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Friday, 18 March 2011 10:14

Rental Magica

Off to YouTube again for this latest series, as Nozomi brings us the magical adventures of Itskui Iba and his employees at Astral. They're mages for hire - or, more officially, Rental Magica...

Spell Wave Contamination: the magical equivalent of radioactive fallout, and something that various specialist companies bid to deal with when it occurs. Itsuki Iba is the son of the President of one such company, Astral - but he's found himself suddenly in charge and having to learn the ins and outs of magic after his father mysteriously disappeared, leaving him in charge of the company. Hopfully only on a temporary basis. It's a situation that he really doesn't like - on top of losing his father, he's feeling out of his depth running the company, and the head of a rival company is making threatening moves on him. Their most recent decontamination job seems to have more to it than there first appeared, too...

Itsuki, as we meet him at the beginning of the series, is really out of his depth. Childhood friend and master of Celtic magic Honami is trying her best to help him get his feet under the table, but it takes a while to happen - especially as he's also coming to terms with the ability granted to him by his Glam Sight, which manifests itself in the form of a bad case of redeye. Under normal circumstances, his cursed eye is kept safely under an eyepatch that's charmed to keep his Glam Sight under control. When needs must, though, Itsuki can removie his eyepatch - and instantly become a far more powerful, confident person. Although such things do come at a cost.

It's fortunate, then, that he's got a competent staff to call upon. Honami we've already mentioned, but there's also Shinto shrine maiden Mikan; and Nekoyashiki and the four cats that back him up. As the series goes on we're also introduced to ghost-girl Manami and Buddhist monk Sekiren. They're all acknowledged experts in their own fields (although in Manami's case that field seems to be "serving tea"), and when brought together there's very little that they can't handle. Also visiting the Astral offices regularly is Adelicia, head of the rival Goetia company and master of the art of Solomonic magic - she went to magical school with Honami, where the two were close rivals and head & shoulders about the rest of their class in skill, but she also harbours something of a soft-spot for Itsuki - as does Honami. Cue magical fireworks.

The series is 24 episodes (two 12-episode sets on DVD), with most of the episodes being essentially stand-alone: someone approaches Astral with a job of some description, Itsuki and the gang get to work, and more often than not there's a spanner in the works that makes the job seem particularly difficult until Itsuki decides to rip off his eyepatch. Formulaic? You betcha. There are occasional diversions from the formula, usually when the show takes a look into the pasts of its main characters, but for the most part it's strictly by the book.

That's a bit of a shame, though, as its when the series focusses on the past that it produces its best stories. The tabboo-breaking of Adelicia's father; the hints that are dropped (but sadly never really explored) around the disappearance of Itsuki's father; the finaly tradition that could cost Mikan her life; pieces of Honami's past coming back to haunt her. These are all damn good stories, but between them we're only talking probably 8-9 episodes. The rest of the series is the formula, and while those episodes are interesting enough in their own right, they're nothing particularly special.

The characters aren't strong enough to raise the game, either. Honami and Adelicia are the two stand-outs for me - both determined and in their own ways the cause of plenty of trouble - but that's about it. Itsuki is relegated to harem-lead-hell, oblivious to the affections of the girls around him and incapable of making a decision without resorting to Glam Sight mode; Mikan and Manami fill the fanservice roster but have very little in the way of real personality; while Nekoyashiki and Sekiren (and I keep thinking Sekirei when I type his name... gah...) suffer from similarly 2D personalities without the benefit of being easy on the male eyes. The end result is that, for a lot of the series, I was just floating by on autopilot and not really caring much either way about what was happening on the screen. There are occasional moments, outside the character episodes, where things "click" and you can get more enjoyment out of them, but for the most part the show's just there, playing in the background.

"Could do better" is definitely the verdict, then. It's okay as far as it goes, but just never seems to put any real effort into going any further. One for the rental pile (no pun intended!).

Two notes for this one - first, Nozomi stream their episodes on a schedule and they come and go. You can find their full streaming schedule here. Second, Rental Magica is region-locked to North America, so if you're in the UK you need to use a geolocking workaround - Google is your friend if you're so inclined. You can neatly sidestep both these problems, though, by buying the DVDs.

Rating - ***