Negima! Magic 101: The Basics of Magic review
Today's Lesson: Magic & Chaos
A lone male teacher dropped into a class of all girls whose excitement levels explode at the drop of a hat sounds like the perfect setting for a harem anime, especially when you weave supernatural elements into the show. But the premise of Negima hits the weird scale with a sledgehammer when you sit back and realise that all the girls are in their very early teens and the teacher is even younger.
The story focuses on 10 year old Negi Springfield, a prodigy who turns up at the all girls Mahora Academy to take on the role of homeroom teacher for one of the classes. He also has a secret, in that he's also a wizard in training and the teaching job is part of the role he takes on to complete that. It leads us into a very strange situation where only madness can prevail, and that pretty much seems to be the point of the series. Take a ridiculous situation and just run with it, dragging out as much humour as possible from it while slipping in various mad sequences and engaging action events. For the most part the humour works, even if it's not literally side splitting stuff. Sometimes the jokes don't work though, like the face-in-boobs gag just seems randomly thrown in (and has less impact when the victim is a 10 year old kid) and the opening joke of the series just looks weird, but I think the balance definitely aims more towards the positive.
The starring cast is definitely one of the series' strongest points. Most of the eventful mishaps that occur tend to play off the naivety of the 10 year old lead Negi, as he struggles to understand some of the more basic aspects of life despite possessing the intelligence to teach. This can lead to some rather interesting scenarios like creating a love potion to help a student while not really understanding the implications of it or a young child's dislike of taking baths leading to him getting dragged to the baths. It's quite good to watch the teacher try to get to grips with everything that is going on around him.
Asuna plays the lead female, who proves herself to be a caring girl with a fiery temperament which works as a contrast to the more uncertain Negi. She's clearly there to help many of the series' funny moments to flow along, especially as the show pokes fun at her crush on another teacher and how her temper tends to backfire in her face. During moments where she's calmer then she can show a completely different side and it adds layers to her character. Add in that Asuna is the only person so far to discover Negi's secret then it makes her an important person to the story.
Nodaka plays out an important role too, and honestly I found myself liking her more than Asuna. She is the guy-shy bookworm who even hides her eyes behind bangs of hair, and it's really touching to see her coming out of her shell due to Negi. Late into the disc she manages to show some sincere determination even when unsure of the current circumstances. Humour levels tend to be toned down when she's the focus of the scenes but that's good, and it will be nice to see her developed further in later discs.
Then there is Chamo, a talking ermine who you know is going to be one of those fast talker con artists the moment he arrives. In truth he doesn't actually intend any harm and genuinely tries to help but it's pretty clear he looks out for himself first. His attitude is hilarious and can leave to some of the show's brightest moments.
Understandably, having a large cast made up primarily of the girls in the class it is not possible to give sufficient screen time to everyone so roles for the others are reduced. Of worthwhile note are Konoka (Asuna's room mate and granddaughter of the dean, who has a much more carefree attitude than others), Haruna and Yue (Nodoka's friends who tend to try and help the bookworm out of her shell when they notice her feelings towards Negi) and Evangeline (a girl who exudes an aura that is clearly not normal and has quite a snarky attitude). It's nice to note how the director has tried to provide at least minor roles to every single girl though, and having an entire class does allow them to have girls filling almost every common archetype around and then some, always providing them with the perfect characters for any given situation.
Aside from the aforementioned few jokes not working I do have some other content complaints to make. Some storyline aspects tend to be a bit inconsistent. Great emphasis is placed on Negi trying to keep his identity as a wizard a secret. The scenario where Asuna finds out is very believeable but later on there are clearly times where Negi simply doesn't bother hiding it. At one point he ends up flying through the halls and grounds of Mahora Academy in the middle of the day with students all around, who only miss him doing this by virtue of conveniently looking the other way. How is that trying to hide it?
The whole fanservice element just ends up coming off wrong too. Many anime fans will be used to fairly young characters, but Negima's cast is even younger than the norm and so it just feels weird playing off a scene with a crowd of 13 year olds comparing bust sizes or Negi's sneezes accidentally exposing Asuna's underwear several times, especially when they then turn attention to a male lead that is even younger than them. Thankfully they don't turn the show's primary focus to this.
Visuals are somewhat nice to look at, though admittedly the quality isn't as amazing as I am used to. Colour use is certainly strong and wide, lighting up the onscreen scenes as wonderfully as possible. Character designs are able to hit upon many different design ideas from the more usual ideas of Konoka's typically brunette schoolgirl appearance to the more fancy like Zazie's face paint symbols. The outfits are as expected a school uniform, with the style offering a more formal concept than other anime and offers it's own charm.
I can't pretend that their are no issues heere though. Animation is good for most of the disc but scenes requiring complex energetic actions tend to suffer a bit. This is most notable during the battle sequence in episode 6. When you've come off a series like Tsubasa then you can't help but notice that Negima's combat, while far from bad, doesn't flow quite as smoothly.
There are also some quite rare but still noticeable visual mistakes here and there. The most notable one that comes to mind is right after Negi exposes his secret to Asuna. When she runs over and picks Negi up, his staff can clearly be seen in two places at the same time in the same scene. Oversights like this don't happen much but when they do you have to wonder how it was allowed to slip through.
Music is pleasant enough with the opener Happy Material, set against an interesting opener designed to show off every girl in class, being a standout. It's upbeat, cheery and full of vitality as to be perfectly fitting. A few other background music tracks manage to leave an good impression on the viewer too.
The voice cast here is another strong point of the series. Greg Ayres deserves credit for putting across a 10 year old's youth in the voice work, especially when Negi ends up panicked and the tension can literally be heard. The voice cast for the entire class does exceptionally well too in giving every girl (sans the twins, for obvious design reasons) very distinctive voices perfectly matching up with the characters, which is doubly impressive when you find out that some of the VAs had to voice multiple girls. Monica Rial not only excels in the role of the calm Konoka but also takes on the supporting characters Kazumi and Satsuki well too. Laura Bailey finds herself playing the uptight posh girl Ayaka and the snarky dark Evangeline and nailing both roles. Of course, we can't forget Chris Cason's performance as Chamo, with his peddler style voicework that gives the character all the impact he needs.
For extras there's the regular textless opening/closing animations and trailers. In addition there's also a "Schools in Japan" feature that gives a welcome insight into how the school system works in Japan, which any fan trying to get into anime will appreciate. It's a shame then that, while the information is interesting, it is presented in a rather bland format with a few text boxes on the main menu background.
At the end of it all I do like Negima, but sometimes it just seems to take some really odd decisions with its direction, like using appeal tactics that don't mesh with its own core concept. However, with such a diverse cast, excellent voice work and enough genuinely entertaining content it's a good start that has a lot of promise for future episodes.
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