Mangas You Might Have Missed: Negima! Magister Negi Magi

Hello everyone, Lance here again with another entry of Things You Might have Missed. Here I talk about some of the lesser known shows, games or books and why they might be worth checking out. I will not promise that entries in this list will be to your taste, or even that great, but each of them have at least something interesting about them to warrant at least giving them a chance. This week's entry is author Ken Akamatsu's fantasy-action-adventure manga, Negima! Magister Negi Magi (hereafter referred to as Negima).

Serialized in Weekly Shonen Magazine with 355 chapters in 38 tankobon volumes (years 2003-2012), Negima is easily Ken Akamatsu's longest running series to date. The story revolves around the 10-year old boy wizard Negi Springfield who aspires to locate his long-lost father and follow in his footsteps to become a great magus. Graduating early from his school in Wales, he is tasked to be the homeroom teacher for a class of 31 middle-school students in the fictional Mahora Academy. The plot initially details his life in Japan, gaining the trust and respect of his students andvarious allies, training and improving himself, and facing various magical threats in and out of Mahora Academy. It does however eventually expand greatly beyond its rather generic comedy-harem beginnings into a dizzying and action-packed fantasy action-adventure featuring time-travel, multiple timelines and different worlds. Watching Negi grow from a insecure nerd into the hero he wants to be as the series itself evolves is a real treat to see as a reader.

The road to get to the really good bits however is quite a bumpy one. As Ken Akamatsu's first work after the runaway success of his last work, Love Hina, he may or may not have been pressured to emulate his previous success by initially crafting it as a romcom filled with wacky school-life hijinks and lots of ecchi fan-service. Mostly due to his age, Negi himself is often treated as completely non-threatenig by the many much older characters around him and treat him as their playmate (or plaything). Many of the usual romcom "awkward scenes" are thus played for laughs and diffused rather quickly. These scenes become increasingly rare as Negima transitions more into a shonen action series, but still pops up from time to time, mostly for laughs. People who dislike the ecchi content will have a particularly difficult time making it through Negima's admittedly fairly generic and bland initial volumes with their heavy romcom content. Stick through its rougher patches however and you will be surprised as to just how much the series will continue to evolve over the course of 300 chapters and the world truly comes into its own, one that rivals even the biggest hits in Shonen Jump.

A strong point of Negima is in its characters. Despite its very large cast, Akamatsu has made it a point to make some effort into characterizing each and every one of his characters as unique individuals with their own traits, goals and gimmicks, some more so than others. While ultimately none of them will be considered as halmarks of deep and rich characterization, most of them remain entertaining and fun to watch nonetheless, and the very strong chemistry between its varied and large cast is what really makes Negima's characters and story really work. At the very least, the fact that I still recognised pretty much each and every member of the few hundred or so characters at a glance even a few years down the line speak volumes of good character design, characterization and strong visual storytelling.

Accompanying you throughout this read will be Akamatsu's very distinct artstyle, with his think & clean lines, soft tones, and a frankly ludicrous amount of attention to detail. Characteristic of his works beginning with Negima, Akamatsu includes a heavy use of CG elements together with his traditional hand drawn art. While the use of CG might be a put-off to some readers, one can't deny the beauty of the complex backdrops and gorgeous spell effects that are made possible (remember this was a weekly manga) by the use of CG elements. Action scenes in Negima are true treats to see, consisting of thrilling sequences with detailed yet fast-paced action chock-full of wondrously absurd spell effects mixed in with traditional shonen battles. Like the story itself, both the art and action elements too take their time to ramp up into something special, and the final battles are visual spectacles few other works I have read can even compare. Small props also to the detailed used of Latin, Greek and Sanskrit incantations used in spells.

All in all, I really do recommend you at least give this manga a chance. Don't let that generic romcom exterior fool you, power through those initial volumes and you may find something that is truly quite special.

PS. Due to disagreements regarding IP rights with publishers at the time, Akamatsu had ended Negima at a reasonable (but not-ideal) endpoint. His story does however continue in his current work UQ Holder which is a direct sequel in all but name, and Negima is in my opinion required reading at some point to really appreciate the new, more action-oriented series.


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