Review of Negima - Magic 101: The Basics Of Magic
The harem genre is to anime fans, what Marmite is to the average grocery shopper. Its formula of a protagonist surrounded by several members of the opposite sex, clamouring for his or her attention divides fans most strongly. People can either take or leave the relationship shenanigans, the farce, crossed wires, slapstick and general mayhem that ensue. I love the genre, and I recently realised that it was years of watching Allo Allo that prepared me for the anime equivalents. In fact it was a harem anime that ignited my second love affair with the medium a few years ago, when I first reviewed Love Hina for the site. Negima is another Ken Akamatsu manga that has been brought to the small screen, and given my love for Love Hina, I couldn`t miss the chance to check this new series out.
Unfortunately, just reading up about it on t`Internet was enough to throw a damper on my enthusiasm. Apparently this 2005 series was not all that well received in some quarters. So at the end of its 26-episode run, the whole kit-and-caboodle was handed over to another studio, and the series begun again from scratch in 2006, with a new story taking the characters in different directions. That`s the sort of thing that adds a little trepidation to placing the disc in the player, and it`s never a good idea to start watching a series by wondering what`s wrong with it. Still, let the guy and girls chaos commence!
Negi Springfield is the newest member of the faculty at the Mahoru Academy. It`s a girls` school the size of a small city, and would be a daunting prospect for anyone, but Negi is actually a child prodigy, a college graduate at only ten years old. He can`t even reach the blackboard, yet he has to teach English to a class of fourteen-year-old girls. Hailing from Wales, Negi has a secret to protect, he`s actually a wizard, and his final challenge before gaining the rank of Magister Magi, is to teach at the Japanese school. However, under no circumstances must anyone find out who he really is, or he will be recalled back to Wales, stripped of his qualifications, and worse, turned into an ermine.
This first disc from Revelation begins with a bumper selection of six episodes.
1. The Blockhead In The Professor`s Chair (Asinus in cathedra)
Best friends Asuna and Konoka are late for their first day back at school, mainly because Asuna has been involved in a magic ritual to make sure that they get Professor Takahata as homeroom teacher. Her crush is to be denied her, as the girls of class 2A have a new teacher, ten-year-old Negi Springfield. While the other girls find him adorable, Asuna has her suspicions aroused when she sees him levitate a blackboard eraser that someone had set as a trap.
2. Every Beginning Is Difficult (Omne initium est difficile)
With his secret revealed, Negi has no choice but to erase Asuna`s memory, but the spell goes wrong, erasing something else, and revealing something that Asuna doesn`t want seen, which is when Professor Takahata shows up. Now that Asuna knows that he is a wizard, Negi has to swear her to secrecy. She agrees, on the condition that Negi helps her get closer to Takahata.
3. Lovers, Lunatics (Amantes, amentes)
Negi`s second attempt at teaching a lesson is no more successful than the first, and he winds up offending Asuna yet again. To get back into her good graces, he`s determined to help her with Professor Takahata, and goes about creating a love potion. She`s still angry though, and forces him to drink what she believes is a useless concoction. One love potion, a classroom full of girls, you figure it out.
4. No Place Is Like Home (Nullus locus est instar domus)
Asuna isn`t doing well in English, which means some remedial classes with Negi. Negi`s determined to help her. But while he is a good teacher and mature for his age, in one significant way Negi is just like any other ten-year-old boy, he hates baths. When Asuna learns of this, she drags him down to the school baths to get him cleaned. The potential for embarrassment is rife when the rest of the class shows up, and while they hide, the other girls get into an argument over whom Negi should live with.
5. Rumor Flies (Fama volet)
Negi gets a letter from his sister reminding him of the necessity of finding a partner. A wizard needs a warrior at his side to defend him while he casts his spells. The tradition is that it is usually someone of the opposite sex, and marriage is the usual course. Soon rumours are flying around school that Negi is a Welsh prince in search of a princess. Then a magical ermine named Chamo shows up, claiming to be sent by Negi`s sister to find him a partner. The great bride hunt is on.
6. Between A Rock And A Hard Place (A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi)
The current school gossip concerns a vampire who is hunting vulnerable girls on Cherry Blossom Lane, and when Makie is found unconscious there, Negi`s suspicions are raised. He`s quick to the rescue when Nodoka is caught on her way back to the dorm, but is shocked to learn the identity of the magic wielding vampire. Negi can only think of one way to resolve the situation that will keep the students safe.
One of the bones of contention with Negima was the quality of the animation. It was enough to delay the original release of the DVD in Japan, so that whole sequences could be reanimated. That was the version that was eventually released in the US, and it`s the same version that we get here.
