The animation quality is quite good. The show only falls back on still frames a handful of times. For the rest of the show, things keep moving smoothly and fluidly. That's quite necessary in a show full of flashy magic powers and spells. Well, the show doesn't go overboard, but things glow and sparkle sufficiently magically when needed. Actually, the demons in the show could be a bit more demonic, and Itsuki's special power could be a little more impressive looking, but overall, the magic idea gets across.
Rental Magica follows the story of Itsuki Iba, president of the magic users for hire company called Astral. Astral, however, isn't the highest ranking of all magic groups, and Itsuki's pushover nature doesn't exactly help lead the group to fame and fortune. Itsuki does have a trick up his sleeve in the form of a magical eye, the purpose and origin of which is unclear at first. What is clear is that all the other members of the group seem pretty worried when Itsuki does finally work up the courage to take off his eyepatch and use his eye. And their worries aren't unfounded, as he tends to spend much of his time in the hospital afterwards. At first, it seems like the eye just gives him the power of being really, really specific, as when he takes his patch off, he just starts spouting commands to the other members like "52 degrees rightward, 31 degrees leftward, fire missles!" It's pretty hokey, but when you get past that, his eye does actually have some interesting secrets.
As the mysteries around his eye unfold, so do the relationships between the members of Astral. There are different schools of magic in this world, and Astral's star member, Honami, is a powerful witch of the school of Celtic magic. Ren and Mikan round out the group as members from the Japanese Shinto school of magic. And no struggling magic group would be complete without a rival group. Adilisia of the Goetia magic group seems to always be there to sweep a contract from under their feet, or at least to try.
Rental Magica covers all sorts of magical lore, which can make it one of those shows that a fantasy fan will love just for the sake of learning something new about the field. Ley lines, homunculus, demons, ghosts, and good old magic: pretty much everthing you can think of in the supernatural world shows up in this series. One thing that is interesting to note is that all sorts of Eastern and Western concepts of magic live together in this series. Sometimes it proves to be an interesting plot device. For example, Honami, with her Celtic magic, can't cross into the sacred areas of a Shinto shrine, lest her power grow weaker. Of course, these "rules" are sometimes made up, so it can give the feeling that the show just makes up everything as it goes. But if you want some interesting facts (as much as they can be facts) about the magic and lore of the series, this DVD pack comes with an information packed book. It goes into great detail about things in the series like the magic of King Solomon (which in the show itself isn't discussed completely in depth) and many other mystical areas of interest. It really does read like an encyclopedia of magic, and is a great bonus to the series. It also contains interviews with the director and other commentary from the creators.
Rental Magica will not please fantasy fans who like any sort of continuity or explanation in their stories. I'll give you just a couple examples. One mission involved Astral being hired to retrieve a Basilisk eye. When the group finds the Basilisk, they find it already chained, and pinned down with several magical spears. No one seems to question why, or even breathe a sigh of relief that at least half the fight had been taken care of for them. Another silly example is when Itsuki must negotiate for his inheritance. The negotiation takes place on an airship, and Itsuki is told to only choose one witness to come up with him because of weight restrictions. However, when they get on board, they're seated in one booth among a long row of empty seats! Was the airship secretly carrying a ton of lead?
So Rental Magica may not be groundbreaking in any way, but it is a nice anime to pass the time. It's slow to grab a hold of you, mainly because anime fans will have seen just about all of this before, but it can grab your interest eventually. The included guide book is a great bonus, even if there aren't really any great special features on the discs themselves (previews, clean openings, etc.) The lack of English audio is also surprising, but a lot of fans of anime won't consider this a huge drawback. Give it a chance and you've got a nice popcorn series here, with potential to get more interesting in the next season.