UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
UQ Holder! ?
Maybe it's damning to say that there was nowhere to go but up after those past couple episodes of UQ Holder!. However, with the production and story barely hanging on, this week goes for broke with whatever worth is left in the series. Honestly, they do seem to have given up on fully explaining things; even Evangeline has no explanation for why Negi's former allies are still alive and helping the villain, and a major reference to Negima main character Asuna is dropped with no foreshadowing (although at least her appearance is explained soonafter).
After the episode tries to distract us with a misplaced clothes-destroying gag (complete with the return of a less obtrusive Chamo-censor), it spends the rest of the episode trying to fill the audience in on everything at once. Tota gets whisked into a fully physical Negima flashback, and while previous instances of this kind of fanservice tried to turn it into something that could be understood by unfamiliar viewers, there's no chance of that here. We're given broad-strokes rundowns of Evangeline meeting Negi's father Nagi, along with her in Negi's class and some cuts to important events between these characters from the Negima manga. Interestingly, a lot of this content has been covered multiple times in Negima anime before, making this come across as even more redundant for prior fans while remaining head-scratching for newcomers.
This immersive flashback makes up the bulk of the episode, leaving any new viewers in the dust while doing its best to provide fanservice for the Negima faithful who have stuck around this long. Another old character named Ku:Nel Sanders appears as Tota's spirit guide, and he actually brings a bit of flair and personality to the series that had been lacking for a while. Once we get past the redundant Evangeline-based portions, the remaining quick clips that recreate manga moments are welcome reminders of what worked about that previous series. It's only after that breezy trip down memory lane ends that the adaptation problems really rear their head again.
Tota's surprising ability to interact with the supposed world of the past isn't too incongruous, especially once its status as a trap set by the Mage of the Beginning is explained. However, the emotional crux of the whole scene is based on the past Evangeline revealing her dormant feelings for Tota, which has no explanation unless you've read key parts of the manga that explain how that fourth-dimensional romantic entanglement came to be. Elements of this story are laid out in the OVA released for UQ Holder! ahead of this television series, but for the most part, the audience is simply asked to accept that Tota awakened feelings in Yukihime's slightly younger form with no explanation as to why or how.
This is just a symptom of many other minor messes that pop up in this episode as a result of the show's reliance on manga knowledge to shove this story toward some sort of resolution. The other out-of-nowhere plot twist is the appearance of the aforementioned Asuna. Desspite the barely-explained nonsense leading to it, Asuna's arrival does actually land with some of the gravitas it's shooting for. Maybe it's just that such a major character from this series' progenitor showing up would result in a 'Holy Crap!” moment for fans regardless, or maybe it's that the pacing and artistic quality are just slightly better this time around. Whatever the case, the Asuna plot twist works dramatically, even if you have no idea what this Inverse-Mars junk the characters are babbling on about means.
It also helps that she doesn't overstay her welcome. Asuna is around just long enough to help Tota, engage in classic amusing antics with her old foil Evangeline, then dispense encouragement and strategy to the UQ Holder! crew before leaving on a high note. Her outlandish yet enjoyable appearance works as a microcosm of why this episode isn't as poor as the previous two. Its plot holds the audience's attention with just enough whiplash that we can't question what the hell just happened for too long. Sure, the series is still racing through plot points just to get finale stuff set up, but at least now they're moderately engaging plot points.
What I'm trying to say is that UQ Holder! is still absolutely a mess, but it's at least become an enjoyable mess. If you're familiar with the preceding Negima content, it all reads like a jumbled AMV homage to Negima's ongoing poor luck in anime adaptation. If you don't know anything about that stuff, then it's just a tossed salad of keywords and inexplicable characters that at least flows by fast enough not to be boring. It's kinda fun, and it's not terrible, which might be the best we can hope for at this point.
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