Friday, December 7, 2012

DaWaRou Posts: My Favorite manga Negima Magister Negi Magi

Greetings everyone! This is my FIFTH post and I'm excited! The semester is almost over, I've got a research paper I should be writing at the time of this post and I'm currently working on the fourth chapter of my novel! Now I've decided to name my posts so that they can be easily identified from everyone else's and...just because I can. The word DaWaRou doesn't mean anything in particular but if I had to associate my made up Japanese sounding word with anything at'd be relaxation. Now, I'm an English major and my goals are to become an English teacher and a writer. So for this post, I thought it'd be fitting to talk about a manga that's about an English teacher.

Back when I was in high school, I'd visit my Dad every other weekend. He'd pick me up and we'd drive up the streetish to the apartment complex he lived in and I'd basically stay on his computer for a good chunk of my visits when we weren't watching TV or doing father/son bonding. One series in particular that I discovered was something that would go on to become my near absolute favorite manga. This is that series.

 This is Negima! Magister Negi Magi and it's from the same brilliant mind that brought us A.I. Love You and Love Hina. Now A.I. Love You to put simply is...kind of an Ahh My Goddess ripoff that uses Artificial Intelligence instead of Goddesses. Love Hina was the thing that REALLY put Akamatsu-sensei on the map though. Telling the story of a loser who's trying to get into Tokyo University to find a girl he wants to marry, Love Hina is one of the best known Harem series in the entire world. Now after that series ended, Akamatsu-sensei wanted to do a Shonen action manga something akin to DragonBall, Naruto, YuYu Hakusho and the like but his editors, still wanting to cash in the the success of Love Hina told him to make another Harem series. What's a man to do? Well, Akamatsu-sensei made Negima which has been described as Love Hina+Harry Potter+DragonBall. Now, when I first discovered this, I saw the anime of it on Youtube and it was my...freshman year in High School...or was it my Sophomore year? One of the two, anyways, I loved the anime so I decided to start collecting the manga. I believe that the very first volumes I got were volumes 1, 9 and 12 and I fell completely in love with the series. There were even some guys at school that I started hanging out with who were also into Negima and so I did the logical thing and tried to get some of my friends into it as well. I wasn't entirely successful but hey, I tried! So now that it's over and there's no adequate adaption of the series for me to review, I'll write up an extra long blog post on it! ENJOY!

The plot is this: Negi Springfield is a 10 (actually 9 and 3/4) year old Welsh (yes, because the English name their children Negi...) Wizard in training and he's just graduated from his village's local school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. When a Mage graduates from his/her school they're given an assignment or job to do in the Human world. They're basically on something of a probationary period where they're working among Humans but can't reveal themselves as Mages or their licences will be revoked and they'll not only fail their training but also be turned into a small animal as punishment for a period of time. Now Negi's assignment is rather large for one so small. He's to be an English an all girls school. Of course Negi's determined to do his best because he aspires to become a Magister Magi or Master Wizard just like his father Nagi, who's known as the Thousand Master, user and master of 1000 spells. Negi's also trying to find his dear old dad as everyone tells him that Nagi's dead but a few years prior to the start of the story, Nagi gave Negi the staff he uses so something's up. Anyways, Negi packs his wands and potions and heads off to Japan's Mahora Academy an Academy of truly MASSIVE proportions. It's practically a city all on it's own and has more than 30 thousand students attending. Well all's going good for Negi until he runs afoul of our resident Tsundere Asuna and their already testy relationship is further strained by the fact that Negi happens to be the replacement teacher for the one Asuna had been crushing on. Negi soon finds himself the teacher of 31 beautiful girls, each special in her own way and ends up bringing a little magic into their lives. There's a LOT more to the plot than this but it goes into spoiler territory and I don't want to spoil too much of the series, maybe as far as the first 3 volumes and that's it.

