(This is part three of the essay series “What Makes a King: Monarchical Representations in Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. Link to the introduction and essay outline can be found here.)
In a discussion about kingship, it seems counter-intuitive to turn to Magnostadt, a country that differs from previously mentioned countries in so many ways. For one thing, Magnostadt lacks a king. As we’ll explore later, given Magnostadt’s dark origins (a bloody coup de’tat) and vehement distaste for monarchical rule, Magnostadt is markedly different in several important respects from previously discussed countries. Unlike Balbadd, its economy and domestic affairs are much more stable. With magic as its main economic commodity, Magnostadt’s been able to flourish despite its small geographical size and population despite the looming threats from its border neighbors (Reim and Kou). And unlike Kou’s grandiose plans to subsume the world in all that is Kou, Magnostadt is perfectly fine carrying on with its own business while staying out of everyone else’s.
At first glance, it seems that Magnostadt’s got it all figured out.
As we watch through the eyes of Aladdin, who sneaks into Academy City so he can master his magic, we, too, are drawn in by our plucky, blue-haired magi’s wonder at the resplendence of Magnostadt.
Magnostadt: The Answer to Monarchical Rule (Haven or Dystopia?)
Magnostadt offers a marked contrast from other systems of government we’ve observed in other nations. Unlike Kou, Balbadd, or Sindria, Magnostadt is not a kingdom, let alone an empire. In fact, it’s heavily anti-monarchist and serves as that odd little closed off country that everyone’s heard of but no one really knows about. Even the people who come from there don’t like to talk about it. Not a big surprise, given its recent bloody history.
As a distinct contrast, Magnostadt, regardless of it being called a “kingdom of magic” bleats a very anti-monarchist voice. It styles itself as a refuge, a closed off sanctuary for magicians, who are ostracized or taken advantage of by other nations.
In the east, the concept of magic is still in its infancy, so even my own parents thought my powers were creepy. I thought to myself when I first came to Magnostadt, “I wish I could show this country to those kids…” -Su Lin, a magician from Kou
At first glance, Magnostadt is a veritable utopia. People are treated well, magicians are able to live without the fear of being used. For Aladdin, our young magi, Magnostadt is a place of wonders. As a being so in tune with magic, hanging out with magicians is the closest thing Aladdin has to mingling with his own “kind.” Not that Alibaba and Morgiana aren’t his own kind (indeed, their friendship transcends such boundaries), but even impartial Aladdin can’t help but admire the place Mogamett, our grandfatherly, Dumbledore-ish headmaster, has wrought for his people.
“Man, what an awesome country! Just by being a magician, you get the royal treatment!” -Sphintus Carmen
“Don’t you think they’re fawning over magicians too much?” -Aladdin
Of course, in this statement, therein lies the problem. Magnostadt’s exclusivity and the price that the country pays for it.
Two things that are important to highlight before taking a closer look behind the darkness behind Mogamett’s magical utopia. Unsurprisingly, these things our intrepid magi picks up rather quickly:
1) Magnostadt relies entirely on magic for daily functioning. Magic is also the reason why there is no need for slavery.
2) Your magical standing (or lack of) determines your social ranking in Magnostadt.
What’s particularly appealing about this system is its reliance on meritocratic principles. It doesn’t matter what kind of background you’ve come from, as long as you have magic potential and the willingness to work towards improving your craft, you’ll rise in the ranks. It’s pretty amusing to watch Aladdin–due to his self-imposed restriction on accessing his Magi powers to keep his identity under wraps–be put through his paces and actually fail his entrance exam and to be placed in the 6th Kodor, which is essentially the class for the weakest of magicians and highest percentage of dropouts.
Why are training montages so satisfying to watch? Because they fit with a principle that we’re familiar with–work hard and you’ll advance in life as a reward. We share in Aladdin’s joy (and his fellow magician friends’ amazement) when his enhanced magical endurance propels him from the bottom of the pile to the very top.
“Check Your Privilege”: The Meritocracy of Magic
As Magnostadt originally started out as an academy, it’s not surprising to see meritocratic rules at play. At Magnostadt, a sanctuary for ostracized and lonely magicians, it’s not your lineage that determines your place, it’s the power and quality of your magic. In a world where birthright determines your social destiny in the world (as seen with the Balbadd arc), it’s a somewhat encouraging thought that through hard work and diligence at Magnostadt, aspiring magicians can make something of themselves.
Of course, Aladdin’s very nature as a Magi complicates this system. In order to hide his true identity as one of the world’s strongest magicians (having access to the world’s Rukh is pretty akin to having an endlessly rechargeable battery), Aladdin, with the help of Yamaraiha, handicaps himself by cutting himself off from the endless supply of Rukh. As we later see in Magnostadt, Aladdin is somewhat horrified (much to our amusement) that due to his lack of physical strength, his internal Rukh reserves are pitifully meager.
