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It's only magic!
on July 10, 2009
Negi Springfield is often touted as Japan's answer to Harry Potter, although in personality he's a bit more like Hermione.
And while the wizard prodigy isn't quite shown to his full potential in the anime adaptation "Negima," where stretches of fluffy harem comedy are speckled with serious magic and action. While it starts slowly and relies too heavily on semi-nudity and slapsticky antics, the more wizardly adventures end up keeping it worth watching.
Middle-school student Asuna is desperately hoping that her crush, Professor Takahata, will be teaching homeroom at Mahora Academy this year... and her mood is further soured by a preteen boy who tells her, "Not everyone can be lucky in love."
Turns out the boy, a Welsh prodigy named Negi Springfield, IS the new teacher. Most of the girls immediately love him, but Asuna is enraged by Negi's "weirdness" -- when she glimpses him magically saving a student, his secret comes out: Negi is a wizard, and if Asuna reveals his secret he'll be turned into an ermine. Fortunately, Asuna agrees to keep his secret... if he makes a love potion for her, with predictably chaotic results.
And soon Negi is faced by a creature from his family past -- a vampiric student who is determined to drain his blood. And he has to deal with myriad other troubles -- web idols, vicious volleyball teams, kiss contests, spying cheerleaders, a timid ghost, and a scheming ermine. And when Negi's job hangs on his class's bottom-of-the-barrel test scores, Asuna organizes a trip to the mysterious Library Island to get a magical book that can make even the Dummy Force smart!
But things take a dark turn near the end of the series -- a trip to Kyoto goes awry when Konoka is threatened, and the mysterious sword-wielding Setsuna reveals her true identity. And upon returning, Asuna becomes increasingly ill -- leading Negi to discover a horrifying secret in her past, which links the doomed girl to his vanished father.
Ken Akamatsu's original manga is pretty much balanced out -- part of it is slam-bang magic'n'action, while the other part is kooky romantic comedy and crazy slapstick. And for the anime, "Negima" serves up an incredibly heavy dose of the kooky comedy/crazy slapstick, with an emphasis on busts, robots, superpowered kicks, ninjas and the occasional skyscraper-sized demon.
In fact many episodes are nothing but poor Negi getting swamped by his high-spirited students and the devious ermine Chamo's manipulations (which involve awkward kissing). Lots of skimpy clothes, confessions of love, bear panties and kooky dialogue ("Side effects may include dry mouth, nausea and loss of about a million brain cells..."). It's like an amped-up romantic sitcom with some magical trappings.
While the comedic stories are fun in a disposable way, what makes the series truly watchable is the magic-oriented episodes -- aerial battles with tiny blonde vampires and playing chase with a giant stone golem amongst them. The end of the series is when the magical adventures really take front-and-center: though the whole trip to Kyoto rushes by way too fast, the final bittersweet arc is nothing short of brilliant.
It's icky to see teenage girls pursuing a ten-year-old, but Negi is a likable little hero -- he's earnest, unselfish, and completely devoted to his students even if they're insane. Asuna is his opposite -- brash, temperamental, unexpectedly warmhearted -- and serves as a mildly violent big-sister type, although their roles unexpectedly switch near the finale.
Surprisingly the rest of the cast plenty of fleshing-out as well -- sweet Konoka, mysterious Setsuna, the antisocial web idol Chisame ("This is CHIU's world and all you bimbos are mere tenants!"), serene ninja Kaede, and the loopy princess Ayaka (who has a surprisingly tragic past). Most memorable is the prepubescent vampire-mage Evangeline ("It's enough to make ANYONE CRAZY!"), and her cat-loving robot Chachamaru.
The complete "Negima" season is a bit too heavy on the fluffy comedy, and too light on the magical adventures. But it's still worth watching for those who need a bit more Magorum magic.