Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 22nd 2008
Negima! Magister Negi Magi
The fate of the world hangs in the balance as time-traveling genius Chao threatens to reveal the secrets of magic at Mahora Academy. The only one who can stop her: boy wizard and teacher Negi Springfield, whose plan to catch Chao is now in full swing as Mahora students and staff engage in all-out war against Chao's massive robot army. Also helping out are the schoolgirls from Negi's class, each with their own special ability—but it is Negi alone who has the power to stand up to Chao in person. The ultimate one-on-one battle between magic and technology is about to begin...
If Negima! is still drawing comparisons to Harry Potter (and really, the similarities ended long ago), then the last couple of volumes have been the series' Battle of Hogwarts—an epic shootout where students and faculty take on the forces of a maniacal mastermind. Rather than dragging out the battle, though, Volume 17 gets straight to the point and culminates in a duel between the main hero and the main villain. The only problem with all these battles is that, with so much going on, the greatest challenge becomes fitting everything into the tight page limits. Negima! has always used a lot of busy paneling and dialogue to keep the chapters short, and ultimately, the greatest casualty of the Battle of Mahora might be the eyes of squinting readers.
There's no time to rest in this volume, as the first chapter drops right into the thick of battle. And what a battle it is—this is probably the most creative Ken Akamatsu's ever been, tossing in mechas, androids, snipers, magic time-travel bullets, internet warfare, magical girls, and just about every other element of action-adventure-fantasy. Even better is that it all takes place with a sense of humor: this may be a struggle for the fate of the world, but that doesn't stop a few casual nods to Evangelion, or Ghost in the Shell, or even Sailor Moon. But between the relentless action and splashes of humor, it does become hard to follow at times, with battles taking place on multiple fronts and with a variety of characters.
Fortunately, the storyline streamlines itself towards the second half, focusing entirely on Negi's face-off with Chao. And if you thought everything was already fast-paced, this one even goes so far as to bend the laws of time—Negi and Chao basically spend most of the fight trying to out-think each other with feats of split-second time travel. Certainly, that's a step more creative than just trying to blast the biggest energy beams. One thing that throws off the pace of this fight scene, however, is the repeated use of flashbacks—apparently, Negi had a conversation about morality of Chao's actions just moments ago, but it's only during the fight that he stops to think about it. It's nice to have a battle that's both philosophical as well as physical, but cutting in between scenes probably isn't the best way to bring that out. Fortunately, the fight does manage to reach its climax on the last page of this volume, bringing a satisfying (although not complete) close to one of the most dizzying and action-packed installments of the series yet.
Artwork continues to be the series' main weakness, not because it lacks polish or thoroughness, but because there's too much polish. It's no secret that Akamatsu uses a lot of computer imaging to produce backgrounds and props, and it shows—this is the manga equivalent of a shiny, fake-looking CGI blockbuster movie. Lovers of explosions and speedlines and energy beams will get their fill here, but there's so much of it that it often gets in the way of seeing what's happening. That's especially problematic in the early chapters of this volume, where multiple combatants are fighting in different locations and it can take some careful staring and deciphering to figure out the situation. Things get a bit less confusing when it's just Negi versus Chao, but even that battle quickly becomes overrun by speedlines and magical effects. On the plus side, some of the individual panels contain visually impressive poses and staging, and the characters aren't as indistinguishable as they used to be—the girls from Negi's class have apparently picked up some unique battle outfits along the way.
Although it's not quite Death Note, Negima! has always been notorious for packing lots of dialogue into small spaces, and this volume has its fair share of talky scenes. The frequent action and changes in scenery help to spread out the text a bit, but we still get things like Negi's obligatory "this is how I perform my special attack" speech and lines of text written in impossibly small fonts. The numerous battle scenes also mean lots of sound effects, and each one comes with a translation, although it might be hard tracking them down amidst the busy art and bold kana characters. As far as bonus content goes, this volume offers plenty: a rigorous analysis of the spells used in the story, a fanart gallery, some behind-the-scenes sketches and models, and a glossary of notes on Japanese culture.
After several volumes and a crazy time-travel twist, it seems that the Mahora Festival arc is finally reaching its conclusion—and what better way to hit that high point than 4,000 meters in the air in a one-on-one showdown between a genius boy wizard and a scheming scientist from the future. At this stage, there are still some flaws that one has to look past—the overproduced artwork, the cramped dialogue, the screw-ups in pacing (why stick a flashback scene in the Most Important Fight Ever?)—but it ends up being one of the most entertaining and dramatic points in the series so far. The battle for Mahora Academy is a moment where Ken Akamatsu threw in everything he could think of, and with the sheer level of grandeur and excitement, it actually works.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C+
+ An epic, high-energy battle that brings the Mahora Festival arc to a climactic point in the series.
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