Rental Magica Part 1 Collection (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can a company that deals in magical services survive having a teenage president?

What They Say
Destroying supernatural monsters, dispelling dark magic, It's all in a day's work for the mages of Astral! However, after the mysterious disappearance of the company president, they're left in a lurch. His son, Itsuki Iba, begrudgingly fills in, but Itsuki's unfamiliarity with magic could spell bad news for Astral - especially with their rival Goetia vying for the very same contracts. As the jobs grow ever more dangerous, they soon find that staying in business is the least of their worries.

Episodes 1-12 in both broadcast and chronological orders.

The Review!
Audio:
Rental Magica contains only the original Japanese language track in stereo which is encoded at 192kbps. The series has a rather simple but good stereo mix where there is some directionality to be had at times, but it's mostly a solid full soundstage design. The music makes out the best and some of the action sequences come across quite well as things whip about and the music swells, but by and large the dialogue for the series is fairly basic but it works well for what it is. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2007 and 2008, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With this series containing the broadcast and chronological order, we get twenty-four episodes to it spread across four discs. Because of the order of episodes and everything else, it's still just the first half of the series so it's twelve episodes spread across four discs – three episodes a disc – depending on which format you watch. Rental Magica has a very clean look to it and the transfer shows it off very well. There's a lot of bright colors here and they hold up well across the board with only a few areas of noticeable noise and blocking, generally in some of the darker backgrounds that show up. Cross coloration is minimal and line noise is as well. Nozomi continues to do their releases in the way I prefer with the original unedited opening and closings followed by a repeat of the ending with the full translated credits for that episode.

Packaging:
Rental Magica gets one of the best packaging releases of 2009 I think and stands up very well against previous Nozomi releases if not exceeding them. The heavy chipboard box holds four thinpaks and a full book. The artbox looks really good with a variety of character illustrations set against a white background that allows them to stand out while still using softer and subtler colors than the vibrant animation pieces you'd normally see. Even the reds looks really good here without going to the vibrant level yet still having a real shine to them. The spine is kept simple with the white and gray background with the shadowed logo going down in a strip with a flash of red in the center.

Inside the artbox we have the four clear thinpak cases that use the same ind of layout as the front with the white backgrounds and the red strips across it to tie it all together. These covers go the opposite route of the artbox though by using animation artwork of several of the lead characters. There's a very clean look to them and they all use the same kind of layout which ties it all together very well while giving us a different look than the art box itself. The back covers are done sideways while using the red cross from the front again with the white background. A small selection of full color shots from the show are used to the right side while the left has a brief summary of the series overall on each volume, so there's no unique text for that per volume. I do like the small gray strip of character artwork that's included as well. The bottom red strip has the technical grid that lays it all out clearly though the runtimes are awkward because they list the total unique episode runtime per volume. So if there are six unique episodes between broadcast and chronological, it will say 150. If one episode is used for both, it'll say 125 like the first volume. No reverse side artwork is included in this release.

The big piece here is a one hundred and twenty-eight page perfect bound book that covers all the details of the series, from the characters to the magic itself as it details the various styles that are dealt with in the series. The series director provides a batch of memories about various episodes of the series with some cute anecdotes and there's a series of interviews with the cast members as well which helps to personalize it more as well. There's a huge amount of information in this book for fans and it's one that really makes this set very impressive with the amount of work that went into it.

Menu:
The menus for the series are a step up from what other releases are like as each menu is different with the character artwork it contains. The menus are all laid out the same but they use the artwork of the lead characters from their respective thinpak covers with good use of the red and white to give it a lot of impact. The navigation is simple with little on the disc but it's very easy to use overall. The only thing I would have liked is to have had a brief explanation at least on the first disc about the differences in the two versions so people could make their choice about which way to watch it. Submenus load quickly when you do use them and I was glad that they provided separate scene access menus for the two different versions as well. With this being a monolingual disc, we didn't have any issues there.

Extras:
The extras for this release are spread across all four volumes and don't appear to be broadcast or chronological order impacted. There are a few brief character bios to be had, some commercial spots and the English language trailer. The clean versions of the first opening and closing sequences are also included in this release. A lot of what would make up liner notes aren't on here because they're in the really great book that's included with this release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Rental Magic is a twenty-six episode series adapted from the light novels by Makoto Sanda that as of this writing is still seeing serialization. The anime series is one that's been done in an interesting way as when it was broadcast in Japan, only five of the episodes are considered “in order” in how they're presented. Like the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, there's both a broadcast order and a chronological order. This gives the viewer two very distinct experiences since there are twenty-six episodes in total and they're in a hodgepodge of sorts when it comes to how you look at it. For our viewing experience, and hopefully for a bit of ease in understanding it, we watched this in the chronological order. So if you watch it in broadcast order, you may have a very different view as you tease out the details and mysteries.

