UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
UQ Holder! ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
UQ Holder! ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
UQ Holder! ?

UQ Holder already has more extra context surrounding it than you would generally need from a shonen action series. First and foremost, it wears its status as a sequel to Negima: Magister Negi Magi on its sleeve. It's questionable how advisable it is to sell a show as a sequel to a manga that ended five years ago (and was never properly animated in the first place), but here we are. The old Negima theme song is back, the intro even looks like something out of 2005, and extra cameos and flashbacks of Negima characters have been inserted at points where the connection was only being teased at this point in the UQ Holder manga.

So with that in mind, does UQ Holder have a chance with a new audience? Well, it does help that it's a pretty standard shonen action series so far. The first episode introduces our spunky, spiky-haired hero Tota and his mentor Yukihime, then runs them through a catalytic event to give Tota some superpowers before sending them off on a journey to gather friends and get stronger. Tota's superpowers are the show's big gimmick, as he (and apparently all the central cast) gets nothing less than immortality. Overpowered, unbeatable main characters have become a near-parodic staple of these types of shows these days, so making the hero a literally unkillable vampire is a bold move. It does, however, create a neat hook for the show going forward, since if all the characters duking it out are immortal, the ways they actually beat each other will have to get pretty creative.

The series starts exploring this conceit in the second episode, bringing in Kuromaru, an immortal-hunting warrior who also sports immortality through some sort of super-healing. The different ‘types’ of immortality, with their sources, strengths, and counters, already seems like a key fixation for the series, and if it can keep exploring it in interesting ways, that could be its biggest selling point. Little flourishes like Makabe's video-game ‘life’ system already lend the proceedings a lot of personality.

That's good, because the rest of the series is decent but unremarkable so far. The first episode is a pretty paint-by-numbers shonen origin story, spiced up only by the story's unique ‘future Earth with magic’ setting and a surprising splash of gore in the climactic fight. The second episode is even more rote, introducing Kuromaru for a fight with Tota before they become friends, and finishing with a prolonged hot-springs fanservice scene to remind you that you're watching a Ken Akamatsu adaptation. The third episode introduces the titular UQ Holder group, where Tota and Kuromaru must train to pass an entrance exam that ends with Tota scoring a cool new special sword in the process. The other characters all fit into the standard shonen slots so far, whether it's uptight rival Karin or eccentric training mentor Jinbei.

UQ Holder looks solid so far (at least it's worlds ahead of the old original Negima anime), with some nicely bright colors and fights that adapt Akamatsu's zippy, over-the-top style of battles well. The fanservice is certainly present, but it doesn't really seem to be an in-your-face, ‘buy our Blu-Rays’ selling point of the series yet. It's perhaps most surprising when monsters with clothing-dissolving acid appear in the third episode, but the encounter does not lead to any fanservicey content. Rounding back to the visuals though, those monsters are animated using some of the worst CG I've seen in an anime in a while. We're talking on the level of the old Fate/Stay Night dragon.

The trickier parts of the series to assess will definitely be both the Negima-sequel angle and manga adaptation aspect. He hasn't appeared again, but the first episode inserts a ghostly Negi appearing before Tota, teasing their connection and possibly setting up more concrete encounters with the old protagonist. Episode 2 features Yukihime momentarily flashing back to fan-favorite Negima characters Konoka and Setsuna when she recognizes Kuromaru's swordsmanship style as Shinmei-Ryu. There's also a full flashback in Episode 3 to a scene from the Negima manga, giving enough gratuitous face-time to characters from that series that it seems purely like service for the old fans. Viewers will also recognize Karin's uniform as that of Mahora Academy (the school from Negima), and of course there's the whole point that Yukihime is actually Evangeline, a major character from the old series.

Does this big checklist of references make UQ Holder inaccessible to new audiences? Not necessarily, at least not yet. The way these inserted references are handled come across more like portents of plot twists to come for people unfamiliar with the history, presented more as if to say “This will be important later”. This could especially prove to be the case if this series goes through later parts of the story that do directly bring in Negima characters. It's just getting started so far, but effective structuring of those elements could make or break this series.

Speaking of structure, the pacing of this anime's adaptation is the more immediate point of contention. The first episode somewhat uncomfortably squishes down the original opening chapter, while the second does well introducing Kuromaru only to go on a little too long in the hot springs scene to the point of feeling like padding. But then it skips a whole chapter to jump straight to getting our heroes into the UQ Holder organization, which is presented quite differently than in the source material despite the general ideas being similar. This is another ‘wait and see’ situation, as the question becomes whether this series will alter its content too aggressively or just employ more economical pacing so it can ‘get to the good stuff’.

So UQ Holder's tough to pin down at this point, which is awkward for an action series that's three whole episodes in. It does at least have some unique hooks with its magic and immortality gimmicks. It's fun to watch in a passive way for the cool fights and generic goofy fun, but that might not be enough for people to stick around during its labyrinthine sequelized backstory. Hopefully the adaptive streamlining works in its favor in the long run, instead of leaving the viewers behind in an attempt to be too many things at once.

Rating: B-

UQ Holder! Magister Negi Magi! 2 is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.

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