[Review] Magi: Adventure of Sinbad

This review has been waiting side stage for quite awhile, having originally aired in the spring last year when I was overwhelmed with my wedding. I chose to backlog the show until a rainy day and was finally able to marathon it on Netflix. Magi: Adventure of Sinbad entertained me far more than I had expected, and I consider it more satisfying than the original series of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. Strong characters and a streamlined plot are the anime’s backbone, making it feel more like a standalone series worthy of your viewing than an optional prequel spin-off.

The story of Sinbad the Sailor can be traced back to One Thousand and One Nights, whose origin itself is convoluted with multiple translations and versions. I remember reading excerpts of Sinbad in the fairy tale compilations of my childhood. His restlessness and need for adventure persist in my memory even now, and I can think of no better subject for the dungeons than him.

“Sacrifice your life for your country? What’s embarrassing about not wanting to die? It’s normal! You’re a human before a soldier. Has the emperor or the military ever saved the people who made sacrifices for their country? A country exists to protect the people who live in it. Not to send those people into war to die. A country that abandons its people is worthless” (“The Dungeon Baal”).

I did watch Magi’s two seasons first–The Labyrinth of Magic and The Kingdom of Magic–and preferred Sinbad’s character over many others introduced in those series. Alibaba felt too young and rash as a hero for my tastes, and Aladdin was too mysterious of a figure to identity with despite his silly persona. The adult Sinbad we met there was already a king with seemingly invincible powers. His loyal friends and allies spanned the known world. He commanded the most respect and mystery as not only a king united with many other countries, but also the man with the most conquered dungeons to his name. His accomplishments were too many to name, and he acted as role model for young Alibaba and Aladdin. By choosing to tell his story, Magi offered a peek into Sinbad’s common birth and first encounters with the dungeons as a teenager. This focus on a single character’s journey is the strength of the show. It isn’t distracted by too much focus on other people except as necessary, or saddled with multiple conflicts left trailing at the end. Through Sinbad, we learn the true strength and purpose of a country, one that exists for its people.

The format of the show follows a series of conquests by Sinbad and the followers he gathers over time. True to the nature of its protagonist, we sail to far away lands meeting new people, fighting monsters, and gathering treasures. This is an adventure in the truest meaning of the word: fantastical, thrilling, dangerous. Sinbad moves from one location to the next, adding to his wealth and fame through not only dungeons, but also through his diplomacy with other nations. You can see a clear progression in his travels, even if you don’t already know his future. Despite his buffoonery and debauchery, every move he makes points towards his ideal country.

If there is a downside, it is the assurance that the namesake of this show will never die. From the beginning, he is established as the “chosen one.” He incites passion and loyalty. Without him, there is no adventure. Whenever life-threatening situations occur, I never feel overly concerned about any lasting effects on Sinbad’s health. I’m more worried of death affecting him indirectly through family or friends.

We experience loss early on in the series. These deaths haunt Sinbad and are the foundation for his motivations to create a world without war. And while he looks and acts much like his father, he also carries out his mother’s desire for him to go out and experience the world. Sinbad’s fierce love and loyalty are reflected in those who choose to follow him, and earn the support of a magi at the very beginning of the dungeon appearances.

I have read some complaints regarding the time spent on side character stories, like Hinahoho, Ja’far, and even Drakon. They considered those backgrounds secondary to the need for further development and nuance in Sinbad’s character. I do not altogether disagree with them, but unlike those critics, I appreciated learning about Sinbad’s followers and enemies. Their feelings and motivations provided their own kind of depth to Sinbad’s identity. It’s not hard to imagine a younger Sinbad having turned to assassination like Ja’far, if not for the love and support of his people. And without his long range goals, Sinbad’s confidence might have suffered doubts much like Hinahoho’s.

I do want to make clear that while I pulled more satisfaction from Sinbad’s story than the main series, the two work best when seen together. As flawed as I find Magi, there is a sense of something greater than just a nation, or even an entire world. Sinbad may be the chosen human, but Aladdin’s birth is just as miraculous, more mysterious. Their story remains unfinished. If you’ve only seen the first two seasons of Magi and are anxiously awaiting the third, then step back in time and get to know the Legendary Dungeon Capturer.

Rating: 1 dango

“The Dungeon Baal.” Magi: Adventure of Sinbad. Netflix. 14 Jul 2016.

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