Shounen – Fantasy, action, comedy
74 Chapters, 4 Volumes (ongoing)
Crunchyroll / Kodansha USA
Tota and his friends dream of leaving their backwater town and climbing the tower to the capital. But they can’t leave until they defeat the powerful Yukihime, Tota’s guardian. But who is Yukihime really? And what about Tota’s parents and grandfather, a man named Negi Springfield…?
What do xxxHolic, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, and Negima! all have in common? Del Rey manga launch titles? Correct! Series with horrible, crappy endings that the authors have gone back to try to give them a real ending? Super correct! Unfortunately, I wish Akamatsu would have just gone back and filled in the blanks in the story directly rather than set the story a couple generations later.
At first, UQ Holder! appears to be a “new generation” story instead of a “part 2”-type story. However, later chapters make it appear to be Negima! Part 2. I can’t imagine how anyone could understand UQ Holder! without having read Negima! first. I’ve read Negima! to completion, and I feel like I should have reread it. Things in this story deal with returns, not references. Paradise Kiss, for instance, has some cast members from the author’s previous series, but I did not feel lost when her characters from a story I had not read appeared. This is not the case here. There are just too many direct connections that are needed to know in order to understand this story. The ties just get stronger as the story goes on.
I doesn’t help that the series takes off running and doesn’t slow down for quite a while. Its predecessor started off as a seemingly large harem before spinning into a shounen action title. This one is the opposite: it starts off as action and only later brings in some of the author’s trademark harem style. By the time the story started to bring in the romantic comedy, I already felt lost. I know Tota is supposed to be a country bumpkin, but it needed some world-building at the beginning. Even though it is set in the same world as Negima!, a lot has happened in 80 years and many advancements have been made.
With a series like Negima! having so many characters, it would be almost impossible to not have any overlap in the new ones. Fortunately, they are similar but not clones. Tota, unlike many shounen protagonists, doesn’t have any grand dreams about being the next leader or hero of the world. He can fight, but he doesn’t want to do much with it besides beat Yukihime. Negi was a bookworm who had to learn how to make friends; Tota’s brain is not his strongest asset, and he picks up new friends like other people pick up the groceries. However, they both share optimism and loyalty. Tota’s battle skills develop more quickly than Negi’s does, which seems to be a key plot point.
As for the rest of the lead cast, Kuromaru is a pretty interesting. Much of the comedy focuses on Kuromaru insisting he’s a guy despite others’ skepticism. In many ways, he is the Setsuna of this series, and Tota is his Konoka. However, he also wants to be a suitable battle partner for Tota. Kuromaru has a big decision in his future, and I am looking forward to finding out which way he chooses. Rounding out the cast are a battle girl, robot, another enemy-turned-friend, and a rich lolita tsundere. None of these characters have really stood out to me so far. Group leader Yukihime is interesting, but it is hard to discuss her without spoilers. As his mentor and guardian, Yukihime’s impact on Tota could lead the story down an interesting path.
The downside to these characters is they all start with an amazing ability, so they start off at a higher level than a typical shounen team, especially since they’ve had quite a few years of battle experience already. It really feels like only a couple will, to borrow an RPG term, level up. It doesn’t help that most of the abilities seen here have already been used in its predecessor. The most unique ability does seem rather cheap (battle-wise) and is not really given a backstory.
Artwork is quite busy. Akamatsu uses every inch of panel space to add detail through either text or art. Character designs are fortunately a strength and help separate the characters from each other and from ones from previous series. Eyes can vary wildly, and not all guys are limited to short spiky hair. The abundance of non-humans in the story also help add visual variety. Fans will recognize his visual style for the comedic moments with oversized simple faces and tears.
Negima! went through a few translators. UQ Holder is using the same translators as the later volumes of its predecessor. This is nice as it adds consistency and helps make references easier to identify. Almost all style choices by the translators remain the same, like “boya”.
Honorifics are used. Terms like “boya” are kept. The Crunchyroll versions have more typos than the edited print volumes. The most common error is the lack of dashes when Kuromaru’s name is broken up. Some translation notes are printed to the side and difficult to read in the print versions due to Kodansha USA’s terrible binding. Techniques often retain the original Japanese name with English translation. Most of the Latin characters are given an English translation; this is much better than when some Negima! volumes left no clue as to pronunciation or meaning. I noticed at least a couple instances of duplicated speech bubbles or bad lettering in the online versions, but I’m sure these will be fixed in Kodansha USA’s graphic novels. I noticed at least a few typos corrected.
I miss Negi…Regardless, UQ Holder! does not — and almost can not — stand alone. But what it is missing most of all from its predecessor is the world-building and characterization. Too many battles happen too fast. It does seem to be slowing down, so maybe there’s hope?
I think most people are reading this just to find out the answers to the questions left open by Negima! and not of any attachment to the cast of UQ Holder! I know that is the case for me.
Tokyopop printed Akamatsu’s Love Hina and A.I. Love You. The former was rereleased by Kodansha USA in omnibuses. Del Rey (later Kodansha USA) released Negima! in both single volumes and omnibuses. Akamatsu also created (but did not draw the manga for) the series Mao-chan, released in omnibuses by Del Rey.
Despite my criticisms of this series and Negima!‘s ending, I honestly think Akamatsu is a cool guy. He’s been very critical of laws that could clamp down on creativity, and he has launched sites with free manga to read.