This is one of those rare instances where I have been a manga reader first and an anime watcher second. I’m, typically, the type of person to watch an anime and if it does a remarkable job of connecting with me, I’ll go and read the manga. This time around, I was already familiar with the source material thanks to me being a fan of the author, Ken Akamatsu. I have a physical set of Love Hina and I have read Mahou Sensei Negima (although I actually haven’t watched the anime adaptation.) When I saw he was releasing a new series, UQ Holder, I was immediately on board to read it. How did the anime adaptation fare?
The story of UQ Holder centers around an immortal boy by the name of Tota Konoe. He is the grandson of Negi Springfield, the main protagonist of Mahou Sensei Negima. Tota lives in a remote village with his foster parent Yukihime who turns out to be Evangeline A.K. McDowell from Negima. After an attempt is made on Evangeline’s life, Tota discovers he is an immortal. His goal is to climb the tower in the heart of the city and thus embarks on a journey to do so. His journey is averted when Evangeline is revealed to be the leader of an organization called UQ Holder, which gathers the strongest immortals in the world uses their abilities to serve the public. Tota ends up joining their ranks, but he must prove himself first.
Like many shonen battle stories, this one is pretty straightforward. The main character has a goal: Get to the top of the tower and it’s his journey through life to reach that goal that which drives the story forward. However; despite all of that, I was severely disappointed with the adaptation. Before every manga site in the world stopped scanlating the series due to licensing, I made it to chapter 128. Knowing how far ahead the manga was, I thought that this was going to be a long-running series. Unfortunately, my heart sank when I saw that UQ Holder was only getting 12 episodes. I began to wonder just where they were going to end the show and leave it open for a second season… then my greatest fears came true… they butchered the hell out of the story.
I won’t say what they cut out, but they cut out A LOT. Even though Ken Akamatsu stated that UQ Holder is a sequel to Negima, they made it painfully apparent by including Mahou Sensei Negima 2 as the show’s subtitle and even went as far as to re-use Negima’s opening theme song. They also revealed the plot point that Tota is Negi’s grandson in the very first episode, which was something that didn’t happen until MUCH later in the manga. They also began the magic tournament arc with 3 episodes left in the season, cutting out every single side character, battle, etc. Even some of the bigger character plot points for Tota were pushed forward. Add in re-used footage from Negima as flashbacks and you’ve got the recipe for adaptation disaster.
The funny thing is that it didn’t deviate from the manga all the time. A lot of what happened in the beginning is still in there so, at first, I felt that they were only changing a few things for the sake of television and I was okay with that. Then the end of the season was a complete train wreck (we didn’t even get to see Santa!). I often wondered if I would be this agitated if I had never read the source material. Reflecting on it from that perspective, the story seemed fine. There was a natural progression from beginning to end and it set things up for a second season nicely. The story the anime told wasn’t bad, but it’s all about impressionism. For example, if someone watches a dub first, they are more likely to relate a character’s voice to the English voice actor. If they watched that same show in Japanese, it just wouldn’t feel right. The same is true for the inverse and it can be applied to manga vs anime. Reading the manga first gives you that impression… it sets the expectation, but if you watched the anime first, that expectation doesn’t exist. Instead, you simply judge a show on its quality alone.
I have to say I’m both bitter and marginally okay with the story for UQ Holder. I hate the fact that it deviated from the manga, but if I look at it from an anime-only perspective, it told a decent story and gave us enough characters to get attached to.
Just like with any Ken Akamatsu story, there is a plethora of characters here to talk about. I’ll try to be brief since this could easily become a novel of a section.
Our main protagonist and, honestly, kind of bland for a main character. He’s just a typical shonen battle main character. He’s optimistic, but not in an overbearing way. He comes into the story a bit gimped and then receives gradual power ups such as his gravity sword and magia erebea (as well as one more during the final battle which I thought was a cool nod to Negima.) Just like Negi, Tota is the center of attention with all the girls, but he’s too modest for his own good… just like a typical shonen main character. Besides, what would a Ken Akamatsu story be without a harem?
Yukihime (Evangeline A.K. McDowell)
She’s older and wiser in this series, but she still has deep roots to the Negima series. She’s still in love with Negi, but she’s only protecting Tota because of a secret that only she and a few select others know. Call it an obligation, if you will. She’s still an insanely powerful ice magic user and I enjoyed her as a character. Plus, the moments with Tota where she teases him with her sex appeal is just classic Akamatsu.
