Why You Should be Watching MagiPosted: March 8, 2013
I’m not normally one for shounen, but when the fall anime season started, I gave Magi a shot because I liked the idea of an Arabian Nights reimagining. Turns out, there was quite a bit here to like. Of course, I don’t really have the time to go over every little thing about Magi that I like, so I’m just going to point out two major ones.
Now, even though I say major things, I’m willing to bet at least one person is going to think, “Wait, these points are actually pretty minor.” First of all, I’d disagree with that entirely, but more importantly, you’d be surprised how often it’s the little stuff in shows that can make or break it. They typically play a huge part in whether I’ll like the show or not. It’s also one of the reasons I often argue that execution is what’s most important in a show. Two shows with similar plots or even themes can be drastically different in quality thanks to the little touches, since those often add to the larger aspects of the show.
But don’t just take my word for it, I’ll point out what I mean with those two examples in Magi I mentioned.
The first thing that Magi did that caught my attention was actually in the very first episode. When Morgiana and the kid fall into that man-eating plant… thing, Alibaba looks down in terror at what’s going to happen to them. As he sees them desperately trying to fend it off for as long as they can, he cries out in his head for someone to save them. He does this repeatedly as he watches them for the next couple of seconds. This is typically when the main hero will use their power to swoop down, save the day, and possibly give that asshole merchant guy an earful.
Aladdin doesn’t do this. Instead he just stares at Alibaba, wondering what he’ll do in this situation.
You see, this is a crucial moment for Alibaba. He previously held back from helping others and went against his own beliefs in order to protect his employment under the merchant and to not get arrested and such. He said all he cared about was money and materialistic goods. So now that there were lives on the line, this was his chance to stop standing on the sidelines and actually do some good. Aladdin was aware of this, and knew that saving them would take away this important moment for Alibaba, which was why he waited until after Alibaba had socked the merchant and went down to save them before also lending a hand.
This simple action – or, lack of action, to be more precise – gives both their characters more depth. Aladdin shows that despite being a good guy, there are times where he knows when to let other people make important decisions; while Alibaba is able to finally bring himself to take action for something he believes in. If Aladdin had just played the part of the typical hero, his character wouldn’t have been hit too hard, but it would have drastically weakened Alibaba’s. It falls in line with the classic conundrum where helping people can actually weaken them. Rather than learning to find strength in themselves, they just rely on others.
Though Aladdin has only shown this inaction twice so far in the show, both times were when it involved a very important decision that affected not only Alibaba, but other people as well.
As for the second thing that caught my eye, that was during the eighth episode, when Alibaba was explaining his past. He talks about how he was raised in the slums along with Kassim and his sister, and that he lived with his mother who worked as a prostitute in those slums.
Actually, as a quick side thing to point out really quick, I’m also proud of the show for painting someone who works as a prostitute in a positive light. Alibaba’s mother is very kind, caring, and attractive. I dunno, I’m just personally tired of nearly all types of media painting prostitutes as these dirty, sleazy women who don’t care about themselves in the least.
Getting back on track though, Alibaba later finds out from the king that he’s actually his son. However, whenever it shows the king, his face, arms, and pretty much any exposed skin are just blacked out. All you can see is the king’s facial hair, and his clothes. The reason they do this is because that’s all Alibaba sees him as: the king. He identifies him by the clothes he wears, which are royal garbs, rather than as an actual human being.
Later, when the king is sick and is telling Alibaba that he wants him to take over as the ruler of the country, Alibaba instead takes the time to ask him what he thought of his mother. Did he really care about her? Or was she just some kind of fling that he tossed away when he was done? The king says that they couldn’t be together due to their personal obligations, but that nonetheless, he did love her. It’s that moment that the king’s face and his body are shown. Because the king loved Alibaba’s mother, one of the most important people in Alibaba’s life while she was alive, he’s then able to see the king as he is: a human being. And perhaps, maybe even as a father.
This isn’t the only time that Magi uses visuals to enhance a scene either. I bet you didn’t even notice in episode 12 that Kassim and Alibaba both argued on opposite sides of a crack in the wall that was in the background. When the argument got the most heated was when they were both closest to this crack, too.
Those were the two I personally noticed, though I’m sure there were even more that I didn’t. What’s cool is that your brain may have picked up on these scenes even if you didn’t consciously notice yourself. That’s what’s so great about this technique: it enhances a scene if you or even just your brain notice it, but if you don’t the scene can still stand on its own just fine.
A lot of people nowadays seem to think that the ultimate way to do shows is through the style of “show, don’t tell”. I couldn’t disagree with this mindset more. For one, there are situations where you just can’t show something instead of telling it. What about a character’s state of mind? How are you going to show what emotion they’re thinking? Maybe they’re constantly replaying a scene from their past in their head, how would you show that? There’s nothing wrong with using words. That’s not to say you can’t use words badly, because you absolutely can. But if you’re competent enough at writing dialogue or narration, there’s no reason you shouldn’t.
The second problem with it is that often it can be used in a way that the audience will write the story for you. What I mean is, “show, don’t tell” is usually extremely blunt in how it’s being visual message of some kind, but the problem is that if the message isn’t hinted at enough, you’re going to have people getting different interpretations from the scene. That’s okay if it’s what you’re going for (though this usually only works for the most part with endings), but if it isn’t what you’re going for, then the audience is going to essentially be writing the story of the show for you. Then the line between whether the scene was purposely vague or if it’s just visual randomness and hoping the audience will interpret something from it gets quite thin.
Rather, I’d say the ultimate way to do a show is similar to the way Magi handled Alibaba’s thoughts about the king. Rather than “show, don’t tell”, it’s more of a… “visual enhancement” kind of thing. As I said, it used visuals to further expand on a scene without sacrificing the scene itself.
Of course, as I said when I started this whole thing, there are more than just these two reasons that I like Magi, but these were the only two I wanted to cover. I could have mentioned the good pacing, the fact that Morgiana is one of the few female main characters in shounen that isn’t overly-sexualized in some way, plenty of stuff. But hey, isn’t that what a review is for?