The training montage with Meyers-sensei might be cleverly done characterization (and fanservice), and seems comparatively “fluffy” for a Magi episode, but it serves an important purpose–of imparting a sense of fairness that comes with a meritocratic system. You have Aladdin placed in the 6th Kodor–which is essentially the “dropout” remedial class of magicians who are in danger of getting kicked out of Magnostadt because they lack the magical aptitude. And how do you fix this? Through secret techniques and tricks? No, you hustle ass (quite literally) and bunny-hop your way to success.
The camaraderie between Aladdin and the other 6th Kodor students paints a charming scene…intentionally so. We’re still in the “honeymoon” stage so to speak, and Aladdin learns from his classmates that he’s lucky in that he has friends who appreciate him for his magic. Others aren’t quite so lucky and have journeyed to Magnostadt to find a place to belong.
The Magician-Goi Divide: An eye for an eye makes the world go blind
“He [Mogamett] can’t see people who aren’t magicians as fellow human beings, can he?” – Aladdin
As par for the course with Magi, Magnostadt, while seemingly a bright and happy place for estranged magicians, comes with its dark side. We get some hints of things aren’t as well as they seem with the introduction of the district system, which segregates people geographically according to their socioeconomic standing, which surprise, surprise, is dependent on one’s usefulness and contribution to Magnostadt. Seeing how Magnostadt runs completely on magic, high powered magicians, including Aladdin and his classmates, rank pretty high and live well.
The two highest levels of citizenship privileges go to the magicians and they can pretty much go wherever they please.
Below the magicians, we have nonmagical citizens. Surprise! There are non-magicians living in Magnostadt? If you’re fortunate to be the parent of a magical child (in this case, magic isn’t something that’s directly inherited…think the equivalent of Muggleborn parents in Harry Potter), you get more privileges than parents that don’t. But not to worry, you can still live in relative comfort and safety in Magnostadt as long as you pay your taxes and abide by the rules set by your magical superiors…
What makes Magnostadt’s citizenship classification system so insidious is because how it mirrors the meritocratic system of the school itself. Those who are talented or at least work hard will do well.
But what about those who can’t pay their taxes? Or choose not to? Or just can’t?
As far as Mogamett’s concerned, nonmagical people are subhuman at best and animals at worst. While the indolent behavior of many adults living in District 5–essentially Magnostadt’s “slums” area–does not draw as much sympathy as one would like, even without moe girls like Marga to tug at our heartstrings, we recognize that there’s something disturbingly wrong with how Magnostadt’s system works. You reduce human lives to livestock–they are, quite literally, the power source that keeps Magnostadt running.
What’s great about Magi is that it keeps true to the ideals in preaches, particularly the one that reminds us that history, while it may be conveniently perceived by us as a monothematic narrative, there is never just one interpretation of it, or one side of the tale to tell. We are invited to see (along with Aladdin), Mogamett’s many sides and roles–the benevolent headmaster, the doting grandfather, the fierce protector, an embittered father, the brilliant magician, and the prejudiced ruler.
There’s a powerful episode where Mogamett uses Clairvoyance Magic to reveal to Aladdin and the students why exactly Mogamett hates goi, his term for people who are non-magicians. The tale the magic weaves is one of great pain. We see Mogamett start off as an earnest, optimistic magician who only wants to do good for the world, to use his magic to help ease the suffering of the ordinary folk.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” –Corinthians 13: 4-7
A beautiful (and very famous) passage from the Bible, Corinthians 131-13 describes love as not a quality or a feeling but something alive and full of action. We generally think of love as something we have–we have the love of our family and friends and they ours. Love described here is something that we don’t just have to possess–it’s something that we do. Real love is something that we have to work at because it’s not enough to just love something or someone once–you have to keep doing it.
What makes Mogamett such a delightful character is how he dances with paradox and hypocrisy. He loves and wants to protect young magicians from political machinations but doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty against goi. He loves kids but also kicks them (quite literally) to the curb if they’re not magicians. He’s kind but also very cruel. He’s open-minded and harmonious but also set in his ways. He wants to create a sanctuary where the majority achieve happiness but also condemns two-thirds of the population to an meaningless, empty lifestyle that only fulfills material wants. He preaches equality but instills a social system that ranks people according to their contribution to society.
Mogamett’s love, at least according to Corinthians, is not a true kind of love. It is an exclusive love, ultimately one of self-love, borne of sorrow and hatred. Mogamett loves magicians because he sees himself in them–that they are persecuted (like him), that they are purely knowledge-seeking and inherently “selfless” (like him), and that they seek a means of justifying their ill-fated destiny to work in the shadows, forever unacknowledged (like him). Anyone else who isn’t a magician is not only unworthy of Mogamett’s love, but of his complete regard as a human being. A horrified Aladdin and the students are treated to a scene of beastly kings transformed into “beasts” through Mogamett’s eyes and Aladdin has a chilling revelation later when Mogamett refers to the sweet Marga as an “it” rather than a “she”.
“So, Titus wanted one of these, eh? I’m so glad he likes it.” – Mogamett
Mogamett is actually incapable of seeing non-magicians as human beings. In his eyes, they are at best, cute pets to give out moments of indulgence to his favorite magicians, and at worst, grotesque monsters that must be contained or eliminated.
