Magi, Vol. 21

By Shinobu Ohtaka. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

I haven’t actually given Magi a full review since its first volume; I love it to bits, but for the most part I could articulate those bits into a 150-word brief pretty well. This volume of Magi, which wraps up one arc and sets the stage for the rest of the series, though, requires more verbiage. For one thing, it solidifies more than anything else who the real hero of this story is. The first volume had Aladdin on the cover, and for the most part the mangaka made a good effort to keep Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgiana as a power trio lead. But in the end, Alibaba’s journey is the most profound and important, and this volume features both his highs and lows as he discovers what’s happened to Balbadd.

There’s also some romantic hints, and they may actually stick. For the most part, the first few volumes of the series didn’t really bother with romance beyond Aladdin loving the ladies in his own amusing way, and Alibaba occasionally being an idiot. The idiot part is highlighted again here, as he brags about having a girlfriend that he doesn’t have in order to make himself look impressive. Leaving aside the romance for a moment, this is exactly what makes the tension of Alibaba’s character so great. He spends much of the volume wondering why people like and respect him, thinking that he really hasn’t achieved anything, and even, yes, having people hook up in front of him, reminding him that he’s still basically a clueless virgin. Luckily, he has an even more clueless virgin with a crush on him, though Morgiana admits that she’s so not in touch with any of her emotions that she can’t really deal with it right now. This has the potential to be cute.

Less cute is Alibaba’s return to Balbadd, as we see exactly what a conquered country looks like. His visit to his former Fog Troop friends, who are getting by but suffering nonetheless, is chilling, and reminds you again of the dangers of right-wing totalitarian tactics (I wish this weren’t so relevant today). His visit to Koen and Komei Ren, who inform him that “agreements” have nothing upon power and brute force, is topped only by the fact that they want him to join them – again, it’s difficult at times to register how important Alibaba is because we always see things filtered through his poor self-image. People knows what’s up. As for what his response will be, I can guess, but that’s what the cliffhanger brings.

Of course, Aladdin is not totally forgotten here, and this brings up what may be the other major plot point to come, which is Sinbad. Sinbad so far has been portrayed as the “good guy” side of the power is everything coin, as opposed to the Koen kingdoms. That said, Aladdin has chosen Alibaba, not Sinbad. And we’re informed by Yunan that both Sinbad *and* Alibaba are classic examples of King’s Vessels – they draw people to them and history changes as a result. (In real life, this is called the “Great Man” theory, and thankfully does not have magic to back it up.) As for Sinbad, he’s the best at drawing people to him and getting what he wants – but is that really a good thing? What’s separating Sinbad from being a tyrant other than his good disposition?

There’s so much going on here, and like the best shonen series you want to read the next volume immediately. Thankfully, Magi is still bimonthly, so we only have to wait a little bit to see what happens next. Brilliant stuff.

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