Recent Addiction: Mahou Sensei Negima

Whee. Spring Break. So, writing time!

(Note: This article is all about spoilers. I'll try to white them out where possible, but I'm not sure how feasible that will be.)

Recently, I started reading Negima, the story of a ten year old school teacher, Negi Springfield (who's secretly a magician in training searching for his father, the legendary Nagi Springfield, the Thousand Master), and his class full of fourteen year old girls. It was supposed to be notable for it's rapid change from dull harem to Awesome Shonen Series, and I'm a sucker for Rapid Genre Change and Awesome Shonen.

Still, it's very rare that I take interest in a new manga; particularly when it's so long-lived. Setting school aside, I'm so far behind on other things that it's quite difficult to find time to devote to a new manga series...particularly when the ones that catch my interest are usually ongoing.there's no endgame I'm working towards, other than catching up to the newest chapter so I can eventually forget about it for a year until they get enough chapters to warrant me spending time reading it again. (I prefer a good deal of story progression, which doesn't usually happen in manga in a single chapter.)

But TVTropes, yet again, sucked me into a series through descriptions of awesome stuff the heroes did. (Last time that happened was Nanoha, which...I'll get to that soon.) I tried my best to just dip my proverbial toe into the depths that is this massive shonen series by merely watching the two television series and the OVAs, but as I made my way through the first major arc, it quickly became apparent that I would need to completely immerse myself into this universe to fully enjoy it.

I started a few volumes in (to skip what I had already watched on the television series), and at first found little more than a harem series with a shota playing the center of attention.

All of this changed as the series entered it's third arc in the early 40's--the series' Kyoto Field Trip arc, where the characters go on a field trip while the hero attempts to find clues concerning his father's whereabouts. Hints had been dropped with the previous arc's introduction of Evangeline A.K. McDowell and Kaede Nagase (a "true" vampire and a chuunin-level ninja, respectively), that Negi's class of normal teenage girls weren't quite so normal, but the Class Field Trip arc drops one bomb after another, as the true nature of the characters Setsuna Sakurazaki, Ku Fei, and Mana Tatsumiya are revealed. Suddenly, Negi's class goes from quirky class of misfits to bad-ass RPG army in the space of possibly a dozen chapters, and Negima makes it's entry both in this fan's mind and in the manga fandom itself as a Series of Notice.

The "harem" nature of the series is very suddenly ditched completely, as each new chapter adds a successively cooler fight scene between the Negi and his companions, and the mysterious villains, culminating in the reintroduction of a former villain as one of the most powerful "allies" of the series and one of the most bad-ass scenes in this or any other manga, that I simply refuse to spoil.

Eventually the school field trip ends, and the series tries to return to it's harem roots,'s too late. Having already introduced the backstories of several of Negi's students, they've become actual characters now, rather than two-dimensional "character types" attempting to win a contest that rewards them with the affections of the main character.

In fact, the brief respite between the field trip and the next arc only serves to give us deeper connections to all of the characters, giving us more reasons to care about them and the goings on of their school, Mahora Gakuen. As the series enters it's second major arc--the much-praised (and rightfully so) MahoraFest arc--it becomes apparent that the mangaka's (Ken Akamatsu) intent is to completely and totally flesh out all thirty one members of Negi's class, a herculean task that Akamatsu surprisingly accomplishes with, if not ease, certainly the appearance of ease, as you realize there's not a single character he actually develops that you don't develop some level of affinity for.

And really, at the heart of things, playing with your expectations and subverting tropes is where Negima truly excels. Usually by this time, a shonen series' villains are evil, twisted beings that stop at nothing to achieve their goals, killing and ruining lives in the process, to attain their goals that usually involve either ruling or destruction.But the true "villain" of the MahoraFest arc is nothing of the sort, instead going out of her way to set up victory scenarios that neither involve her battling the heroes or taking lives at all. The stakes are still high, but they are more emotional rather than physical (relationships in peril over lives), and the villain's goal is one that forces the heroes to question their resolve to stop her...or even if they have the right to.

Most recently (where I am, at least, which is chapter 250), the series even gave us a bit of meta-commentary on the shonen genre itself. As Negi reaches a point where his current strength, impressive though it is, is no longer enough, he begins to wonder just exactly what he lacks that makes him unable to equal his father, and some of the other truly strong people around him. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion (thanks to one of his teammates) that the difference between him and those unreachable, exceptionally powerful people is...idiocy.

By itself, this seems rather silly, and certainly not a reason for a gap in strength. However, for long-time fans of shonen series like myself, it forces you to notice a trend in a large number of protagonists in this genre: Yusuke. Goku. Naruto. Luffy. Ichigo (somewhat). Natsu. All of these and more--over everything else, the common trait shared is a stubborn idiocy. A refusal to accept something as "impossible" (even if the reason it's impossible is because "no one has ever done it before in x number of decades/centuries/millenia")--and that refusal is what leads them to make exponentially more and more impressive leaps in strength over the course of their series.

But Negi's not like that. In fact, several times over the course of this mini-arc, people mention that someone like him would be more suited as a "side character". He's not an idiot. He's a genius that overworks himself and overthinks even the smallest situations (compared to what is REALLY important) while carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders (even though he has around a dozen teammates). To have characters actually point out that he shouldn't be the main character actually makes the reader realize just how much Negi stands out from other shonen protagonists, and acknowledge that (hopefully) the series is better for it.

The truth is, I could go on forever about this series. About how much I love the girls of Class 3-A. How well the emotional moments resonate even better than most romance manga I've read (actually seeing characters CONFESS? WTF when did manga start doing that???). How EPIC the fight scenes are, even though most of them are supposedly between spellcasters who should be reciting lengthy incantations. How sick it is for Akamatsu-san to actually catalogue the spells he creates for the series, even writing them in Latin and giving them descriptions and putting them at the end of the volumes they're introduced in. I could talk about how I think it's ridiculous this series doesn't have a faithful anime adaptation while other shonen that aren't nearly as well-developed have them...

But I won't. Instead, I'll just leave you with some references. Negima is a series that goes from this:

To this:


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