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Negima!? Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

15 min read

Rebooting the series with a new production studio and very different take on the property, Negima actually manages to be fun and interesting.

What They Say:
It’s not easy being a wizard before you’ve hit puberty, but Negi Springfield has far more on his narrow shoulders than many wizards twice (or even thrice) his age. When he’s not searching for his missing father, or teaching the 31 teenage girls who make up the highly unusual class 3A, he always seems to find himself being drafted to perform magical tasks that most sane adult wizards avoid.

So, when the mysterious and dangerous artifact known as the Star Crystal disappears, it’s just a matter of time before Negi and his all-girl regiment of gifted students find themselves trapped in the middle of the mystery. Does fighting the supernatural satisfy the girl’s PE requirement? Find out when class roars back into session for a new spellbinding semester!?

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the previously created English language dub, which is also in stereo. Both are presented using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec and captures the flow and feel of the show pretty well. The show works a decent mix of action and dialogue to it as it unfolds where it’s more comedy-action than anything else for a lot of it. The more serious moments of action are well-handled as it moves across the forward soundstage but it doesn’t have much in the way of noticeable depth or impact to it. Dialogue is straightforward with a clean approach to it as there’s some decent placement from time to time but not much in terms of movement across it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2006 and 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio and is encoded at 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-six episodes are spread across three discs in a nine/nine/eight format giving it plenty of room to work with. Animated by Shaft, the series has a pretty good look about it with a lot of detail as expected from this particular studio and a lot of creativity in how scenes are setup along with some very fluid moments. But it also has a kind of softness about it that’s a little distracting at first but works well as it progresses and you adjust to it. The encoding looks good overall – and it eliminates all the problems we had with the previous DVD iteration with all its cross coloration – and should please most fans. Having only seen this on DVD previously and far too long ago I can’t do a direct comparison but this release looks good with source materials it has and definitely better than what DVD encoding and bitrates were like well over a decade ago.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds two of the discs stacks against each interior wall, which is not a way I prefer having them since stacked discs just feels wrong. The front cover artwork uses some of the recent Japanese cover artwork that puts two of our leads together with a great background that has a feeling of magic to it with the colors and designs. The logo is clean and nicely blocked out and stands out against the rest. The back cover has a nice scattering of shots from the show and a simple but effective summary of the premise. The extras are clearly listed as are the episode and disc count. The production credits break things down clearly and the technical grid lists how the set is put together accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release uses the static image approach where each disc brings us different pairings of the characters. These use more of the familiar artwork from the old DVD releases and look nice as they occupy about two thirds of the screen. The navigation along the left uses some of the elements from the cover with its design and color as it breaks down the episodes by number and title. There aren’t many things to do with each disc other than changing the languages and the episodes until you get to the extras at the end. It works well both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.

The extras for this release are a bit simple as we get the two OVAs that were produced for the property.

After the controversial first series that came out, it was decided to try and reboot it in a way with a new production company and a new angle from which to do everything. In order to bridge the two series, to make sure that they were giving the fans what they really wanted, a pair of small stories were taken from the manga and adapted into this to test the waters. While the original TV series was not something I was extremely excited about, it was fun in its own way but I understand the issues fans had with it, including the new material at the end of the season. Add in all the screw-ups along the way in the original animation production (which FUNimation didn’t have to deal with thankfully) and a reboot was almost necessary for a lot of fans to even think about going near again.

Looking at these two OVAs from that perspective, where you’re trying to change the character design style to something more appealing and actually being accurate to the original material, I can’t honestly say how well that was done. I lost interest in the manga for this after the second or third volume and never really looked back. Looking at it from the perspective of being familiar with the first season of the show, I have to admit that I really enjoyed this on a most basic level. With these being small stories that are trying to cram in all the characters even for a few seconds, letting the viewer take in the tweaked designs by the new production company, I wasn’t expecting anything in regards to actual plot. The very meager plot we do get for each of them is essentially beyond fluff.

The first episode has the girls parachuting onto an island for a weekend away while Negi tries to get back on Asuna’s good side. The second episode has the gimmick of Nodoka and Negi being tied by the red string of fate after she and Yue mess up on some magical practice. That really sums it all up. Once you get past that and the little nods to the actual plot through each of these twenty-five minute episodes, the bulk of it focuses on the copious amount of fanservice in different ways. With the beach episode, it’s far more apparent as it’s skin everywhere, even from characters you really don’t expect it from that much. With some of the girls wearing little more than thongs, and being quite observant about each other in amusing ways, they don’t hold back about it. The second episode isn’t quite as blatant but everyone has their brief scene where they’re doing something that has them behaving in a little bit of a revealing way, be it through physical presence or their core archetype personality.

