Reviewby Theron Martin, May 11th 2009
DVD 2 - Part 2
The girls of Class 3-A all learning about Negi's status as a wizard has resulted in him being turned into a chupacabra, but that matter is ultimately resolved rather simply: just have each of the girls who didn't know about his magic to start make a Pactio with him and thus become his Partners, which eliminates the problem of those not associated with magic knowing about his ability and allows each of the girls in turn to become either super-powered to help Negi out or a dud. (Which is a big problem when all of them become duds at the same time!) Less easily resolved is the class's current dilemma of being stuck in a magical world, one whose nature changes from time to time and one where the threat of the darkness occasionally manifests, as does the mysterious Black Rose Baron. Things get odder still when Negi's sister Nekane shows up and Negi discovers that the culprit behind the darkness and the whole magical world business is someone Negi already knows quite well. Throughout it all each of the girls remains true to herself and her affection for Negi (or Konoka) – some moreso than others – as the craziness that is life in Class 3-A continues unabated.
Let's set aside the vague creepiness of a 10-year-old teacher or a bunch of 14-year-old girls fawning over said 10-year-old. Whatever else can be said about director Akiyuki Shinbo's adaptation of Ken Akamatsu's popular manga, two things are certainly true: it is not dull or unimaginative. His penchant for the rapidly-shifting perspectives, unconventional camera angles, and densely-packed visual gimmicks which pervade the second half of this series has been well-established by other titles he's helmed, and here he was apparently given free reign to do all of that plus stuffing in as many gags as he possibly could. The results is a run of thirteen episodes which nearly always has multiple things going on, frequently in such rapid-fire succession that judicious use of the Pause button is required to catch them all.
Whether that necessarily translates into a good series is another matter entirely. Each episode throws out such a volume of gags that most viewers should remain at least mildly amused throughout, but most of the time they sacrifice quality for quantity; for all that happens, hearty outright laughs are actually few and far between. (The series does sometimes score big, though, such as the surprising revelation in episode 26 about why Makie has always called the frog-like character “Daddy.”) That some of the jokes (especially the puns) don't translate well despite Funimation's best effort to adapt them into English terms doesn't help matters but is forgivable, since the sheer volume of gags makes them easy to overlook. Besides, this series is supposed to be silly, ridiculous, and regularly nonsensical anyway. If that is not the kind of thing that you can appreciate, then this one is definitely not for you.
Every so often these episodes do take a breather from all of the gags to actually introduce a plot point. The bulk of them are limited to episodes 22-24, although pivotal events like Negi making a Pactio with everyone and the appearance of Nekane on the scene occasionally pop up elsewhere. The actual character development in the series is likewise rather thin, as aside from the focus on Yue in episode 21 and bits about another certain character who appears in the later episodes, none of the girls show any significant development beyond the one-note characterizations established early on and exploited for comedic value throughout. Some of the blame for this does, of course, fall on the size of the cast, as even 26 episodes are not even close to enough time to explore 31 different schoolgirls plus a handful of other side characters, especially with numerous familiar-sized distractions. On the plus side, the screen time does get spread more evenly amongst the girls than it ever was in the first anime adaptation, thus allowing the quirks of some girls who were only afterthoughts in the first series to more fully play out, but that comes at the cost of getting to know any of the girls better. A character guide included in liner notes would help greatly here, but sadly Funimation did not include anything of the like in the box or on the disks.
Under Shinbo's direction this series has an entirely different look and feel to it than that of the first series, though the character designs essentially remain the same. The artistry and animation have a certain sense of vibrancy and depth that the first anime version lacked, though the color scheme is less appealing, and the magical effects and battles are certainly sharper. Really, though, appreciation of the look comes down entirely to all of the visual gimmicks. The transformations which result when Negi calls upon each of the girls' “hidden power” allows ample opportunity for cosplay-like costume changes and some somewhat suggestive fan service, with the Pactio cards approach allowing for multiple different looks for each girl. Even Negi is not above this, as evidenced by his alternative chupacabra appearance in the first episode of this part. All manner of weird-looking, blobbish creatures pop up as complements, while briefly flashed scenes and video game references offer further visual oddities. Some stylistic resemble those seen in Haré + Guu, and the alternate appearance of one character in the late episodes bears a striking resemblance to Nia's appearance in the later stages of Gurren Lagann. (The latter is likely a coincidence, however, as that part of the series was probably already in production as the relevant episodes of this one were airing.)
The musical score does what it can to keep the fun bouncing along and give the rare serious scenes a bit more weight, but it is largely forgettable compared to the bolder style of the visuals. Neither the opener nor the more cutesy closer makes much of an impact, either - but watch for alternate versions of both. The Japanese versions of both rotate the singers over the course of the series, as did the opener for the original series.
Funimation's English dub reuses the same cast who voiced the first series, allowing a satisfying continuity for fans of the original. Save for occasional glitches in maintaining smooth British accents, the performances are typically on the mark and in some cases perhaps even a little better than the originals. Christopher R. Sabat's offbeat narration, which serves up enough ham to feed an entire banquet hall, is once again the stand-out performance, but there are many other good ones, too, as ADR directors Jamie Marchi and Leslie Patrick allow their actors to fully play up the high-spirited, over-the-top styles required for many roles. The only vocal downsides are the opening and closing songs sung by some of the voice actresses, which actually aren't bad but also clearly show that the actresses aren't first and foremost singers. Funimation has had great success with dubbing theme songs in the past, but this is not one of their better efforts. As noted earlier, the English script struggles to deal with some of the puns and completely alters some jokes to put them in terms more likely to be funny to American viewers but otherwise finds a reasonable balance between accuracy and smoothness.
These episodes come on two thinpacked disks in a narrow slipcase. On-disk Extras on the second disk include a variety of translation notes from various episodes and a pictorial of most of the English voice actors in action. Conspicuously lacking is any kind of character guide or liner notes detailing the various media references populating the series which are likely to fly over the head of typical American viewers.
Randomly tossed throughout the breadth of these thirteen episodes are a variety of sometimes-obscure references to video games, books, TV shows, and other anime series, including a seemingly random brief reference to the controversial children's book Little Black Sambo. Picking those out could be almost as fun as all of the intended jokes, and is yet another thing which makes this version stand apart from the original. Which is ultimately better? That will come down to a matter of personal preference. The first one arguably has more of a story and better character development but the second looks better and has more opportunities for humor. Ultimately this version has all of the taste and substance of cotton candy; it can be sweet fun but certainly won't fill you up.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Some very funny moments, interesting visual style, good English dub.
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