Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Having finally captured the powerful Fate Averruncus, Tota and his allies are each given the chance to ask him one question, and perhaps at last come to understand his ultimate goals for Tota. Then it's back to the grind for Tota and friends, as he is assigned a new mission by UQ Holder. Tasked with joining Kuromaru and Karin in tracking down an immortal at Academy City, Tota will have to go undercover at the school his grandfather once taught at, and seek whatever creature has been leaving a trail of bodies across the campus. UQ Holder isn't just a sanctuary for wayward immortals - it is judge, jury, and executioner for those immortals deemed too dangerous for society.
It's been a rough ride, but it seems like UQ Holder! is finally developing some consistency. With Fate having just barely fallen into Kirie's trap at the end of volume four, this volume opens with a climactic chapter of Fate and Evangeline throwing everything they have at each other. Swords whiz and icicles shatter and the two superhumans generally make an absurd spectacle of themselves, ending in a stalemate, as Fate promises to stop his attack for now. Turning to Tota and his friends, Fate offers each of them a single question before soaring off again.
These questions end up being reflective of something that's becoming more and more inescapable in UQ Holder! - the fact that, in spite of initially appearing to only have loose connections to Negima, this manga is more or less a direct sequel to that one. The significance of characters like Fate, Evangeline, and Negi Springfield provides most of the context for Fate's worldbuilding-focused answers, which also go into the major compromise that defined the conclusion to that series. And with the majority of this volume actually taking place at Academy City, Negi's old stomping ground, it's clear that UQ Holder! is moving from “subtle nods to its predecessor” towards “the fate of the Springfield lineage, Part Two.” As a fan of Negima, I'm perfectly happy to see that story continue; but those who just picked up Akamatsu's work here might find it a little frustrating to be locked out of this story's larger context.
That said, the majority of this volume is dedicated to a new mission that doesn't really require any Negima knowledge. With Fate gone, Tota, Kuromaru, Karin, and Ikku are all sent off on a mission to Academy City, where a series of murders across a span of eighty years has them searching for an unregistered immortal to apprehend or eliminate. There they investigate a variety of murder scenes, make friends and enemies with various locals, and end up tracking some kind of psychic powerhouse across the roofs of the academy.
These chapters are unfortunately not quite as entertaining as the time travel-based stakeout of the fourth volume, but they do a fair job of mixing up the story's style of drama. In comparison to early volumes' simple arena battles, the team's investigations here are a mix of mystery deduction and criminal-chasing, complete with highlights like a three-on-one fight against a “psion” with all manner of ridiculous powers. Even though Kirie's absence hurts the rapport between Tota and the others, the team is certainly developing a stronger chemistry over time. Ikku adds a nice touch of levity to the group, and Karin has evolved from simply distrusting Tota to actually treating him as a legitimate member of the group.
Overall, UQ Holder!'s fifth volume doesn't match the consistent highs in either character work or dramatic plotting that made the fourth volume such a treat, but still leaves the series in much stronger standing than the first few volumes. The story has a solid foundation now, and enough characters with enough personality that simply having the team investigate individual missions is reasonably satisfying. Couple that with the fact that this mission involved a lot more groundwork and flexibility than straightforward enemy-punching, and it's beginning to look like UQ Holder!'s inherently excitement-averse premise may have some legs after all.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Akamatsu's art is, as always, very consistent, and Tota's new mission gives the story some room to breathe.
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