Magi – Labyrinth of Magic (Season 1)

Excellent

This anime was slightly misleading, though I’m not really complaining.  At first blush, it seems like a rather campy, fun action-adventure anime.  It turns out that it’s really an intense character drama with some action components.  While the action is cool and interesting, it’s ultimately somewhat weaker when the anime focuses on it.

Purpose: Very Good.  The anime is oddly middle-loaded.  The beginning and ending “arcs” are weaker in comparison.  This means that the real powerful climax hits a little bit early, leaving room for another arc behind it.  It seems to have gotten a little absorbed in the fighting nearer to the end and only superficially developed characters.  In other words, it altered course from an intense character drama to focus a little more on the action side.  That aside, this anime deals with some pretty lofty concepts, including human slavery, national affairs, and a little bit of economics, to name a few.  That’s not to say they get in the way – they do set the stage for threats that are different from what you’d normally encounter in anime.

Characters: Masterpiece.  The main characters get their turn with development.  The main two characters are pretty exceptional examples of fully developed characters.  They have many different internal forces weighing in on their decisions.  They have a believable “pull” in different directions.  They are affected by their strengths, weaknesses, and character flaws.  The characters struggle to find their own answer to the problem, rather than being fed one because the plot demands it.  On a side note, many characters, including many villains, get a good bit of depth to them too.  They get more complex motives and reasons for doing what they’re doing.

In the last arc, the main character development essentially stops.  Instead, they start to develop some side characters.  In part, this is done to show us how far the main character has come.  The side characters are somewhat interesting in their own right, but they don’t go too far into those characters’ backstory or really explore their motives, goals, etc.

World: Excellent.  A fascinating world, to be sure.  The world has a great deal of consistency in both action and reaction.  Aside from our heroes, there are a great many different moving parts, lending to the feeling that our heroes are a smaller part of a bigger world.  But what is interesting is how even the magical elements fit perfectly.  They are made so that they are included in the world instead of having a “tacked on” feel to them.  By that I mean that magic has its own rules and acts in a consistent fashion.

The theme of the world is really interesting.  This story spans a from Middle-Eastern setting,  to Steppes (probably Turkey-ish), to a coastal trade hub, with dealings from a Far East nation.  Each has a distinct feel to it – everything from the dress to the food, to how the people act are different.  Setting aside, the magical elements put an interesting extra element into the world – the dungeons.  They are a unique and odd place, very different from anything else.

Plot: Good.  The overall plot is Very Good, however, however, they use certain parts of the plot in ways that ended up weakening it.  Part of the problem is that you have exceptionally powerful characters that would probably easily overcome certain challenges.  Thus, in a handful of occasions, they use the plot to artificially de-claw those characters, limiting their involvement for the time being.  While it’s not necessarily a bad thing since it allows the appropriate characters to actually face a challenge, it ends up feeling somewhat contrived.

With that aside, the character-focused plot points are many and varied.  Each point represents a rather solid step towards the resolution.  What is interesting is that the plot moving forward represents more of a factor or force of influence on a character.  This ended up creating a powerful story because there was ever greater weight placed on the characters when making their decisions.

Storytelling: Excellent.  The anime really shined in how it was delivering information.  Lots of character development happened through flashback, albeit to information the viewer hadn’t experienced yet.   Part of the interesting thing of flashback storytelling is that it accomplishes forward progress by explaining the characters behind it.  They would slowly reveal bits and pieces as the story moved forwards.  Those pieces helped explain reasoning behind certain actions by giving insight into the forces that made the characters act as they did.

Other interesting aspects of the storytelling included their handling of some important conversions.  While generally in the context of a fight, these scenes were handled in a very strong fashion so that they also felt like it was a fight.   It wasn’t really physical, but left the impression that characters, ideas, even beliefs were clashing with each other.  That served to provide both the proper stage and attention to make the character drama extremely powerful.

Pace: Very Good.  Generally strong throughout.  It does shift gears on the second and final story arcs.  Those are by far the slowest part of the anime, but they aren’t really slow enough to be a problem.

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