Thursday, February 26, 2015

Manga Review: Magi (volumes one through five)

In case anyone has looked at their title and then double-checked their calendar, yes this week should technically be a Webcomic Wednesday. However, in March all of my Wednesdays will be Webcomic Wednesday and that means if I don't review Magi now I won't get to it until April, nearly four months after I read it. So fret not, webcomics are coming next week and I would now like to talk about a series which was hot stuff in Japan for a while (and may still be) but never quite caught on in the US the way some other shonen series have.

Magi by Shinobu Ohtaka

In a world out of 1001 nights, countries rise and fall and people continue about their daily lives in spite of whatever upheaval that brings. Aladdin is a mysterious young boy who likes mischief and making friends and despite his age and ignorance it seems that he someone who will help decide the world's fate.

When I was chatting with a friend about this series they mentioned that the plot is a slow build and the whole thing was only recently unveiled in the Japanese releases and that left me wondering, if this isn't the real plot yet then what is? So far there has been a fairly good set-up that there is a larger conflict behind the scenes about choosing a new king (for somewhere not specified, probably world domination) and that the people chosen by magi (and possibly the djinn in dungeons) are those candidates. Ohtaka makes a real effort to include some actual politics in what's ultimately a comic for tween and young teen boys (it runs in Weekly Shonen Sunday) but it never comes off as too heavy for long, although there is a real struggle to balance that with the more light hearted moments in volumes four and five.

I did have a funny moment when reading this manga however, for some reason it took my library an extra long time to get volume 3 to me so I started skimming volume 4 and it seemed like you could go straight from one to another. Sure Morgiana has finally joined up with Aladdin but that seemed like a minor detail, then I got a hold of my copy and realized volume three was my favorite part of the story so far. Aladdin gets some much needed development as he stays with the Kouga tribe and it helps shift his character from "annoying, naive, shonen protagonist" to "child-like yet already scarred by the world" which ultimately isn't a huge difference but it does give him a larger emotional range and round out his character (plus, the story starts cutting back on the very strangely done attempts at fanservice comedy). Alibaba is also absent, while I understand where Ohtaka is trying to go with his character (it's a "growing up to become a ruler" story) and she is fleshing him out in all of the right ways and revealing key plot points at the right moments, Alibaba's character still just doesn't feel right. There's an awkwardness to him and it feels like Ohtaka isn't quite sure how to balance all of his different desires and influences, especially since in volumes four and five he tends to cause more trouble than he solves and ends up needing other people to help him out of it.

Both of those character types are fairly common in shonen manga but Morgiana is not, she's a stoic, almost silent character who was a bit of a welcome respite from the boys. Her goals may be more simple than their's at this point but her own internal musings on slavery and freedom are perfectly in-line with Aladdin and Alibaba's thoughts on their own lives. I also really loved how her action scenes and even character design looked, the anime art (which is what I see the most of) is faithful to the original designs but lacks some of the line-weight that all of the designs, but Morgiana's especially, had. The lines of her hair and eyes reminded me of ink and brush drawings and her very energetic fights looked fantastic. I'm not as fond of Ohtaka's variation on chibis for the comedic sketches or end of the volumes out-takes, and honestly her settings look a bit generic (like she was basing them off of desert-themed video games instead of real pictures) but I did enjoy the fights and this story has plenty of those! At this point I am interested in reading more but the fact that it's already over 20 volumes in Japan makes me a little hesitant. There is an anime adaption, I saw a couple episodes of it years ago, but apparently even hardcore fans of the series don't like how it was done so I don't plan on checking that out. So it looks like it will be a while until I can read more, either I need to find someone with more volumes or hope my library gets the rest!