The Sound of Magic: Episode 1 (First Impressions)
Disillusioned by the harsh reality of life, a young girl living in poverty learns to find hope again when a chance encounter leads her to a mysterious magician with an arsenal of whimsical tricks up his sleeve.
Editor’s note: Coverage will continue with a second comprehensive review, so please refrain from discussing any plot points beyond Episode 1 in this post.
EPISODE 1 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Based on the webtoon Annarasumanara by Ha Il-kwon, The Sound of Magic tells the story of Yoon Ah-yi, a high-school student living hand-to-mouth with her younger sister and working a part-time job after school to make ends meet. She’s weary and worn down by the debts left behind by her absent father, and she’s long since stopped believing in magic — so when the mysterious magician Ri-eul appears in front of her, he quite literally turns her life around.
I’ll admit my expectations were sky-high going into this show, because Annarasumanara was the first webtoon I ever read. I was in middle school then, struggling not to crumble under all the expectations I carried on my shoulders, and I remember identifying with Ah-yi’s struggles — not the poverty, thankfully, but the exhausting daily grind and the nostalgia for a carefree childhood long since out of reach.
Annarasumanara taught me how to notice the little hopeful joys in life, and gave me the courage to continue pursuing my dreams; I remember being moved to the point of tears several times while reading. I loved its metaphors, simultaneously realistic and dream-like, and how vividly the webtoon portrayed them. As such, I was equal parts excited for this adaptation and nervous that it wouldn’t live up to the magic of the original.
Well, by the end of the first episode, I was caught in a dilemma — I couldn’t wait to continue watching the next episode, but I also wanted to rewatch the one I just finished! I suppose that speaks for itself just how much I enjoyed the first episode, so without further ado, let’s step into this magical adventure.
The Sound of Magic opens with a whispered rumor about the handsome magician that lives in the abandoned amusement park on the hill. Supposedly, he actually sawed someone in half for a trick, and the person he made vanish actually went missing for real — or at least, that’s what BAEK HA-NA (Ji Hye-won) tells her disbelieving classmates.
Before starting any trick, the magician always utters the same words: “Do you believe in magic?” And just as Ha-na says the words, so does the magician, and all of a sudden the students are breaking out into synchronized song and dance.
It’s a surreal and charming start to this tale, perfectly setting the mood for the rest of the drama. I was initially worried that the musical numbers might turn out cheesy, but the actors really sell it and the choreography is smooth and entertaining.
Reality, however, is a different story, and our protagonist YOON AH-YI (Choi Sung-eun) experiences that for herself when she bumps into a classmate while running to class. The impact sends her sprawling onto the stairs, scraping her knee and tearing a hole in her stockings.
Ah-yi’s day doesn’t get any better from there, and we see just how much she’s struggling to save money. During lunch, she takes extra pork cutlets to secretly pack in her lunchbox, and at her part-time convenience store job, she’s tempted by a half-eaten burger someone left behind.
Later, Ah-yi receives her wage for the day, but while walking home, a gust of wind suddenly rips the bill from her grasp. She chases it down the streets, all while it flutters further away. In a neat bit of editing, the road she’s running on morphs into the bill she’s running after, as if reflecting how her life’s path is both constrained and defined by money itself.
She ends up at the abandoned amusement park, where the bill flies up into a person’s hand. Shrouded in shadows, the cloaked man asks ominously: Do you believe in magic?
Naturally, that sends Ah-yi screaming and running all the way back home. She’s greeted by her precocious younger sister YOO-YI (Hong Jung-min), who reassures Ah-yi that she doesn’t need dinner because she ate three servings of her school lunch. Aw, she’s adorable, and so mature for her age.
Having lost her wages, Ah-yi has no choice but to attend school the next day in the same pair of torn stockings. That leads Ha-na to play a mean-spirited prank on her by dropping a fifty-thousand won bill near Ah-yi’s desk, pretending to have lost it, and pointedly commenting in front of Ah-yi that she’ll just think of it as helping someone pitiful out. Ugh, the nerve of this girl.
Ah-yi’s clearly tormented by her own unethical behavior, and her inner monologue is heartbreaking:
“It was on the ground. I just picked it up; I didn’t steal it. This money is not dirty. I am. It’s easier if I think of it like that.”
That night, Ah-yi returns to the abandoned amusement park to find her lost money, and the mysterious man from before appears yet again. He doesn’t tell her his name, but we’ll come to know him as RI-EUL (Ji Chang-wook). With a flourish, he thanks Ah-yi for accepting the invitation card he’d left behind, but she says she threw it away the moment she found it, ha.
She asks him to give her money back, and he takes it out, only to run his hand over it and turn it into a blank piece of paper. Ah-yi isn’t amused, and she tells him to stop with his childish jokes. Ri-eul isn’t deterred, and with the word annarasumanara (the Korean equivalent of abracadabra), he not only transforms the piece of paper back into a bill, he multiplies it into two and offers both to her.
Still feeling guilty over her earlier actions, Ah-yi insists that she’s not the type of person who would thoughtlessly take others’ money, though it sounds more like she’s trying to convince herself and not the magician. She takes just one bill, then turns to leave.
Before she does, though, he bends down to tie her undone shoelace for her, then gently brushes her hair out of her eyes so she doesn’t trip and fall again. Conjuring bubbles out of thin air, he compares them to the holes in her stockings, calling them cool. Aww.
Remember the classmate who bumped into Ah-yi earlier? That’s NA IL-DEUNG (Hwang In-yub), whose name literally means “I’m first place.” He certainly lives up to his name, since he’s first place in the entire school and across all subjects — except for math, which Ah-yi beats him in.
