Brains vs Brawn: Intelligence and Maturity in Magi

Shounen is not an intellectual genre by any means. Nothing wrong with that, since it doesn’t tend to be in its nature. While there are panty shots and running gags and oaths of eternal friendship galore, seldom do you encounter and intelligent, thoughtful characters.

Magi surprised me in this aspect. It was also impressive that at the same time, the show managed to maintain an air of lightheartedness, without the seemingly perfunctory slapstick humor and gags to propel it along. I haven’t seen too much shounen, but just from what I’ve seen and in talking to Josh about it, he also seemed to agree that it was unique in that.

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A quick synopsis courtesy of MAL: (This synopsis is of the overarching series, but I’m mainly going to be focusing on events in the first season if I mention anything specific.)

This story is about the flow of fate and the battle to keep the world on the right path. Aladdin is a boy who has set out to explore the world after being trapped in a room for most of his life. His best friend is a flute with a djinn in it named Ugo. Soon enough, Aladdin discovers he is a Magi, a magician who chooses kings, and he was born to choose kings who will follow the righteous path, battling against those who want to destroy fate. Follow his adventures as he meets others from 1001 Arabian Nights, like Alibaba and Sinbad, and fights to keep the balance of world in check!

Okay, so you expect maturity in older characters, right? Isn’t that the normal assumption? When I think “mature”, I tend think about someone who’s at least in their late teens, early twenties. An eleven year old kid is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind.

At first glance, Aladdin may not seem particularly mature–running around grabbing boobs tends to not fall under this category, but if you continue watching, the show will prove you wrong (for the most part).

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Yea, the only kind of maturity this expresses is sexual (maturity). Even still, please tell me I’m not the only on who found it really creepy to see a prepubescent motorboating a girl.

Aside from the innocent guise, Aladdin knows what’s going on. He can read people. He can decipher subtext in the words and plans of adults. If anything, his youthful appearance is to his advantage–no one suspects he has any power or is anything more than a scrawny, annoying kid. However, behind the guise of innocence, he seems to know a lot more than most of the other characters on the show. (Of course, he is supposed to be gifted with ‘Solomon’s Wisdom’, but that can’t account for everything.) Up to this point, he proves himself to be a superb judge of character, and will often test people before deciding to intervene. The most obvious example of this is when he only helps save Morgiana and the child from the alcoholic plant after seeing what Alibaba will do first.

Aladdin cares about who he associates with. He does not make alliances lightly and takes his promises and commitments very seriously. This is impressive for a kid! When I was eleven I’m pretty sure I was still having PTSD from not having received my Hogwarts letter. Maturity of any kind was so not on my ‘to do’ list. 

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He looks all responsible and grown up right? Not near any boobs.

I think it’s useful to draw a comparison between Magi and Fairy Tail. I enjoy both shows for different reasons, but the latter definitely lacks character maturity relative to the former. For the sake of this post, I’d like to make a one-to-one connection between Aladdin-Natsu, Lucy-Morgiana, and Alibaba-Grey. I think those would be the most analogous character comparisons. Obviously people who are familiar with both shows can immediately contrast the pairings on a very fundamental level, which I’ll detail in the rest of the post.

Aladdin is not a particularly brawny guy, and his magic is still under development. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obvious that he has a lot of it, but at the same time, he is not invulnerable to things like being captured and taken into slavery etc. No, Aladdin relies on more than just his giant Djinn (Ugo) to save him. When Ugo disappears, he’s upset by the loss of his friend, not the loss of his protector. The thing is, his burgeoning magic that he learns to use after Ugo disappears is uncontrolled and unfocused, but he doesn’t get frustrated or impatient: he just does his best to harness it to the best of his ability. This is one example of how patient Aladdin is and how willing he is to go along with any situation.

Then we have Natsu, who is the first to try and literally burn away his problems. This is in stark contrast to Aladdin, who is patient and tries to find more practical ways of doing things than simply blowing up everything in sight. I mean, Natsu does get the job done and there is more humor involved, but I would by no means classify him as intelligent or mature. I have not seen too much shounen, but I can imagine that characters like Natsu are much more common than characters like Aladdin.

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The best solution to life is to burn everything in your way.

Then we get to Alibaba. Yea, he has his moody arc where he decides he’s incompetent and can’t do anything (I feel like almost every character in this show has one of these except Aladdin and Morgiana), and there’s the whole issue with him leading the Fog Troop and feeling inferior to Cassim. However, for the most part he is a relatively mature character and definitely intelligent, despite the fact that he’s probably about 16ish (I think), and displays a good amount of character growth during each of these arcs.

This is probably the thing I like the most about Alibaba. While he may start out as childish and money grubbing, he slowly matures into a potential candidate for kingship, or leadership in this case, which I definitely appreciated.

