These are two series that do a really good job delivering straightforward, no-nonsense entertainment.
Magi – 08
Magi continues to succeed not by doing anything especially revolutionary, but by executing the familiar with a modicum of wit, style and intelligence.
Without question Magi is at its best when it delves into areas of moral uncertainty, as it did with the Kouga Village arc, which had a solid enough base that a Scooby-Doo villain couldn’t ruin it. Now we return at last to Alibaba, and he spins a very interesting tale of his youth that’s involving from beginning to end. A few things were already obvious: Alibaba certainly had deeper reasons for joining with the Fog Troupe than what we knew. And he clearly had some kind of royal blood, based on his knowledge of swordplay techniques a commoner would have never been exposed to. But the reasons, now we have them, are spun out in an interesting way.
I liked how Morgiana displayed her loyalty to Aladdin, for starters – and the scene in which she kidnapped Alibaba to force him to come clean about his reasons for deserting the little magi was cleverly drawn and fairly hilarious. Aladdin, for his part, is merely crestfallen that he appears to have fallen out on opposite sides from his friend – and especially that Alibaba is breaking his promise that they’d travel the world together. Aladdin may be a powerful magical being but he’s an innocent soul (though one capable of killing those he deems evil without batting an eye) in addition to possessing a child’s body. The idea of breaking a promise would clearly never occur to him, and he seems more puzzled by Alibaba’s betrayal than anything else. As for his own promise to defeat the Fog Troupe he takes it seriously, and he’s willing to give Alibaba every chance to explain why things have ended up the way they did.
We clearly still don’t know everything about the past six months, and how Cassim lured – or forced – Alibaba to be the figurehead commander of the Troupe. That they had a close bond once is obvious, but it’s also obvious that Alibaba harbors no illusions about the fact that Cassim betrayed his trust, used him and left him for dead. The story of their childhood in the slums (young Alibaba is played by Tamura Mutsumi, also Jonah in Jormungand, who’s proving a go-to stalwart for boy roles) was pretty harsh, with Alibaba’s mother having been a prostitute and the father of Cassim and his sister Mariam (Nakajima Aki) an abusive drunk. It may simply be that Alibaba feels a sense of responsibility for Cassim, but I suspect there’s a deeper and darker reason why he’s helping the Fog Troupe. They may present themselves as “chivalrous thieves” and they may be doing a bit of good for the poor – and there’s no question that the rulers of Balabadd (led by Alibaba’s cruel and corrupt half-brother) are far worse – but I don’t believe Magi (or the one at the heart of the series) is going to take the position that their path is the proper path.
Kamisama Hajimemashita – 09
Kamisama Kiss is a show that seemingly can’t not be charming, no matter what it does. The humor almost always works, the visuals are consistently clever and there’s a real warmth to the character interactions that always shines through. And for a series that’s as superficially formulaic as it is, it can be surprisingly unpredictable sometimes, too.
If you want to get serious and analyze the plot, there’s an obvious question to be asked here – why does – or did - Nanami have a small dragon’s eye inside her? The most obvious answer would be that she’s a reincarnation of Yukiji, the human woman that Tomoe was in love with 526 years in the past (that’s one of those surprises I was talking about). That would certainly make a potential romance with Tomoe a lot more feasible, though just how he’d react to that is hard to say. Do dragon’s eyes get smaller as they spend time inside humans, or go through the process of rebirth with them?
One thing that continues apace is that pretty much every character large and small is entertaining, and the regulars in the second-tier always seem to show more depth than it first appears. I’ve certainly enjoyed Mizuki’s appearances but he really stepped up this time with a seriously interesting performance, assisting Nanami in rescuing Tomoe and managing to get himself inserted into the picture as a familiar and a love rival by kissing her while she was unconscious after the mermaid Isohime (nobody does out of control quite like Yuu Kobayashi). It’s obviously Tomoe that Nanami loves, but Mizuki seems to have created an interesting triangle here. As for Isohime, this was another wonderfully entertaining new character added to the mix, along with the Dragon King’s wife, who delivers some of the episode’s biggest laughs with her verbal and physical battery.