Alibaba is a young boy down on his luck. Working his fingers to the bone for a slave driver, he dreams of one day clearing the gigantic dungeon in the middle of the town so that he can get the power he needs to achieve his goals. It stays a distant dream until he runs into Aladdin, a young care-free boy with a magic carpet and a magical giant hidden in his flute. Together, the two set out to best the dungeon and explore the world of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic.
Heavily inspired by the Old World, with representative nations for various well-known powerful countries at the time, Magi feels like a breath of fresh air compared to most of your more typical Shonen series. While it still keeps in line with the colorful and simplistic modern stylings of action-oriented anime, there’s a good understanding of various drawing styles and color palettes on display as the show rotates from various levels of seriousness, ranging from light and comedic to dark and down-right horrific. In a lot of ways, there’s quite a few ways in which the show could be compared to the Brotherhood version of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime, which is a very good place to draw from.
One area I would say that Magi especially excels compared to Brotherhood is the comedy. There are a lot of very light-hearted and cheerful scenes in the show, usually involving Aladdin and Alibaba when the two are together that show a better understanding of comedic timing than Fullmetal Alchemist had. Where FMA would often make the jokes feel forced or out-of-place in certain particular situations, Magi shows some more constraint during the more serious moments so as not to draw away from the gravity of the situation at hand.
Which is a very good thing, because Magi deals with some really dark and complex themes at times, even if it does so in very simplistic terms at times. With how small the scope is at the start, you’d almost get tricked into believing you’re in for another typical action show, but then characters start struggling with identity, heritage, nationalism, slavery, loyalty, and family amongst various other things. Most characters deal with their own problems in different ways, while balancing different complex problems and bouncing them off of the rather simplistic Aladdin.
It’s especially the combination of the characters, and the way they play off their key strengths and weaknesses that really helps drive the show forward. Instead of wowing the audience with overly flashy powers or immediately making us feel for them by wronging them from the start, we’re given enough time to get to know and care for them. It takes several episodes before we learn anything about Alibaba’s past, and by the time we finally do, it’s all relevant to what is currently going on. Even without that knowledge, we’re given enough to know who he is as a person right now, rather than trying to make us care because of the deeds he has done in the past or an uncharacteristically feat of strength during his introduction. Not only does it show that the writers are confident in the characters on their own strength, but that they don’t need to do anything special for us to like them. This isn’t something that is unique to Alibaba as a character either, most characters in the show (except Sinbad, but he’s a special case) are allowed enough time on the show for us to become familiar with them before forcing them into action. Despite this approach, the show never feels like there are any pacing problems. It doesn’t rush through important story elements, but also moves from key event to key event fast enough to avoid feeling too ponderous.
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic also makes some good use of all the various story threads and mythological epics most people should be familiar with. Even the name of the show, Magi, which is what Aladdin is described as, is not only what the modern word “magic” is based on, but also what originally referred to as the “wise men” who visited Jesus in the Bible. The magical bird-like life force that flows to everything is described as Rukh, and most character are named after famous characters from stories like Aladdin, Alibaba, Sinbad, Jafar, I could go on.
My only major issue with Magi the animation quality. Originally made in 2012, so still from the time period where most of the shows digitally animated haven’t aged gracefully, there moments where the animations look very rough. Never bad enough to look terrible, but bad enough to notice. Thankfully, the quality typically picks up when it needs to.
Magi: the Labyrinth of Magic is an incredible show using some of the best world building in shonen anime while drawing from a setting that, especially these days, feels largely underutilized as a backdrop for an exceptional character-driven series. It doesn’t do anything particularly unique, but everything it do everything in a way that makes it feel as if it is. Anyone interested in a good adventure series should watch this and the sequel, Magi: The Kingdom of Magic at some point.
- Aladdin is adorable
- Fantastic world building
- Great character development
- Alibaba can come across as a crybaby
- Animation quality occasionally takes a huge dive