It’s the first immortal we meet on Tota’s journey to the tower. I used “It’s” because Kuromaru has no gender yet. Kuromaru is a demi-human whose gender is decided by it and it alone at the age of 16. They use this for comedic relief as Kuromaru has a crush on Tota and it wonders if it will choose male or female with it reaches 16. Outside of that, Kuromaru is an excellent swords……person and can regenerate their body parts if severed. I enjoyed the Kuromaru character as it adds a nice counterbalance to Tota as a character and it’s a pretty unique character attribute that you don’t see used very often in anime.
Karin is a member of UQ Holder and an immortal because her body cannot be harmed in any way, shape or form, but she can still feel the pain. She’s in love with Tota, but will not admit it. She’s pretty cold and emotionless at most times and comes off as a very disciplined character. At first, she just loves beating the holy hell out of Tota. She comes across better in the manga than she does in the anime. It’s like the anime really downplayed her and it’s a shame because I actually liked her in the manga.
Here’s our tsundere of the show. She’s in love with Tota, but is always in denial about it. Plus, she’s mean to Tota so she’s about as generic as you can get with the character archetype. What makes her unique is what makes her immortal. She can’t die as long as she has a save point active. She has to take great care in making sure that save points are set up before dying. She can also transport anyone back in time with her as long as they are touching her upon death. The anime also really downplayed her as a character, too. She has another power which causes her to grow closer to Tota from a love perspective, but I’ll let you read the manga to figure out just what that is all about!
Fate has returned from Negima and he wants Tota in order to save the world, but Evangeline warns Tota not to go with Fate. Fate comes off as the series main antagonist, but that changes pretty quickly. Fate and Evanegline have the same goal… to save Negi and the world, but they both have a different method to go about it. This lead to a disagreement between the two and they went their separate ways.
Another immortal at UQ Holder. He’s simply an android. He’s kind of the “good cop” in the good cop/bad cop duo between him and Karin when it comes to how Tota is treated. He does have a good heart and cares about his fellow UQ Holder members. He’s a pretty solid character that is more of the white knight archetype more than anything. Plus, he enjoys the occasional prank here and there… especially when he tries to get all the girls to wash Tota’s back 50 times by making them think that their love will blossom if they do (as seen in the picture above.)
The Entire Negima Cast
Yeah.. they all show up in one form or another. I’m not going to list them here for my own sanity!
Art, Animation, and Sound
Ah… J.C. Staff…. The LJN of the anime world. How many times have you made fans groan? UQ Holder is really no different. While the CG effects for the times when magic is used were pretty good, in other instances, the CG flat out failed.
The characters were designed really well, though and they matched their manga counterparts perfectly. Ken Akamatsu has this style where he can just get curves and proportions down to a science. All of his characters are just aesthetically pleasing to look at so I’m happy that the anime did them justice and got their designs down perfectly. Background art and landscapes were done very well, but the shows animation was hit or miss.
At times, the animation was fluid and in other times, it was a little on the low budget side. It’s like J.C. Staff cherry picked the moments they wanted to spend money on and just said “screw it” to the rest. While the animation wasn’t particularly bad in any instance, you can definitely tell the differences in quality throughout the series.
As for the sound, the show did have a pretty good OST. There was a lot of emotion put into the tracks that enhanced the emotions when watching some of the action scenes. It pulled you into the show and that’s what a good OST is supposed to do. I just dislike the opening, but not because it’s just a redone version of Negima’s opening, but because of the simple fact that it’s just some happy upbeat generic J-Alt-Rock theme.
I’m a bit conflicted here on what to give UQ Holder because on the one hand, I’m very disappointed in the show’s butchering of the source material, but on the other hand, as a standalone season, it’s pretty decent. Even when trying to look at this from a non-manga reader perspective, there’s a lot of obvious gaps in the story where anyone can tell that there’s just something missing. It felt extremely rushed and when you have a manga with nearly 200 chapters and an anime with only 12 episodes, it’s almost certain that it’s going to be rushed.
The characters were lively and all of the sexual tension, frustration and comedy that Ken Akamatsu is known for was here. Plus, he knows how to take serious battles and just turn them into a fun situation, much like he did with the final battle in the series. UQ Holder was a fun little ride, but in the end, it just fell a bit flat. Despite it falling flat, it’s still a decent watch, but it’s not something someone should go out of your way to see unless you’re just a die-hard fan of Akamatsu, in which case, you’ve probably already watched this as I have.
Until next time,
UQ Holder; Mahou Sensei Negima 2
Even though UQ Holder butchered the manga's story, it still told a decent story from beginning to end. The show does fall flat at times and there are obvious plot gaps strewn about. Despite this, it was a fun ride, but not a show that you should go out of your way to see. A decent time killer at best.