Now as far as the series looks, it's Ken Akamatsu at his best. The designs start off...kind of simplistic at the start but become more stylized (I suppose I can call it that) and the characters look a bit more rounded at the start of the third volume. Basically, it starts off alright, and it gets better as the series continues. Now, while I'm not really reviewing the anime, I CAN talk about the music because there is A LOT OF MUSIC connected to Negima. As a series focusing on 31 girls, you can bet your ass that there will be lots of vocal works associated with it. Barely more than a year after the manga came out, a 3 episode OVA was made adapting small bits of the early manga and quite a few character songs were released to go along with it. Then in 2005 an actual anime series was adapted and the girls got another chance to sing, not quite character songs this time but the openings and endings for the series. In 2006 two more OVA's were released along with more music performed by the characters which was followed by another anime adaption which of course gave more songs to the characters. Then in 2007 there was a live action series with MORE character songs and most recently have been the songs used in the OADs and movie. Overall, the music in Negima is wonderful. There really isn't much more I can say about it.

Now we get into the pros and cons of this series. As with InuYasha last week, we'll start with the flaws of Negima and it's got some flaws. First of all it's an Akamatsu manga which means...FANSERVICE! Yeah, if you thought that Love Hina's fanservice was too much, Negima seems to be Akamatsu-sensei's treasure trove of it. It's not quite To-LOVE-る levels of T&A as Akamatsu-sensei seems to respect women enough to not display nipples on his character's least I think it's a respect thing, but it's still Ken Akamatsu at his "best". Nearly EVERY chapter of Negima has some degree of fanservice, most of which are directly caused by the protagonist's young age and...lesser degree of magical control. To a certain extent, it's entirely justified that Negi is responsible for this. It's established early on that he favors Wind Magic and since he's young, he realistically shouldn't be able to perfectly control his powers. Also justified is the circumstances that cause Negi to strip these girls naked. The spell Flans Exarmatio shows up very early in the series and is translated as "Wind Flower, Disarm Weapon". It's a basic combat spell used for disarming opponents with a powerful gust of wind that often has the unfortunate side effect of reducing clothes to flower petals. As Negi is only barely 10 years old, he sometimes invokes the spell when he sneezes. Many of the girls in Negi's class have long hair and so we're left with a simple equation. Long haired beautiful girls + under age Wind Mage with a sensitive nose= predictable results. The series later introduces the rather infamous "Stripper Beam" a concentraed blast of energy that, while harmless in terms of damage to organic living beings, is rather destructive when it comes into contact with articles of clothing. Earlier in the series, one of the characters, Asuna, comes under threat of being petrified by an enemy Mage but due to her unique powers the spell only turns her clothes to stone and she's left stark naked. But wait! There are other methods of magical wardrobe malfunctions! We have character's clothing getting burned off, turned to ice, blown off by wind and slashed to ribbons by magical attacks. We also have the walking wardrobe malfunction in the form of a character named Takane D. Goodman and while she's not all that major of a character, she's someone who'll stick in your mind. Now she has the unfortunate problem of being a female in a fanservice heavy series but she also has the wonderfully idiotic idea of crafting her clothing from Shadow Magic! Well that makes changing outfits easy enough but the problem with this is that anytime she gets knocked out, her clothes turn to nothing.

Now, getting off the fanservice, what other flaws does this series contain? Well, first of all there's the characters. Negima suffers from a few symptoms of an anime/manga illness I dub Shonen Syndrome. Shonen Syndrome is basically what happens when a Shonen series has very similar or identical flaws to other Shonen series, specifically Shonen Action Series. One of these is obviously fanservice but another flaw that I've seen crop up in a lot of Shonen series recently is the characters. Now saying that the characters are a flaw is a very broad statement but what people usually think that it means is that the characters that appear within the series aren't interesting, or well developed, or things like that. Very rarely will you hear people complain about the number of characters. Well, NOW you hear people complain about it. Series like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Detective Conan, Ranma 1/2, InuYasha, Urusei Yatsura and others have ridiculously long character lists attached to them, many of which we meet over time. Negima introduces us to 37 characters in the first volume alone. This is something that could've really fucked the series over in the long run. People don't really take very kindly to finding out that they're now expected to care about more than, I'd say, at least 5 characters. Now Negima really only focuses on the core class along with Negi and his future friend Kotaro. While the number of characters isn't really something that drags the series down too much, their development kind of does. Now don't get me wrong, Negima does develop most of the characters to a certain extent but when it all comes to an end, it feels rather...flat. The characters do change significantly over the course of the series but by the end of it all, you're left feeling that there should've been a lot more development. This is partly due to time restrictions placed on Akamatsu-sensei and so that's why the series ends rather abruptly and somewhat unfavorably.

