In a few weeks, the Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto sequel of sorts starts airing (although with a completely different cast) and that reminded me that I'd started watching the original series that aired in '03, only to drop it a couple episodes in. I don't remember why I dropped it, but on giving it a second chance I ended up marathoning it, and was pleasantly surprised that it was much better than I remembered. Maybe my tastes have changed or I was just watching too many other series at once when I watched it before, but on second viewing the story, characters, and atmosphere pulled me in, and I think it's worth checking out. It was licensed in North America by now-defunct Geneon so the DVDs may be out of stock some places, but Netflix has it, and if you can't get Netflix it's up on Veoh as well. Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto translates to "what's important to a mage", but the English subtitle is "Someday's Dreamers", which is what the DVDs in region 1 were released under.
The story focuses on a high-school age girl, Kikuchi Yume, who is moving from the countryside to Tokyo for her magic training. She has an idealistic view of what it's like to become a mage and help people, but as her training progresses she finds herself grappling with the realization magic can't always fix everything and doubting whether or not she can pass her certification exam to become a mage. There's a solid supporting cast as well, from her teacher Masami, whose tragic past haunts him and keeps him from moving forward in life, Milinda, who works at the salsa bar Masami runs and has a crush on him, Kare, who also works at the bar and grew up in an orphanage, Angela, a fellow mage-in-training in the Nagato Yuki mould, and an elementary school student who loves traditional Japanese comedy.
The world the series is set in has a pretty realistic view of what the world would be like if there were some people born with the ability to use magic but the majority of humanity couldn't--there are strict rules on when magic can be used, and all requests to use magic are routed through a government agency. Becoming a licensed mage who's able to respond to requests processed by that agency requires training under a more experienced mage/teacher and then passing a certification exam.
The atmosphere of the series is done really well, with JC Staff doing a solid job both on the animation and on the background music (although I hated the OP and ED). The setting is based on real-life locations in Tokyo, and if you've ever been to Japan the feeling of the area Yume lives in will probably make you nostalgic for it. Atmosphere is one of those qualities that's hard to define, and requires the right backgrounds, music, pacing, and so on to pull off well, but I think JC Staff nails it right on the head here. The animation when magic is used in particular is very well done, with each character having a distinct animal or object that represents their magic, somewhat like the 'patronus' in the Harry Potter series. The character designs aren't bad either, no rainbow of bright hair colors like in Shuffle, they're more subdued and true-to-life, but each character is distinct enough and easily recognizable. Yume has not one, but three hairs sticking straight up off her head, which you'd think would be enough to make her wear a baseball cap or buy some gel or something to keep those suckers down, but although it looked odd at first I got used to it pretty quickly.
Not to spoil things too much, but while at first the series seems like it will just be episodic, towards the end the plot does go more into motion, with Masami's and Yume's characters in particular getting a lot of growth and development. Don't expect much on the romance front though--if I had to pick my biggest complaint with the series it'd be that it leaves that pretty much completely unresolved, which is a shame, but this was still a solid series and it ended on a good note.
Overall, I'd probably rate this a "B" title--I can't picture it being something I'd buy on DVD and watch over and over, but having said that I'm still glad that I finally watched it since it has a likeable cast and a good message. And at just 12 episodes, it's really not hard to marathon either. It badly needs a short nickname though, as long as the title is...
I think Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto ~Natsu no Sora~, the sequel of sorts with a new cast, could surpass the original based on what I've seen of the manga--I posted a summary of what I've read of the manga at AnimeSuki in this post. It manages to pull off an even longer name than the original, which probably sets some kind of record for longest name in an anime series, but it looks to have an interesting cast and more romance elements to it than the original, which could make it a winner. It starts airing July 2nd, definitely looking forward to the summer season more and more now.