A Little Bit of Courage Volume 2: It's a Robot! A Goddamn Robot!

So, there's been a title change.  It's might be the most obvious title possible, but it fits far too well for me to toss it.  Anyhow, when we stopped at the end of volume one, Negima was still a fairly standard harem series.  There's lots of cute girls and the series is literally drowning in fanservice, with boob size contests and every girl getting upskirted everytime Negi sneezes.  Volume two is where Ken tries to make some slight changes to the formula, carefully introducing some fringe shonen tropes.



At the start of the second volume, Negi has finally started to settle in to being a teacher.  He's still relentlessly teased because why wouldn't he be--he's super-smart but he's still a nine year old educating women five years his senior--but he's gotten a hang of the basics.  So of course it's time to throw him a curveball.


One of the things I kind of glossed over about volume one is the chapter where you learn Asuna's kind of an idiot.  She's a part of a group in class 2-A known as the "Baka Sentai" (the Idiot Rangers), which consists of classmates Ayase Yue, Ku Fei, Kaede Nagase, Makie Sasaki, and Asuna herself.   Dubbed the Idiot Rangers because they consistently get the lowest scores in the class, for most of them there's actually a reason for their bad grades.  Ku Fei's Chinese, so there's a language barrier, Kaede is...busy with other stuff that gets explained later, and Ayase is actually quite intelligent but despises studying because it's "work".  Makie's a bit air-headed and spacy but she can do pretty well if she tries, but Asuna?   She's an excellent athlete, but just legitimately bad at studying, and classwork in general.   She gets by because Mahora Academy is an "elevator school", one in which each grade is connected to another, so kids can be passed along even with subpar grades.

All of this is important, because as the class approaches it's end of year exams, Negi is given one final task: raise class 2-A's grades to avoid being the worst in the grade.  And it's harder than it sounds too--while class 2-A has multiple students at the very top of the rankings, the Baka Sentai rank near to the very last, dragging the rest of the students grades down.  So Negi implores the rest of the students to work hard...or something bad's going to happen.   Of course, Negi doesn't exactly elaborate so being that we're still in harem mode, it's misunderstanding time!  The girls all get the idea that there's a chance that if they fail again they'll get sent back to primary (elementary) school.  A ridiculous idea to be sure, but it causes them to come up with a plan to pass the test:


Find a so-called "magic book" that would make the person reading it (or even holding it) smarter.  It's a far-fetched idea, but Asuna stumbles upon a thought that will become relevant as this series gradually escalates the fantasy: "if a mage can exist, why not this?"   It's probably one of the smartest questions a protagonist can ask early on in a series, mostly because all too often characters are introduced to something fantastical near the start and then when something equally fantastical is mentioned, they brush it off as silly nonsense.




With the help of their leader Asuna and a few of the more academically gifted students as well as their young charge/mage/sensei Negi, the Baka Sentai decide to raid Library Island for this rumored book.  Asuna initially hopes that with Negi's magic the place is a breeze, but after a speech where she shames him for wanting to just make them all smarter until the exam, he sealed his magic for three days to help them all study the honest way.  Nice going, Asuna!  So now Negi is just a regular (but hyper-intelligent) ten year old.  At this point, it'd probably be easier to study--especially since they plan on visiting a place that's literally an island of books, but hey when was the last time anyone willingly studied?

The trek inwards sees them traverse multiple floors downward, navigating through mini-mazes and narrowly avoiding trap doors. As an anime/Manga fan, you get used to large campuses--but Mahora is next-level even by those standards.  Not only does it house multiple schools from primary to high school, but also has a massive shopping district and somewhere near the center even a massive island that contains a library as large as some real life campuses. When it's shown later in the volume, it gives the appearance of a metropolitan city.



Ultimately, after hours(!) of exploring this massive dungeon library, the team finally reach their goal. And despite it being an incredible coincidence that there would BE a magic book that makes people smarter, and that they'd hear about it right at exam time...it turns out there IS a magic book. ...And of course, it's guarded by a massive golem that threatens to murder them all if they can't answer his riddles.  Riddles that are coincidentally enough, English questions.   




But of course, the series is still in "comedy" mode so those riddles have to be answered in the form of a game of Twister.   Why a game of Twister? Who made these wildly elaborate stone tablets that correspond perfectly to Japanese hiragana? Both valid questions that no one's going to ask, because if they were smart enough to ask them, they probably wouldn't have been down here in the first place.  

They get down to the final question, but naturally they fail in appropriately comedic fashion, and just narrowly avoid being smashed to bits by the golem's oversized mallet, only to fall even further down into the depths of Library Island, finally reaching the very bottom: the legendary "deep library".



Finally trapped and unable to escape until Negi regains his magic, the group decides to do the unthinkable: actually study. Yes, their lives had to be put at risk multiple times before they finally decided to just hit the books.   Having been a junior high student, this is actually the most believable part of the story for me.  In any case, after more bathing shenanigans. the group runs into the golem again, who's tracked them down with intentions of capturing them for...something.   

