Magi, Vol. 32

By Shinobu Ohtaka. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by John Werry.

Once again, I finished a volume of Magi and thought about how to convey what I felt about it into a 150-word brief only to realize that I would need a bit more space. And so here we are, with Magi heading into what proved to be its final arc. You get the sense of a lot of strings being drawn back together here, as Sinbad’s ambiguity is becoming a bit less ambiguous – is he going to be the final Big Bad? – and we also get some excellent political drama. And yes, cynical readers will be shaking their heads and saying “you just wanted to gush that another of your ships is canon, didn’t you?”. And there is a bit of that, yes. I have been very fortunate – or perhaps my tastes are merely dull – in that most of my shonen ship preferences have tended to work out over the years. So I am happy to see Alibaba and Morgiana happy, no doubt. But there’s more to this volume.

Shinobu Ohtaka has come a long way as a shonen author from the days when I was reading Sumomomo Momomo and was thoroughly unimpressed. The fight scene that opens this volume is one of the best in the series, with lots of dynamic action and plot twists that are entertaining but don’t verge on ridiculous. It’s always hard to find a way to amp up the drama in scenes like these without heading into meme territory, with “this isn’t even my final form!”, etc. In fact, we even seem to make fun of that sort of thing, as Hakuryu makes a big dramatic deal of being stung by Arba’s possessive scorpion only for it to be him essentially mocking her (and the audience). It also helps that Arba is wearing Hakumei’s body here, as it’s entertaining to see so many insane and evil expressions on such a pretty face.

The second half of the book is romance and politics, as Alibaba and Morgiana reunite (though, in one of the few ‘bad art’ parts of the book, Morgiana looks about twelve years old in the panel where Alibaba sees her) and he almost immediately proposes. It’s a good proposal, as he draws on the fact that peace has returned to the land and many are starting families to express the desire to start his own. We also get judicious flashbacks that show off just how far Morgiana and Alibaba have come from the start of the series (Morgiana also gets in some awesome kicks in the fight scene I mentioned earlier, by the way). Still, the spotlight may be taken away from them a little by Kogyoku, who is struggling with being the leader of the Kou Empire but finds her inner resolve and decides to break away from Sinbad and have the nation struggle on its own. It’s a brave decision, and I suspect Sinbad is really not going to like it.

Magi does not get as much attention as the other big shonen series out there, possibly as it’s in Shonen Sunday and thus couldn’t get the buzz of weekly updates that Jump subscribers get. But it’s really stayed at a high level of quality for some time. With only five volumes to go, readers should look forward to seeing how the series handles its big finish.

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.

Magi, Vol. 1

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

I like Shonen Sunday series a lot, and I wish they sold better over here, as I’ve noted before. Therefore, when a really good Sunday series debuts, I get a bit excited. Of course, like most really good shonen series, you read the first volume and realize ther4e’s going to be several volumes of setup before we get to the really good stuff. This one is clearly in for the long haul. That said, the worldbuilding is fun, particularly if you are a fan (as I am) of the Arabian Nights stories, which are used as the basis for this series.


The boy on the cover is Aladdin, one of the two main heroes we meet in this volume (we also meet a third major character, but spoilers). Aladdin is very much cut from Luffy stock (the author notes she grew up in high school reading Jump, which sounds like it was right about when One Piece hit it big, so this isn’t surprising), being naive, upbeat, and generally happy-go-lucky. Unlike Luffy, he also seems to have a thing for busty women, though he’s young enough that no one really minds all that much. He carries a flute with a genie inside, which is generally weak/strong depending on how much food he’s eaten, and gives him most of his cool powers.

The other main lead is Alibaba, who is also another common shonen hero. He’s been slightly trampled down by life, and is trying to make it through this world by being a cynical money-grubber. Sadly, he has a good heart and can’t stand injustice, so that doesn’t work out very well for him. It’s not helping that he runs into Aladdin, who frequently serves as his conscience when Alibaba is trying to drown out its loud voice. Alibaba does NOT have a genie who can grant his every wish, so has to get by on street smarts and some basic fighting skills. He makes an excellent contrast with Aladdin.

After the two of them team up, we hit what seems to be the other main feature of this world, at least in this early part of the series: dungeon crawling. Yes, gamers will feel sympathetic here. There’s a twisty maze of passages (all alike) that have to be marked as ‘bad’ by previous dead explorers. There’s hideous creatures, and deadly traps. And there’s also, allegedly, buttloads of treasure. Treasure that everyone seems to have been waiting for a kid like Aladdin and his genie to show up so they can use him to acquire it. As such, we meet, right near the end, the lord of the territory Jamil and his faithful slave (so faithful she returns to him even after getting freed by Aladdin) Morgiana. It’s not entirely clear if this will be our first bad guy or if his ways will be changed by our heroes’ goodness and niceness. I suppose we must wait till Vol. 2 to find out.

Again, there’s not much that’s original here. But it’s fun! Likeable characters, a lot of fascinating Arabian tropes, some cool fights, and a quest that can go anywhere. Magi is a big hit in Japan, with an anime under its belt already, so I’m very pleased that Viz is taking a chance on it. If you like One Piece or Toriko, give Magi a try.