Before the Magi anime was released, I kept catching glimpses of manga scans or fanart floating around the internet: and I was both intrigued and confused. What was I looking at? An Arabian Nights retelling? A standard anime plot in an Aladdin-esque fantasy setting? I thought I saw the name Alibaba floating around somewhere.
Well, turns out that the name of the first episode is “Aladdin and Alibaba.” I couldn’t have been too far off!
The story centers around two characters sporting those names: big surprise, right? Aladdin is an adorable little boy of mysterious origins, who carries a magical flute around with him wherever he goes. Turns out the flute houses a spirit named Ugo, to which Aladdin has made some sort of promise.
Alibaba is a blonde boy determined to gather fame and fortune for himself. In order to do that, he has decided to take on something called a dungeon. It’s not talked about what a dungeon actually entails in this episode, but one can only guess it’s full of monsters and other nasties a la your standard video game dungeon. At the end lies treasure and magical items, including a Metal Vessel. Metal Vessels are in high demand, seeing as they seem to house creatures called Djinn… oh hey, isn’t that what Aladdin is carrying around?
By the end of the episode these two prolific names have teamed up to take on a dungeon together: for fame, fortune, and beautiful women.
Which they are both very, very fond of. Aladdin especially.
It’s a little weird, I’ll be honest. The sight of a kid who looks like he’s six years old getting THIS excited about breasts is sort of putting me off a little.
There’s a fair amount of breast-service in this first episode, which isn’t uncommon at all in anime. But I just felt like the amount of time spent focusing on Aladdin fondling breasts or thinking about it was a tad bit overdone. And then there’s this scene with a veritable army of faceless women with Gainax-bouncing breasts.
All the breast-service isn’t terrible though. There’s the scene where the two main characters meet, for example: Alibaba is working for a rich merchant named Lord Budel to help fund his dungeon-hunting dreams. This job just happens to be loading and transporting fruit: but when Alibaba goes to check on the merchandise, he finds Aladdin there instead. With most of the fruit gone, and boy’s face covered in watermelon juice.
Naturally, this gets Alibaba in trouble with his portly employer. But it only gets worse when the little boy jumps onto the rich man’s chest and fondles his man-boobs with an overabundance of enthusiasm. I mean, a LOT of enthusiasm.
There IS more than just gags and breasts going on in this episode, thankfully. There’s actually a fair amount of character development, especially with regards to Alibaba. Aladdin turns out to be really mature and fearless when it comes to doing what’s right. This can be chalked up to innocence of course, since he doesn’t seem to be from this world necessarily, and he doesn’t understand how everything works. But there is a scene where he and Alibaba come across a slave girl with her feet in chains. Everyone, including Alibaba, looks on sadly but does nothing as she drops the heavy burden she’s toting across town.
But Aladdin steps forward and uses the magic of his flute to break her chains. Then he faces a sword for his trouble at the hand of one of Budel’s minions and doesn’t even flinch. Ero-tendencies and comic relief aside, Aladdin seems to be a solid character.
Then there’s Alibaba. He is all about money and power, but he isn’t driven to cruelty by it. Still, he does have a HUGE character flaw as a result: Alibaba just doesn’t want to do or say anything that could jeopardize his chances at wealth. This includes laughing and agreeing with Budel as he waxes on about slaves and how one can never overcome their station in life, though it’s clear he doesn’t agree with any of this deep down.
Finally- FINALLY, after watching him be a near insufferable yes-man who does nothing about the world around him the whole episode- Alibaba stands up and risks his life to save the slave girl from earlier in the episode and a slave child from the clutches of a monster, at the expense of Budel’s pricey wine, which happens to soothe the beast.
What a great scene! I love that they built up his character flaw through the episode before giving us a big turning point. The writing in this episode is spotty, but this aspect was well done.
Speaking of the writing, there WERE some things that made me scratch my head. Alibaba takes to Aladdin way too quickly, in my opinion. Aladdin eats all of Alibaba’s food and gets him in serious trouble with a powerful employer, and Alibaba goes straight from angry to giving Aladdin the rundown of his dreams and what a dungeon is. It’s rushed, and it doesn’t feel genuine. At the end of that same scene, Alibaba falls asleep randomly in the middle of talking. Like, just gets exhausted and then plops right over mid-sentence. Unless he has narcolepsy, there had to be a better, smoother transition than that.
The quality of the animation isn’t bad… but it isn’t exceptional either. Sometimes, it feels fluid and bright. Other times, it feels halting and bland. The designs overall are pretty basic and cartoon-y without an abundance of detail. It’s cute and it catches your eye though, and that’s something. The clothing and the setting are appropriately styled with an Arabian theme in mind, which I really enjoyed. But I do find it a little strange that none of the characters LOOK particularly Arabian. This sort of whitewashing isn’t out of the ordinary for anime and manga, though, so it’s not surprising.
Really, I’m pretty torn on this one. Episode one of Magi had its good points (Alibaba overcoming his yes-man personality and following his own heart and will; Aladdin’s bravery and insight into the world around him), and its bad points (weird obsessions with breasts, jerky pacing and scene transition). I’ve heard good things about this manga, so I’m willing to keep going with the anime to see what else it brings to the table.