Rental Magica takes place in the present world but one where there is a fair bit of magic to be found and it's not hidden underground. The series revolves around a high school student named Itsuki Iba who has found himself in the position of being president of a company that rents out mages for various assignments. The company, called Astral, is a family business and belonged to his father before his untimely death. There are other who have felt they would be better suited for taking over the company, but without knowing it Itsuki has been granted a temporary trial period through which to run the business. Itsuki is the epitome of the good guy in that he's friendly, gets along well with everyone and has that natural charm and ability to bring people together and to him.

Though they're not really competing, Astral finds itself in direct competition with several contracts as the young woman that's rising up through the ranks of the company called Goetia there because of her family. Adelecia is the standard aristocratic style young blonde woman who has that air of elegance about her but continually gets involved with Astral because there's something that draws her to Itsuki. Though we don't see too much of Goetia, it's not uncommon for Addie to be involved and the first three episode arc deals heavily with Addie as Itsuki helps her deal with a problem that involves her father that has broken a taboo of magic. The biggest taboo of mages in this age is that it's forbidden for people to become magic as it twists and alters the very core of them. With the president/owner of Goetia falling to this, it's something that Addie must deal with personally and with some amount of sensitivity and quiet.

While Goetia is considered a large company, we really only see Addie for the most part and those that she summons. With Astral being the primary company and a small one, it's a very personal thing. Itsuki has the help of a young woman he goes to school with called Honami, who actually spent some time in the same school as Addie in London. Honami is the workaholic and doing her best to try and get Itsuki to handle the responsibilities and enjoy running the company. She longs for the day when he starts viewing it as a “we” thing instead of just the company itself. Along with him there's a man called Nekoyashiki who is an onmyouji who specializes in cats and a younger girl named Mikan who serves as the company's Shinto specialist. She views Astral as a real family and often talks that way which definitely adds some of that small company charm to the show. The best character of the group to me is introduced after a few episodes, a young girl named Manami Kuroha who is actually a ghost. She's an assignment that Astral gets and works out so that she ends up joining the company. Like Honami, she has some feelings for Itsuki that lead to a few cute moments here and there but she's definitely the more relaxed of the two girls.

Much of Rental Magic deals with single episode stories once it gets past the first couple of pieces, such as the opening arc that cements the relationship between Itsuki and Addie and what she goes through in trying to deal with her father. Kuroha's story is only one episode but they spend some time adjusting her to the group which gives it a little more meat. By and large though, we've got one-offs that deal with Astral picking up various contracts that are low in danger and low in payment but help to bond the group. Everyone has a different positive to bring to the company and with the way Itsuki is, he's able to draw them out without realizing it and getting them to enjoy their work and working with each other.

With Itsuki as the central focus, the heart of the company, he gets a lot of attention and tends to be the one that draws everything together when the danger rises. Itsuki's not a mage himself yet at this point, which reinforces the trial period he's unaware of, but he's very gifted with magic ability. He wears an eye-patch that covers up the majority of the right side of his face and when he pulls it off, he's able to see things that help him direct the others for dealing with the problem at hand. It's unusual for a lead character to have this much of their face obscured and obviously disfigured at least a little as we see often enough, and it gives him an interesting defining feature that goes against his generally positive and happy outlook on life. Itsuki is still a bit of a cipher, but towards the end of the set we start to get more of what makes him who he is as well as the family background which deals with Astral.

Rental Magica is animated by Zecxs and it has a very good look about it, but one that doesn't stand out hugely. It falls into a fairly traditional style with mixed religions and occult outfits by handling them all well but without any huge amount of serious style to them. They're respective of what they should be like but they aren't heavily personalized when it comes to the Celtic, Shinto or other areas. The animation is quite good overall with characters that are distinctive without being too detailed, they have a good flow to them and fit in well with the atmosphere and design that's been set for it. Backgrounds have a good amount of appeal but aren't too intricate and they cover a wide range of places because of the assignments given and the various places the characters inhabit on a regular basis.

In Summary:

Watching this in the chronological order, I can certainly see why this would be intriguing in the broadcast order as it shuffles the episodes around and teases out the story more. I like non-linear storytelling in my anime sometimes, but less so with a series of this length compared to a half season show. Rental Magica is a lot of fun here as it deals with the various stories and bonding the characters together. It's starting to define itself as it gets towards the end of this set, especially when it comes to the Iba family past, but by and large this set is filled with standalone episodes that gives almost everyone time to shine. There's good material from the start that cements Addie and Itsuki really well and you want to see more of that kind of multi-episode storytelling as it progresses. Rental Magic is a show that I can see having some good replay value from the orders alone as well as all the varied magic it offers. The end of this set in chronological order makes me wish the second set was coming out much quicker than it is. Tie all of this into the excellent package that Nozomi has created and the fantastic book that was created and it's a real winner of a set for fans that should bring in new fans as well.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, View episodes in both broadcast order, as seen on Japanese TV (and the Japanese DVD release), and chronological order; character bios; special promo 1; commercial spot 1; clean opening 1; clean closing 1; Rental Magica Part 2 trailer; and Nozomi trailers. AND: A book with more than 100 pages of background information about the series and its mythology.

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: 49.99
Running time: 525
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rental Magica