Of course, Mr. First Place can’t take that lying down, so he asks her which math academy she attends…because of course she can’t be better than him, but perhaps her math tutor is better than his. Gosh, the arrogance!
Il-deung isn’t all bad, though, and he’s intrigued by — and adorably, a little smitten with — Ah-yi. He gets all flustered when she catches him staring, then shoves his math problems at her to solve, ha.
Ah-yi doesn’t have the time to think about romance, though. Her father’s on the run from his creditors, and she’s way behind on her rent — enough to make her ask her boss for advance pay. He’s understanding about her circumstances, kindly offering her 300,000 won in advance, and Ah-yi’s so moved that she resolves to persevere and grow into an adult like him.
That is, until he steps closer and begins feeling her up. Panicking, Ah-yi instinctively pushes him off her, desperately wishing for someone to come and help her…
Heeding her call, Ri-eul appears, yanking the disgusting man away and making him vanish with a sweep of his coat. Whoa, that was cool.
Ah-yi’s grateful, but still disbelieving of his magic; the next night, she returns to the amusement park to thank him, but also to advise him to get a proper job instead of playacting as a magician. Ri-eul insists that his magic is real, which pushes an exasperated Ah-yi to the point of tears.
She blurts out that she hates immature people like him who blindly believe in magic and have no worries or sense of responsibility. People like her father, who recklessly chased after his dream of starting a toy company, are really pathetic — meanwhile, she’s left behind, struggling to make it through each day.
Calmly, Ri-eul asks her if she believes in magic, and she yells that she doesn’t, her tears spilling over. She stalks off, and Ri-eul utters the magic words — annarasumanara. A butterfly flutters forth, lighting up the amusement park rides in its path. Ah-yi gasps in surprise, and Ri-eul begins to sing as the amusement park comes to life behind him.
He leads her to a ferris wheel ride, reminding her of her carefree childhood and encouraging her to keep her head held high. Colorful fireworks illuminate the night sky, and it’s so heartwarming to see the spark return to Ah-yi’s eyes as the spectacle unfolds before her.
At the end of his magical performance, Ri-eul places his top hat atop an awestruck Ah-yi’s head. Calling his show “magic that makes you believe in magic again,” he asks her if it was successful, and Ah-yi responds in voiceover that it was so vivid and beautiful that she couldn’t answer no.
Is this person in front of me really a magician? Ah-yi thinks to herself, eyes brimming with hope for the first time in a long while, and it’s clear she wishes for the answer to be yes.
With that, the first episode draws to a close, leaving me equally as enraptured as Ah-yi. While the character archetypes are ones we’ve definitely seen before, the webtoon was originally written back in 2011, so it’s pretty impressive that its storylines still hold up over a decade later. There’s something universal about losing sight of one’s dreams amidst the struggle to stay afloat in a harsh reality, and I think the drama does a good job of grounding itself beneath all the surreality.
I liked that the show made a clear effort to remain faithful to the webtoon, such as the scene of Ah-yi running on the money bill, as well as the overall plot progression. Too often, we see drama adaptations make significant alterations in an attempt to improve the storyline or distinguish itself, only to end up doing the exact opposite. I’m glad that The Sound of Magic trusted its source material enough to convey it just as it was. Or well, at least so far — I hope I’m not jinxing it!
In addition, the minor changes that were made served to elevate the story, such as the rearranging of certain events. For example, the whole bill fiasco with Ha-na happening before Ah-yi went to get her money back from Ri-eul made Ah-yi’s choice to take only her single original bill back all the more poignant. (In the webtoon, she meets Ri-eul first, and takes both bills — amusing and relatable, but a lot less heartfelt.)
To be honest, I’m not quite sure if Ji Chang-wook fits the role just yet. He seems to be leaning a little too far into Ri-eul’s enigmatic aura, making him come off a little creepier than I think he’s intended to be. Webtoon Ri-eul has more of a boyish charm that comes off somewhat affected on Ji Chang-wook, with some of his delivery feeling a little stilted, rather than airy and carefree.
One moment I liked, though, was the moment when he said annarasumanara to Ah-yi’s exploitative boss; he had a playful glint in his eye for the first half of the word, which then morphed into a hard glare as he flung his cloak over the man. I thought the shift in his gaze was really well done, so I’ll have to see if Ji Chang-wook’s portrayal of Ri-eul grows on me, since I do think he has the potential to put his own charming spin on the character.
Similarly, Hwang In-yub’s interpretation of Na Il-deung left me wanting more; compared to webtoon Il-deung, he’s less arrogant, and less obviously flustered by Ah-yi, which causes him to fall a little flat overall. Though I do appreciate that Il-deung is less obnoxious here, haha!
It seems like the drama may be setting him up to be more likable to the viewers, which may be a good thing — I remember disliking webtoon Il-deung for a good while at first, oops. Hwang In-yub seems to be portraying him with more restraint, making his awkwardness quite endearing.
Of course, the star of the show here is Choi Sung-eun, and I absolutely love her portrayal of Ah-yi. Choi Sung-eun brings her inner turmoil to life in a way that’s full of pathos and utterly sympathetic, adding more dimension to the character and tugging at my heartstrings. I like that her Ah-yi is withdrawn, but not meek; downtrodden, but not helpless.
There’s a quiet fortitude to Ah-yi that keeps her going through the hard times, and that means Ri-eul isn’t giving her the strength she needs, he’s simply helping her find the courage she already has buried deep within. Just like Ah-yi’s name literally means “child,” she may have been forced to grow up too fast, but she’ll slowly rediscover her childlike sense of wonder through Ri-eul’s magic.
All in all, I thought this was a beautifully captivating premiere, weaving in threads of hope into an otherwise bleak tale. It definitely did justice to the original webtoon, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of our trio’s journey unfolds.