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Andrew Osmond climbs back on the magic carpet

The second volume of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic continues the adventures of Alibaba, Aladdin and Morgiana as they fight for the people of Balbadd, Alibaba’s home city. At the end of the first volume, that conflict seemed to be getting wrapped up, but actually there’s quite a bit more to go. Alibaba thinks the city’s people will want peace, an end to bloodshed, but he’s reckoned without his firebrand former friend, Cassim. The conflict escalates between characters who want a bloodless revolution, and those who want the annihilation of their former oppressors.

It’s a sturdy theme for what started out as a light kids’ show, though of course it still works for kids. The youngsters in the target audience may have their own playground enemies and hate lists, and the show does a canny job of expressing their violent feelings while suggesting there’s a better way. The theme continues to recur in later episodes, where Alibaba repeatedly learns that people in other countries and cultures – even ones he instinctively hates – go through the same feelings that he does, and that he can either lift his fellow humans up or let them drag him down. It’s not much of a spoiler to say the end of the volume gets very Return of the Jedi-ish, though the hero doesn’t have to face the Dark Side alone.

In the aftermath of the Balbadd storyline, Alibaba and Aladdin must move on, stopping over in the lively kingdom of their ally Sinbad, before being obliged to enter another dungeon. While it’s a straightforward adventure framework, there are bonkers bits to enjoy, such as how Sinbad’s generals deal with a sea-serpent (think big sushi), or the crazy denizens in the new dungeon, which range from the wacky to the creepily nasty. When you’ve got a character zooming down towards a monster’s razor-toothed stomach to set its gastric juices alight, you know you’re in anime land.

As with the show’s first volume, much of the fun of Magi is seeing what a kids’ anime – and it is aimed at kids – can get away with today. There aren’t as many downright pervy characters as in Dragon Ball thirty years ago, but you can still have a whole episode where the noble – but undeniably womanising – Sinbad gets accused of a tabloid-style sex scandal, played entirely for laughs. The young Aladdin (cross-played by voice-actress Kaori Ishihara) is also accused of being a pervert but – like the infant Son Goku in early Dragon Ball – he just hasn’t learned some parts of girls’ bodies are meant to be private.

Despite such interludes, this second volume of Magi is still overwhelmingly action and plot-driven. The biggest battles take place across dozens of characters and/or multiple planes of reality. The show drops a couple of characters (although you’re never sure how permanent their goodbyes will be) but brings in a great many more. One of them is a troubled young man with a badly burned face; maybe the Magi artist saw the US cartoon Avatar The Last Airbender which had a similarly-scarred boy-with-issues character.

As in many long-running anime series, you wonder which of the new players will be quietly sidelined, and who will drive the plot arcs to come. Of course, the three main characters continue to ‘level up’ in their powers. One of the most striking developments is when the girl Morgiana, formerly a slave, converts the chains that bound her into a symbol of empowerment. We know that Morgiana, Aladdin and Alibaba all make it through the volume okay, of course… or do we?

Unlike the first volume, the second has something of a resolution, but with lots of story clearly to come, as the characters realise they’re in a centuries-old war fought over fate itself. The Magi manga continues to run in Weekly Shonen Sunday; the next 26 anime episodes – renamed Magi: The Kingdom of Magic – recently aired on Japanese TV; and an OAV prequel, Magi: Adventure of Sinbad, goes on sale in Japan this month. Maybe the publishers are looking to fill a thousand and one nights…

Magi – The Labyrinth of Magic 1.2 is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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