Negima gets a 4:3 transfer that is clear, sharp and full of strong, bright colours. The transfer quality is good, with little to complain about. The character designs are excellent, with a wide variety of designs for the various class members. That said, the animation is a little simplistic, and it`s the sheer pace of the story, and the energy of the humour that do much to offset the somewhat static and unspectacular visuals. It`s all pretty standard stuff, and it does the job.
You have a choice of DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles or a signs only track. As always my first choice is for the original language, and I found nothing to complain about. The dialogue is clear, the subtitles legible, and the music suits the show well, with a couple of toe-tapping tunes accompanying the credits.
I also watched the first two episodes in English, and just like Love Hina, the script has gone through a significant alteration for Western audiences. The saucy and ribald humour has been toned down, the character interactions altered slightly, and minor plot points and jokes changed completely. The English and Japanese versions offer completely different experiences, although I prefer my humour on the raw side. Unlike Love Hina however, this dub is actually a good one, with the character voices working well for the most part. That`s with the exception of Negi and his family. He`s Welsh, so he gets a generic Dick Van Dyke English accent. Aimed at the American audience it doesn`t matter of course, but to UK ears it`s Daphne`s brother all over again. Thank God they didn`t actually try a Welsh accent, it would have probably turned out Indian.
Jacket picture, animated menus and multi-angle credit sequences, as per the norm for anime discs. This does result in that angle switching glitch seen in Full Metal Alchemist, where the angles start alternating, resulting in jerk-o-vision. It only affects you if you are watching the Japanese version (it`s probably only on my Sony player), and is only on some of the credit sequences. As usual, skipping back or forth fixes it.
You get the textless credit sequences, and five pages of texts offering an insight into Japanese school culture. The disc is completed with trailers for Fruits Basket and Full Metal Alchemist.
I can tell straight away that Negima is another of those love or hate anime, and if you like farce, madcap humour, awkward situations and a fair bit of sauce, then you should do fine by this disc. It must be said that the traditional harem dynamic is subverted from the off, as the main male character Negi, is only ten years old. It`s obvious that he isn`t going to be hampered by unrequited feelings for one of his students, and by the same token, the bevy of teenaged girls may find him adorably cute, but it really only invokes the big-sister instincts in them. Still, with a room full of girls there`s plenty of room for saucy humour, cattiness and odd personalities, and when Negi has the power to disrobe a victim with the force of a sneeze, the harem style humour is still there, even if the romantic dynamic is not.
I guess that J.K. Rowling has a lot to answer for, as yet another wizard hits our screens. It`s early stages as yet, and what magic there is contributes to the humour. Still we do learn something of Negi`s background, he`s another orphan, and there are hints of a larger story yet to unfold. It`s really in the final episode on this disc that the story kicks in, as Negi faces a challenge from a vampire magic user, who has knowledge of Negi`s missing father.
With 31 girls in class 2A, and with the assorted subsidiary characters, keeping track of who is who could be nightmarish in this series. Fortunately, we don`t really get thrown into the deep end with this disc, as each episode concentrates mostly on the characters central to the episode in question. In typical harem style, Negi may wind up in a classroom full of girls who find him sweet, yet he ends up friends with, and spending most of his time with the one girl who can`t stand him, and the one girl who keeps falling victim to his bursts of magic. By the end of the first two episodes, Negi has embarrassed Asuna several times, yet circumstances force them together. The Dean`s granddaughter Konoka is Asuna`s best friend and roommate, and at his behest, the pair allow Negi to live with them. The following episodes gradually introduce more of the girls, including Nodoka, a shy bookworm who has a phobia regarding men. Her friends decide to use Negi as aversion therapy, but as he keeps rescuing her, she gradually begins to relate to him. This is helped by the love potion episode, which sets up a classic Benny Hill moment, as Negi finds himself fleeing from most of his class.
I found Negima to be a delight. It has that same zany, madcap humour that so enchanted me in Love Hina, but this certainly is no retread. With the possibility of romance diminished because of the main character`s age, the saucy humour takes on a degree of innocence, and the magical overtones add a dimension to the show that holds the interest after the jokes have faded. It`s entertaining and it is utterly silly. There`s something to be said for just sticking in a DVD and giggling at some animated inanity. This first disc is all about introducing and developing the characters, and with such an extensive roster, the bumper six episodes are certainly welcome. The extras could have been bolstered by some much needed character profiles though, and hopefully future volumes will remedy this. After five episodes of pure absurdity, something of a larger story kicks in, and the cliffhanger makes waiting for the next volume hard to do.