Back when I looked at the first half of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic earlier this year, I was impressed by the amount of creativity present in the anime—in everything from its art design to how it re-imagined a literary classic.
While much of the adventure and creativity finds its way into the second half, the series also suffers by falling into a tedious and cliché method of storytelling.
On a personal level, the second half of Magi is about coming to terms with who you are and the struggle we all face of letting go of the past. Alibaba has to confront the horrible things that have happened because of his actions—despite his good intentions. Aladdin, in turn, has to deal with the loss of a friend and his uncertain role in the world. Morgiana struggles to see herself not as a slave but as a free person as she turns the symbols of her slavery into her greatest weapon.
It is all great character growth and the characters really seem to learn from their struggles to become more mature.
The final story arc, while not the biggest in terms of stakes, was enjoyable from top to bottom. The character work was great and the story flowed smoothly at a fast pace. By abridging, reordering, and adding to the original story as found in the manga, the final arc avoided the bloated feeling and pace issues of the previous arc. It also moved the series away from the string of battles typical of Shonen anime and recaptured much of the first half's sense of adventure.
The problem with having a secret evil group bent on world domination is making their motivations seem plausible—making the group attractive enough to gather the horde of men and resources it would need to even exist. But Magi solves this problem almost too well. In fact, in pretty much every other series, the bad guys in Magi would be the heroes.
Basically, the villains in Magi have all been dealt a horrible fate—murdered families, lost kingdoms, etc. And instead of accepting the death of their friends and loved ones, they have set out to destroy fate itself—to give everyone true free will over their lives. While their methods set them in the realm of being well-intentioned extremists, it seems plain that the bad guys have a legitimate issue with the nature of the world and are out to change it.
Really, it seems that in the world of Magi, what makes you good is overcoming your destiny—dealing with the fallout and moving on instead of railing against the cause of your torment.
The middle of the series—the end of the first half and beginning of the second half—marks the point where Magi becomes less creative exploration adventure and more typical Shonen anime schlock. The pace grinds to an almost complete halt as enemy after enemy comes out of left field to create yet another surprise boss for the heroes to overcome. It's a shame to see a series as imaginative as Magi get bogged down in the same old story tropes we’ve seen in everything from Dragon Ball Z to Naruto to Bleach.
Watching Magi early on, one question entered my head and refused to leave: Is Aladdin a girl? This is not an easy question to answer from the information the series gives us. Aladdin is a long-haired prepubescent and—like most child anime characters—is therefore voiced by a woman. Moreover, with the exception of two short scenes in the latter half of the show, Aladdin is always wearing a bandage wrap over his/her chest. While many anime characters wrap their ribs, in my anime watching experience, only tomboys and those otherwise attempting to hide their gender wrap their upper torso.
If Aladdin is indeed of the fairer sex (and therefore diverging from the classic tale), the series can be interpreted in a completely different way. Instead of being a story of friendship, it becomes an epic love story. Viewed this way, every scene where Aladdin and Alibaba interact gains an entirely different subtext and the addition of Morgiana into the mix turns her romantic interests for Alibaba from side story into part of a central love triangle.
I don’t know whether this has ever been addressed in the manga (as I have been avoiding spoilers) but the very possibility made every scene involving them doubly interesting as I was watching.
While the second half of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic does start out feeling generically “shonen anime” to say the least, it moves past this and does a great job at exploring the characters and giving them real growth. And when the story once again becomes about exploring faraway lands and entering new dungeons, it becomes as enjoyable as anything in the first half. If you are interested in exploring a non-medieval fantasy world, you should definitely give Magi a try.
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