Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Having at last completed his eight months of training, Tota is finally given permission to battle in the Mahora Martial Arts Tournament. Of course, Tota's dreams aren't just confined to winning battles and climbing the tower anymore - after all, he now knows that his powers may be indispensable in saving his grandfather Negi Springfield. But lofty battles with powerful mages might not be the only thing Tota has to worry about, as it seems like half of Yukihime's retinue has fallen for the young immortal. Love is as much of a battlefield as any other, and Tota's admirers will have to fight just as hard as anyone.
It sure has taken a while to get here. First introduced all the way back in volume seven, this volume sees the Mahora Martial Arts Tournament finally on the immediate horizon. We aren't there quite yet, and unfortunately, a great deal of this volume does feel like frustratingly protracted preamble. But UQ Holder is a manga of many parts, and before we can get to those meaty fight scenes, volume eleven takes its time rambling through some romantic comedy, fanservice, and unexpected reunions.
The first few chapters here are easily some of the weakest, as they see Ken Akamatsu backsliding into Love Hina-tier romantic hijinks. A setup like “Tota accidentally eats a truth serum and then rampages across the inn” could theoretically set up a very funny and even creative adventure, but the execution here is pretty lackluster. The only real jokes here are basic pratfalls, and the focus on Karen just underlines the fact that she and Tota have absolutely zero chemistry. The only real satisfying segment of these early chapters involve a speech Karen basically makes to herself, articulating her backstory and motivation in a way that nicely elaborates on her fundamental character.
Tota's unchemistry with pretty much everyone hurts a lot of this volume's material. A character like Tota, defined by confidence and ambition and generally blind to emotional nuances, is very well-suited to shonen action, but somewhat adrift in romantic drama. As girls swoon around him, Tota remains entirely oblivious. New arrivals Shinobu and Mizore are almost solely defined by their feelings towards Tota, making all of their material feel dramatically sterile. Even Kirie, one of UQ Holder's absolute best characters, is somewhat sabotaged by her growing feelings for Tota. While the two of them used to have a snappy report, Kirie's descent into love interest-dom means she's left fumbling and blushing at all of Tota's actions. Tota has become a better character over time, but he still can't sell believable interpersonal drama like Negi Springfield.
Outside of the lukewarm romance, a great deal of this volume is dedicated to a variety of kinds of fanservice. Actual nudity is fairly abundant, with Tota's clothes-scattering sword strikes doing a lot of heavy lifting. That kind of “oops, nudity” fanservice always feels a little half-baked, though, with its randomness undercutting any kind of sensuality. More effective are this volume's regular chapter-opening pinups, which seem designed to be titillating in a way that actually makes sense, in addition to framing the characters as in command of their own sexuality.
Along with the traditional fanservice, this volume also offers fun reunions with a handful of Negi's old students. Along with Tatsumiya, we run into Ayaka, Chachamaru, Sayo, and even Zazie, who all seem to have spent the last few decades doing quite well for themselves. Tota also finds himself in a battle with Honoka and Isana Konoe, whose designs match Konoka Konoe and Setsuna Sakurazaki so closely that it seems we're already meant to see them as the old couples' grandchildren. If you've still got some fondness for Negima's old stars, there's plenty to enjoy here.
This volume's last half easily eclipses its first, offering plenty of the dramatic battles Akamatsu has been honing for years. A showdown between Fate's forces and Tota's friends offers plenty of striking visual setpieces, and Tota's return to the tournament prelims is a satisfying illustration of how much his training has bolstered his powers. This volume isn't great on the whole, but it's a reasonable transition work, and I'm excited to see how Negima's old faces get incorporated into the narrative from here. UQ Holder is an uneven work, but this tournament promises to be a thrilling time.
Overall : B-
Story : C-
Art : B+
+ There are fun reunions with a bunch of Negima stars, the few action scenes are great, and the art is as consistent as ever.
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