The layout of the episodes is somewhat awkward though as it pushes the show into the “four panel comic” mentality. While there is an overarching “story” for each episode, it’s broken down into smaller pieces because of the numerous eye-catches that come up to highlight each of the characters. That keeps the show from having a smooth flow but it allows for a lot of characters to have their small moments. You also get to see the characters in different outfits through them and a chance for some really nice screengrabs in order to make wallpapers I guess. If you view the episodes as a bunch of short moments in time rather than an actual story, it’ll be fun. Considering the time since we last had any Negima released over here in anime form, it’s a solid enough reminder of the fun that the characters are.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After a problematic first series that caused quite a bit of issues with fans that were corrected for the DVD releases, a second series was eventually brought into being but not without some rather severe changes. The first is that it takes a lot of the elements from Akamatsu’s manga for this twenty-six episode run, but it abandons a lot of what the Xebec anime series was about, which was lots of fanservice. Instead, this incarnation (which also has a separate manga incarnation) is focused more on comedy. With series director Akiyuki Shinbo at the helm, this isn’t a surprise. His work on Pani Poni Dash alone makes this quite familiar, as does Moon Phase. At the same time, he’s done a lot of serious works which come across well here when needed such as Petite Cossette and Soul Taker.

Negima!? follows a lot of the basics from the original manga in its setup which is a good thing. The story revolves around ten year old Negi. Negi has just graduated from magic school and now he’s being assigned out to the world. Magic is still very much a secret in this world and he needs to learn how to fit in as well as finding a proper Partner that he can work with. He’s sent off to Mahora Academy in Japan where it’s basically one big school city that sprawls all over with all manner of grade levels through university. The library is actually a separate island in the middle of all of it that reaches down to unknown levels belowground as well. Negi’s time here is to be a homeroom teacher as well as an English instructor for the junior high level, grades two and three as events play out. With some on the staff also being wizards, he’s got help when he needs it but mostly he has to figure out things on his own while keeping a low profile.

But can a ten year old wizard from England keep a low profile in such a situation? Not really, especially since it’s an all girls academy that he ends up teaching at and the girls all find him adorable to one level or another. And Negi himself is a bit of a child which is obvious since his attempts at hiding his magic never work well and he ends up revealing himself often to the girls over time. What he ends up doing is striking up a partnership with each of them as it happens in order to keep the secret and that gives them some magic powers. Of course, the strike the pact, they have to kiss him on the lips and his little familiar, an ermine named Chamo, seals the deal for them. Each girl then has three “cards” within her that he can draw out for whatever encounters and problems that they face. Of course, not every card is useful and the act of drawing them out is amusingly sexual in nature.

Negima!? then runs through a lot of the basic kinds of situations we’ve seen in the other incarnations. Evangeline’s storyline starts things off and that gives it a wonderfully dark and serious feel as it starts to mix in some of the humor and weirdness. Evangeline’s situation sets up a lot of things for Negi’s past with his father as the legendary Thousand Master and it ties into some of the structural aspects of the wizard world. With thirty one girls in the class, all of which are given distinct personalities and roles in the show, the bulk of the series works over introducing them and giving them a reason to get closer to Negi in their own way. These stories range from brief to lengthy, with the key ones getting the most time. This again centers around the same ones as past incarnations such as Asuna and Nodoka, so the continuity aspect of it all is really pleasant to see, especially with the small twists done along the way.

While there’s a lot of familiarity with past series in terms of the storyline and setup, the stylistic side is very different. Negima!? is a very strongly animated show in a lot of ways, particularly these first episodes with Evangeline. With her vampire past and the dark nature of her hunts at night as well as the flashbacks to her past, it’s all beautifully animated with a sense of style that really is very striking. The character designs are all very well done, with a lot of fluidity to them when required and a sense of depth and presence to them. The color design is really appealing where they use so many bright and vibrant colors at times but also a lot of darks to bring it some contrast.

And just as much a character as the girls and Negi is the city of Mahora itself. With it being a practically separate state unto itself as a school city, it has everything it needs in it. Well, except for a lot of people since we typically only see the students and faculty that we know. But beyond that, the backgrounds for this series are highly appealing with its visual design. It feels like a very dense and tightly packed place but one with a very scholastic feel to it, a place where you feel that you could live and study and learn very well. The hallways of the school look great, the way they deal with the carpeting and the glass windows alone gives it a very strong personality. Between the interiors and the exteriors, the way it has a sense of history about it, Mahora is a place where you’d want to spend a lot of time.

