UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
UQ Holder! ?
Jumping right back into the fight in this episode of UQ Holder really shows how much ground this story covered in the preceding episode. There was good setup and pacing, and now we feel like we're at the apex of a longer story arc. Maybe it speaks to the series being economical with how much story it wants to pack into a short episode run, but it still feels spaced out well.
The show's still definitely conserving its resources wherever it can though. The opening minutes reestablishing the fights seem a little stiff, animation-wise. Thankfully, it's mostly just the show biding its time for the really big stuff, like an impressive moment of heroism from Kuromaru (despite being only half the man he used to be) or the shiny new reveal of Tota's Magia Erebea power that lends its name to this episode's title.
Even with that stuff going on beforehand, Karin's action continues to be the star in the first part of this episode. Her continued torture by Chao does merit side-eye with its titillating ploy going on a bit too long, but it makes her subsequent critical hit straight to his nads all that more satisfying, and the butt-kicking that ensues also looks great. Someone must have pointed out how obtrusive the Chamo-censor was, because it's been replaced with steam, judicious camera angles, and even the holy light of Karin's own power. Akamatsu's style of characters flipping, spinning, and getting zoom-kicked straight into walls during fights is all rendered faithfully, and it sets the tone for the bigger battle of Tota versus Kaito in the rest of the episode.
So back to Tota and his return with those new powers. Their actual appearance is quite abrupt, with no scene of him actually releasing his powers or freeing himself from the seal. It does provide a nice surprise when the smoke clears to reveal him standing there, but it feels like a shortcut all the same. The animation of the fight to follow is nice, with a clear Dragonball Z influence, making effective dynamic use of the flash-step that's been the focus of this arc.
But that abrupt reveal only calls attention to the issue with Tota's new power itself. Sudden revelations of abilities that save the day are nothing new in shonen series like this, and for the majority of the episode, Tota's Magia Erebea functions as an intriguing new mystery for the audience unfamiliar with the franchise and an engaging call-back to the Negima fans who do know what this power signifies. It creates an interesting conflict in Tota in the later part of the fight when he restrains himself from using the power to kill Kaito, implying that he doesn't believe the power is truly ‘his’. On top of that, Karin and the old man Nagumo discussing it on the sidelines provides an opportunity for an expositional flashback to Negima characters that was actually in the original UQ Holder manga, and this scene is engaging enough that you almost forget Karin and Nagumo were supposed to be fighting each other.
However, that's still a noticeable issue in the story's presentation, as is the Magia Erebea itself. After all is said and done, Yukihime almost too-casually throws out an explanation that the ability was one of her techniques and Tota simply inherited via her vampiric blood transfusion. It's dropped way too simply, with little dramatic reaction from the other characters, rendering the build-up and implications of the powers flat. Instead, it now feels like a convenient ability Tota got handed just in time to win this particular fight, and even in a series full of fighters who can't die, that seems a little too game-breaking to make for dramatic storytelling.
It's a core issue with this episode, but admittedly the only major one. The arm-wrestling match that wraps Tota and Kaito's battle looks nice; it's appropriately goofy for a show that needs to be offbeat to distinguish itself and does a good job of bringing this arc full circle. The characters' discussion afterwards also does an interesting job of assessing the difference in motivation between heroes and villains in shonen series. Heroes have long-term, far-reaching goals that they strive to get stronger to achieve; villains meanwhile are more short-sighted and cynical, feeling their strength can't take them anywhere else other than self-serving battles. It's a surprisingly astute articulation of a core concept that does an effective job of marking UQ Holder as a more modern series by a seasoned creator, and it elevates this episode where its poor handling of new superpowers let it down.
Similar to the Magi Erebea's existence, the very end of this episode provides a hook that neatly caters to its split audience in different ways. Those with no prior series knowledge will be intrigued by the appearance of a mysterious new character in the same way these types of shows usually drive interest with a last-second tease. Meanwhile, the Negima faithful will immediately recognize this white-haired fellow as a major player from that preceding series, teasing anticipation in a knowingly different way. It's a pity about the dropped ball in regards to the Magia Erebea, since the other elements of this episode demonstrate how UQ Holder can hold its own in effectively appealing to everyone.
UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2 is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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