The Sound of Magic has all the right elements, or at least most of them, but there’s just a little spark of magic missing that prevents the illusion from really lingering in the memory.
This review of The Sound of Magic Season 1 is spoiler-free.
The Sound of Magic was one of the more eagerly awaited k-dramas in a global media culture that has now recognized their quality and value, so that’s really saying something. But it’s not surprising. From its webtoon source material to its blending of fan-friendly genres and elements, this hodgepodge of teen drama, musical, fantasy, murder mystery, and romance ticks all the boxes. But is it any good?
On a technical level, sure. It has lovely visuals, solid performances, impressive song-and-dance numbers, and oodles of charm. For some reason, the word I keep coming back to is “nice”. This is a nice show in the sense that it’s warm and comforting, if a little unchallenging, and it’s rare these days that mainstream media has that quality (although I suppose Heartstopper was another recent example.) But it also feels perhaps a little too nice to really make as much of an impact as it might like, treading a lot of safe and familiar water in sometimes pretty but largely uninteresting ways.
The premise revolves around a disillusioned teenager meeting a so-called “magician” who brings plenty of magic into a life built on the hardships of reality. Ah-yi makes for a compelling protagonist. With her absentee father trying to outrun loan sharks, she’s trying to take care of her younger sister alone, and the two of them are struggling to get by. She works a part-time job for next to nothing, goes to school in laddered tights with bloody knees, and doesn’t want anything that she hasn’t earned herself. But opportunities are few and far between, especially with the class bully Ha-na doing everything she can to torment Ah-yi, and no easy way out of the kind of poverty she’s trapped in.
There are some upsides in Ah-yi’s life, at least. The school’s top student, Il-deong, takes something of a shine to her, and not just because she outperforms him in maths (something he finds comically inexplicable). And of course, she meets the magician, around whom rumors swirl of insanity and sleight-of-hand that is really just the torture and murder of his assistants – those he makes disappear never reappear, apparently, and those he “cuts in half” really do end up in two bits.
I’m not sure all these plot elements necessarily coalesce in the neatest way. The Sound of Magic has six episodes, and while they’re long, it sometimes feels like 10 or 12 would have better served the show’s ambition. But that wouldn’t have fixed some of the problems with the show’s execution, perhaps most of all its relative humourlessness and lack of real edge. That having been said, though, the element I expected to dislike the most I actually rather enjoyed – the song-and-dance routines are really quite well put-together, and while you can sometimes feel the episodes straining to include them, they’re worth the price of admission.
Any upsides, though, are hampered a little by a weak script that is too rife with played-out elements and easy, hand-wavey resolutions. I kept admiring the performances and the staging while being simultaneously frustrated by how much obvious heavy lifting they were doing. That’s the real magic trick here, it seems, and hopefully, for some, it’ll be more than enough to justify a binge-watch. But for others, and I sadly have to count myself among them, there just isn’t enough magic here to really capture the imagination of a viewer who has seen these types of stories play out time and time again.