Negima started off as something of an experiment, a way to combine to Shonen genres that really should go well with each other. The Harem Genre focuses on the interactions and relationships between people, namely when love is involved. The male lead is expected to have some degree of depth and personality and is also expected to have various relationships with the girls surrounding him and the girls are also expected to have various relationships with each other. The Shonen Action Genre focuses on battle and combat, usually telling some sort of underdog story about a wide eyed idealistic youth with a very large and somewhat outlandish goal in mind. Along the way, he meets various others that either help or hinder his cause and while character relationships are important in regards to how the hero feels for his comrades and friends, romance is often introduced for little to no reason other than to show that someone likes the main character. Epic battles are to be expected with lots of fast paced action and heart warming speeches about friendship or some drivel like that. Arguably, the first series to attempt a mixture of these two genres is Ranma 1/2. Ranma as a character was not only the Shonen action lead, he was the Harem hero. Emphasis was placed on his relationships with several rivals like Ryoga Hibiki, Happosai, and Tatewaki Kuno who were all regular rivals of his. In terms of romance, Ranma found himself in the dead center of a very tangled web of people who felt some attraction for his male or female form. In this case we'll focus on the male. As Ranma played with a lot of typical Harem tropes, it's very fitting that Ranma himself have multiple romantic rivals despite the fact that he most times rarely wanted anything to do with the girls that were often fighting for his affections. Both Kuno and Ryoga were the only serious competitors for Ranma's primary love interest and first fiance Akane Tendo, who similar to Ranma, really could've cared less about romance largely due to Kuno's objectifying her into a trophy. While Akane herself had Shampoo, Kodachi and Ukyo to compete with in the race for Ranma's affections, she tried to put on the mask of being largely indifferent and in fact she was for the early volumes. Most of the fights Akane got into were a result of her pride making her accept but later fights would show that she was obviously jealous and wanted to prove herself as a worthy future bride for Ranma. In reality there really wasn't much of an actual race as the series was really a bit more of a deceptive love triangle with Ukyo being the only one who posed a legitimate threat to the relationship.

Negima deals far more closely with standard Shonen and Harem tropes and a lot more so with the latter than the former for the early part of the series. Negi's romantic interests can be seen in the forms of Tsundere Asuna, Class Rep Ayaka, Genki Girl Makie, Shrinking Violet Nodoka, Stoic Intellectual Yue, Robotic Soul Seeker Chachamaru and the Cynic Chisame. That's pretty much the standard Harem cast. Unfortunately while the series does very well in lampshading and parodying certain tropes and even having it's characters develop far beyond their initial character types, they're left with no resolution of any kind. The part at the end of the series where it tells where the characters ended up in the future comes as something of a slap in the face, especially if you've followed the series from the start. Not only that, but there's no romantic resolution and the last 20 chapters show a severe drop in quality. Now, I thought that since the last bit of the series was devoted to reminding us that the series was about to get rid of a character, that it would show how far the cast had come and how Negi and his partners would be able to handle themselves without the Deus ex Machina. I was horribly denied, reduced to a foolish fanboy who cried his eyes out for an hour in the shower and then brought back up and left rather...satisfied but annoyed at the way the series actually ended. But other than this, there really isn't too much else wrong with the series. There are the more logical problems that the reader runs into when reading this. Namely how a 10 year old boy from another country can so easily land a teaching position in Japan. Further problems arise in the romance factor of the series, though I'd actually put the romance as a very good part about the series but don't forget that Negi himself is just barely 10 years old and many of his students who're about 2-5 years older than him do start to develop romantic feelings for him. I'd also go on to say that Negima can be a touch melodramatic at times, but it's usually justified.

