The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
UQ Holder! ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I'm not very familiar with Negima as a series, so the first episode of UQ Holder! started off confusingly for me. The opening begins with a flashback to some original series hijinks, before jumping ahead a number of years to follow the vampire Yukihime as she grows into a powerful magic wielder, teacher, and guardian to our protagonist, Tota. Having absolutely no clue who these characters were and what their world was supposed to be like, this episode did a surprisingly decent job of keeping things comprehensible for a newbie like me. The characters are all stock shonen types, and the plot moves briskly enough to keep things interesting, even when the finer details of things like magic and how it works in this society are breezed by without much explanation.
If anything, the plot moves a little too fast, relying on the audience's assumed investment in the characters and world to get them through setting up Tota and Yukihime's backstory, introducing a villain of the week, and getting the main plot for the series in motion, all in one episode. There are some nice emotional beats in Tota and Yukihime's relationship, and the shocking onset of violence about halfway through was genuinely surprising, which isn't something that you get from this type of show too often anymore. While I wouldn't say the action that breaks out in the back half of the episode is anything spectacular, it gets the job done, at least at the baseline of shonen quality genre fans might expect. It wasn't anything exceptional, but it was enjoyable all the same.
On the whole, I imagine that this premiere will be a lot more effective for fans of the Negima franchise. I can absolutely understand the appeal of following characters you love so many years after their original story concluded, and I can tell that the emotional beats this episode hits with Yukihime will be more meaningful for viewers who know her better. Likewise, there are many elements of the episode that I assume make sense to fans that flew right over my head. I can't say I'm all that interested in keeping up with UQ Holder!, but the Negima faithful should be more than happy with it. The same goes for anyone looking for a decent action series, so long as they don't mind missing out on some franchise callbacks.
Maybe I'm just a bit slow about these things, but I didn't realize immediately upon reading the first volume of UQ Holder!'s source manga that it was a distant future sequel to Negima. That's unavoidable in the anime version, and since it's an issue that eventually made me stop reading the manga (not having read Negima, I was getting confused), perhaps that's a good way to go. On the other hand, the fact that this episode opens with Negi and a large collection of young ladies who we're obviously supposed to know is a little intimidating, and it also seems to give false expectations about the rest of the episode – these are the only naked ladies we'll be seeing, and while Tota seems about as innocent as Negi, his lot is much bloodier than his grandfather's.
That's one of two links to the original tale – protagonist Tota is the descendant of the great Negi Springfield, and his guardian is one of the girls from the opening, the vampire Evangeline, now known as Yukihime. At this point, the connection between UQ Holder! and its parent series is fairly tenuous, with the larger issue being that Yukihime has been raising the orphaned Tota for the past two years after saving his life at the behest of his dying parents. This has enabled her to hide out with him in a small rural town, which is a good thing since there's a substantial bounty on her head. Unfortunately, that makes her a prime target for ambitious bounty hunters, with grim results.
There's a deliberate disconnect between the three major parts of the show: Yukihime's past as Evangeline, Tota's happy everyday life, and the gruesome reality he's unaware of. In a less well-constructed show, this would result in a very jumbled first episode, but UQ Holder! manages to progress from one section to another without pause, transitioning through the use of magic and Negi's (adult) ghost. Both of these things not only serve as literal transitions, but also as signals to the viewer that there's a lot more going on than Tota is aware of, priming us to expect things to change at any moment. All of this also allows for Tota to play the plucky hero without flailing around as the plot switches up on him from moment to moment – he's suspected for a while now that things are going on that he doesn't truly understand, and while he's surprised by some of what he learns, ultimately he can take it in stride and keep charging ahead as the same person he always was.
Going forward, there's bound to be more emphasis on the Negima connection, so I'm inclined to say that this show will be more successful for viewers who are already familiar with that series. But this is an interesting story in its own right, and if you're looking for shounen action, it might be worth reading up on Negima and giving this a chance.
