by Ken Akamatsu; adapted by Ikoi Hiroe
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Negi Springfield is a ten-year old magical prodigy who teaches English to junior high students at Mahora Academy. This volume marks the end of the first term of the Japanese school year (July). The students are preparing for the end-of-term exams and making plans for the upcoming summer break (mid-July to September). The typical harem comedy hijinks ensue, since Negi lives in the girls’ dorm with his students, some of whom are in love with him. The drama of this volume centers around Negi’s continued magical combat training and his struggle to decide exactly what kind of mage he wants to become.
There’s no denying that Akamatsu used Harry Potter as his inspiration for this series. However, only the basic description of the protagonist is the same in these two literary works. Negi is not an orphan, he has an older sister he keeps in contact with, and his father is only missing, not actually dead. (Although many people presume him dead, since he’s been missing for so long.) At ten, Negi has already completed all his formal magical and academic training. Mahora Academy is a school for regular students, not magicians. Finally, Negi is a member of the faculty, not a student.
I’m a fan of Ken Akamatsu’s works. Love Hina was the second or third manga series I read. I actually started reading Negima when it first came out, but I am now about six volumes behind in my reading. When Del Rey sent the review copy of this volume, I thought I would read it to see how friendly this series is to new readers. The short answer, it’s not.
This manga has a central cast of about thirty-five characters. Akamatsu keeps the manga manageable by only focusing on Negi and three or four students at a time. There’s a soap opera aspect to the series as relationships — between the students themselves, between various students and Negi, and between Negi and the other faculty — are constantly being defined and redefined as events and people’s pasts unfold. So this is a continuity-heavy series. That’s not a bad thing, as any superhero fan will attest, but it means anyone wanting to check out Negima for themselves will have to start with volume one and work forward.
Since the first two chapters of volume 18 end a story arc from the previous volume (or possibly volumes), new readers will be completely in the dark as to who the characters are and what is happening. The rest of the book deals with Negi and his students preparing for exams. This is a little more accessible, but characters have discussions that presuppose the reader knows what has happened in the previous volumes. There are no footnotes by either Akamatsu or Del Rey to explain references to events, relationships, and people mentioned in the conversations. So a new reader might to able to follow the general flow of the discussion, but the significance and meaning of what’s being said will be lost to them.
What volume 18 really did for me was make me want to go back and get caught up on my reading as soon as possible. I was reminded of all the reasons I like the series and how much I enjoyed reading each new book.
Since this is an Akamatsu series, fan service is a requirement. There are the mandatory pages of Negi taking a bath and having all his students unexpectedly come in to take their baths. He tries to sneak out unnoticed only to get caught. It’s Barbie doll nudity with hair, steam, hands, and sound effects conveniently covering up nipples and pubic regions.
The art actually is exceptionally good in this series. There is a lot of detail in each panel, which is unusual for a manga series. In fact, at times the panels seem a little crowded or overdrawn by manga standards. Akamatsu’s artwork serves as a nice change of pace. What is particularly outstanding in this series are the character designs. Negi has thirty-one students, and they actually look different from each other (with exception of the two identical twins, obviously). This explains one of the reasons for Akamatsu’s attention to detail. He has also done a wonderful done of rendering the various locations on the vast campus of Mahora Academy. The school has tangible feel and Akamatsu really communicates the beauty of the grounds and the buildings.
Del Rey has overall done an excellent job with the presentation of this volume. They’ve reprinted the four pages of fan art from the Japanese book. There are architectural details on one of the campus locations featured in this volume. They also included translation notes and a magical lexicon. My only complaint is that artwork runs into the binding of the book. This makes reading some of the word balloons very difficult without tearing out the page or wrecking the spine. I hope they will be more conscious about this problem in the future.
I can’t really recommend this volume if you’re new to the series, while fans of the series don’t need my endorsement to pick up this book. I do recommend the series overall as it’s well-written with interesting and likable characters. I make this one caveat; Akamatsu’s art is always a point of contention among manga readers. There’s no point denying the fan service is gratuitous. I think the story is strong enough to overlook this flaw; others vehemently disagree. If fan service is a deal breaker for you, then avoid this series. Otherwise, go pick up volume one.
(A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher for this review.)