And now we get to the good aspects of the series, and keep in mind we're strictly talking about the manga here. First of all, I must tip my hat to Ken Akamatsu for not only blessing the world with an intelligent Shonen protagonist, but an intelligent Shonen HAREM protagonist. Do I even need to mention how exceedingly RARE Shonen protagonists with working brains are? Much less their Harem counterparts. That's also one of the main contrasts between Negima and Love Hina. In contrast to Keitaro who was utterly stupid, clumsy, and then did a total 180 near the end where he becomes the most desirable man alive, Negi starts out as intelligent, charming, mature, naive and endearing from the very start. We don't have to grow to like Negi as a protagonist because we already like him from the start and that's the kind of lead character a series should have. That's often the problem with Harem series and in more typical and well known Shonen action series as well. The creators try to make too much of a Goku with a tragic back story and improbable goal. The original Goku was likable because while he was stupid, crude and uncivilized, he was a lovable, enjoyable and naive child who had just been denied human contact for the majority of his early life. Negi's a step towards more of a Gohan, intelligent, polite, mild mannered, cute and ultimately the kind of protagonist who works well as both a Harem and Action lead. Another good aspect of the series is the other characters and the harem tropes that are used within the series. Negi has a genuine chemistry with the girls in his class so it's very easy to see him settling down with any of them. In fact, I'll say that Negi was probably the best thing to happen to the girls of class 3-A, namely this one.
This is Nodoka Miazaki and she's the very first character to fall in love with Negi. I can't go into major specifics about her character but suffice to say she gets some of the best development in the series as her crush on Negi develops into an actual love for him. She's just..well, you'll have to read the manga for yourself. Another great part of the characters is the natural chemistry they have with each other. Even before Negi comes into the picture, the girls in his class already have very strong bonds with each other and the manga is very good at showing this. The visuals are amazing and in a very surprising twist, the Magic System is one of my favorite parts of this series. Most mangaka don't really do an extensive amount of research when it comes to the more foreign aspects of their manga. Negima is quite the opposite. Akamatsu-sensei has really done his homework when it comes to the world he's constructed and the Magic being used and each volume comes with detailed information regarding the spells. The humor is funny, the drama is emotionally involving and the action is exciting. On a more humorous note, I also love how Negi's default way of solving a problem becomes kissing. It makes sense in context.

But why is it that I love Negima? Well, a lot of reasons. First of all, I love harem series and Negima is technically a harem series. I love how it combines the best aspects of the harem and shonen action series. I love the characters and the struggles they go through, I love the Magic system used, I love the fact that the main character ISN'T an idiot. I love how Negima is a series that takes itself and it's ideas and world seriously while parodying and lampshading them at the same time. I love how Negi, as opposed to being completely in the dark about his students romantic feelings for him, takes some responsibility and the moral high ground of not getting too involved due to his position as their teacher and more importantly tries his hardest not to drag his students into the dangerous world of Magic and Sorcery. I like the fact that Negima has probably the first lesbian relationship I've ever seen in manga and I like the fact that when Negi's students are in danger, they usually don't wait around to be saved if they can help it. I like the fact that Negima can probably be seen as something of a feminist series due to the girls being some of the strongest and most well rounded female characters I've really ever seen in a shonen manga. I like the fact that them being girls is also, to an extent, completely incidental and you could easily change some of them into boys and still probably lose nothing but fanservice. I like the morality and conflict in Negima. In the 4thish major arc of the series the antagonist is trying to do something world changing to prevent some disaster. This world changing thing she's trying to do, really isn't that bad when you think about it and Negi struggles with himself when it comes to wanting to stop her. She's established as a likable character and continues to be for the duration of the series. I even like the drop in quality in the last few chapters. I like EVERYTHING about Negima to the point that it served as the primary basis of inspiration for my novel SpellBound which uses basically the exact same characters, setting, and even magic system but expanded and altered to fit my needs and hopefully Akamatsu-sensei won't end up suing me. For a much better review go here

And now, we say good bye till next time, DaWaRou~! This is John Cortez, and as of today December 7th, it's been a year since I got this laptop I'm using! Happy aniversery to me and I hope you all decide to check out Negima! Magister Negi Magi!

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