Magi by Shinobu Ohtaka Vols 1-3

I know that Magi is a favorite shonen manga among the MangaBookshelf crew, so I’ve been meaning to read it for a long time. I finally set aside some time to read the first three volumes, and I’m glad I did!

The first volume introduces Aladdin, a young boy with mysterious powers. Aladdin seems to be obsessed with food, boobs, and making new friends. He has a magical flute through which he can summon the body of a djinn whenever trouble comes. The catch is that only the body, and not the head of the djinn manifests, so since Aladdin wears the flute around his neck, often it looks like his head is perched on a giant muscly body that then proceeds to take care of whatever danger threatens Aladdin. Aladdin says that the djinn Ugo helps him out because instead of using his wish to ask for gold or any other typical wish, he simply asked the djinn to be his friend. Aladdin is a bit of a cipher at first, but he quickly decides to help out a local caravan, meeting a caravan girl and her best friend who turns out to be an undercover bandit. Ohtaka plays with proportion a great deal as she shows the djinn appearing to help out Aladdin. There’s plenty of slapstick humor, but as one might expect Aladdin’s seemingly simple personality is a bit of a distraction from his true mystical power.

Even though there are plenty of references to Arabian Knights, Magi isn’t a straightforward adaptation. Soon, a teenage Alibaba shows up and when he gets a glimpse of Aladdin’s power, he promptly decides to use his new friend to raid dungeons! The dungeons are a bit of a more typical shonen manga monster of the week type plot convenience, as they mysteriously pop up in various places in the desert landscape, filled with treasure, monsters, and traps. Only a great hero can expect to venture into a dungeon and come out alive with plenty of riches. Aladdin tends to get exhausted after any sort of battle involving the djinn, and he passes out after he and Alibaba have entered the dungeon. Alibaba realizes that he’s gone into danger with a boy he knows little about, and is determined to find out more about his new friend when he wakes up. The adventures are interrupted by the despotic ruler of the local town, Jamil who kidnaps the sleeping Aladdin and forces Alibaba to walk in front of him as a dungeon trap detector. Jamil is accompanied by a slave girl named Morgiana with super strong legs and a bodyguard called Goltas. Alibaba uses his trademark cleverness to ditch Jamil and reunite himself with Aladdin again, and as they explore the dungeon they discover an entire underground kingdom.

Aladdin isn’t an ordinary boy, and it becomes clear that he has magical abilities way beyond someone who can only summon a djinn. He’s a fabled sorcerer or Magi who has the power to crown a king, and Jamil is disappointed when Aladdin doesn’t find him worthy. Aladdin, Morgiana, and Alibaba get sent out of the cleared dungeon by the resident djinn, and while Alibaba and Morgiana end up back in their town Aladdin is far away. Alibaba uses his newfound fortune to free the slaves of the town and sets off to find his friend.

The first couple volumes set up a possible team of adventurers in Aladdin, Morgiana, and Alibaba, and the third volume delves more into some background aspects of Aladdin’s power. He wakes up in a faraway land with a horse tribe who promptly adopts him as one of their own. The shaman of the village is a wise woman named Baba who tells Aladdin that she can also see Rukh, the force that binds souls together. Ohtaka does a good job at establishing new characters in a quick way that still carries a great deal of depth. The horse tribe is represented mostly by a brash young warrior named Doruji who conspicuously deflates whenever he’s around Baba’s serene granddaughter Toya. The horse tribe is about to encounter an invading force, but the Princess Hakuei Ren who is the acting general is determined to pull a country together by winning hearts and minds and not by force. Her views are not shared by her underlings, which leads to complications.

It turns out that Hakuei Ren is another dungeon conqueror, with her own djinn. One mysterious part of Magi is the way the djinns seem to get together to gossip a bit whenever they see each other, and Aladdin isn’t able to make out what they are saying. There are flashbacks now and then to Aladdin’s time trapped with his djinn in a room, and while Baba tells Aladdin some of the legends of the Magi that she knows, he still has a lot of gaps about his own background that he wants to fill in.

The first three volumes set up this series well, there are plenty of concrete plot details and humor to enjoy and at the same time there’s a general sense of Ohtaka’s world building gradually unfolding as more information about the Magi are slowly revealed. Aladdin’s bluntness and naivete combined with his power makes him an interesting leading character, and his overwhelming desire for friendship and need to understand his own history when he already possesses plenty of mystical power makes him very sympathetic. Ohtaka has plenty of humorous moments, even if many of them rely on the sight gag of a djinn running around the countryside with a flute for a head. I enjoyed the first three volumes of this series very much, and I’ll be reading onward to see if the adventurers end up together again.

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