UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
UQ Holder! ?
I remarked on UQ Holder!'s distinctly shonen formula in my opening review for the series, but the show has since managed to juggle more innovative pacing and developments with its otherwise expected battle-action proceedings. That goes out the window this week, as the combat and subsequent exposition land much more squarely in that genre box. Whether that's a good or bad thing will largely depend on your own tolerance for the medium, but this is definitely the shonen-est episode of UQ Holder! in a while.
It's a shaky setup at first. Fate's arrival in the space elevator port to taunt Tota and threaten his friends all unfolds at a surprisingly decompressed pace, with several minutes going by in the standoff. The animation has also become choppier compared to the somewhat sharper earlier episodes, and the whole presentation feels more like a long-running shonen series stalling for time. Of course, UQ Holder! isn't long-running at all; this is episode 7 of a twelve-episode series, so it sticks out even more. But then the action picks up again, taking the rest of the series with it.
To be sure, the animation quality has definitely slipped overall, but the actual direction of the combat picks up the slack, moving quickly and pulling just enough tricks with its various immortal gimmicks to keep things interesting. We get a funny moment with Kuromaru pulling a Fastball Special with Kirie, and there are counters and counter-counters aplenty between the various characters' magic abilities. The pacing still slips up as the show vacillates between our heroes winning or being out-schemed from moment to moment, but it's nowhere near as distracting as the shifting timelines of last episode.
More than anything, this episode of UQ Holder! feels like a whole arc of shonen-battle ‘big fight’ episodes squished together into one event, as the heroes' initial plan fails, they need to adopt a fallback, and then end up pairing off for one-on-one fights against the other villains that appear. If you just tuned in, you might think you were in the middle of a longer show, but this all resolves in speedy yet effective fashion.
Indeed, I can't overstate how effectively this episode's main fight maneuvers through different phases. Tota's rapid-fire shifting of his Gravity Blade initially just looks like regular sword-swinging accompanied by yelling, but it gives way to a clever trick where he uses its weight to trap Fate. There's a mid-battle phone call that's a funny touch, a counter-maneuver by Kirie that makes use of her knowledge from this fight in other timelines, and it all results in a glorious DBZ-esque cratered mess of the airport-style lobby. This episode shows how an economical adaptation of a much longer shonen manga can turn brevity to its advantage. This is a fight you might not mind going longer, but at least it doesn't overstay its welcome.
The one hiccup is the battle's resolution. Abruptly teleporting Fate back in time into the UQ Holder! organization's territory was the whole point of the plan, but it lacks even a cursory ‘big moment’ to sell the team's struggle for success. In a slightly longer series, this would be an episode-capping victory, but we simply don't have time for that here, so Fate gets teleported underground, threatened by Yukihime, and simply trades exposition for his freedom.
This infodumping section in the last third of the episode is the other shonen-style embellishment, and if it's necessary to get the series on-track for its imminent final arc, it's at least presented decently. The effective pacing leaves us with enough time to get details in an entertaining way, so we don't have time to worry so much about authorities like Yukihime just playing along with Fate's games. As in the fight, the series isn't afraid to add levity with little touches like Karin of all people asking Fate a trivial question. As at the beginning of the series, it's when Tota broaches the subject of Negi that things escalate quickly.
The appearance of a holographic communication from Tota's grandfather definitely raises the last few minutes of this episode into What The Hell territory, particularly for those unfamiliar with the founding Negima canon. As someone who did read through that series, it's hard for me to parse if this scene of Negi appearing before Tota and the others works as an effectively surprising mystery, or if it just comes out of nowhere. Its abrupt end definitely doesn't help, as Yukihime orders Kuromaru to destroy the transmitting device. From the audience's perspective, there is zero reason to do so before Virtual Negi explains everything, and if there was some undisclosed malicious intent behind the transmission, it needs to be explained sooner rather than later. That abrupt cut-off is the main issue with the otherwise impressive pacing of this episode, feeling more like they just ran out of time rather than reaching an appropriate stopping point.
The awkward elements of that final exposition chunk aren't quite enough to diminish this episode's main battle sequence, however. I do hope that the slightly diminished production values are an indication that UQ Holder! is conserving its resources for a big finish rather than simply running out of gas, but that's a concern for future episodes. This week was the show's method of adaptation at its best.
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