「草原の民」 (Sougen no Min)
“The People of the Plains”
The themes of identity, both in terms of a society and an individual, were strong in this episode. On a personal level, Aladdin still searches for who he is and where he belongs, despite having a strong sense of justice and morality that aligns with the Magi of old. Meanwhile, the Kouga clan, lead by Baba, struggles with their own nationalistic identity as the Kou empire attempts to assimilate their territory. This episode brings yet another set of mature topics for Magi to tackle, which advance the plot, but also expand the world.
Qishan is now far far away, in a galaxy not so far away, with Ali Baba in a faraway land after being in a coma for many days. While this is terribly far away from Morgiana and Ali Baba, this separation allows us to focus on what Aladdin needs most: an identity. Mama Baba has started that path for Aladdin, providing us with a very small glimpse into the history of the Magi. It must be fate that Aladdin was ushered into a once great people that begun under a Magi’s guidance. Contrary to their conquering history and ridiculous evasion skills, the contemporary Kouga contrast well with the people of Qishan–peaceful and non-aggressive in nature, at least under Baba’s guidance. If only there were no plot to worry about, Aladdin would probably fit well with this family that accepts him so easily. However, reuniting with Ali Baba and the impending assimilation from the Kou Empire act as two thorns that guarantee Aladdin’s stay is temporary. There still is the lingering issue of the Black Magi as well, and it is yet to be seen whether his interference, especially with the Kou Empire, will be present.
One crucial element that this “vacation” has taught Aladdin is the presence of the butterflies. Now revealed not to be solely for show, Aladdin now has an important tool to help guide his destiny as a Magi. It’s heavily hinted that although the Kou Empire does seek to unite the world, one of their generals, Ren Hakuei (Mizuki Nana) will receive the blessing of the Magi to accomplish her empire’s goal. The butterflies seem to be present when a person expresses themselves unclouded and truthfully, representing an unbarred life force. While the butterflies appearing made sense with Baba and Hakuei, I personally am confused when the butterflies appear just as the wagon chase begins. Perhaps we will learn more about this Magi-unique power in the future, and whether or not all Magi possess this ability.
Returning to the Kou Empire, there is fierce opposition to her pacifist and diplomatic ideals, such as Ryosai, who has the patience of a fuse. Though I disagree with the black and white coloring of the protagonists and antagonists, the conflict is setup to be complex enough for us to wonder what exactly will happen next. The antagonism of Ryosai makes sense, since the anime portrays the Kou Empire has having its share of brutes and xenophobes, but the prevalence of that attitude within the Kou Empire is yet to be seen. Will the Kou and Kouga meet in a bloody clash (and in what scope), or will Aladdin be able to stop any further bloodshed with some hard diplomacy with Hakuei? Though Baba reinforced that the Kou would not break the most important bond they have–family (d’awwwww), with her gone, many of the characters could now potentially have a change of heart, such as Dolge or even Aladdin himself. It’s such a shame though that a lovable character had to die in such a way…her feisty and strong personality as a grandmother figure would’ve been a nice steady personality to have in future episodes.
Overall, this was a great setup episode that expanded Magi beyond the sands of Qishan, into grassier pastures…literally. However, the anime is showing what limits to morality it will push, especially with the death of Baba and the sexual threats made to certain characters. The next episode will present challenging trials to Aladdin, who now has lost one of his friends to dishonesty. How he will react, I have no idea, but if we can infer from the serious attitude he took in the first labyrinth, the reaction will be anything but pacifist.