Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The academy has been saved and Santa has joined UQ Holder, but Tota barely has a moment to rest before a new figure appears - Tatsumiya, an old friend of his grandfather's and acting headmaster of the academy itself. Tatsumiya invites Tota to participate in the academy's upcoming martial arts tournament, but before he can even begin to prepare, a message from his grandfather sends him, Yukihime, and even Fate into near despair. Exiled back to UQ Holder home base, Tota decides to run away from home and find his own future. But with the tournament approaching and new threats circling around him, Tota won't be able to move forward without first learning his true past.
UQ Holder! has had a rocky journey up until now, and much of that has come down to the manga's awkward fundamental assumptions. Tota lies near the heart of the story's various problems; not only is he actually immortal, but he's also ludicrously powerful, and frankly not that interesting of a person. He's had no motivation beyond “get to the top of the tower,” and his incredible array of fighting talents has made it hard to root for him as an underdog. The manga has circumvented this issue by focusing on more interesting characters, like Kirie and Santa, but it couldn't really continue forever without addressing the elephant in the room.
The manga's seventh volume does everything it can to engage with that issue, challenging Tota on both a battling and personal level. The volume opens with Tota being informed that Tatsumiya, an old friend of his grandfather's who pretty handily defeats him, has only one hundredth the strength of Negi Springfield. After that, his invitation to fight in a martial arts tournament is vehemently denied by Yukihime, after the two of them and Fate discover an ominous message from Negi. Dismissing him with an “I don't need you, Tota,” Yukihime banishes him to the UQ Holder! base, telling him he must wait there and not even think of participating in the tournament for the next year.
This denial is a turning point for Tota. For the first time, his irrepressible optimism is cut short - he spends his days lazing moodily around the base, and eventually he decides he doesn't care about Yukihime either, and that he's going to run away altogether. He heads off into the wilderness and begins to question what his motivations truly are. He gets angry, comparing himself unfavorably to the powers and passions of his friends. He wonders how important he truly is to Yukihime and tries to come to terms with what she means to him.
For the first time in seven volumes, Tota finally starts coming off like a multifaceted, dramatically compelling individual. Absent his usual confidence, his wild strength comes off like something he doesn't understand and can't control; later in the volume, a new antagonist appears who plays into this fear, casting doubt on the few things he truly knew about himself. He learns something about his own insecurities and becomes better able to appreciate the value of his friends. Tota actually gains real texture in this volume, and the manga is far better for it.
In addition to all that soul-searching, this volume also manages to stuff in a good half-dozen battles and capers and near-deaths. The approaching tournament gives Akamatsu plenty of time to demonstrate both how strong Tota is now and how weak he is compared to the series' true heavy-hitters. The addition of Santa and Kirie to the core group works wonders for making fights more interesting; while Tota and Kuromaru are both fairly conventional in their fighting styles, Kirie's reset-based precognizance and Santa's array of ghostly powers add a great deal of diversity to the ways the group fights. The characters outside of Tota don't really get much chance to express themselves this time, but that's understandable; this volume is all about interrogating Tota, so isolating him for a while is only appropriate.
Akamatsu's art continues to be impressive on the whole in this volume, with the usual slight caveats. A combination of sometimes confusingly paneled fights and Akamatsu's penchant for hyper-detailed but bland CG backgrounds make some of this volume's fights come off as both less coherent and less visually appealing than they could be. Partially because of the CG choices, the city featured in this volume doesn't really offer much personality; in fact, at times it feels like the characters are simply dancing around a bunch of solid geometric shapes. But the actual character drawings are as consistent as ever, and in both the explosions and the various magical attack auras, the manga really gets to demonstrate some visual splendor. It's still a very solidly drawn manga.
Overall, UQ Holder!'s seventh volume finds the story directly addressing what has been its biggest weakness so far, adding welcome complexity to the manga's originally underwhelming protagonist. With the story apparently gearing up for a tournament arc, it seems like there's a lot of great spectacle to look forward to. UQ Holder! continues to improve as it marches forward.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ This volume finally starts adding some complexity and intrigue to Tota's character, the art is as polished as ever.
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