Want a series that revolves around the mystic arts and revolves around a cast of characters that blend a typical brand of harem comedy/romance with nice animation and music? Rental Magica might be a series worth looking into as long as you don't come into it looking for an overarching story that's both inventive and sets itself apart from peer series. It takes quite a bit of patience to endure, as some of the moments in the series can both run in the flame of cliches and filler stories, even for a series of average length. Still, it improves enough to be worth viewing at least once through, and if you can stomach certain elements of it, it can be an enjoyable series to watch.
Rental Magica tells the story of a rather haphazard protagonist, Itsuki Iba, that inherits his father's demon extermination group, Astral. Itsuki may come across as a rather unlikable protagonist for some, because he's quite clumsy, a coward (runs away from battles a lot in the beginning), reluctant to become president, and he sits right between a rather predictable love-triangle rivalry - one that he's not too happy with at times. Between dealing with the persistent leader of a rival group (Addie, a savvy mage), the demons that threaten the balance of things, and a demon eye that gives him pain at the exposure of too much mystical energy and reverts his personality, Itsuki has a lot on his plate to sort through, so you can't blame the poor sap for how he reacts....at least on some measures.
It's very difficult to break a conclusive story down for Rental Magica, and I would say this is one of the weakest parts of the series' considerations, in part for its sequence of events and another for the relatively slow pace at which it builds. It follows in an arc-like progression, transitioning between relevant plot points and filler. The true plot doesn't reveal itself until well into the series, and by that time, most who would want to take something out of the story besides the episodic pursuits the team makes and the bits of harem romantic comedy in the filler-style episodes will find themselves wondering if they should continue. To the series credit, however, it has an otherwise likable cast of characters to follow, and there are some genuine humorous and sweet moments to be had among the cast of characters. I remember watching the Christmas episode and despite my gritting teeth at a slow plotline so far into the series (I think it was about episode 12 or 13), I genuinely liked the interactions among the characters and that was the point that ultimately kept me watching until the end.
I'll be a bit more forthcoming about the structure of the series, in case it isn't clear by this description. Astral takes on a number of mystic cases from clients, in which they investigate disturbances and extinguish threats as necessary. Some of the stories are decent (it does list itself as a horror series, but nothing here would classify as truly "scary"). I think the cliched elements take away from some of the mystic pull some of the stories may have. Some episodes, like Kuroha's introduction to Astral, are decent stories in their own right, as they bring you into how the character becomes a part of the team, and I liked that particular episode in the beginning of the series because it introduced how her character, as a ghost, came to interact and become close with the group, but the sequencing is awkward, as it has to backtrack to tell the story and then places it in terms of the present. It is never eerie or with dark humor intrigue like Vampire Princess Miyu (despite both having a "monster-of-the-day" format at first) nor does it have a whimsical, precocious pull like Shounen Onmyouji, Mushishi, Mokke, or many other series that take that mystic element and develop it into something that has a bit of substantive focus. You get into a story, you come out of it, and the next episode is something different for the most part. This format doesn't change until well into the series, when the conflict against Astral becomes much more inclusive, and Itsuki starts taking his charge as President much more to heart. It reminds me of what I found to be true about Venus Versus Virus: interesting in some spectrums, but the cliched elements take a bit of the charm out of the picture.
It's a decent series to watch once or twice, but beyond that would depend on what you're looking for.
Despite my criticisms of the plot/storyline of Rental Magica, it has very high production values with regards to animation. Matter in point, the cel backdrops, coloring, and character designs in this series are smooth and gorgeous to behold. I loved the clarity of the character eyes and the power transitions when the characters are engaged in battle, The series keeps this quality consistent throughout the series, for the most part, though one will note that the clarity certainly impresses in the beginning episodes of the series.
Rental Magica features a lovely soundtrack, particularly noting the strong OP/ED themes. There are two OP themes for this series, both performed by vocalist Lisa Komine. "Sora ni Saku" is featured for the first half of the series, and it's a beautiful, lush song with a guitar edge interspersed throughout and soft vocals. "Faith" is the English version of the song performed through the latter half of the series. I think both themes are pleasant listens, and fit the opening sequence well, which doesn't change, save for the Japanese/English characters across the ribbon crosses that stride across the screen as you watch it. The ED theme Aruiteikou by Jungo Yoshida is a calm, reclining tune in a J-R&B stylistic. There's a special version of it performed by the voice actors in one of the episodes that I found quite cute.
Voice acting is decent, but I found it wasn't an element that made it stand out as a lone factor when compared to peer series. It works for the respective character personalities in the series, but doesn't go beyond that spectrum.
To expand a bit on the characterization: very typical cast in measurable notation, but in a spirit-busting format.
Itsuki is a weak-willed protagonist, a bit quick to run away from battle and like many male protagonists that seem caught in events beyond measure. I didn't quite like his character to begin with, and I imagine there will be quite a few that don't care for his character at first, but he comes into his own as his responsibilities, and values, with Astral come into focus. Konami is a powerful witch/mage that is a childhood friend of Itsuki, so she continuously scolds him, yet has a fondness for him that could come from a childhood friend. Nekoshimi (probably one of the characters I ended up liking, though I wish the series could have done a bit more with his character) derives his power from his love and interaction with cats, hence the name. Kuroha, a ghost who comes to join Astral and gravitates to Itsuki for his humble personality, is another character that seems to have a gravitating quality about her. Mikan is a bit of a cutesy character, hyperactive and a Shinto specialist that aids the team greatly in her chants. Astral's team is really the main group you come to know as the series moves forward, and apart from a few other side characters (i.e. Addie, the leader of Goetia, Astral's rival group), the characters don't really jump out as readily as peer series of its kind, at least in the measure of mystic series.
I would give Rental Magica a 6 overall, because the animation and sound for the series, and considering its time frame, are quite on par, but those were very much the stand-out elements about it in fair comparison. The story is more of a give and take depending on what the viewer seeks in an anime series. I think it could be enjoyed on some measures, especially those who don't mind a typical spirit busting series with harem/romance/comedy elements, so I would give it a hesitant recommendation.
The name of the business is Astral, and magic is its trade. Itsuki Iba is a school boy who seems to have a weak personality and not an ounce of magic within him, yet he inherits and must run his father's 'magic for hire' company after his father disappears. He must now learn to manage a diverse team of magic-wielders, gain their respect, and send them on missions to deal with the supernatural – all while attempting to excel in school and deal with competitors! But deep down, there's more to Itsuki. He always wears an eyepatch, hiding the results of an incident from his childhood; what other secrets does he hold? And can he handle the responsibilities while his father is missing?
I tend to be a fan of slice of life, dramatic and romantic series, but my palette is open to different series of a plethora of genres. I love watching series that engage my senses and imagination, and as a writer, I always appreciate a good story with a great cast of characters. I love when people give feedback on my reviews, because it helps me see things in a different lens, so I encourage you to converse with me if you have any questions, commentary or just want to chat about a series. ^_^
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