Astral faces several personal and professional problems as the series draws to a close.
What They Say Itsuki is resolved to leading Astral, but his growing reliance on his Glam Sight has caused him a great deal of pain and placed all of Astral in danger on countless occasions. The coming trials will require him to grow stronger and more resourceful if he's to be an asset to the team. Meanwhile, Honami continues to search for a way to cure Itsuki's eye. With the appearance of an old acquaintance, Fin Cruda, her hopes are renewed. Fin shares much in common with Itsuki and may know of a way to cure Itsuki's eye, but at what cost? Episodes 13-24 in both 'broadcast' and 'chronological' orders.
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.
Originally airing in 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 the second 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.
Rental Magica got one of the best packaging releases of 2009 and I think they’ve basically done it again, though they essentially tie some of their other titles like Aria. 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. I particularly liked the back cover under the sell-sheet that has several of the characters playing bartender and patron which has a really neat feel to it. 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 kind 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. No reverse side artwork is included in this release.
The big piece here is just like the first set with a one hundred and forty-two 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. There is a ton of material in here that makes this show so much richer, from cast interviews to the detailed look at the characters and the different kinds of magic and so forth. Really, it’s a book like this that I’m shocked to see being done considering the expense of it and the amount of issues involved in getting it approved, but it’s something that hardly anyone is doing anymore and it’s a real shame. This is extreme value added material here that makes this release stand out as the best of the best.
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.
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 that were made for the web as well as for broadcast and the English language trailer. The clean versions of the second opening and closing sequences are also included in this release and we do get another of the special promos. 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)
The first half of Rental Magica, viewed in chronological order, did a nice job of introducing numerous magical concepts and a fairly varied cast of characters centered around Itsuki Iba, the new teenaged president of Astral. This set builds on that pretty well with a few more standalone stories to highlight the growth and changes of these characters, but the focus isn't so much on the events as defining things but the way everyone reacts to it. The central focus on Itsuki works well as he's a fairly generic character in a lot of ways, and easily accessible, but he's continually trying to improve himself so that he can do better for everyone around him.
With the way the show is laid out, it’s still easy to see the appeal in the broadcast order in that it teases things out more and it’s more all over the map at times with the kinds of stories it wants to tell in relation to the timeline. I’m still favoring the chronological approach here but something about this half of the season felt a little weaker than the first, though there are some very strong moments. Similar to the first half, we do get a few standalone stories that tell the basic tales that help to bind the cast together as they do some odd jobs here and there dealing with issues of magic, most of the time. With Adelicia being more involved in Astral now as a shareholder, she tends to work more closely with them though with the usual critical eye. On the positive side, she’s becoming more comfortable with them as well which helps to soften those criticisms.
Where the show started to pick up in terms of the overall storyline is during the sixteen-eighteen mark, which is the same in both broadcast and chronological order. It’s here that the older character of Sekiren is introduced when Itsuki goes off to the mountains to try and train himself a bit and get stronger. Sekiren ends up helping him out during this phase by working with him on understanding the power of his eye in that he has to work with it rather than master and control it. Itsuki and his eye with all its power must have a symbiotic relationship instead of a master/slave kind of one, especially as there are larger issues with it. Sekiren brings a bit more of a maturity to the show, similar to Nekoyashiki, but with a different kind of fun as well. He ends up taking a role with Astral which helps flesh the company out a bit more with its varied styles of magic and his introduction starts the show down the path toward the end of the series as well.
Sekiren also has a really nice bond with Daphne, who we get to understand a lot more in one of the best episodes of the set. She’s spending her time trying to track down Adelicia and ends up coming across those she used to work with, such as Gara. Her past is one that gets well exploed here as we are plainly told of her real relationships to others and why these kinds of deceptions had to play out. It really makes her a far more interesting character instead of the standard cool, aloof and powerful bodyguard archetype while also enhancing the character she’s related to. With her and Sekiren having some quality time together, we get to see more of him early on as well which helps to humanize and tie him to the group rather quickly and seamlessly.
Another episode that stands alone that I liked a lot is the one where Adelicia is put on the spot by the Association for the things she needs to get done since taking over Goetia. With such a powerful company under her hands, there’s a push by others for a marriage contract to be put in place to shore things up if she can’t step up to certain commitments herself. What’s interesting is that it’s not a normal marriage that’s proposed but a mage marriage which is the binding of magical powers to two people that doesn’t consist of a romantic relationship. Adelicia decides to try this and makes the proposal to Honami which leads to the two of them going all the way up to the alter with lots of wedding planning, dresses and other girly moments that helps to make both of them really cute and fun to watch.
Rental Magica does try to give the series something of a big moment toward the end of it all by having a story that’s a bit large in scope. It does succeed overall but in some ways it feels a little out of place or even a bit too early to be brought into the larger storyline of Rental Magica. Itsuki’s eye has certainly been a focal point of the show from the start and learning that there’s something more going on with it that’s affecting the balance of magic in the area isn’t a surprise considering the power itself. All of that has built up with a tie to the past as we see what he saw as a child when Honami took on the guilt for his acquiring the eye. Seeing this shard of a dragon’s egg started an awakening and a bond between Itsuki and the dragon that’s now ready to wake fully since he’s been using his power so much. It’s an interesting angle to play, one that puts all the focus on him while dealing with those who want to help him escape the problems of the eye, even though it means sacrificing a lot of his power. The late introduction of a character named Fin Cruda throws it off though as it feels forced to bring him in so suddenly and to have him being so duplicitous.
Overall, I liked Rental Magic a lot but this half of it felt a touch weaker. Part of it is the time between sets and I think the other part is going through so much of it at once you sometimes lose a little of the nuance. What we have here is an interesting world of magic and mundane with a lot of variations on the magic that comes together. Itsuki is a decent male lead character, which is a surprise, as he doesn’t wilt under everything. He’s not super confident but he’s growing into his role in the company and dealing with issues from the past while coping with the women who dominate his life. The structure of the show is fairly helter skelter even with the chronological order format but what we get in the end is a fun series that looks good and is filled with interesting characters for a reason.
Features Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character bios, Special promo 2, Commercial spots 2, Clean opening 2, Clean closings 2 and 3, Rental Magica U.S. Part 1 trailer, Web commercials, A book with more than 100 pages of background information about the series and its mythology
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.
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