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"Negima!" Complete: Not Bad, But Must Try Harder

by on February 29, 2008

With a core cast consisting of one pre-teen boy teacher and an all-girl class of thirty-one students, Negima, I could tell going in, would be a very odd experience. Fortunately, the series does not degenerate to such a level that the male-to-female ratio becomes overly tiresome. But then, neither does it make full use of the potential on offer.

Negima! chronicles the adventures of a distinctly Harry Potter-esque ten-year-old Welsh wizard, Negi Springfield, son of the legendary (and MIA) Nagi Springfield. As part of his training he is somewhat improbably assigned as a full-time teacher to an all-girls school in Japan, which is, coincidentally, the only country in the world I can think of such a scenario originating from in the first place. Once there, he gets to meet his charges, the unruly Class 2-A. One good thing about Negi being such a young character is that none of the girls instantly fall for him in a traditionally sub-romantic way. At least, not at first. Also refreshing is that Negi’s main point of contact in the class, Asuna Kagurazaka, clearly doesn’t harbor any romantic feelings for our young mage—she’s far too busy lusting after his far more mature colleague, Professor Takahata.

The series in general is fairly amusing, and most of the early episodes appropriately episodic, usually highlighting the various kinds of mischief initiated by Negi’s rowdy students. Negi himself is a refreshingly different kind of juvenile lead, one who truly takes his powers and responsibilities as seriously as any ten-year-old can. It’s also nice to see that, although having feelings towards some of his charges, he is very much uninterested in romance, simply due to being so young. In a nice role-reversal, in fact, it’s a few of his older students who harbor feelings towards him. However, there being only a few characters openly liking Negi on a romantic level leads to one of the series’ primary failings. As time goes on, it becomes clear that some characters are going to be relegated to strictly background roles, and others will only get short moments in the spotlight, and that these will usually be the ones least interested in Negi himself. The undisputed main female character, however, is Asuna, and the way that she and Negi eventually end up working together as the joint main characters of the series is quite effective, even if Asuna acts as a resolute jerk in the opening episodes.

Soon, the other important characters of Class 2-A are all introduced in turn, some of them playing important roles in subsequent episodes, but the vast majority of them remain little more than pleasant-looking set dressing. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that all the characters have very nice designs, even if some of them are at times distinguished only by the color of their hair. And if nothing else, this is Negima!‘s fundamental flaw as a series. While Negi himself repeatedly claims that all the girls in his class are special, we rarely see them get much characterization. The most notable exceptions are the completely-dedicated-to-Negi Ayaka Yukihiro, the genuinely-in-love-with-Negi Nodoka Miyazaki, the hilariously laconic Yue Ayase, and the resident vampire and part-time bad gal Evangeline, but the others are at best standard archetypes, and at worst, interchangeable ciphers. This becomes a problem when episodes focus on some of these secondary characters, because once they’re out of the spotlight, so too is any potential development they might have had, and at the same time the focus is taken off the main characters. That’s not to say the secondary characters aren’t interesting, but any potential they might have had is offset by the anthology-style nature of the show. Even the introduction of Negi’s funny sidekick ermine Chamo, while promising the amusing prospect of a perverted ferret as a main character, is a prelude to disappointment, as he isn’t in the series nearly as much as he should be. Such a set-up might have been more effective on a longer series, but with only twenty-six episodes, I don’t think Negima! had such a luxury. Thirty-one into twenty-six doesn’t fit very well.

On the other hand, the characters are intriguing enough to tempt me to investigate the longer-running manga or possibly even the alternate-universe Negima!? series, so there’s just enough characterization on show to keep things fresh, even if there should have been a lot more of it. With the first mini-arc with Evangeline, and particularly from Episode 19 onwards, the series adopts a more serious tone, and I think it improved quite a bit during these episodes, as it became decidedly more focused on a core cast of characters. The end of the series, being newly created for the show as the manga was still running, serves more as a “season finale” rather than a true ending, as quite an inordinate number of plot threads are simply left hanging.

Some other random observations: I thought it was fun to hear the opening theme change as often as it did, and to compare each one with the previous. It’s also interesting to see that, despite the 31:1 female-male ratio, there are not many fan service moments. There are a few situations, most notably the large swathes of Episode 4 that take place in the school bathhouse. Yet the series remains oddly coy at times. It leaves me wondering exactly who it was aimed at.

The animation can best be described as “rudimentary”. As mentioned before, the characters are all well designed, but the most fluid scenes are reserved for the more serious moments of action that occur every few episodes. Actually, the animation on the series’ original broadcast in Japan was reputed to be even worse, so these are the revised versions!

Funimation’s presentation of the series includes alternate angles for the opening and ending credits, along with title cards and some very interesting and welcome liner notes that put various Japan-centric elements of the episodes in context, something I can’t get enough of, and something many more series could stand to include. I reviewed the boxset, and the DVDs themselves are identical to the individual volumes, complete with all the original extras, including the occasional commentary by some of the dub cast. Speaking of whom, all the voice actors on both English and Japanese tracks are done well and are appropriate for their respective characters. Special mention should go to Greg Ayres, who played Negi in English, as he not only managed to sound like a child for 26 episodes, but also had a pretty passable English accent. I know Negi’s Welsh, but I also know that not all Welshmen actually have Welsh accents!

Negima! is an enjoyable ride with many memorable characters. I wish the series had used more of those characters to their full potential and had provided a more satisfying conclusion. I’m sufficiently intrigued to want to see how Funimation handles the successor series, but Class 2-A isn’t getting any further chances after that.

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