Originally released in Japan in 2007, Rental Magica is based on a series of light novels that began in 2004. The series lasted for 24 episodes and has been licensed here in the States by RightStuf (or Nozomi Entertainment, if you will). In the latter part of last year the first half of the show was released and the second was just this past April. Both collections are recently arrived on my doorstep and without further a due we finally crack open the first boxed set.
With episodes one through twelve, Rental Magica Part 1 is presented in one of two ways. There's the ability with these DVDs to watch the show in Broadcast Order and the option for Chronological Order. Why the difference? Well, some genius thought it would be a great idea to air the series out of sequence! It left the broadcast version feeling convoluted to say the least. Details eventually came together after watching the broadcast order, but if this is your first time with the series chronological is the only way to go.
Now, as far as the show itself is concerned, Rental Magica takes 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. The problem? Itsuki is a too-nice-for-his-own-good high school student.
Fortunately Itsuki is joined by a host of other characters such as Honami, the Celtic witch, Katsuragi, the Shinto specialist, and a cat crazy guy named Nekoyashiki. There's even an apprentice thrown into the mix and Astral has a rival in the business that offers a host of other characters. The cast works well together and there are plenty of situations and conversations that are better due to the relationships at work here. Even so there's a familiarity to just about everyone and nobody really stands out. Itsuki is pretty much the only person of interest due to the mystery that surrounds him, his past, and his sinister looking right eye.
Rental Magica offers up a lively cast, some fantastic designs, and some interesting concepts. Unfortunately it never really capitalizes on any of the things it does well. Instead it's hounded by mediocrity and winds up feeling painfully familiar.
After a marginally cool introductory storyline, Rental Magica slips comfortably into an episodic pattern and it never elevates itself beyond that point. Common pitfalls plague this show from the harem that surrounds Itsuki, to the mystical stuff, and even generic episodes (Ugh, not another Hot Springs episode!) and situations. The laughs are few and far between, the originality is non-existent, and the whole thing just feels dry in the end.
Through the twelve episodes here Rental Magica solidifies itself as a wholly forgettable experience. By the time the final episode of this set came to a close I found myself wishing I had taken notes. The similarities to other shows and genres are simply so great that the details are washed out. Maybe another watching is in order, but the first was boring enough to make me decide against that. Ultimately Rental Magica is ironically a rental. It's too dry and generic to stand on its own two feet and the sparsely cool elements and pieces of action aren't strong enough to save the experience.
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.
The thing I enjoy most about Nozomi Entertainment/RightStuf releases isn't even the show itself; it's the packaging. Rental Magica comes with a slickly designed art box and a 128-page booklet to accompany the DVDs. This booklet is packed with information on the show, the characters, and the types of magic used. There's a great deal of artwork as well and overall the book is quite the treat.
As far as the content on the discs are concerned there are some commercials for the show, clean animations, and character bios. It's clear the time, energy, and resources went into producing the booklet for this release.
Rental Magica was a show that I greatly anticipated. The series looked quite attractive with a great looking cast and the promise of some solid action. On both fronts the show delivers, however, it's the rest of the pieces that ultimately cause the show's downfall. Characters are one-dimensional and stereotypical, the episodic nature of the program suffers from common anime themes, and all around the series is just very underwhelming. If you were interested in the series I'd say it's worth a rental, but that's sadly as much as I can muster for this release.