The setting for Magi is a dream-come-true for anime fans like myself, a stone-structured Arabic metropolis nestled in some barren, sunbaked deserts and beleaguered with danger, magic, and adventure around every street corner. For the characters residing in this world, however, it’s nothing more than a living hell. It’s a society wherein class dictates your fate and (lack of) fortune and any challenge against this system is met with severe and crippling punishment. Still, this doesn’t stop Alibaba and Aladdin from confronting the established society of Magi though their difference in power and knowledge lead to completely different results.
The social order in the world that Magi sets itself in, or at least the city of Qishan where this episode takes place, is effectively a caste system. The societal hierarchy is simple; those who are born into nobility are bequeathed fortune and live comfortably in luxury, whereas the merchant class struggles and survives, and the slaves have their fates controlled by the men and women who own them. Those with power and influence work to keep this system in place, static and ageless, through a combination of intimidation or unjust, brute force. It’s an uneven, unfair society but it’s also one without enemies or rebellion, though at least for now.
Enter Alibaba and Aladdin, two young lads who both see the injustice and wrongs of their world. Though neither speaks their mind about it, for fear of retribution or enslavement, their actions highlight their feelings over the inequalities that people face in their everyday lives. And though both have the same perspective on the issue, these two boys have vast differences in power and understanding, and to start, both their challenges to this social system ultimately fail. It isn’t until they combine their talents until they enact some form of change in this world.
Alibaba is powerless but learned, he understands how the system works and the people within its hierarchy work, too. After luring Aladdin into his scheme to conquer the local Dungeon, Amon, and treating him to a lavish party, Budel, Alibaba’s boss, catches the two and threatens Alibaba based on his outstanding debt to him. Knowing that defying Budel would end his freedom (and potentially his life given the two armed guards present), so Alibaba resided to working for Budel as the driver of a wine cart. And though the correct choice in this situation, Aladdin became dissatisfied with Alibaba as he continued to suck up to Budel and spew nothing but lies with a smile on his insincere face. It really isn’t a challenge to the social structure in Magi when one readily backs down but it was the opportunity given to Alibaba and this is the choice that he made. Unlike Alibaba, however, Aladdin acted on his chance.
After running into Morgiana (literally) in the crowded market of Qishan, he discovered that her legs were shackled at the ankles. Though Alibaba explained to him that the chains represented her status as someone’s slave, Aladdin paid no attention to this warning and severed her chain by playing a note on his enchanted flute. What resulted was panic and slight chaos, the freeing of a slave in public is certainly a punishable offense, one that could end with enslavement and death. Thankfully for Aladdin and Alibaba, the power of Aladdin’s friend, Ugo, was enough to subdue the assaulting guards and allow the two to escape. Here we see Aladdin’s power and his foolishness. Without knowing or thinking, he committed a crime in broad daylight with dozens of witnesses. He was challenging the system, freeing a slave without knowing the magnitude of his actions or what dire consequences he placed everyone in. In fact, because of his actions, Aladdin effectively placed Morgiana in a harsher, deadlier situation as she was being sent to labor in the mines. So even with power and a righteous heart, Aladdin’s challenge to the system failed because it ended up with him and Alibaba running for their lives and Morgiana being enslaved again and forced to toil underground. However, with Alibaba and Aladdin together, they were finally successful in enacting some change to the local social system.
When under attack from the desert hyacinth, Mina and Morgiana were captured by the planetoid beast. Being two lowly slaves, Budel thought nothing of this loss and sought to save his cargo and the others, and to carry on while the monster digested the two girls. Overcome with grief, Alibaba acted on his instinct and emotions and rushed to save the girls by poisoning the monster with the supply of alcohol. Aladdin, armed with the almighty Ugo, assisted Alibaba in his efforts and after some close calls and some redemption on Alibaba’s character, the two proved victorious and rescued the two slave girls from certain death. However, by destroying the cargo of wine and going against the orders of their masters, Budel proposed that the two become slaves for putting the lives of slaves before the cargo of a merchant. And this challenge to society, one that combined Alibaba’s intelligence with Aladdin’s power (and joint together with their moral justice), was met with success as Ugo decimated the escorting guards with one swift blow and the two were free from retribution for their unthinkable and forbidden actions. Once Alibaba and Aladdin combined their strengths, they were able to use their will to overcome one aspect of this world’s social injustice. This is certain to be just the beginning of a number of social changes that Aladdin and Alibaba will undertake as they adventure together as friends.
The city of Qishan intrigues me. It appears to be a bustling urban center, ripe with produce, wealth, and large merchant and slave populations… but for what reason? The land surrounding the city doesn’t appear to be fertile nor does there appear to be any farmland within or beyond the city walls. On top of that, there doesn’t appear to be any fresh water source for agriculture either, making me wonder how it even supports the population of this metropolis. And speaking of water sources, it’s not situated by any body of water for shipping and trade either nor does it appear to be the center of a network of roads that lead to other cities. For what purpose does this city exist and at its size, too? The only reason I can think is that it could be a strategic landmark, built on a steep hill as an outlook near a nation’s border, but that hardly explains the size and lifestyle of the citizens here. It is mildly perplexing and something that has steadily gnawed at my curiosity but it’s hardly a problem for the series or setting in any way. It’s just a number of details that I’d like to know, something would help enhance and enrich the setting beyond what it has already been able to do.