 
The group escapes just barely--even stealing the book that the golem still had...for some reason--and manage to find a winding flight of stairs that are again guarded by...test questions. Hey, it's almost like they're studying without actually studying! Hmmm.   The group manages to make a not-so-rushed exit to an elevator that carries them to the top, though they have to give up the magic book to do so.

Still even without the book, it's kind of a foregone conclusion that the team passes. More than that, they actually squeeze into first place, after a small scare where they believe they got last place because the Baka Sentai's scores weren't counted.   (I'm still not sure how this works. The scores are an average, and no matter how you slice it if the lowest five scores are dropped from a class you should have a better ranking.)  In any case, the first major arc of the series ends with the girls of class 2-A becoming class 3-A, and Negi becoming a permanent English teacher!

The Library arc is actually deceptive in how it sneaks in certain concepts. Suddenly Mahora is as mysterious as it is huge, with its giant magical library and guardian golems. And Akamatsu slowly sneaks in how none of these girls are actually normal, with Ku Fei managing to strike a giant stone monster hard enough to knock it off balance, and the rest of them having shockingly impressive reflexes and speed for ordinary junior high kids.

Of course, we return to more normal trappings with the following chapter, "eGIRL Life", but that's okay because we get to meet Chisame!  


If memory serves correctly, Chisame is kind of Chekhov's character: she gets an appearance here in volume two, makes small bit appearances like this one for over a hundred chapters, and then pops up in a major way in the series' third major arc and becomes an important character from then on. 

If you're not used to it, Chisame Hasegawa might give off the aura of a tsundere (*vomits*), but she's not.  She's just an outright curmudgeon--a computer geek in high school who's pissed off that she's supposed to be living a normal life but instead everything around her seems weird and so obviously out of place, but literally no one else notices.  Like how one of her classmates is so very, very obviously a robot.  It's her role in the series, and as things become weirder and more ridiculous, her role gets more prominent.  She grounds the series, but never so much that she gets annoying.  On the contrary, she eventually turns into one of Negi's best friends...though you'd never know it looking at this:


Also she's got a secret identity as "Japan's most popular net idol" Chiu, where she wears extravagant costumes and buries her immense hatred for her school life beneath the adoration of thousands of fans.  Seriously, she's perfect.

And, this entry is running kind of long again so let's go for a lightning round for the remaining three chapters.  They take place over the brief break between finals and the first proper year of school Negi takes the girls through:


 
Chapter 13 gives spotlight to the Narutaki twins, a pair of girls who seem to be WAY too young to even be in junior high.  They spend some time escorting Negi around Mahora as members of the strolling club.  Yes, strolling.  They're basically a pair of mischievous dorks who find teasing Negi entertaining.  It also shines an all-too-brief spotlight on some of the other members of class 3-A and the various clubs they're members of, as well as giving us that sweet view of the entire Mahora campus.   

Chapter 14 focuses on the class president--Yukihiro Ayaka, and her history with Asuna as Negi, Asuna, and Konoka visit Ayaka's enormous mansion (which I'm assuming exists on Mahora grounds as well) during the vacation.  It includes some adorable shots of the two as kids on Asuna's first day at Mahora Academy.  The two basically fight all the time, but here's where we learn that the reason it happens is because that's the only way they've known how to interact from day one.   It's silly, but sometimes that's how friendships work. 

We also learn exactly why Ayaka seems to have a "thing" for Negi: ages ago, she was meant to have a little brother, but he got sick right after being born and passed away.  It sounds sweet enough, but when you think about it...is it?   Her intentions for Negi have had romantic OVERtones from the very beginning, and apparently that's because she didn't get a little brother?  Perhaps if she doted on him like an older sister, but that's not what's happened in the chapters we've seen thus far. Fortunately, this backstory isn't something that's brought up that often so we can ignore it and just assume Ayaka's meant to be a shotacon.   (That's not better, but it makes my head hurt less.)


Finally in Chapter 15, the series starts to hint at elements that will play a BIG role in the coming volumes when Asuna delivers a letter from the academy to Negi.  The letter--a holographic playback of Negi's sister--asks if Negi's found a partner yet.  Partners of mages are meant to protect and support their mages--and while Negi points out the original mage of legend only had one, he also explains that mages of the present have "at least one".  Again, this totally won't be incredibly relevant down the line.

Of course, since we're still early in the series--the story gets overheard by Konoka and "partner" is misinterpreted as girlfriend, information she leaks to the rest of the girls of 3-A, leaving to have to escape from the rest of the girls.   He meets Konoka again and discovers that she's in a similar bind--running from people trying to set her up in a marriage interview.  With Konoka from an excessively rich family, she's almost constantly being set up on dates with potential future marriage partners.  The two of them together get to talk for a bit, setting up Konoka's relationship with Negi as an actual older sister-type, as well as discussing Negi's possible feelings for Asuna for the first time.

And, that should do it for volume 2.  I have to say, this volume had quite a bit of exposition and set-up that I don't really remember--but it also wasn't nearly as bad as I thought.  Still, going forward into volume three we're about to shift gears really quickly--with new characters, new powers, more of the secrets of class 3-A start to come out.   Next time I'm going to try and shift the format a bit so I can churn these out more efficiently and with a bit more detail.  Look forward to it!

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