Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 1st 2009
Negi Springfield is a ten-year-old boy who happens to be a genius in the field of magic. However, his wand-waving skills and training at a wizard academy in Wales could never have prepared him for his post-graduation assignment: teaching a class at an all-girls school in Japan! Surrounded by 31 teenage beauties, Negi's youthful charm quickly earns him some new friends—but some of his students, like feisty Asuna Kagurazaka, might take longer to warm up to him. Things get really serious when Negi discovers that one of his more rebellious students, Evangeline, is actually a vampire who has been preying on other classmates. Whether by magical firepower or more subtle methods, Negi's going to have to reform Evangeline if he wants to maintain his credibility as a teacher.
With the Negima franchise having blossomed so profusely in the past several years, it's time to clear up some misconceptions. No, it's not anything like Harry Potter, despite a British boy wizard in the lead role and everyone casting their spells in an ancient foreign language. It bears even less resemblance to Love Hina, despite a massive female cast and having been authored by Ken Akamatsu. What is true about the series is that the original manga is an ambitious, complex fantasy-adventure—but only after about Volume 12 or so. What's also true is that the resulting anime adaptation fell so far short of the original that they decided to give it another go with the exclamatory Negima!? anime, taking on a totally different storyline that could be told in the space of 26 episodes. And that's where the Negima!? neo manga adaptation comes in, making it essentially a copy of a copy of a copy.
As one can imagine, this does not bode well for the series.
The one bright spot in this story is found right at the beginning, with the entirely original "Chapter Zero," a prequel piece that fills in the blanks about how Negi graduated from magic school. As an action-packed magical combat showcase, it does a fine job of drawing the reader into the series ... only to pull a nasty bait-and-switch when things quickly revert to mediocre with the actual first chapter. Negi rushes to school, annoys Asuna right off the bat, and tries to establish his authority (which is hard to do when all the girls are fawning over how cute he is)—yes, if you've read the original, you've already read the start of this series as well. All it does is serve as a reminder of how unimpressive Negima was at the beginning and how it took many, many chapters for things to develop.
Of course, this being a re-telling, the series tries to accelerate the pace of development by jumping straight into the Evangeline arc, and ending it a lot quicker as well. The results are, in short, disastrous. The whole point of the original Evangeline arc was to take that first step toward action-adventure greatness, to pit Negi against a challenging opponent and force him to stretch his abilities. By comparison, this interpretation tosses it off as a generic "hero defeats his first villain" battle, with a namby-pamby finale where everyone holds hands and becomes friends because Negi showed Evangeline the power of love. Come on, what happened to the complex relationship of a teacher and student as rivals? And for those who aren't comparing against the original, the fight will seem even more useless, as it does little else besides introduce the Pactio Card system—which in this series looks more like a merchandising tool than actual wizardry.
Aside from the prequel chapter, this work's only other advantage over its predecessor is that the artwork is more readable—as a monthly series it doesn't suffer from the same 18-page-a-week cramfests that the Negima manga has become notoroius for. If anything, the layouts are almost too conventional: squares and rectangles typically arranged in two or three rows, with action scenes that fail to break out of the mold. The character designs also adhere slavishly to the originals, and aside from a more youthful look and slightly different battle costumes, it's hard to spot anything distinctive about the characters. Also falling into the "don't really care what it looks like" category are the backgrounds, which typically range from generic high school scenery to generic battle scenery to generic interiors. Adding to that dullness is the overuse of tones to gray out almost everything in sight. And as for the claim that Negima!? in general is supposed to contain less fanservice than the original—well, what do you make of Negi still sneezing girls' clothes off, as well as a nude prepubescent girl in one of the climactic scenes?
An added bonus of the more spacious layouts is that the dialogue also avoids any overcrowding. In fact, the text reads pretty smoothly throughout—which is a nice way of saying that the script is identical every other boys' adventure series ever. Battle taunts, comedy quips, brief explanations of how magic works, and incantations in Latin: there's nothing new to be found here. Sound effects are also a regular part of the action, and each comes with a small English translation placed next to the characters, although the effects themselves are often too nondescript to even stand out against the artwork. A translation glossary and a guide to Negi's students rounds out this volume, although true Negima enthusiasts may find themselves wondering where the obsessive footnotes on the culture and history of magic have gone.
Normally, the best way to sell a spinoff product is to say that it'll appeal to the hardest of hardcore fans—but in the case of Negima!? neo, it's probably hardcore fans who will be most offended by it, seeing as it defangs and cripples everything that was good about the source material. With a mindless re-enactment of the premise (although it does squeeze in an original chapter), the dumbing-down of the first major story arc, and dilution of the art into a generic action-adventure style, this is probably the one thing that Negima completists can skip. If it gets better once it digs into a new storyline, that'd be nice, but this first volume inspires little confidence. It may have the cute girls and the magical combat, but right now it's just going through the motions—and not creating any real magic at all.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : C-
+ Adds to the canon with an introductory chapter. Artwork is more readable than the main series.
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