Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
To train his abilities as a wizard, 10-year-old prodigy Negi Springfield has been sent from Wales to Japan—to teach a classroom full of teenage girls! Already, he's faced a number of magical (and hormonal) challenges, but nothing can prepare Negi for the new student in class: his childhood friend Anya. With so many girls competing for Negi's attention, Anya can't help but feel jealous, especially when some of them are so ... well-endowed. Meanwhile, Negi must fend off his students' usual advances, like when the class bookworm's fantasies get the better of her, or when the cheerleading squad takes him out on a date. However, when another boy swoops in looking for a fight, it looks like Negi will have to use an entirely different set of skills!
Come, Anya! Save this series from itself! The feisty, pint-sized redhead may be the last hope for this manga-based-on-the-anime-based-on-the-other-anime-based-on-the-manga, which continues to be a disgrace to Ken Akamatsu's original. Even those trying to judge Negima!? neo on its own merits will find that Volume 4 follows the shameful tradition of its predecessors: run-of-the-mill bursts of magical combat, interspersed with a whole lot of mindless, plotless fanservice. Amidst such mediocrity, one would hope that the presence of a fan-favorite character can give this series a much-needed kick in the pants. So does she?
Well, Anya does bring a lot of kicks. And punches. And slaps to the face. But the thrill of beating up Negi only lasts so long, and like most everything else in Negima! Lite, Anya ends up being reduced to a one-note character—that note being "I have a severe inferiority complex about my bust size." Just think, she had the potential to bring in all sorts of story twists and personality conflicts—a major player in the Star Crystal battle! Negi's childhood friend! A genuine magical rival!—but instead she becomes a boob-joke device. Then again, perhaps that's to be expected when her entire involvement in the first two chapters can be summarized as (1) enrolling in Negi's class, and (2) picking out a school club to join (accompanied by absurd but predictable antics). Magical battle? In this volume? Not for you, Anya.
Instead, the responsibility of lighting up the pages with action falls upon the shoulders of another fan favorite—onmyôdô-user Kotarô. The middle chapter provides the magical highlight of this volume, as Negi's hot-headed rival (and one of the few males in the series) brings in a healthy dose of manly burning passion. The fight itself, however, is something of a bland, straightforward affair: whoever releases the most powerful blast wins! For true magical creativity, one should look to the next chapter, where bookworm Nodoka gets her moment in the spotlight as the romantic fantasies in her diary come to life. It's nothing terribly original, but it's still one of the few chapters that successfully blends some whimsical sorcery with the schoolgirl harem element, and even hints at possible future developments involving the magical world. By contrast, the following chapter is a showcase of everything that's wrong with Negima!? neo: three utterly minor characters get their turn to be "Negi's girls" for a day, engaging in various antics that do nothing to advance the plot. Negi doesn't even get to show off his spellcasting skills—and a Negima! without magic is barely a Negima! at all.
Of course, it also wouldn't be Negima! without fanservice, and this volume delivers eminently on that front. If anything, it delivers too much, often resorting to contrived scenes where the story is subjugated to the needs of displaying underdressed teenage girls. (Yes, how convenient that Anya transfers into Mahora Academy on physical exam day!) Not that the character designs are even all that great—they're just cuted-up versions of Akamatsu's creations, more sterile and doe-eyed than the original, and possessed of waif-like body proportions that pale in comparison to the real babes that show up in seinen comics. The overuse of screentones also gives this manga something of a dull apperance, with every page seemingly a homogeneous field of gray. To its credit, at least the layouts move smoothly from one scene to the next, especially in Negi's showdown with Kotarô—it may be a cut-and-dried, whoever-uses-the-most-power-wins kind of battle, but it's still one of the true moments of excitement.
There are times, however, when one would rather negotiate with words instead of fists—and that's where Anya steals the show with her snappy one-liners and comebacks. All right, so some of her lines are embarrassing complaints about her bodily proportions, but in a series where practically everyone is showering the male lead with compliments in an attempt to win his heart, it's refreshing to see at least one character who isn't afraid to dish out the insults. Meanwhile, the use of both Latin and Greek for Negi's spells also add some linguistic flavor, although there's no detailed magical lexicon in the back like in the proper Negima!. However, this edition still contains the usual notes and glossary, and the sound effects are left in their original Japanese with small translations that blend seamlessly into the artwork.
In the end, it looks like the addition of a childhood friend to Negi Springfield's already-packed classroom does little to energize Negima! The Abridged Series. This volume ends up being mostly a dumping ground for more schoolyard harem antics, with the added cacophony of Anya constantly whining about chest size. The arrival of Kotarô helps bring in some rough-and-tumble action, and Nodoka's overactive imagination provides one of the more whimsical chapters so far, but such positives are canceled out by snoozefests like "Anya signs up for a club" and "cheerleaders take Negi out on a date." The sterile look of the art also provides little incentive to stick with the series—unless cookie-cutter high school girls in their underwear can be considered an incentive. If even the liveliest characters in the Negima! universe can't save Negima!? neo, then who can?
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : C
+ A heated battle with a rival and a diary come to life are some of the highlights in this volume.
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