by Carlo Santos,

Negima! Magister Negi Magi

GN 26

Negima! GN 26
Boy wizard and schoolteacher Negi Springfield has come to the magical world in search of his father—but those plans have since been derailed by the machinations of villain Fate Averruncus. Some of Negi's students still need rescuing, and to do that, he must win a martial arts tournament in the historic city of Ostia. Jack Rakan, an old friend of Negi's father, has given the boy the tools to succeed in battle ... not to mention some vital knowledge about the heroic exploits of the elder generation. However, an unexpected maneuver by Rakan suddenly makes Negi's path to winning the tournament a lot more difficult! Now Negi must meet the challenge of fighting the best that the magical world has to offer—or be crushed under the pressure.

Over the years, the Negima! manga has had its share of watershed moments—those soaring, electrifying plot twists where everything comes together and you can even remember the exact time and place you were sitting when you read that chapter. New adventures beginning, epic battles coming to a close, and remarkable turnarounds that no one ever saw coming: Negi's saga has everything to offer to fans of magic, action and adventure.

But not in this volume.

Sadly, the 26th installment in the series is more of a placeholder, a mix-and-match of storylines that rounds up the current situation before diving into something more exciting. If anyone was expecting an epic magical-combat matchup between Negi and the one guy who can truly test his powers, well ... sorry, but that comes in the next volume. This one, on the other hand, is full of time-filling preparations for the big fight, which include: (1) Negi overthinking things (his response to just about everything), (2) a couple more of his dad's friends stepping in to help him out, and (3) training. Lots and lots of training. At least these chapters have the good sense to speed through the things that have already become familiar, and there happens to be one surprising turn of plot, but the tired old feeling of "We've been through this before; why do we have to do it again?" still remains.

Even the opening chapters, which finish up Rakan's flashback about the original Ala Rubra faction, fail to add any real punch to the story. The previous volume already covered all the good stuff in Rakan's flashback—the truth about Asuna, the origins of Negi's father and his friends, and the great war in the magical world. This section of the story, by comparison, is more style than substance, with a lot of cool poses and mind-blowing fight scenes but not much in the way of story development. Then there is the one utterly gratuitous chapter shoehorned into this story arc, a hot-springs visit that basically serves as an excuse to show some naked breast-groping and remind us of the reasons why Ken Akamatsu rose to fame in the first place. Honestly, Akamatsu is better than this, and he ought to know it as well—but with a shounen series being what it is, one has to throw a bone to the slobbering horndogs every now and then.

All right, so we already know that the fanservice quota has been met (and lines of decency have been crossed) for this particular volume. As for other aspects of the series' artistry, Akamatsu once again shows his obsessive-compulsive attention to detail in the backgrounds. Admittedly, most of it is computer-generated, but after getting over the "CGI is cheating" mentality, one realizes the level of effort that went into modeling the magical world. Certainly, the fantastical nature of these battlegrounds allows for a wider range of imagination than old Mahora Academy. Meanwhile, the character designs—although visually appealing—can still be hard to keep straight due to the sheer number of them (seriously, it's like Negi has more girls than that super-huge J-pop group). The most maddening thing about the artwork, though, continues to be the clutter and compression of the layouts—some of the finest fight scenes and magic spells are ruined simply because they have to share space with the twenty other things going on in the story. Sometimes it feels like Akamatsu's attention to detail and flair for special effects can only be enjoyed with a magnifying glass.

Magnifying glasses may also be necessary for deciphering some of the dialogue in this volume, which has a way of shrinking into corners and disappearing into the margins when the characters have a lot to say. Yes, some of it is vital—for example, any discussion of Negi's father, his associates, and their past—but there's also a lot of filler that's been heard before, like Negi waffling about whether he's strong enough to win, and the good guys vowing to do their best. Because of the crowded paneling, this boilerplate dialogue has a way of turning into walls of text a la Death Note or Ghost in the Shell. The sound effects end up like that too, often being overshadowed by artistic clutter and adding little to the action. There is at least one area where obsessive details are a plus, though: Akamatsu's appendices on magical theory provide unique insights on the use of sorcery in world cultures. This and other bonus features almost make the translator's notes look like an afterthought (but still, a useful afterthought for those who want to know the ins and outs of the Japanese language).

Clearly, there have been better volumes of Negima! than this one. Not that anyone was expecting some kind of heart-wrenching, earth-shattering revelation—those things lose their effect if doled out too liberally—but the kind of churning and plot maintenance going on in this installment doesn't make for very effective storytelling. It tries to do too much, but accomplishes too little—one moment there's a dramatic flashback, then there's sexy hot springs action, then there's training for a grand upcoming battle, and who knows what else. This set of chapters tries to be all things to all readers and loses its cohesiveness as a result. With the series' artwork having the same pluses and minuses that it's always had, everything eventually comes down to how the story is handled, and right now it's not being handled all that well. Best to keep one's fingers crossed for a much more exciting Volume 27. Good luck, Negi.

Overall : C
Story : D
Art : B-

+ Dazzling scenes of combat and sorcery, plus stunning backgrounds, continue to pop up regularly.
Storyline doesn't really go anywhere aside from preparing for the big fight. Also, get ready once again for epic eyestrain.

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Story & Art: Ken Akamatsu

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