Hibiki's Magic Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Michelle Ramonetti
Review Date: Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Story by Jun Maeda / Art by Rei Idumi
Translated by: Alexis Kirsch
Adapted by:Jamie S. Rich

What They Say
Hibiki is a student in a magic school. Try as she might, her only real skill seems to be making a pot of delicious tea... Or is it?

Tokyopop does a fine job in highlighting the cover art by keeping the remaining background white.  It creates an airy, welcoming feel and makes the reader curious about these adorable looking characters.  It may deceive the first-time buyer, who might not be familiar with Idumi's artwork in the .hack universe, into thinking this will be a sweet fairy tale about a cute little girl, but there's no avoiding that!  They also kept the first three color pages, which makes the volume inviting.

Extras include a Postscript and ads for Hibiki's Magic, Vol. 2, Tokyopop.com, Gyakushu!, Pixie Pop (Gokkun Pucho), Archlord, and Shizuru Seino Heaven!!

Idumi's art is as lovely as ever.  Backgrounds aren't as prominent as major closeups, but that lends the manga dramatic effect.  Idumi designs a majority of the characters--Hibiki most of all--to be so cute you want to snuggle them.  In a way, this is also one of the manga's few weaknesses; in the beginning, it can be difficult to take the story seriously, but once the reader gets into it, the adorable character designs can make them feel like puppies are getting kicked.  Either way, the artwork is pure cotton candy for the eyes.

Sound effects are not translated anywhere, which has the positive effect of leaving the artwork untouched, but the negative effect of making the sound effects useless.  Honorifics are also left untranslated, with the exception of titles like “master”, “professor”, and “teacher”.  Since this series is a western-style fantasy, translating those titles works and makes the dialogue clearer.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As a magician's assistant, little Hibiki isn't exactly qualified--or so it seems.  She drops everything she touches, runs around nervously, and can't understand a word of the lofty magical principles her master, Shirotsuki, tries to teach her.  She can, however, make a delicious cup of tea.  Even though Hibiki thinks that's all she's good at doing, Shirotsuki senses a greater potential and trusts her to help with his secret research.

Not only is Shirotsuki's research secret, it's deadly, as Hibiki discovers when burly men break into the house one day while the two of them are attempting to switch the master’s body with a squirrel-like animal called a gusk.  Hibiki gains enough courage to help her master halfway, but can do no more when a fire burns down their house--and Shirotsuki’s human body.

With the assistance of her transformed master, who now lives as a gusk, Hibiki heads to the city of Kamigusk.  A small town girl and naturally naïve, Hibiki can't believe her good fortune when a representative of the famous Kamisaid Academy says the headmaster has been waiting for her.  When the headmaster discovers that Hibiki isn't exactly a scholar, however, he gives her the Negima!-esque distinction of becoming a child professor.

Needless to say, her students don't take her seriously at first, at least not a certain boy with sunglasses--and a chip on his shoulder about magic.  To deal with this, Hibiki begins to work her own kind of magic.  She's not aware of her master's assistance in his gusk body, though that may be because the real magic Hibiki works is not that of magic circles, but a healing magic of the heart.

"Magic is power.  That's the only reason it will never go away.”  "Magic comes at a price.  There's no such thing as a perfect spell.”  "That is what I sacrifice for my magic.”

That's what various characters of Hibiki’s Magic say about the nature of magic in their world.  Much like Fullmetal Alchemist's concept of Equivalent Exchange, the imperfect nature of magic gives Hibiki's Magic a common thread for all the stories in the first volume.  This has less to do with guilt over abusing the power of magic, however, and more to do with personal loss.  Every character at the center of Volume 1's short stories, including Hibiki's master, have suffered greatly for magic.

Even in the city of Kamigusk, where Hibiki travels with her transformed master, magic is a relic.  Some sorcerers remain and walk the city, but magic has fallen out of use, mostly to be employed by stuffy intellectuals or heartless scientists who engage in human experiments and other exploitation.  Into such a place is Hibiki thrown, who barely remembers any magic her master taught her and who, by the way she looks, is no more than ten or twelve years old.  The biggest troublemaker in her class (of troublemakers) calls her "mini-teach".

Still, Hibiki holds her own.  We learn in the first chapter that Shirotsuki found her alone--probably an orphan--trembling and mute in a corner.  By the time her home and her master’s body burn down, she still cries over every difficulty and struggles to find self-confidence.  All told, however, she's a little survivor.

The same holds true for the other three major characters introduced in this volume: Shirotsuki, who sacrificed his memory and the love of his life; Ahito, who sacrificed his eyes, first love, and innocence; and Yutsuko, who sacrificed her daughter and her dreams.  This leads over and over to the inevitable question, "Is magic worth it?”

Shirotsuki believes it is, and it is that teaching that Hibiki holds near and dear to her heart, even if the concept is beyond her.  The theme of Hibiki’s Magic’s first volume can be boiled down to finding hope in times of pain and grief.

In the end, Hibiki's Magic is deceptively cute, often funny, but mostly bittersweet--and a real tear-jerker.  It’ll take the reader’s deepest emotions and wring them without mercy.  But as much as it hurts, it heals, warming the heart like a satisfying cup of tea.

Mania Grade: A-
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: TOKYOPOP
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 232
ISBN: 978-1-59816-766-5
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Hibiki's Magic