Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD 4 - Magic 401: Magical Enchantments
Ayaka returns to her palatial home for summer break but can't get Asuna off her mind. It becomes even more difficult when Negi comes calling with Asuna and most of class 2-A in tow. Later, Negi is conned into becoming the unwitting subject of an unusual spring break game, but a spell which goes awry only complicates matters further. Matters of the heart also complicate things, as Asuna endeavors to bake a cake for Professor Takahata's birthday and Yue attempts to help her best friend Nodoka confess her feelings for Negi. A “date” to an amusement park gives Nodoka a golden opportunity, but can she follow through? And how will the even younger and less experienced Negi deal with it?
Minimal magic and weirdness and maximum slice-of-life comedy is the ticket as summer break arrives at Mahora Academy. Throughout these four Periods, which span episodes 15-18, Negi only uses his magic once and action scenes pop up only sparingly, so the content depends entirely on its humor and featherweight drama to carry it through. Sometimes it works (Asuna's initial efforts to make a cake in the first half of episode 18 are a riot) and sometimes it doesn't (most of episode 15 is mindlessly stupid), but on the balance the result is at least slightly positive.
Negima! has, on occasion, taken time to delve into the pasts and personas of individual girls, and Ayaka, Yue, and to a lesser extent Asuna are the subjects this time around. The sobering revelations about the intertwined pasts and current relationship of Ayaka and Asuna are more than a bit surprising and cast both characters in a new light, but the story doesn't dwell long on said revelations before returning to its normal foolishness and cradle-robbing antics. Those are in high gear in the ridiculous pillow-fight challenge in episode 16, but that is at least an upgrade from the parts of episode 15 not focused on Ayaka and Asuna's past.
Since Evangeline is nowhere to be found and the suggestions about Konoka's secret addressed in the previous volume aren't revisited, the main plot catalyst and center of attention this time is Nodoka, whose efforts to work up the courage to confess her love to Negi reach a peak. This again leaves Asuna as only a secondary supporting character for most of the volume, although Yue gets to step up and get her time in the sun as Nodoka's “wind beneath my wings.” In the process Negi becomes more of a reactant than a lead character, but playing off the girls is what the whole series is about so it's not a problem.
The other thing the whole series has always been about is its fan service, and episode 15 doesn't disappoint on that, while minor bits can be seen through the other three episodes. It's still relatively tame stuff, but the fact that a 10-year-old boy and 14-year-old girls are involved does make the content a little edgy if you think about it too much. The artistry otherwise maintains the same standards seen in previous volumes: good backgrounds, bright colors, and character designs that are distinctive enough to easily tell all the girls apart but not particularly high on quality. The animation, as before, is still a weak point.
One factor that is not a weak point is the English dub, whose cast and script writer turn in another strong effort. Yeah, the script takes a lot of liberties and outright replaces the most pedophiliac dialogue, but it sounds good and stays true to the spirit of the show, so the discrepancies can be overlooked. The performances aren't always the best of matches for the originals but continue to hit the right note for their characters and do an excellent job of making each girl as audibly distinctive from each other as they are visually distinctive. Dub fans in particular should find this one quite satisfying.
The soundtrack, by comparison, continues to muddle along, adequately supporting its scenes but doing nothing special. The opening theme cycles through two different quartets of seiyuu in this volume, with the quartet coming in for episode 18 delivering an even more up-tempo rendition than what has previous been heard. The closer is unchanged from the end of the previous volume.
The Character Profiles this time around focus on Ayaka, Haruna, and Yue, while this volume's cultural entry concerns traditional Japanese values and how they are instilled in youths. The “Schoolgirl Commentary” for episode 15 features Laura Bailey (voice of Ayaka and Evangeline) and Brina Palencia (voice of Yue) talking almost entirely off-subject for the episode they're supposed to be commenting on. Also present are the standard textless songs.
Though only sporadically funny, these four episodes of Negima! are at least mildly entertaining. The significant efforts at character development and occasional truly funny bits can't hide the thin premise and lack of an overall plot, however. Negima! needs to be taken purely at face value, as it has little substance to support it.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Strong English dub, some good comedy and dramatic bits.
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