Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 22nd 2006
Mahou Sensei Negima!
Negi Springfield is an (almost) 10-year-old Welsh boy genius who's not only already graduated from college but is also a wizard adept in wind-related magic. As part of his training to eventually become a Magister Magi, Negi must teach a class at the massive all-girl Mahora Academy without revealing his magical ability. Though he looks forward to the opportunity, Negi's in for more than he bargained for when he's assigned to a class of 30 middle school oddballs, including several who find him irresistibly cute. His biggest concern amongst them is Asuna Kagurazaka, a combative, athletic red-headed firebrand with whom he entirely gets off on the wrong foot. Things get even more complicated when he must temporary share a dorm room with her and her roommate, but that's nothing compared to the trouble which could arise when she discovers his wizardly nature or the problems that the arrival of a talking ermine could cause.
Negima has occasionally been referred to as an anime variation of Harry Potter because both focus on a British boy using magic, but that's the only similarity between the two. Whereas Harry Potter is a wondrous and increasingly dark take on Harry's experiences at a school of magic, Negima is a weird take on a harem romantic comedy, one which serves up both magical hijinks and a fair amount of fan service.
At first glance Negima has a lot stacked against it. The premise is horribly contrived to set up the necessary situations, its writing is very derivative and predictable, it suffers from big gaps in logic, and at times the series seems like an experiment in how many clichés can be packed into one title without achieving critical mass. It also quite clearly panders to certain segments of the otaku population, as evidenced by its substantial use of panty shots, implied nudity, discussions about breast sizes, and use of the “classic” face-first-into-massive-breasts gag – and all this despite most of the girls involved being in their early teens. That the main love interest for the girls is only (almost) 10 years old is also a little edgy if one thinks about it too much, although this approach has been done successfully before. (See Steel Angel Kurumi.) The panty shot aspect is also forgivable, since it's such an ingrained cultural phenomenon that it even pops up in family series like Ghost Stories, which features even younger characters. Even so, this is clearly a series aimed at older viewers despite the youth of the characters.
Most series would collapse under such problems, but enough of Negima's elements come together just right to produce a charming and moderately entertaining volume. It's hard not to like Negi as the lead, and while Asuna may get on some viewers' nerves, she is as well-matched a foil for him as Kaname Chidori was for Sousuke Sagara in Full Metal Panic! The humor doesn't always work but works often enough (and well enough) that the series is, at times, genuinely funny. It also poses some interesting ideas on magic use, such as the notion of every wizard needing a “partner,” who is empowered with some of the wizard's power in exchange for protecting the wizard while he/she casts his spells; if you've ever been annoyed by enemies letting spellcasters in anime get away with working their long-winded spells, episode 6 should be greatly satisfying.
The real key to the appeal of Negima, though, is its supporting cast. Chamo, the ermine, is a riot when he shows up in episode 5, but more prominent is the massive array of Asuna's classmates, which cover nearly every anime girl archetype one can name. Asuna represents the grade-challenged jock, and amongst the other 29 girls one can find: the stuck-up blond, the boy-shy girl, the enterprising twins, the martial arts specialists, the cheerleaders, the robot, the sword-wielding girl (not apparent in this volume but shown in promos), the vampire, the ninja, the journalist, the library nerds, the gymnast, the cook, the roller-skater, the mysteriously knowledgeable and connected girl, the girl who hides her face behind her bangs, the gaggle of academic underachievers, even a ghost (who is only revealed as such in promos, but big hints are dropped about her nature based on the way she looks and acts in these episodes). Most only get passing attention throughout these six episodes, and it's quite possible that all of the weirdness in the class hasn't been revealed yet, but they certainly provide lots and lots of fodder for madcap antics to serve as a background to the developing relationship between Negi and Asuna. Most interesting and developed of the supporting lot is shy Nodoka, who's shown gradually creeping out of her shell due to Negi's presence.
Negima may not win any awards for its artistry, but it does do a good job of making its girls all look distinctively different (well, except for the twins) and interesting – not an easy task given the sheer number of them involved. Negi himself is sufficiently cute in a studious way, while Asuna's look, with the ridiculous bells and the disconcertingly unmatched eyes, is less impressive. Background art is sufficient. The color scheme works well on clothing and backgrounds but looks a little too unnatural (even by anime standards) on hair color and generally lacks texture. Weaker is the animation, although this does not become strongly evident until a clumsy-looking sustained action sequence in episode 6.
Negima's musical score does a respectable job of setting the tone for various scenes but is neither original-sounding nor especially remarkable. The opener and closer are both cutesy J-pop numbers, with the former's visuals also serving as a fashion display for assorted different types of swimsuits. The Japanese dub does an excellent job of defining key members of its huge cast and enlivening scenes, but its supporting voices tend to blend together. Even so, it's a solid dub that should satisfy any sub fan.
FUNimation's English dub is another matter entirely. Every voice, down to the smallest part, is quite distinctive from the others (again, except for the twins), a feat that's even more remarkable given that some of the voice actresses take on multiple roles. Most distinctive is the Welsh-flavored accent Greg Ayres uses in voicing Negi, which makes the character sound both more convincingly British and convincingly male than the original performance, although Chris Cason's street-themed take on Chamo is also quite lively and interpretive. Luci Christian interprets Asuna much like she did Kaname Chidori, but it is a character with similar temperament so it fits. The casting and performances aren't always good matches for the originals, which makes the sound of the English version of Negima a different animal than the Japanese version but isn't necessarily a negative. Which you find to be better will depend largely on your normal preference for sub vs. dub, but the English dub is done well enough to at least be worth a sampling.
A much bigger issue for purists is going to be the English scripting. FUNimation's typical approach is to retain the spirit and meaning of a scene while allowing substantial rewrites in actual dialogue, but the rewrites here are extremely liberal even by FUNi standards, to the point that some scenes in the first couple of episodes are very substantially different in English compared to the Japanese version. Some of the changes, such as the total deletion of barbs about Asuna falling for “older men,” might be because of sensitivity issues, and the altered scenes do still retain the original feel of the scenes, but the dialogue is still entirely different. This becomes less of an issue as the series wears on, though, and like most FUNi dubs this altered version does have a nice flow to it. Ultimately, how tolerable this is depends entirely on how much of a purist the viewer is.
Extras for this volume include profiles of Negi, Asuna, and Nodoka, some details on Japanese schools, clean opener and closer, and company trailers. With six full episodes packed onto this volume, though, the caliber of the extras is irrelevant; it's still an excellent value.
Negima is not the greatest of series and has enough issues that some viewers will find it detestable or just not entertaining. It is also allegedly not an especially accurate adaptation of its source manga. It has enough positives and charm that most won't find it a waste of time to watch, though, and its pedigree alone may encourage some to check it out; it was created by the same man responsible for Love Hina, after all.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Widely-varied array of supporting characters, quite funny at times.
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