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"Negima!? Season 2 Part 1" Casts a Spell on Me

by on January 12, 2009

Negima!? is actually the second adaptation of a long-running Ken Akamatsu manga. First was the 2005 Xebec version, of which I only saw the first four episodes. It was all right, but it didn’t exactly leave me clamoring for more. Then came this 2006 version, done by GANSIS and SHAFT, the people behind Moon Phase and Paniponi Dash. Having not read the manga, I can’t say how faithful it is to the source material, but I will say it’s enjoyable, despite its downsides.

Negima!? is one of those shows where the main character has a secret. In this case, it’s that ten-year-old teacher Negi is secretly a wizard. Asuna, a spunky tsundere in his class, is the first to discover this, so he gives her special powers by kissing her. This starts the “provisional contract”, which allows Asuna to transform clothes, become powerful, and help him fight a vampire that’s terrorizing the campus (as well as fellow students under mind control). However, which fighting outfit Asuna will end up in is a matter of chance, as there’s always the possibility of drawing a “dud card”, putting her in a useless animal costume not conducive to battle.

One by one, other classmates discover Negi’s secret, and his roster of fighters arrayed against the dark forces continually expands. However, one condition is that nobody can witness the magic-granting kiss, or Negi will transform into a chupacabra. Eventually this happens, setting into motion a story arc in episode 12 where the girls search for a way to revert him back to human form.

… Wait a minute. If Negi can’t let anyone see him make a provisional contract, why wasn’t he turned into a chupacabra many times before when other girls were watching the kisses occur? And why was it necessary that his wizardry be kept a secret in the first place? And what makes a mouth kiss different enough from a kiss elsewhere that it would grant powers? Perhaps I’m misinterpreting the series’ rules, but a lot of it seems contrived. No matter. Trying to make sense of Negima!? is pointless. It’s best to just accept it all and go along for the ride.

Unfortunately, the ride is in a vehicle that is too many characters over capacity. With 30-some students in Negi’s class and only 26 episodes to work with, clearly not everyone is going to be developed. I have a hard time even remembering many of the less-developed students’ names, which is a problem. Obviously the large amount of students was present in the manga as well, so it’s a complaint I have to lodge against the franchise in general, not just the anime. That said, having not read the manga, I can’t say whether some characters get more of a spotlight there than they do here.

Luckily, the show’s humor often succeeds. Asuna in particular is a pretty amusing character; from her hair contorting into all sorts of shapes to accentuate her mood (seriously, that thing’s alive), to unknowingly screwing up catchphrases for comic effect, to a scene where she literally throws a whole boat at the enemy, I always enjoy watching her. There’s also a recurring sentai parody (Baka Rangers) that isn’t particularly groundbreaking but is funny in the sense that one of the characters’ lines keep getting abruptly cut off. There’s a club in school that’s dedicated to seeking out chupacabras (despite not having a clue what they look like), and that is also fun, especially when everyone thinks Asuna’s club t-shirt design is ugly. The only types of joke I’m not a fan of are the ever-changing chalkboard gags, similar to the earlier Paniponi Dash. Many of them, I suspect, are references only Japanese would get. And when you have to have a joke explained to you, it just isn’t funny.

Negima!? also has a great art style. Director Akiyuki Shinbo does a fine job at making creative camera angles, a good number of inbetweens, and some cartoony squash and stretch when appropriate. The variety of palettes and hues make for backgrounds that are colorful but not garish. All the students have a unique and cute look, despite all sharing the same type of uniform. The large number of parodies (such as a Street Fighter 2 reference in episode 6) keep things visually fresh. And the multitude of eyecatches, more than the usual one or two at commercial breaks, is also a highlight. Oh yeah, and the second end credits sequence (showcasing super deformed versions of the characters with pom-poms) is just adorable, and the song to go along with it is cute without being gag-inducing.

My feelings on the dub are still mixed. I’ve gotten used to the British accent that Greg Ayres gives Negi, but I’m still not crazy about it. Perhaps the biggest annoyance is a frog-like character named Motsu, who ends many of his sentences with “…in a good way”. This isn’t a dub-specific thing, so it’s not fair to blame it on the dub script, but it’s quite annoying. I wouldn’t have cried if they’d excised this catchphrase, even if it meant a less faithful translation.

As this is yet another FUNi set with 13 episodes on two discs, the video quality could’ve been subpar. But for the most part, I was pleased. It wasn’t 100% crystal clear, but I’ve seen worse from them, and it’s important to remember that Negima!?‘s a rather soft-edged show to begin with. Special features on the 2-disc set include a commentary by Jamie Marchi (who doubles as ADR Director while taking the role of Haruna) and Greg Ayres (Negi). If you listened to the commentary on the Spring/Summer OAVs, you know what to expect: It’s a breezy piece where they mostly chat about what’s on screen. It’s not terribly substantial, but because they’re enjoying themselves, it’s agreeable to listen to. There are also quite a few cultural notes (sadly, not of the AD VidNotes pop-up variety), clean opens/closes, and FUNi trailers.

Negima!? is a good mix of serious and silly. While it could’ve stood to lose a few of the superfluous classmates, those that get more focus are memorable and enjoyable. And it’s a very pleasing show to look at. Finally, for those who dislike fanservice, you’ll be happy to know this series has very little of it, which is in direct contrast to the Spring/Summer OAVs and the earlier Xebec series. If all of this sounds appealing, you can’t go wrong with Negima!?.

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