Netflix’s latest original Korean drama The Sound of Magic (안나라수마나라 / Annarasumanara) is quite the unexpected adventure. On the surface it is a whimsical musical fantasy. But it is when it manages to dive deeper into the characters and speak of the world at large that it is at its most captivating. With a talented cast led by Ji Chang Wook, Choi Sung Eun and Hwang In Yeop, The Sound of Magic is indeed a magical, emotional and meaningful series.
The series first introduces us to poor high school student Yoo Ah Yi (Choi Seung Eun) who must work part-time jobs in order to support her younger sister with whom she lives alone with. Bearing this responsibility while having to navigate the pressures of school and society make Ah Yi want to become an adult sooner rather than later in order to escape these struggles. That is until she meets the Lee Eul, a mysterious man who lives in an abandoned amusement park and calls himself a magician.
Though Lee Eul does things that seemingly seem extraordinary, Ah Yi struggles to believe in such things when her life is a harsh reality on its own. But after a while, she and classroom seatmate, top student Na Il Deung (Hwang In Yeop), slowly begin to appreciate the value of Lee Eul’s fantastical escapes and insistence that his magic is real. Even while both have the real world pressures and burdens increasingly weigh heavy on them.
The Sound of Magic is at its core a story about being able to find hope and a bright light in the midst of darkness and struggle. Especially in relation to mental health, which sadly maintains a stigma that permeates through Korean everyday life.
Through the series’ legitimately magical musical interludes and fantastical sequences, deeper and more serious topics are touched upon. The series treads some familiar K-drama themes about the harsh realities of Korean life. But the fantasy and music add just enough bit of whimsy to offer a different, yet still engaging and refreshing approach to the important topics.
In that sense, the series draws some vague similarities to the tvN series It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. It similarly tackled issues about mental health through an accessible, fairy tale-like story.
The Sound of Magic uses fantasy and music while sprinkling in more familiar themes like high school, coming of age angst, an ominous mystery and a character-focused narrative that gives the serious topics the right amount of sincerity and care. The musical numbers never feel out of place and instead come at just the right moments to put a sort of period on specific moments throughout the six episode series.
Like Lee Eul gives Ah Yi and Il Deung the opportunity for escape and a bit more freedom from their difficult lives, so does the series itself. Especially when the layers of Lee Eul’s own story are carefully peeled back. Being able to leap into this world that Lee Eul welcomes Ah Yi and Il Deung into, the magic and the mystery provide for an engaging backdrop to each of their own characters’ emotional journeys and growth.
The series manages to fit quite a bit into the six episodes while still leaving a lot of that mystery intact through the end. Fitting for a series of charming fantasy.
The Sound of Magic fully revolves around our three main characters. And Ji Chang Wook, Choi Sung Eun and Hwang In Yeop do all the heavy lifting as they lead a reasonably large supporting cast who are supporting in the most truest sense of the word.
Choi Sung Eun, in her first lead drama role, does a good job of being our entry point into the story. Her performance allows us to quickly understand and empathize with her character’s situation. And that is very important to being able to later introduce Lee Eul and the magical world he allows her to escape into. Having to balance the skepticism with the eagerness to escape alongside the typical high school angst, Choi Sung Eun delivers a solid and convincing performance.
Hwang In Yeop has quickly impressed with such roles on 18 Again and his breakout role on True Beauty. He too immediately endears as Na Il Deung here, especially when the series also delves deeper into his own story as well. His youthful charm and charisma are put to perfect use as he delivers a dependable and later emotionally captivating performance.
Ji Chang Wook, meanwhile, has probably done it all with his Korean drama performances. All except singing that is. Having become an accomplished musical actor on stage as well, Ji Chang Wook gets the opportunity to show off his vocal talent here too. But aside from his vocals and dancing gliding across the creative scenes, Ji Chang Wook draws upon his years of experience to deliver this captivating and nuanced performance.
It takes all six episodes for us, the viewer, to truly understand Lee Eul. And that’s even before all the pieces are laid out for us towards the end. But Ji Chang Wook’s performance allows us to come along for the ride. Again, inviting the viewer to escape to this world he has created just as much as Lee Eul does for Ah Yi and Il Deung.
Ultimately, The Sound of Magic is a captivating and charming adventure that takes a whimsical approach to addressing and touching upon serious and persistent real-world issues, especially in South Korea. Its great cast and colorful production support the sincere, yet engaging writing. And by the end of the six episodes, you too will be left with a bit more hope and a bright light in the midst of the lonely darkness that may surround you.