One of my favorite manga series of all time is Negima! Magister Negi Magi, an interesting little title about a 10 year old kid named Negi Springfield becoming the English teacher at an all-girls school… oh and he’s also a wizard. While it starts off replete with shenanigans and generic romance antics, the series really expands beyond that with very strong characterization, twists and turns, interesting themes and conflicts, and some amazing action as time went on.
Why do I mention this? Well, UQ Holder! is the direct sequel to that series… sort of. Taking place several decades later and switching focus to familiar and also new characters, what does Ken Akamatsu have up his sleeve for this series?
UQ Holder! Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and drawn by: Ken Akamatsu
Translated by: Alethea and Athena Nibley
Taking place seventy years after the events of Negima and ten years after magic has come into the light, there is a small village in the middle of a now less populated Japan. In this little quaint area, a young boy by the name of Tota Konoe wants to someday leave the village with his friends and venture towards the new capital, where excitement and action awaits. The only thing possibly standing in his way is Yukihime, a powerful fighter, teacher, and also the person who raised him for the past few years after his parents died. However, things get much more complicated after a bounty hunter enters the picture, truths are revealed, and Tota has a near fatal encounter. All of these things will change his life forever…
The first volume of UQ Holder is pretty good at getting everything set up and is easily accessible for all readers. Despite being a sequel to Negima! and making different references to it in big or subtle ways, it’s pretty easy for anyone to jump into. Fans of the first series will like seeing what has changed in its setting and characters (the whole magic aspect now being out in the open was a huge discussion before), while new readers will still get plenty of information for them to get a grasp on what this universe is like and be intrigued by certain areas. For instance, in the first chapter we learn that Yukihime is really Evangeline McDowell, one of the bigger characters from the previous series. While old fans will obviously know who she is and be curious in seeing how she has grown, new readers will get interesting hints and tidbits about her past that builds her up as a mysterious and neat mentor character. There are certainly moments where references to the past series may go over new people’s heads or may not seem like much (like the name Negi Springfield or Evangeline’s true form), but the first volume does an excellent job so far with being able to cater to new and old readers alike.
The writing so far is pretty good in a lot of areas. The cast is fairly diverse in personality, look, and character; Yukihime is the best and most enjoyable character so far. She is smart, resourceful, wise, pretty powerful, and has a very nice and amusing balance between maturity and immaturity (helps her to be able to be taken seriously, but also someone you can laugh at or with). She usually makes a good impression for new readers and for returning ones, her growth and change between this series and last are intriguing. It feels like a natural progression after being around the characters from Negima and becoming friends with them. The dialogue and exposition are usually pretty good, with some reasonable conversations and amusing lines here and there.
Exposition and backstory are usually delivered in a reasonable manner, spreading out info over pages and chapters so the audience isn’t overwhelmed, but also giving you just enough at once to understand important points. The humor is hit and miss (depends on how you feel about fan service), but it can be pretty entertaining at times. Also, despite the series being part comedy, there’s an undercurrent of melancholy to this series. The whole idea about immorality and being able to live forever, outliving people and your friends, is mentioned and brought up a few times. While it doesn’t really sink in with the main character yet, you can’t help but feel that downer tone constantly when Yukihime mentions it.
Ken Akamatsu’s artwork is still really great to look at in this new series. While he tends to crowd a lot of content and panels into each of his pages, his layouts are pretty well put together and easy to follow along with. You can really sense the movement and motion in the action because of this, making some very intense and exciting fights in how characters attack and motion lines are used. The scenery looks nice, there’s plenty of great imagery and shots in the book (like in the last chapter when Yukihime’s “gang” shows up), and more. It’s really interesting looking at Akamatsu’s work when he did Love Hina and how it evolved to the material we see now.
As NBC says, “The more you know.”
The biggest thing holding this series back so far is Tota himself. He’s a pretty generic and standard Shonen style protagonist: he’s idiotic, not able to take things seriously most of the time, and overconfident. While to new readers, that might not bug them too much, for fans of the previous series, it’s kind of a downgrade. Negi from Negima was naive (he was ten after all) and a bit in over his head at times, but he was also smart and determined. He constantly tried getting better, learned from his mistakes, and respected the people around him. Tota is really not like that. Sometimes his behavior can be funny, but he’s really quite annoying a lot of the time and is in desperate need of development to make him more interesting or tolerable.
Besides that, the only other aspect of the manga that holds it back, for some people at least, is the fan service. Now, I’m not surprised by any of this content in the series. Ken Akamatsu’s material is usually VERY heavy on the fan service with the tight or revealing clothing, Barbie/Ken doll nudity, and panel angles that stare at a butt or chest of a person (usually a woman). As such, if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you and if you are used to Akamatsu’s “style”, you’ll be fine. However, for those who don’t like fan service, as good as a lot of this manga is, you will want to stay away from UQ Holder. It’s really not going to work for you in the slightest, especially since it really isn’t clever like Food Wars and can be distracting at times.
I think the panel agrees with you.
UQ Holder! Vol. 1 is a solid start to a brand new series and follow up to Negima that is both easy to get into for old and new readers alike. The writing is great here most of time and the artwork is exceptional. The only problem to the series, besides the fan service for some, is that main character isn’t all that good or interesting (especially in comparison to the other people in the story). If you liked Negima and you don’t mind fan service in your series, definitely give this series a shot.