The big question coming into this series is whether or not it's going to be accessible to franchise newcomers. Based on the first episode, I'm ambivalent on that point. The opening scenes, which are set in the current times of the Negima storyline, certainly won't make much sense unless you have at least some familiarity with one of the previous anime adaptations. Additionally, the scenes in the year 2086 that follow include a couple of references to Negi, Tota's surname suggests that he may be a descendant of the main series' Konoka, and the female co-star is the vampire from the original story masquerading in an adult form. Once you muddle through the first two minutes or so though, even a franchise newbie should be able to follow the general story.
That general story has all the hallmarks of a standard shonen action adventure series. Tota's parents are dead, he has a special nature (unbeknownst to him) that's revealed when an unknown foe attacks, requiring him to go on an adventure, and so forth. He even has the boisterous personality typical of a shonen action hero and a mentor figure in Yukihime/Evangeline. There's also the strong implication that he'll eventually be picking up an assortment of companions—presumably fellow immortals—and a long-term quest to reach the top of the sky elevator, prompted by dreamlike images of Negi claiming that he's waiting for Tota there.
This episode is definitely not on the youth-friendly side of the shonen action range though, despite otherwise innocuous content for a good chunk of its run. The opening scene features blazing fan service when several of the girls have their clothes blown off by young Negi's sneeze, Yukihime exudes sex appeal throughout the episode, and the key action sequence that dominates the second half of the episode gets dismemberment-level graphic without warning; it's a jarring tonal shift even if you do know it's coming. In fact, the whole episode plays like a milder story where someone decided they had to juice up the content, while unfortunately failing to smoothly integrate in the harsher elements.
This is the main reason why I can't rate the first episode any higher, despite being somewhat intrigued by the adult-form Evangeline. The artistic effort, while fully retaining the style and feel of the earlier Negima series, isn't anything to brag about either. Still, if the series gets over its “gotcha!” habits, then there might be a decent series here.
UQ Holder! is quite the odd property. Though it wasn't initially billed as a direct sequel to Ken Akamatsu's Negima, the two share a single universe, and over time UQ Holder! starts to lean more and more heavily on Negima's lore. With the manga having basically evolved into an outright sequel, UQ Holder!'s anime adaptation doesn't really hide its cards - this episode opens with a brief appearance by Negima's heroes, and Negi himself is inserted as a ghostly figure who didn't actually exist in the manga. You can certainly still follow this episode's story without having read Negima, but there are quite a few nods to long-time fans.
Taken on its own as a premiere, UQ Holder! offers a perfectly reasonable shounen platform. We're quickly introduced to the orphan Tota and his guardian Yukihime, who claims he'll only gain permission to travel to the big city if he can beat her in combat. Unfortunately, Yukihime seems to have actual magic powers on her side, which makes besting her somewhat difficult. This premiere kinda buries the lede on how interesting the UQ/Negima world is - the fact that magic became public knowledge ten years ago is only casually mentioned halfway through, and the strange negotiation of magical and material worlds isn't really discussed. That said, I'm actually okay with this episode's approach to its worldbuilding; frankly, one of this episode's biggest issues is its copious exposition, and getting into the mechanics of this world would slow things down even more.
As the episode proceeds, we get a reasonably charming glimpse into the domestic life of Tota and Yukihime, leading up to a big fight centered on the reveal of Yukihime's secret. That fight was easily the standout sequence of the episode - not only was the leadup to the twist as visceral and excruciating as possible, but the payoff of Tota's ultimate battle was livened through some excellent animation and a great background track. But all in all, this episode is basically just the “call to adventure” of another action adventure, noteworthy mostly for its awkward reliance on exposition and heavy side of fanservice. My final note would be that tone-wise, UQ Holder! definitely reflects the fact that Akamatsu is still a creator with an early-00s mindset - not only do the comedy and fanservice feel a bit outdated, but both the OP and ED clearly evoke a simpler era of harem comedies.
On the aesthetic front, this is a clean-looking but not terribly beautiful production. The characters are expressive, but the background art feels a little flat, and the color work isn't particularly inspired. The show definitely comes together for its big fight scene, but it remains to be seen if that sequence's dynamic camerawork and solid animation will be maintained throughout the season. Overall, UQ Holder!'s first episode is much like its source manga - professionally composed but not terribly inspired, livened mostly through offhand details and likable characters. It's a perfectly okay show, but definitely not a must-see.
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