UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
UQ Holder! ?
UQ Holder's ill-advised turn from a simple shonen adaptation to a messy attempt at rushing into a grand finale at least came with the promise of an ending. Sure, they weren't able to fully animate the entire manga, but at least they could cherry-pick the good stuff and provide some attempt at closure, right? Unfortunately, actually finishing its own story can be added to the list of things the UQ Holder anime falls down on.
It actually starts out promising enough. The spiritual heart-to-heart between Tota, Evengeline, Fate, and Negi does a good job of setting the stage and laying out the stakes. Fate's rushed explanation of his plan to make everyone immortal as a roundabout way to save Negi seems to be trying to build to some thematic point, but it mostly comes off obtuse and clumsy. And given that the core concept is killing off the main character of the preceding series, you might expect it to have more emotional weight than it does. But it mostly works as a lead-in to this episode wrapping everything up, providing a nice break before things really go all-out.
As with many elements in the last few episodes, Negi's Great Thunder super mode (and Tota's subsequent copying) is going to be totally lost on anyone unfamiliar with the Negima canon, but in this case it doesn't matter so much just because of how cool it looks. Honestly, the biggest problem is the ever-present dimmer filter over the screen that does the presentation no favors, but otherwise all the action at this point looks pretty good. The high-flying flashy battle between the two protagonists actually feels like a finale-level event, regardless of the confused context. As a bonus, it gives us a taste of the insane visual magic effects we've always wanted from Negima anime.
Between that presentation and Tota's epiphany about seeing his Grandfather as a hero and why he wants to save him, this part of the episode does well to lead into another serious turning point. Kirie's attempt at a heroic sacrifice is well-executed, only held back by the show taking too many moments to remind us of its poorly-introduced harem elements. It results in a little whiplash when the very next event is Cutlass bloodily incapacitating Kirie and literally pulling her teeth out. The established violence of UQ Holder does keep this level of brutality from coming out of nowhere, instead letting the impact to Tota and the audience land hard, even if it does feel just a little gratuitous. But overall it's a strong moment that works in terms of emotion and tenseness, as well as a truly badass reveal on Kirie's part. We've seen the ‘stalling for time’ gambit play out on many occasions in series like this, but it still works just because of the sheer number of elements leading to the activation of our heroes' trump card.
At least, until we actually see that trump card. Maybe it was too much to hope that UQ Holder could just be itself at the very end, but simply having the entire cast of Negima appear in a spirit vision to take out evil Negi comes across as truly shameless. The problem isn't so much the Class 3-A reunion itself, but more the self-congratulatory attitude with which it deploys this obvious fanservice. Every character gets one or two throwaway lines as their special powers are flashed onscreen with no explanation for unfamiliar viewers, all set to the predictable sound of the original Negima theme song.
At least initially, UQ Holder! seemed to represent a distinctly early-2000's harem action-comedy like Negima advancing to more interesting and complex explorations of shonen ideas. But this goofy setpiece not only feels massively out of place coming off the dark and bloody scene that came before it, it betrays the future that UQ Holder has been handed by making that series beholden to its progenitor at the very end. By the time some spiritual babble has half-assedly explained what's happening and the cat-eared robot maid has used her satellite stripper beam to accidentally disrobe all the high school girls, you'll be distinctly aware of the things about Negima that UQ Holder should probably have left back in 2005.
After all that, the series doesn't even have the decency to actually end. The Lifemaker-possessed Negi isn't beaten, the heroes' plans haven't gotten them anywhere, and precious little character development and world-building has actually occurred. The series even shamelessly teases open plot points and potential characters for a second season that we can probably guess isn't going to happen.
Probably the biggest indictment I can make of the UQ Holder anime is that it doesn't even work as a sequel to Negima. Maybe it was supposed to remind us of what we missed about that series in its glory days, but instead it just made clear that the superficial elements aren't worth dredging up to use in a partially new story. Instead, playing cover-band to that style just results in a shallow confusing mess that pleases nobody. At least UQ Holder does come through as a successor to Negima in one way: You're better off just reading the manga.
UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2 is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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