A rare battle scene where no one’s naked.
Akamatsu Ken manga are notoriously difficult to adapt. Unlike, say, Arakawa Hiromu, whose manga can damn near be used as storyboards, Akamatsu-sensei takes too many diversions, adds too many characters, takes too long getting to the point, and adds in too many chapters that seem like (and occasionally are) just silly fluff. The end result as a manga is delightful—his action is stirring, his comedy is hilarious, and he can deftly switch between world-ending drama and goofy romcom hijinks in the middle of a scene—but too much of it depends on the particular eccentricities of manga, which don’t always translate comfortably to anime. (Ex: he’s a master of slipping extra side comments into a panel that are super hilarious, but which would eat up too much time in an anime.) His stories amble toward their ultimate conclusions, but the entire trip really is important. Without it, you’re getting a shell of a story. The only real way to adapt an Akamatsu Ken manga properly is to adapt every single chapter, even the ones that don’t seem important, because they are. But no one greenlights 100+ episodes for a fantasy action ecchi romcom epic battle anime. Not anymore.
So UQ HOLDER! ~Mahou Sensei Negima! 2~ was saddled with an impossible task. A task I had a feeling was impossible even before I read the manga, and now that I’ve caught up on it, I realize how right I was. How much I undersold the herculean task, if anything. With the heavy lore/characters of Negima intertwining with the new UQ Holder additions—not to mention it needing to serve not only as a sequel to Negima, but to in some ways make up for and finish Negima’s original story, which was cut short—this is a bear of a manga to adapt.
So. How’d they do?
Fine. It didn’t end up being a good anime, but given the task the anime team did a decent job. For non-manga readers, this adaptation covered (loosely) 134 chapters of manga, which—I mean, how were they going to do that well? Other than trying to do far less, which would have been my pitch, even if the stopping point they were trying to get to was a good one. Like I said, Akamatsu Ken stories tend to meander, and this one does it even more so than Negima or Love Hina. (Okay, actually less than Love Hina, but that was so much lighter on plot that you could stop almost anywhere.)
There are certain decisions that I find unforgivable, chief among them the absence of Santa. For non-manga readers, I’ll only say that leaving out Santa is like leaving out Kotarou in the original Negima anime, and was likely done for similar reasons—but it can’t all be haremettes. I mean, it can be if that’s the plan, but c’mon! Santa, as Kotarou was before him, is vital to the plot! Did you notice how Albireo Imma (Ku:nel Sanders) was conspicuously absent from the final fight? That’s because Santa wasn’t there to fight him, and without Santa, Albiereo would have wrecked havoc on the others and Team Negi-Ialda would have easily won. Leaving him out is especially unforgivable because it was so easy to fix—even if you’re not doing his arc, just have him be part of UQ Holder from the beginning, like Ikku was. It wouldn’t be the same, but at least he’d be there.
Other deleted characters had huge impacts on the story, Dana chief among them. Though it really comes down to what always happens when you try to condense 134 chapters into 12 episodes: all context is lost. The connections are lost. Nothing makes sense, because all the connective tissue that makes this (admittedly convoluted) plot work in stretched-out manga form was completely absent here. Does an anime-only viewer know why Touta is so important, other than the clone thing? Because that alone isn’t the reason. It’s what that means that is important. But we never hear about it. Without that, their plan to beat Negi-Ialda doesn’t make sense, because they don’t really have one. Which makes sense, since the battle comes so quickly after other events that it’s not like they had time to grapple with the danger upon them.
Other problems are easier to fix, such as the piss-poor animation. It doesn’t look like UQ Holder got much in the way of budget, and it shows. Then there was the pacing, which is very difficult to get right. I think Akamatsu anime need a gifted comedy director at the helm, because one of Akamatsu-sensei’s greatest strengths is that he lays out scenes and uses the pacing of a hijinks-filled romcom, even if he’s writing a bunch of action—which is to say, UQ Holder needs the energy of a romcom for the story to work. This anime never had that. Which is somewhat surprising since Suzuki Youhei has some good credits to his name, but maybe it wasn’t enough to make up for the everliving rush, or the lack of budget hurt him here too.
The funny thing is that this adaptation is a classic case of hitting a lot of the memorable moments/images, but neutering them by not understanding or conveying the connections that made them so memorable originally. It’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice thinking—just get Batman in that metal suit and the fanboys will go wild, it doesn’t matter if none of it makes sense!—where as long as you hit the right scenes then it should all work out. Which is extra crazy, since Akamatsu-sensei himself did series composition for this anime! So maybe he knew too much, or more likely, there was just no way to put all the connections in. Not with twelve episodes and a shit budget. This anime was doomed as soon as they decided to adapt up to ch134 in a single cour. Everything else was just deciding on the particular flavor of failure—though prioritizing contextless action and harem hijinks probably didn’t help. Once again: RIP Santa. You were missed.
But in the end, this was probably 80% of as good of an adaptation as this anime was ever going to get, once they made that initial (fatal) decision to adapt so much. That’s not exactly praise, it’s just a hard assessment of the truth. They were screwed from that decision, so the fact that they more or less kept the wheels on—and some changes even kind of worked, as long as you don’t think too much about the gaping plotholes they left—is impressive in a way. Things threatened to fall apart in the last two episodes though, and that weird 3-A dream sequence in the middle of the last battle was pretty pointless.
I wouldn’t recommend the UQ Holder anime to anyone, but the manga is still good. Take the time to read it if you haven’t yet. It’s time well spent. I just wish the anime team had taken more time, so they could luxuriate in those early chapters, rather than speeding toward failure.
Now, I’m going to end on some comments about the manga, mostly from chapters that take place after this adaptation ends (so ch135+). If you haven’t caught up on the manga, don’t click on the tag below. Seriously, don’t do it. Go read the manga, THEN click on it. Or just read the manga. It’s good stuff.
Either way, UQ Holder manga still rocks. Glad I finally caught up on it, even if I didn’t get a whole lot out of the anime in the end. Such is life, at least where Akamatsu Ken anime adaptations are concerned.
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