Produced by Zexcs, Rental Magica originally aired in Japan in 2007. The show was later licensed for release in the States by RightStuf/Nozomi Entertainment, and in the latter part of 2009 the first boxed set was released. We recently received the collection to review and I checked out the first half of the show earlier this month. In April of this year the second part was released and I just wrapped up watching that one too. What's the final verdict?
Rather than direct you to the first review and force you to read the whole thing, I'll summarize my impressions of the first set for you. It wasn't very good. The show's concept is interesting enough but it's downright generic with flat characters, uninspired storytelling, and an atmosphere of "meh". There were elements of the show that popped and some of the action was pretty cool, but by and large the first half of Rental Magica left me wanting something more. Does the second part deliver?
Once again the second half of the show offers the same Chronological or Broadcast order option. The experience changes drastically depending on which one you choose because, after all, one follows a timeline and the other doesn't. This is something that worked for an often impish show such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but it's implementation in this instance is baffling to say the least. At any rate, I'd suggest watching the show Chronologically since it is easier to follow and makes more sense that way.
In case you didn't check out the first half of the show, things take place in an alternate world where magic users and magical beings live with non-magic folk. There exists in this place an organization known as Astral that is there for the sole purpose of ridding magical nuisances from the world. The leader of Astral has disappeared mysteriously and left his son, Itsuki, in charge of the operation. Itsuki is a nice guy with a magical eye who finds himself the boss off Honami, Katuragi, and Nekoyashiki. There are other characters as well such as a competitor group, and all characters in the show use some type of magic or another. Really that's Rental Magica's claim to fame; the variety of magic in the world. It's kind of a weak mechanic, but seeing a witch, a Celtic mage, a Shinto specialist, and a monk all use their brands of powers works somehow. Oh, and they use their powers to fight magical pollution. Yay?
So what holds Rental Magica back? Frankly it's the tone of the show and the overall feeling that you've seen the series before in other forms. It borrows the concepts and anime trappings from other more popular series and attempts to fold them into itself. The results are mixed to say the least. For instance there's a hot springs episode, a Christmas episode, there's a light harem element, and Itsuki attends school so there's that particular brand of humor to contend with.
The second half does liven things up a bit. There's a demonic ceremony that takes the center stage, Itsuki is trained to use his eye, and towards the end with a focus on parts of Itsuki's earlier life and his interaction with a dragon that gave him the cursed peeper. It's interesting and it's nice to see the show offer more than an episodic adventure, but it's too little too late in my opinion. The rest of this boxed set keeps doing what the first series did with little adventures here and there that basically amount to nothing.
Overall Rental Magica is just a generic kind of show that contains sparse moments of liveliness. The characters are interesting, but rather one-dimensional, and the story has potential, but rarely capitalizes on it. The whole thing comes together as a package filled with highs and lows, and ultimately they meet in the middle to create a rather underwhelming experience. I'd say this one is still a rental.
Rental Magica is presented on DVD with its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks great with vibrant colors, smart contrast, and fluid animation. The transfer really helps these qualities to stand out even more and one would be hard-pressed to find serious flaw here. Sure there's the occasional softness and grain, but instances of these are outshined by the sheer vibrancy of the show.
Like other Nozomi Entertainment/RightStuf releases Rental Magica is presented with Japanese dialogue only. English subtitles have been included and the track is presented in 2.0 stereo. As one would expect the soundstage is a bit on the flat side with dialogue, effects, and music being front-centric. The sense of immersion is nil but the actual quality of the recording is quite good. Dialogue is crystal clear and everything sounds exactly like one would expect.
Like the first collection, the second includes a fantastic booklet that really pays respect to fans of the series. This booklet is 144 pages and really contains some great information on the show, the characters, history, and the types of magic used in the series. I'd almost go as far to say that I enjoyed reading the booklet more than I did watching the show, sadly.
As far as stuff that's on the DVDs there are character bios, commercials, trailers, and clean animations.
The second half of Rental Magica unfortunately never resuscitates the show enough to make it worth getting excited for. The characters and world are mildly interesting, though even they feel generic at times. Episodic adventures and anime clichés run rampant here and at the end of the day there's little that separates this show from others. It's exciting then dry, and exciting again. This rollercoaster experience doesn't work well and leaves the show feeling ironically more like a rental than a recommended title.
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