Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Spring & Summer Specials
At some point after the end of Negi's first year as a teacher at Mahora Academy, he and the entire class journey to a tropical island for a holiday, courtesy of Ayaka. A spat between Negi and Asuna complicates matters, but most of the girls just have a rollicking good time. On another occasion, Yue and Nodoka's efforts to cast a spell to figure out who Nodoka's soul mate (whom she is connected to via a red string of fate) go awry, causing Nodoka and Negi's hands to be bound by an unbreakable red string for the course of a day. That doesn't prevent them and the rest of the class from test-running a bath resort created by Ayaka's family's company, however. Various sexy hijinks ensue.
Despite its name, the Negima Spring Special OVA was actually released in the summer of 2006 in Japan, while the also inappropriately-named Negima Summer Special OVA, a very loose sequel to the first one, was released in late autumn of the same year. As is typical of most seasonal OVA specials that spin off of popular TV series, these two give the decided impression of just being another way for the producers to milk money out of a popular franchise while it's still hot. Certainly these two episodes offer no significant contribution to overall plotting or series lore; they are merely additional slice-of-life shenanigans put on by the cast of girls from Class 2-A. They offer no new developments in characterizations or relationships, either, instead just continuing standard antics and dynamics established over the course of the original TV series. In fact, while the two episodes could fairly be labeled as attempts at humor – and in fact, they are at times quite funny – they really come down to exactly one thing: fan service.
To say that the fan service in these OVAs is pervasive might be an understatement, as subtracting out all such scenes leaves little additional content left. Both episodes, but especially the Spring Special, dedicate themselves fully to offering fan servilicious shots of as many of the girls as possible, even going out of their way to show characters in skimpy clothing, fetish outfits, some state of undress, or from camera angles that include panty shots and much more in-your-face rear end exposure. Inventive swimsuits mix with classics like old-style school suits to allow most of the girls to flash their figures (or lack thereof for the lolicon enthusiasts out there), and a few of the girls get the nude-but-no-naughty-bits-showing treatment (especially Asuna). The creators are not even above including a couple of faux sex scenes, either. Granted, this kind of thing does have its time and place, and this is the proper time and place for it, so if scantily-clad-girl-related fan service is what you are primarily looking for then you will certainly get an eyeful here.
That is not the only kind of fan service found here, though. Astute viewers can spot all kinds of weirdness and visual gimmickry in background details, such as one scene in the second episode which shows first three live geese on platters, then flashes back to three live geese on platters with garnishes, then to three cooked geese on platters and fit for serving – and this is all a side detail to the main massage therapy-related scene. Bizarre little critters, some of which look like they fled from the set of Haré + Guu, pop up from time to time and place to place, and all kinds of odd things go on in the backgrounds; in some cases, you might not even want to know what they seem to be implying. Look for a few visual homages, too, especially to certain modern art styles and settings.
Despite the limited time frames, both episodes also make concerted efforts to give each of the 30 girls in the class something to do, even if only in a cameo appearance. The Spring Special even has profiles of all of the girls periodically pop up during the episode content. This, of course, limits the amount of time the episodes can spend on any given character or situation, though the core cast of Negi, Asuna, Ayaka, Nodoka, and Yue still get the bulk of the screen time.
Although Xebec produced the original TV series, these OVAs fell instead into the hands of studios Gansis and Shaft, who also produced the following Negima!? TV series. Director Akiyuki Shinbo, who also later helmed the second TV series, used these OVAs as an excuse to experiment visually, which results in a production that only generally looks like the original series animation and differs dramatically in visual style between the episodes. The Spring episode features skewed perspectives that, in a live-action production, could be attributed to atypical camera angles, an effect which often gives the artistry a more three-dimensional feel and/or an unnervingly distorted look. In fact, barely any shots in the entire episode have the normal straight-on view. Contrarily, the Summer episode uses a more straightforward perspective but mixes up the styles much more. Greg Ayres, the English voice of Negi, explains some of the specific references in the commentary track he does on that episode with Jamie Marchi, the ADR director and English voice of Haruna, but the style jumps around so much that it resembles one of those comic books where every few pages features a new guest artist. (In truth, though, the same production staff did the entire episode.) The quality of the overall look reflects the greater money and time allowed an OVA production, and the animation is considerably sharper here than in the TV series, too, especially in the Spring episode.
The musical score, while not bad, was never one of the strong points of the original TV series, and these episodes borrow a lot of the standby themes to mix with a few new ones. It creates a utilitarian sound which enhances most scenes without being especially remarkable. Each episode has its own unique opener and closer, with the Spring closer and Summer opener both notable for featuring montages of cover art from the original manga.
Those who specifically liked the Japanese or English dubs for the TV series have nothing to fear here, as the entire TV series casts have been carried over in both cases. As per the norm for the TV series, which dub is better is entirely a matter of personal preference, as the English cast pegs and breathes life to the characters as effectively as the Japanese cast, albeit with markedly different styles in some cases. The English script strays from the original less than it normally did in the TV series, but these episodes also have less content that could be lost in translation, as nearly all of the humor crosses the language barrier intact.
The most notable Extra is the aforementioned “Schoolgirl Commentary” for the Summer episode, which offers some interesting insight into the tricks used in the second episode as well as pointing out some gimmicks that a casual viewer might have missed the first time. The disk also includes clean versions of all four openers and closers. The one question that lingers is why Funimation gave the volume a Negima!? title when both episodes spin directly off of the Negima! TV series. (And yes, for newcomers to the franchise, the punctuation difference does matter here.)
The Spring and Summer Specials may be utterly shameless in their devotion to fan service and gimmickry, and very thin on actual story content, but that does not prevent them from offering definite, if shallow, entertainment value. Both episodes can be quite funny at times, offer a lot of amusing side details, and allow one more time around for all of the colorful characters from Class 2-A. If that's not enough for those who watched the first TV series to check this one out, then the oodles of fan service still await.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Lots and lots of fan service, inventive visual gimmickry, occasionally very funny.
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