago, I started purchasing and reading the original Magi manga in preparation for covering the TV anime. What I ended up finding was a delightful story of adventure, with truly lovable characters and a fascinating take on the Arabian Nights-theme. In fact, I liked it so much that I ended up reading all the way through volume 14 and am impatiently waiting on the next compilation release.
That being said, I went into A-1's adaptation knowing full well that the beginning chunk of the story would see some major changes.
Follow me after the break as I explore the magical world of flying carpets, dungeons and giant plant things.
Alibaba is a young cart driver trying to make a living in the city. His dream is to one day conquer a dungeon; giant maze-like structures that suddenly appeared around the world a decade or so ago. It is said that he who reaches the end of a dungeon will be met with great riches of gold and magical items, allowing them to lead a carefree life. While preparing for a transportation job, Alibaba discovers a young boy named Aladdin, eating away at his boss' precious cargo. Now shouldering the responsibility of paying back his boss for the eaten goods, Alibaba is forced to speed up his plans to conquer a dungeon.
Little Aladdin follows Alibaba home and reveals himself to be strangely clueless about the world. The next day, the odd duo bump into a pretty young slave girl who tries her best to cover up her embarrassing chains. Using his flute, Aladdin summons a terrifyingly massive set of arms and frees her. Freeing slaves is against the law and punishable by death, and Alibaba finds himself in a mess of trouble. Together with his small companion, they flee the scene. It turns out that Aladdin is in possession of a djinn named Ugo. On a quest to find other djinn, the young boy agrees to lend his help to our hero to conquer the dungeon in town.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Alibaba is forced to suck up to his boss to avoid prosecution after trying to free the slave girl, agreeing to transport wine and some slaves to the next town over. Enroute, a giant plant monster is drawn in by the smell of the wine and attacks the carts. With his cargo in danger, the fat boss-man forgoes saving a small child and the slave girl from earlier in lieu of his precious wine. Alibaba finally snaps and leaps into the monster, temporarily stunning it and saving the slave and the child. Unfortunately, the beast soon recovers and starts to digest our hero. Enter Aladdin. The mysterious young boy whips out a magical flying carpet and with the help of Ugo, saves Alibaba. The two fly away, vowing to conquer the dungeon in town as a pair.
Let's start with the good first, shall we? Magi's first episode is quite the looker, with the strong Arabian Nights aesthetic shining through via the high quality animation. The character designs from the manga were distinctive enough as it was, but they look fantastic in motion. The production team did a great job adapting the huge array of exaggerated expressions that the manga is known for. Additionally, the soundtrack, from what I've heard thus far is suitably epic.
The biggest problem with this first episode of Magi rests within the decision to cut several chapters of content out of this adaptation. In the source material, the first few chapters are focused entirely on Aladdin and getting to know him. When he does eventually meet Alibaba, it's in the back of a cart that's being transported to the next town over before it's attacked by a giant monster. Only after that event does Alibaba decide to use Aladdin to conquer the dungeon. Mor is also not present during the monster attack, as they meet her after the fact. By shuffling around these events, their partnership not only feels rushed but just a little bit artificial. I still think it works, but there's no doubt that the manga's timeline is much more effective.
I'm hoping that these changes were made to speed up getting everybody together, because the next arc is fantastic and it'd be a shame to see it butchered in the name of fitting two cours. I still have high hopes for this series and while I think the first episode stumbled due to its pacing, on the whole it was a solid opener. I wouldn't be surprised if some of you thought I was crazy for my criticisms; if you haven't read the manga you might not have the same concerns I have.
Either way, I'm riding this train to the last stop, come high or hell water, and I recommend that you join me in an open seat somewhere.
Magi's bound to be a grand ole' time.
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