Maburaho Vol.1: Bewitched and Bewildered
Not having known much about Maburaho when I bought it, besides its noticeable popularity as a fan-sub, I was pretty much expecting a standard, slightly entertaining harem with a flimsy attempt at adding a magical twist. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this twist on the genre actually worked to a very entertaining degree!
Kazuki Shikimori is a below-average magician who unknowingly belongs to a lineage of the most skilled magicians known to history. In the world of Maburaho, a magician can only use magic a set number of times before he or she turns into dust, and unlike most, whose average is in the thousands, Kazuki can use his magic a mere eight times. Therefore he is tossed into a category of magicians shunned by most, and accepted into an elite magic school for his genes alone. It's a pretty unique twist to the harem genre just for the fact that these women want to have sex with Kazuki simply for his genes, and this desire isn't even built up over a long span of episodes.
An elite school is not the only thing his genes have gotten him into (no pun intended). Because of the outstanding magical potential they have, three girls from different fledgling clans are after him to bring greatness back to their family names. The three girls actually fit the harem stereotypes pretty well, although the magical element of the show differentiates them from being too close to the norm.
Yuna is Kazuki's primary 'love' interest, just because of how much she seems to actually care. In addition to this, the two made a promise early in their childhood, which is pretty much the standard for harem anime nowadays. Kuriko, the blonde, is a year older and she can be considered the most aggressive of the three girls. The third and most reluctant of the girls is Rin, a member of a samurai clan that only wants Kazuki's genes to restore its lost honor. Initially, she simply wants to kill him, so this adds an interesting dynamic to the show.
Maburaho should really be called an action harem, as much of the show so far is the girls battling with magic over Kazuki. This is actually a plus, though, as it keeps the show interesting and fast paced. Although the magic is primarily thrown in for a twist on the harem genre, the over the top action it allows can be quite hilarious and interesting.
The first two episodes of Volume 1 consist mainly of an introduction to the story and its characters. The action is plentiful as I said before, and these two episodes are absolutely hilarious. By episode three, I felt pretty uneasy about where this show was going. Harem anime has a tendency of becoming pretty bad after a couple solid episodes, as is the case with shows such as Ai Yori Aoshi, and this is where Maburaho looked like it was going with this episode. A ghost had found its way into Kazuki's apartment (ridiculous amounts of characters, anyone?), and it was up to him to get rid of her. This episode continues the downward spiral of harem tradition until the end, where things are patched up. The show dodged the bullet for the next episode, which returned to the goodness that could be found in the first two episodes.
A big highlight of Maburaho is the animation. It's smooth and absolutely great during the action sequences, a highlight of the show. But I shouldn't really expect anything less from J.C. Staff, who have worked on other beautiful anime such as the afore mentioned Ai Yori Aoshi. However, some of the scenes that take place inside with spells or a magical room have a really low-budget swirl in the background that just throws off the quality for minutes at a time. The character designs, although typical of a harem show, are great and fitting to their personalities. While nothing special, the over-the-top voice acting that is a characteristic of harem shows is here in both the English and Japanese dubs. The music is pretty solid, although again, it's nothing special.
ADV has done a great job with this DVD release, with good video quality and some pretty decent extras. It actually has one of the best inserts I've seen ADV do in quite some time, with a mock newspaper from the magical school found in the anime. It's a pretty entertaining read, although I probably won't find myself reading it again any time soon. And what happened to reversible covers and clear cases, ADV?
While not straining itself too hard to escape the conventions of the harem genre, Maburaho does find ways to entertain with its great magical twist and swift action. Hopefully the next volume will continue this trend without slipping too far into the mediocre harem category!