Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD 5 - Magic 501: Magic Outside the Classroom
Class 2-A student #1, Sayo Aisaka, has never appeared in class, nor does anyone know her. Some think she's a transfer student who never arrived, while others believe that she's too sick to attend school. In truth she is a ghost, and has been for 65 years. Unable to be perceived by anyone or remember how she came to be a ghost, she has entertained herself with observing the activities of the others. Her life (er, death) makes a dramatic change when Kazumi, while looking for a topic for a newspaper article, decides to unravel the mystery surrounding the unknown girl whose faded picture appears on the class roster. Afterwards, it's off to Kyoto for the class trip, where Negi, Chamo, and Asuna discover the truth about Satsuna and Konoka while confronting members of a splinter faction of the local magic association. The play-out of those events leads Negi to seek further magical tutoring from an unlikely source, while Asuna contemplates her crush on Mr. Takahata.
Throughout its first four volumes Negima! has been hampered by less-than-brilliant storytelling. While rarely truly bad, it has just as frequently been truly good, as its ridiculous, silly, and occasionally pervy content has distracted from previous attempts to elevate its writing quality. Some signs of hope could be seen in volume four, but not until volume five is the series able to mount a sustained effort to put together a good story.
That effort begins with the very appropriately-titled episode 19 (“Words Fly Away, Those Written Remain”), which focuses on the ghost student who has occasionally been seen before by viewers but never previously mentioned. While it still has its light-hearted moments, the telling of Sayo's circumstances and the revelations about her backstory sidestep the series' normal silly antics, which allows for some surprisingly effective emotional turns. This is, by far, the best and most touching episode of the series to date.
The silly content returns in the Kyoto arc spanning the next two episodes, but so do the high-powered magical battles, which have been virtually non-existent since Negi's early battles with Evangeline. The face-offs between various Class 2-A denizens on one side and ogres and members of the Hoganji Faction on the other still have a playful feel to them but are better-executed than their equivalents earlier in the series. It also gives the series a chance to explore what makes Konoka special and why Satsuna acts the way she does around her – and this is one place where the English script is notably deficient, as the intricacies of the relationship between Konoka and Satsuna can be described capably well using Japanese honorifics (which are retained in the subtitles) but would have sounded awkward in English had they tried.
After the action and revelations of those two episodes, episode 22 feels more like a clean-up episode, with Negi acknowledging that the battles of the Kyoto episodes showed that he needs more combat training, Konoka redefining her relationship with the reluctant Satsuna, and Asuna examining some of her circumstances. This is also a distinctly above-average episode, with the most telling moment being Ayaka's reaction to seeing Asuna all mopey at one point.
Little more can be said about the artistry and technical merits than what has been said in previous reviews. Though not as glaring a problem as before, the short cut-laden animation is still a weak point, and the artistry and character designs remain only mildly respectable. Even the increase in flashy magical effects doesn't change that. Noticeably absent is any hint of fan service. The uninspired soundtrack works better in episode 19 than at any previous point in the series, while episode 22 sees yet another different group of seiyuu step forward to sing the opener, albeit with a significantly different style than before. The closer remains unchanged from the previous volume.
As with previous volumes, the biggest advantages of the English dub are making the voices of each girl more distinctive from one another (and thus easier to differentiate the characters by voice alone) and delivering snappier and less dirty-feeling repartees in verbal exchanges. The disadvantage, as noted earlier, is that some fine points of character relationships are lost in translation. The English script does retain the original Japanese names for signature combat moves, however, while their translations show in the subtitles. It also adjusts the time factors in episode 19 (65 years instead of 60, which is more accurate anyway) and replaces some plant names with English versions. Amongst new voices, Sayo presents the biggest contrast in delivery style between the English and Japanese dubs, but like with the rest of the cast it's still a “matter of taste” issue as to which one is better.
The Character Profiles provided for this volume focus on Kazumi, Sayo, and Satsuna, as one might expect based on the content of the episodes. Another round of textless songs is back, while the additional feature this time is a text-only profile of the city of Kyoto.
The penultimate volume of Negima! features the best writing and storytelling in the series to date. It's still not enough to elevate the overall series beyond the realm of mediocre, but it does provide some enjoyable episodes that should well please anyone who has stuck with the series so far.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Episode 19, generally better storytelling.
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