“You would make a fine King, Headmaster. A king that rules only over magicians.” – Aladdin to Mogamett
What’s so scary about Mogamett is that he genuinely believes that he’s doing the right thing. As Magi shows, people aren’t inherently bad–they start off with good intentions, not realizing when those intentions have been warped into something far different from what they originally were. All Mogamett wanted was to help create a society where people could be happy and safe–and he still holds true to that goal. The only thing that’s changed is the kind of people he wishes to protect.
We can never see eye to eye with the goi. I once thought we could, but people’s hearts change. It’s impossible for them to be on equal terms with others so far apart in what they’re given. One side will try to drag the other down to its level, transforming along the way into the ugliest of souls…
In a twisted way, Mogamett, as Aladdin scathingly observes, makes a “good” King. For magicians, at least. I mean, you have to respect the guy a little for willing to risk open war with Reim in order to protect Titus from returning to Scheherazade. Mogamett will move heaven and earth–or, knowingly fall in depravity–to protect the magicians and the country he holds most dearly. He sees himself as a Knight Templar, that guy that everyone might hate for making tough decisions but the guy who does so because he wants to save people, at any cost.
Mogamett however is blinded by his self-righteousness. He is so caught up in his bitterness that he can’t see that the very flaws that he accuses the goi of having are the very ones that are hampering his ability to reason. Having magic certainly gives you a different perspective of the world and gives you powers that no one else would have, but magic doesn’t guarantee moral character. Though Mogamett argues that magicians are ultimately “pure of heart”, seeking knowledge rather than material wealth, and that magicians have proven themselves of sterner moral stuff simply by virtue of the fact that they’ve never been placed in leadership or kingship roles, it’s an argument that falls apart easily when you realize that Mogamett himself has done it. He might be school headmaster, but he has the full authoritative powers of a monarch. He is as Aladdin proclaims, “a King of magicians” in all but name.
Aladdin’s Judgment: Condemning Monarchy?
“I don’t believe you’re fit to be the king of the world, Headmaster. But I also know that the magicians of this country are people who are living their lives with all their might. If you put your heads together, you should be able to find a better way. Magnostadt can’t become one with the world as long as everyone’s hearts are consumed by hatred.” -Aladdin
As a Magi, Aladdin has the power of picking worthy king candidates. He unknowingly selects Alibaba, recognizing his friend’s empathy, courage and dedication to the welfare of his people. Here, as Aladdin comes full into his power as a Magi, thanks to his training, passes judgment deliberately. Mogamett is unworthy of being king for a variety of reasons, many which link back to his hatred and prejudiced towards non-magicians. Obviously, a good king looks after the welfare of all of his country’s people, not just a selected elite.
Though Aladdin doesn’t explicitly mention it, I can’t help but wonder whether or not his words give us any insight into his thoughts on the matter of kings and the monarchical system as a whole. He doesn’t hate kings (hatred would be against his nature), but he doesn’t trust kings, especially if they’re powerful. Despite affectionately referring to Sinbad as “Uncle Sinbad”, Aladdin maintains an unusual degree of caution around him. Likewise, he is doubly cautious around Mogamett, who he sees as a king hiding in the robes of a teacher.
One might dismiss Aladdin’s caution as just part of his quirky clear-sightedness, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that it also betrays Aladdin’s own prejudices towards kings, especially ones that he sees as exerting “too much” power or influence. Mogamett attempts to recruit Aladdin into his war efforts from the shadows. Aladdin gives his reply in full public view, projecting his message through magic, his words not just for the ears of a few or an elite, but for everyone to hear. He frames the war and its causes not in terms of Mogamett’s doings, but in terms of the people of Magnostadt’s actions. Societal classes aside, everyone is trying to live in their own way and as such, has a say in what happens to their home. It is not Mogamett alone who must make the calls; it is the people, everyone, as a collective, to combine their efforts to think of a solution. This proposal is antithetical to the monarchical ideal, where a single individual makes all of the people’s choices.
“Why did I ever think that I could live life correctly, more than anyone else?” -Mogamett
Mogamett’s story, like all villains so far in Magi, is a tragedy resulting from an inability to move past hatred. Looking at Mogamett’s history, we see so much potential, so bright a future, in the magician who just wanted to help people. Had Mogamett worked with kings who were actually decent, he would have turned out to become a very different person. He might have even gone on to become a good king.
But the world is unfair. Some are born rich, others in abject poverty. Some with magic, and some without. In the end, Magnostadt and Mogamett put magic on a pedestal, fanatically revering it above all else, including human decency. Having magic does not make one more moral. Regardless of social status, education, or ability, we are subject to the same vulnerabilities of fear, doubts and hatred. As the Magnostadt arc shows us, everyone from kings to magicians can fall to cruelty and depravity, and do despicable deeds. Against institutionalized systems of cruelty, how can a single individual hope to win? Mogamett’s failure proves that the efforts of a single person isn’t enough. Only a collective, concerted effort of compassion can hope to triumph against such darkness. If such a group of enlightened, empathetic people should exist, if understanding is maintained despite differences, is the presence of a king really necessary?