Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 15th 2007
Negima! Magister Negi Magi
Ten-year-old magician-schoolteacher Negi Springfield is busy enough dealing with a class full of schoolgirls at Mahora Academy, and now the school festival has him literally working overtime: he's been using a time-travel device to participate in multiple activities at once. As the festival's second day draws to a close, energetic student Asuna confesses to the man of her dreams, while enigmatic genius Chao bids farewell to the school ... forever? It seems that Chao has an ulterior motive up her sleeve—one that threatens to break open the secrets of the magical world and could cost Negi his entire career. Even a team of super-skilled girls at his side might not be enough to stop the machinations of a super-genius.
In the past several volumes of Negima!, our young hero Negi has fought in an epic martial arts tournament, attended a live concert, hung out with just about every girl in his class, and even worked out his daddy issues (sort of). And yet, even now, the three-day Mahora Festival is only two-thirds finished, making it possibly one of the most drawn-out and decompressed story arcs in serial storytelling history. Luckily, those who have been holding their breaths waiting for the big climax can finally exhale, as the series' time-shifting shenanigans come to an abrupt close—and plunge Negi into even deeper peril! Oh, you thought this was all about hanging out with cute schoolgirls and performing magical-combat parlor tricks? Think again: the revelations in this volume reach an epic scale that would make even the Harry Potter world look small.
The opening chapters of this installment are humble enough: it's a continuation of Asuna's date with studly young teacher Takamichi, which finally resolves a romantic subplot that's been around since forever. There's a more important plot at stake, though, which has been bubbling beneath the surface since the school festival began: Chao's plan to expose the secrets of magic to the world. That's what really brings action and adventure to this volume—what could be more heart-pounding than having your student wish you goodbye by challenging you to battle?—and it also brings back a number of major characters. All of the girls with special skills (swordfighting, healing, mind reading, etc.) who know of Negi's secret come together to defend the magical world from Chao's plot, which sounds completely like a silly superhero team-up, but also takes the story in a powerful new direction.
Basically, this volume is a grand recapitulation to a truly grand story arc. It's so grand, in fact, that even the "end" of the Mahora Festival can't be contained: instead, it sets off the beginning of a crisis that has implications across all of space and time. And what could be more epic than that? This massive snowball of a storyline has its drawbacks, though—it's a horrible pain trying to remember what all the characters have been up to (especially if they haven't done anything major since, oh, Volume 9 or something), the short chapters force Akamatsu to cram in as many story details as possible, and character development is practically nonexistent as everything is completely plot-driven now. It's an amazing, breathtaking, intricately-planned plot, but it's gotten so big that all the other subtleties of storytelling have gone out the window.
The extremely busy artwork also adds to the cramped and oversized feel of the story; if they would only give this series a few more pages per chapter, it probably wouldn't have to rely so much on tiny panels and magnifying-glass-required text. The handful of scenes with breathing room are a much-needed relief—Asuna's confession to Takamichi, Negi's fate in the final chapter—but otherwise, the crowded layouts are another hindrance to the series. Gray screentones on just about everything and excessively detailed backgrounds also add to the clutter, although some of the fantasy environments seen here are pretty imaginative. Perhaps the only things in the artwork that Akamatsu has handled well are the fight scenes, which are still delightfully energetic and showcase a variety of combat styles. The decision to focus on Negi's "main girls" also helps cut down on the character confusion; after all, their looks are as generic as they've always been, and the fewer we have to memorize, the better. Fanservice still sneaks its way in at times—most notably a quick swimsuit interlude—but that's hardly the point of the series anymore.
The most notable thing about the dialogue is just how much of it there is; this is one reading experience that will require a whole lot of squinting to look at small text and pausing to absorb entire paragraphs. Fortunately, the style of the translation is as straightforward as they come, with the only fancy language here being the spellcasting in Latin. Occasional endnotes after each chapter reveal a wealth of research and information on real-life "magic" as practiced in various world cultures throughout history, although the story can still be enjoyed without reading all that. A glossary in the back also provides some Japanese culture notes for Western readers, although like the magic references, they're not absolutely essential to understanding the story.
For those who still think of Ken Akamatsu as "the guy who drew Love Hina," it may be surprising to see just how much Negima! has evolved—and for those who have followed this series all the way through so far, it may be daunting to think back on how much the storyline has grown over the years. It may not have the intricacy of the greatest grown-up thrillers—sorry, but Naoki Urasawa beats everyone else there—but this action-adventure infused with magic has become a world unto itself, one that could rival even the biggest hits in Shônen Jump. This volume brings it all together, finally tying up the Mahora Festival arc that has been through so many ups and downs and timeslips, and then it promptly segues into another, even more epic storyline. True, it's lacking in sophistication and emotion, and those super-short text-crammed chapters are going to be the death of us all, but Negi's next great adventure is sure to keep readers hooked.
Overall : B
Story : A-
Art : C
+ A grand finale to a grand story arc, with a shocking twist that leads the story in a daring new direction.
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