UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
UQ Holder! ?
I suppose the surprisingly effective momentum of the UQ Holder anime couldn't hold out forever. Here on the eve of the story's presumable finale, the show's pacing takes a break for a remarkably unremarkable comic relief episode. To be fair, the show's escalating structure demanded some sort of reprieve, and it also uses this pit stop to dispense some information that's been a long time coming. However, the juiciest reveals are saved for the very end, leaving this episode meandering uncharacteristically for most of its runtime.
Initially it looks this episode could be a treat, especially for prior Negima fans, as old characters Ayaka and Chachamaru pop in somewhat unexpectedly. Unfortunately, they also arrive with Ayaka's granddaughter Mizore in tow, and the story uses her presence as a springboard for an episode-long spiral into the sort of harem-comedy territory that Akamatsu is known for. Yes, it turns out that in addition to the established Kuromaru, Shinobu and Kirie have also developed crushes on Tota, so that means a lot of petty romantic shenanigans culminating in a hot spring showdown.
This setup is where UQ Holder hits a hiccup for the first time since episode three in the disparate amount of material being covered between the manga and the anime. When the chapter this episode is based on rolled around originally, these characters had already been established and spent time bonding with Tota, so their growing feelings for him made more sense. But Shinobu's barely been a background element since the beginning of the series, and Kirie's known Tota for all of an afternoon. Granted, that was an afternoon she repeated ten times, but there wasn't really any connection shown between them that would motivate this type of material. Still, the perfunctory plotline marches on regardless.
Why the staff chose to adapt this particular plot at this point is a mystery (maybe they just assumed Akamatsu fans wanted harem hijinks in there somewhere), but there are at least small signs of them trying to make the mismatched material work. There's a side gag from Tota about not being that popular previously, and Karin brings up some interesting meditations on the difference in life lived between humans and immortals. So it is nice that the series can at least keep its central idea afloat. But the actual segments of the gaggle of girls (and Kuromaru) and their goofy pursuit of Tota plays out pretty rote. It doesn't help that the actual art doesn't look great this week either.
You might think that the interactions between the grown Negima characters could provide the more interesting flipside of this outing's content, but the execution misses the mark there as well. Ayaka and Evangeline's reflection on their glory days are presented as an extended flashback to some painfully generic Negima classroom content. It gets incredibly gratuitous, with most of the old favorites simply passing by and waving hello, culminating in an attempt at comedy that makes the other content in this episode seem inspired by comparison. The flashback does mercifully end up giving way to Ayaka and Evangeline actually reflecting on their emotions in the present, but by then it's too little too late, and we're actually wishing to go back to the generic harem junk.
Honestly, the fluffy romcom filler that makes up the rest of the episode isn't terrible. But it's too generic in a show that was able to just put its own spin on other shonen staples until now, twisting its players too out-of-character to make them fit into this misplaced Love Hina episode. You can sense the staff putting in an effort; even with the jagged art, the direction still comes to life anytime something remotely action-oriented happens. But that effort falters in service of content that just feels unnecessary.
Our reward for sitting through all this is Yukihime/Evangeline finally giving Tota some facts on the situation. This is of course a convenient infodump right before the final battle, and while getting it directly from Yukihime is an important gesture, her exposition could definitely stand to be presented more dramatically. In the end, what we get is sufficiently interesting and explains some of the more questionable holes that have popped up in the story before. For instance, Yukihime's abrupt cutoff of Negi's transmission last episode turns out to have been for a good reason, since he's been compromised by a magical possession from the apparent Final Boss of this whole storyline. The other big reveal goes all the way back to the real reason Tota could use Negi's Magia Erebea powers. He's actually a clone of his alleged grandfather! The episode ends on that note, but the impact does an effective job of tying up all those loose ends we've had until now.
Those last few minutes of desperately-needed plot points can't cover for an episode that feels like 90% filler, however. Just being filler isn't a huge problem, since a respite can be good for pacing purposes even in a short series. The big failing of this episode is rather the material itself, an artifact of adaptation that's just baffling to bother including.
UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2 is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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