I love Mahou Sensei Negima. It’s my favorite manga series actually, which is why I’m sad that the final chapter is being released in Japan today. To honor this I’m reviewing the series in its earliest stages. For all I love it, I recognize that, like any good piece of fiction, it is best when it has found its footing. Given that the way it starts is radically different from what it becomes, that takes some time. That’s why the first omnibus is one of my favorites; you can actively see the changes happening over the course of one (large) book.
There’s a reason why it changes so quickly and it’s entirely intentional. When the author, Ken Akamatsu, started writing Negima, he had just finished his popular harem comedy manga, Love Hina. This time, Akamatsu wanted to write an action series. However his editors told him to stick to what he was good at and write another harem comedy. So it starts off as a harem comedy with action elements and slowly transitions to an action manga with some harem comedy characteristics, leaving us with something not unlike what you would get if you tossed Tenchi Muyo into a blender with Dragon Ball Z and Harry Potter and ended up with something uniquely awesome.
The basic premise is that a ten-year old Welsh wizard, who is the son of the missing savior of the Magical World and an unknown (at the start) woman, has graduated from his magic school with high honors and has been sent to Japan to teach English at an all-girls school, a school big enough to be classified as its own city. Much of the humor in volume 1 (the first 3rd of the omnibus) comes from the fact that the main character, Negi, cannot always control his magic and thus when he sneezes, strong gusts of wind strip the girls around him. There’s a lot of comedy, much of it involving breasts in some way, and nothing resembling an overarching plot.
This changes in volume 2 (the middle 3rd of the omnibus). There is a six-chapter plot about the students with the worst grades wanting to raise their scores before exams. Before you tell me how boring that sounds, let me explain that they want to do this by finding a lost magical tome in the depths of the island-sized library on the campus. Dragons, golems and nefarious traps guard said tome, making the entire mini-arc seem like Indiana Jones with teenage girls. Akamatsu devotes most of the rest of the volume to putting the spotlight on various members of the 31-girl class who haven’t already gotten attention. That’s one of the other things I like about this manga; the cast size starts at 32 and grows as supporting characters and villains are added. Yet through some miracle, Akamatsu managed to give them all well-fleshed out characters (albeit some more than others). That’s incredibly impressive.
The omnibus ends as the series intends to continue, full of emotion-packed action and the occasional, but no longer prevalent, bit of physical comedy. We also get our first real villain, Evangeline, a student of Negi’s who is actually a 700-year old vampire, bound to the campus by Negi’s father. Normally she’s powerless but she and her robot maid (another student) have engineered events so that she can wreak havoc on the girls Negi teaches, giving her some revenge on the son of the man who sealed her there. The battle ends with a win for the good guys due to the fact that Evangeline’s powers are sealed again (who seals them?). Akamatsu makes it fairly clear that she’s much more powerful then Negi (and we see examples of this as the series goes on) and this drives our protagonist to train more and get stronger, thus fully cementing the manga as an action series. This also starts a trend of Negi’s students being more than they appear. As of the end of this omnibus there are 29 relatively normal girls as well as a robot and a vampire. By the end of the series we’re down to five normal girls and a mish-mash of sci-fi and fantasy tropes including a ghost, a mad scientist, a missing princess, and a demon.
In the back of the omnibus, you’ll find author’s notes and descriptions of things in the background of various scenes, as well as an explanation of some of the Japanese terms. The author’s notes really are worth a look, as they show the sheer amount of painstaking research that that Akamatsu put into creating the series. Just about everything that will come up, from architecture to computer programming to the Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit of the spells, is accurate to a truly astounding degree.
The art in the first third of the omnibus is a little sloppy and looks like it could have used one more draft, but the rest of the volume features crisp, clean art with a stunning attention to detail that will continue throughout the series.
The series is rated 16 and up, due entirely to the breast-related humor prevalent in the first volume and which occasionally pokes its head out for a chapter or two beyond that as the series progresses. Later volumes start dealing with much darker and more complex subject material, but the first three are fairly harmless, save for some censored physical comedy, all of which is played for laughs. This is not a good series for the really young set, but I started reading it at age 14 and didn’t find it any worse than your average TV or magazine ad.
This is a true gem of a series that too often is judged only by its slapstick first volume. Once you get beyond that fairly lackluster start, you’ll never want to put it down.
Negima: Magister Negi Magi Omnibus Volume 1
by Ken Akamatsu
Kodansha Comics, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: 16