UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
UQ Holder! ?
It's hard to brush off UQ Holder's dip in quality last week as a mere breather when the episode we get afterwards turns out like this one. By all accounts this should be a huge episode, sending the cast to the original setting of Negima itself and laying some shocking ground for a final battle. However, the caliber of the production simply isn't up to snuff. The smart pacing of the previous arcs is all but gone as UQ Holder fumbles about trying to assemble an epic finale.
At the center of the surprising amount that occurs in this episode is Tota coming to grips with the revelation that he's actually a clone of his supposed grandfather, Negi. There are a few minutes of post-plot-twist downtime as this news appears to be the first thing that's seriously affected Tota emotionally. Then Mizore swoops in and whisks him off the Mahora Academy for a martial arts tournament! The whiplash of all these developments is just a taste of the fits and starts this episode moves in.
Going to Mahora, the school from Negima, should be a huge development, but it's treated with hardly any reverence or revelation. At first I thought the show might be pointedly easing off the Negima references that it overdosed on in its first episodes, but given the other bones it tries to throw to old fans this week, it seems more like just a dramatic miscalculation. Arriving at Mahora also snaps Tota out of his mood rather abruptly, and the explanation of the tournament and its rules are all unloaded gracelessly, feeling like we're rushing into this setup just for the sake of getting to it. As frustrated as last week's silly stalling made me, perhaps the series would actually have been wiser to take more time off to properly ease into this situation. Then again, maybe the episode count simply didn't permit it.
There are some more rapid-fire introductions of characters, namely old cast members Mana and Sayo (who Negima fans will recognize as having an explanation for being unchanged after all these years), but then the show settles down for one of the few strong portions of the episode, as the old crew seeks to reassure Tota over his unusual conception. Having Ayaka be the main one to cheer him up was a nice touch, and the whole thing is a more reflective and tasteful nod to the franchise's past that also ties it into Tota's emotional issues: the most affecting hook the series has at this point.
However, it can't paper over how cheap everything feels in this episode. Character art is flatter and more static than usual, with mouths and limbs looking off-model, and the pacing of the conversation can't escape that feeling of stalling for extra minutes. This is apparent in the episode as a whole, with the production seeming to run out of gas all around, save for one major moment.
As expected, that would be this episode's big fight scene, as contrivance interferes to send Tota into the tournament ring to kick off this final arc. There are some brief teases to the more complex way the contest worked in the source manga, but otherwise that uneven pacing shudders directly into a fight between Tota and a new antagonist named Cutlass. This obviously mysterious character was at least teased a few episodes ago alongside Fate, but the jump into the action still continues that feeling of a clip-show that didn't have enough time to establish its world and tone for maximum impact. Thankfully, the quality of the aforementioned fight scene picks up a lot of the slack, entertainment-wise.
This one battle is a sharp example of the extremes of this production's resource handling. Character models sharpen up (including neat artistic touches like Cutlass sometimes only having one visible eye), the movement is quick and smoothly directed, and it's an easy-to-follow momentary relief from the jagged dragging of the rest of this episode. We even get a splash of UQ Holder's once-defining gory elements, and cool details like the visual effects of magic spells being cast or Cutlass's weapons being based on Negima co-protagonist Asuna's sword. Alas, it's over too quickly, with the immediate escalation of the situation falling into the episode's lower quality tier and forging ahead with little regard for nuance in a rush to get all the pieces in place for a bigger and wilder fight.
The possessed Negi's sudden appearance comes across as a real “that escalated quickly” moment, seemingly by narrative fiat after the barest details of what ties Negi, Cutlass, and Tota together have been laid out. In general, the main plot points of Tota's clone origin and Negi's possession by the villainous Mage of the Beginning are repeated and reiterated more than they need to be throughout this episode, so when the end boss actually appears and lays everything out, we're already weary of the explanation.
The final few minutes do try to up the excitement quotient with a smattering of other out-of-nowhere Negima guest appearances, but with no weight or explanation for why fan favorites like Nodoka, Yue, and Jack Rakan are working with this Big Bad, they're rendered flat for the old fans and inexplicable for the uninitiated. That poorly expended effort defines this episode. It features one pretty cool fight scene and some decent emotional moments moving the plot along, but overall it just feels cheap and drawn out.
UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2 is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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