The main difference with this incarnation of the series is the approach to how it plays out. The manga and first series played up the fanservice a lot, which is to be expected from an Akamatsu series. There is some to be had in here, transformation scenes and all, but a lot of what is here is comedy. It’s very reminiscent of Pani Poni Dash with how it deals with it, lots of short cuts, background jokes and gags and above shots that almost look like video game moments from old RPG games. It’s not as overdone as Pani Poni Dash however which is a big plus in its favor, and it has a whole lot more style to it because it’s not the same kind of school based comedy. There’s also the ongoing storyline that’s involved here and a certain darkness to a lot of it that’s still there even after the more serious Evangeline story finishes out its opening chapter. And most importantly, the jokes and gags aren’t as deep as they are in Pani Poni Dash so you can watch it without the liner notes and still laugh plenty. The notes help for some of it, but they’re not critical to the larger show at hand either.

As the show moves onto its second half it continues to cover a good bit of material but does it in a fairly leisurely way after wrapping up some of the bigger storyline pieces from the first half. The entire incident with Negi as a chupacabra is dealt with rather quickly here as he enters into a contract with the remaining girls from the class and that sort of sets things right and brings him back to normal. Of course, there’s also now the problem some of the girls have in that they haven’t really kissed Negi since they did so when he was the chupacabra, so there’s one or two who would like another crack at his cute little self. Once this is dealt with, the class finds themselves dealing with a sudden physical darkness that’s after them and their world is upended.

That upending brings them back to the school but it’s the school in another dimension, a dimension where magic is apparently abound. Unable to get back to the real world, the class settles into something resembling a normal life as they figure out what works and what doesn’t. They’re a rather industrious group as they take care of all the necessities of living rather quickly and settle into something of a routine. Of course, Evangeline and Chachamaru head off to their own little place so they’re out of the way. Into all of this comes one new addition in the form of Nekane, Negi’s older sister. She suddenly appears in the bath and causes quite the commotion, but she brings a bit more of the magical knowledge side to the group and she has a kind of quirkiness to her that’s certainly charming. And with Takamichi being the only other adult really there, she helps to give things a little more balance there as well. For Negi, it’s something familiar and safe at his side once again, though he doesn’t become childish in the slightest because of it.

The time spent in this place covers the bulk of this set and runs through a number of relatively standalone stories. Negi deals with all the girls in different ways as they cope with the situation and there’s a overarching story about a mysterious woman named the Black Rose who has come to seemingly cause a little commotion here and there. By and large though, it’s the small stuff that makes up this arc as you have Yue realizing she’s in love with Negi or you have Asuna on her latest creature hunt with the bongebonge that’s roaming around the campus. Or, as it’s really known, “Catherine.” There’s also one really good episode where the entire class is reduced to mini form due to their pactio cards being released in dud form, and that forces Negi to play caretaker before he realizes he has to play with them and enjoy having no responsibilities for a bit. The show is certainly cute and fun throughout, especially with the weird and quirky humor that’s used for the quick cut jokes, but there’s little real meaning to it other than to have fun with the large and diverse cast.

The series does spend its last few episodes back in the real world and decides to push along the story a bit more in regards to what’s been going on with Negi’s father. Not surprisingly, this isn’t given all that much attention in full since it’s not been dealt with in the manga at the time and this adaptation doesn’t want to go too far in that direction. They do touch upon it in a way that is fairly endearing however and it allows Negi to have some good emotional moments befitting him and his age, but also showing his general maturity as well. Things aren’t exactly wrapped up here, but there’s enough closure for the show overall that you do feel that they got somewhere and that everyone is now a part of Negi’s life since they’re his partners. In terms of a first chapter kind of feeling, it’s nicely done and the ending does leave you wanting to see where they may go next.

In Summary:
I’ve not had the best relationship with the Negima franchise overall and it really is unusual that we get a series remade so quickly after the original was broadcast, but not unheard of. This incarnation avoided a lot of the real romantic aspects of it that were problematic for me in the manga and the first series and it avoided excessive fanservice overall. The shift of focus towards the humor side worked in its favor and with this particular style of humor. There’s a lot of characters here and by going for the short gags and quirky moments, you don’t feel like anyone is getting left out. You do lose the main characterization for several characters, but the trade-off works in this particular format. In the end, I think this is the only incarnation of Negima that I actually like and would really like to see more of. It’s also the one that’s not for general audiences I’d say and is a bit more niche in its appeal. But comedies tend to be like that and this one likely even more so. I enjoyed it, it made me laugh and it had great character designs and for my money one of the best opening sequences period.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Recording of “To the Shining You ~ Peace”; Clean Opening Animation; Clean Closing Animation

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 6th, 2018
MSRP: $89.98
Running Time: 705 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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