Okay, okay, okay… I know what you guys are thinking.
“Kaleiyah… Really? More anime? You just did a post two weeks ago on censorship in Yuri On Ice! And I know that post on antagonist design with Makoto Shishio was a while ago, but still! Why all the anime?”
Well, I’m an English major with a creative writing emphasis in fiction. But I’m also a Japanese Language and Literature minor. And when I’m not reading or writing fiction, I’m watching anime.
And by watching anime, I not only get to practice my Japanese listening comprehension skills and enhance my Japanese vocabulary, but I also learn how to write better on the macro-level.
So, get ready, writerly peeps, ’cause I’mma take y’all to school once again.
Alright. Who’s the Girl?
I won’t get into too many plot details about “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” as a whole, since I’m going to be talking about a single character, but here’s what you need to know.
The character I’m featuring today is named Morgiana. She is a Fanalis, a member of the hunting tribe on the “Dark Continent” with incredible physical strength and fighting technique. At a young age, she was sold into slavery and bought by an abusive master. She grew afraid of her master so much that even when the protagonist and his sidekick broke her chains in the first episode, she found herself back under his control the next episode.
However, by the third episode, the chains on her feet get broken again, and she is finally free to go on an adventure with the protagonist and his sidekick.
She then develops into my favorite character in the series.
Character Growth: Doing it Right
Although Morgiana is finally free, she still has visible scars around her ankles from when she was chained. One of the first things she does is buy some new clothes and some black leg wraps to cover up the scars.
But the leg wraps also do something else artistically.
To figure out that other thing they do, I ask two questions:
“Why this specific choice?” and “Why not some other choice?”
As in, “What would happen if the mangaka or character designers didn’t give her these specific black leg wraps? What would happen, if instead, they gave her white ones that completely covered her head-bashing, awesomely powerful calves?”
Well, if they were an opposite color, say white, they might symbolize purity, innocence, etc. And if they covered her entire calves, that might suggest she is not only ashamed of her ankles, but her powerful body as well.
But that’s not right at all. There are many, many episodes where she fights alongside everybody. No way is she ashamed of the powerful body she has.
And that’s exactly the message those leg wraps are sending.
While her leg wraps are black, dark, and wrap around her like her former shackles, the contrast to her white dress makes them say, “Yeah, so what I used to be slave? So what if fear bound me to my former master? None of that matters, because with these legs and my training, I’m bold. I’m powerful. I’m strong. And this might be the last thing you ever see before I knock you out.”
In this way, the black leg wraps are just one visual symbol of her character growth.
The second way, which is even more symbolic, involves the shackles themselves.
Symbolism: Also Doing It Right
Traveling with her protagonist and sidekick buddies, she finds that both of them are magic users and she isn’t. While physically strong and capable, she wants to be of as much use as possible to her friends. One of the characters that she meets along the way named Sindbad suggests that she acquire a Metal Vessel that stores a powerful djinn or djinn’s familiar to help her wield magic. He also says that the Metal Vessel should be something that the user has worn for a long time or is used to the build of.
Morgiana brings in her old, rusty, broken shackles and has them remade as anklets with chains.
However, when she tests them out on her companions, she finds they get tangled in them pretty easily and are a bit cumbersome to wield that way.
This, to me, was a visual cue of the story themes interacting with each other. This was the moment where the leg wraps went, “I already symbolically represent her past. Go somewhere else, anklets!”
And the anklets did go somewhere else. They went on her wrists, near the same powerful arms that carried protagonist and sidekick through their adventures. Even one of the characters remarks that her arms are so powerful that when she throws them both in the air, she gives them wings.
And wouldn’t you know it…
Those chains on the end of her new Metal Vessel become her wings, and gets named as a “Household Vessel.”
Those thematically-laden chains become her freedom to fight alongside her companions.
But not without cost.
World-Building: Doing It Right Some More
Morgiana is able to use her Household Vessel when it bonds with her friend’s djinn’s familiar. When she calls upon Amol Selseira, her chains can extend to catch her against walls, light on fire in the form of wings, and ensnare any opponent so that nothing is left but a pile of ash.
Pretty awesome, am I right?
However, when she does this, she activates one of the story universe’s most powerful trap cards: magical limitation.
You see, in the world of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, people’s souls are made of up Rukh. When it inhabits their body, it’s called magoi. Magoi is life energy that can be converted into elemental magic, but it can also cut into your own lifespan.
What this mean is that you can’t keep using magic forever in a battle. You’ll get tired, and you might even end up dying if you go overboard. Only one class of character, the magi, has nearly unlimited use of magoi.
Although she has tremendous physical strength, Morgiana doesn’t have a lot of magoi to use in magical situations like that. When she does use her Metal Vessel, it not only symbolizes the forward direction her character is growing in and how she’s changed over time. But it also creates tension by leaving her incredibly weak after she has used the attack, proving that magic, indeed, does have consequences, and that even the seemingly strongest of characters have weaknesses.
And that’s not even the best part about this.
Coming Full Circle With Theme: Doing It Right Yet It Again
Remember how she initially tries to use the chains on her feet? Remember how I made it a super huge deal that she was using them on her arms instead of her feet? Remember how I said her ankles were a big deal?
Well, guess what?
She gets to use her Household Vessel on her feet in the finale of the second season! She gets wings on her feetandomigoshaahhhhh!
I know, I know, I’m sorry for the spoilers and for geeking out. Anyway, let me explain.
Morgiana at the start of the second season, goes on a journey to find her homeland. She finds it and meets the magi Yunan, who helps her figure out how to best use her Household Vessel. A year passes, and she gets super good with it — to the point that she doesn’t use them on her arms anymore. Now, she can use them on her feet to fly and fight, and it appears that she’s ditched the black wraps, fully casting away her past to focus on the future.
That is thematics coming full-circle. That’s good writing.
Magi: Some Conclusions
This is by no means a review of the show, but while I have some reservations about Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, I can’t deny its’ storytelling strengths. Same goes for other TV shows I’m watching, not just those that happen to be anime.
Which is why no matter where I look, I will always learn something related to writing.
I hope you’ve learned something, too, dear readers.