This stands in contrast to Grey, who spends most of his time fighting with Natsu and breaking things. I feel like that’s pretty much all the people in Fairy Tail are good for–breaking things in the process of defeating baddies. Alibaba also struggles to fully develop his powers, whereas Grey seems to understand the full extent of his abilities. I think the struggle is good for Alibaba. It would be too easy if he was naturally talented with his djinn like many of the other characters.

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The extent of Alibaba’s djinn mastery. At the very least, those are some pretty impressive muscles.

Finally, there’s the difference between Morgiana and Lucy. Where do I begin with this one? Lucy is a total bubble brain. Sure they try to make her look smart by having her write novels, etc., but when it comes down to it, she’s a total ditz. Morgiana, on the other hand, may not be particularly book smart, but more than makes up for it by being clever and resourceful, another extremely useful type of intelligence. And she has to be, in order to escape from captivity so many times.

I think Morgiana is one of the better female characters I’ve seen in an anime, and definitely better than any of the ones in Fairy Tail, largely due to the fact that she isn’t a sexually objectified within the show. Morgiana is appreciated for her strength and loyalty, rather than her boobs. She is also an incredibly mature character and for the most part completely in control of her emotions. The only time you see her overwhelmed is in the dungeon where she is driven by a passion to save her friends and ends up overextending herself.

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Look! She’s fully clothed AND in control of the situation.

In sum, I don’t know if I can make a fair statement about shounen in general just because I’ve seen so little of it, but what I know of the genre seems to suggest that Magi is an anomaly in terms of character intelligence and maturity. I’ll be interested to hear what you guys think about this anime compared to other shounen shows!

On a totally unrelated concluding note, is anyone else actually familiar with The 1001 Nights? If so, what do you think about the way it’s utilized in this anime?

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6 responses to “Brains vs Brawn: Intelligence and Maturity in Magi

  1. If you think Magi is intelligent, then you should check out Hunter x Hunter. It’s got a pretty similar appeal and is arguably the most intelligently written shonen anime out there, equalling Fullmetal Alchemist.

    When I first started watching Magi, I did see a superficial resemblance to Fairy Tail, too, but as you’ve pointed out, there is more nuance to Magi’s characters. They’re not so openly transparent. (Not saying this as if FT’s characterisation is a bad thing, but it is much more run-of-the-mill shonen!)

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying this anime! I’m a big Magi fan myself. Can’t say I have more than a cursory familiarity with 1001 Nights, though… pretty sure the stories are fairly unrecognisable here except for a couple of names here and there. lol.

    • Thanks for the suggestion! I have seen Fullmetal Alchemist and enjoyed it so it’s probably worth checking out Hunter x Hunter. In terms of the 1001 Nights, I didn’t see too much of a connection either aside from a few plot points and character connections that I thought were reimagined in an interesting manner.

  2. Morgiana is best girl. And Magi’s treatment of women has been pretty positive. Strong, nuanced characterization definitely puts Magi a cut above the rest. I didn’t really draw the parallel between Magi and FT but your comparison makes sense. I do think that the Magi world is general a lot harsher than FT’s, which might explain why Alibaba and co have to grow up so quickly. If you’ve watched the Pirates arc in season 2, that arc really drives home that while they may physically be children, they’re actually mature adults.

    • Haha Morgiana’s pretty awesome. I definitely agree that the world of Magi is much harsher than FT, which is another element that makes it a little bit better (I find this is often the case when the stakes of the show are higher). I actually have not been the biggest fan of season 2, but I can see what you mean with the Pirates arc.

  3. Personally, I haven’t seen Fairy Tail, but it did strike me from the beginning how well-rounded and complex the characters in Magi are. For one, Alibaba’s moments of weakness and feeling inferior are one of my favorite things about him as a character, as I feel like it makes him much more relatable and believable. I mean, with friends like Aladdin, Morgiana or Sinbad, wouldn’t we all feel pretty inferior at some point?
    Morgiana…. ahhh how do I even talk about Morgiana? While a lot of the other female characters in this show are in fact pretty classically anime large-breasted scantily-clothed fanservicey, Morgiana is an excellent example of a well-written female coprotagonist. Like you said, she’s smart and resourceful, but also very physically strong, and has proved time and time again to be the most useful person in any given situation out of the main 3. Aside from that, *spoilers for season 2 if you haven’t watched it* I appreciated how, although she does serve as a love interest later on in the show, which is not surprising, it is because of her kindness, strength of character and straight up badassery that everyone is so interested in her.

    • I agree, although I must admit that I wasn’t too enamored with the second season. I think it had to do with the fact that the characters got very OP, which made the show not as interesting and a little bit hokey. But yes, the character development was definitely refreshing, especially with a female character who wasn’t going around flashing her boobs and falling all over the place for well-timed panty shots haha.

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