The Magnostadt arc leaves me with a weird aftertaste. I’m following the anime, up to episode 17 (which aired as a double episode this past week AFAIK, but CR pushed it out half a week) in the second season.
I think there are some spoilers, but I’ll keep it pretty generic. The thing is, this whole “magic users versus normal people” thing feels simply like racism. It’s something Magi has touched on throughout the course of the story up to this point, although previously in the anime the focus is more about class rather than race.
Of course, Magi is a story inspired by Middle Eastern folklore. The characters are all fantasy but they clearly take on certain cultural cues. Leam is like Romans, Kou is like Chinese, Morg is probably a black person? You get the idea. One of the kids in the Magnostadt arc is Egyptian, probably. There aren’t any Jews or Arabs as far as I can tell but maybe they’re closer to Alibaba’s home tribes? If you read deep enough, there’s a mini-arc where Aladdin hung out with some central Asian nomads, almost Mongolian or Uighur. In that sense, I believe Magi is a well-researched story setting-wise.
To someone with a simple background in American civics and history, the whole Magnostadt arc’s conflict about mages and non-mages feels like the best of American racism towards the end of the Jim Crow law era, around the first half of the 20th century. It flirts with concepts like eugenics and a lot of ethically terrible things in the name of progress and raising the welfare of the country. The benevolent rule of the elite. Planned societies. It’s a step away from noblesse oblige, I guess, because the rulers of Magnostadts are not born noble, but made so. I guess that’s what makes the thing feel like good o’ fashion paternalistic racism.
The thing is, a lot of the themes in the arc felt as if they were just setting up the big social questions America had to answer the last 100 years. How do we live by the ideals of a society where all are created equal, when in reality they aren’t? And furthermore, just because some people are really good people, does it excuse the fatal flaws in their beliefs? In a way the hypo questions set up in Magi is flawed in some ways that give the story an easy out.
America’s method is through a lot of lawsuits, economic and political solidarity, and the occasional violent outbreak. And that’s just what we’ve resorted to doing recently. It used to be much worse–systemic treatment of human as animals, then second-class citizens, then as socially undesirables, then as people you don’t want to be associated with, and then what we have today, sort of. It also takes a long, long time. In that way, society evolves either through cultural change or through the purging power of time (ie., nobody lives forever). Perhaps the most unforgivable thing is how someone so old and so knowledgeable like Mogamett can cling to philosophies that better inspire college kids. The saying goes, you start out as a Democrat and you age into a Republican, or something along those lines, so the whole thematic exercise in Magi feels more like a hypo in a philosophy 101 class than something more gritty and realistic.
Here’s another saying that I believe in: Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Americans live racism like a part of our DNA. I get the feeling nobody in Asia has learned this lesson yet. I mean, they can barely repeat it in their pop media.
Anywhoo, serious race talk aside, Magi so far plays out like a “western” version of Twelve Kingdoms. Except instead of an elegantly told character-drive policy piece with a serious Chinese influence, this is a mangled manga adaptation that walks through the same paces. In exchange, we get shounen tropes instead of light novel-for-girls schtiks. Can’t say I like this more, but it certainly is interesting enough to keep me watching. I mean the way magi are being treated, it’s as if they are kirins for various countries. There’s an undercurrent where prosperity is ultimately a goal, and the question is to what extent do people go to obtain it.