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.

Show More ▼

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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  1. Tbh i decided to skip the Anime after i realized that they erased Santa.

    As a mangareader, the entire santa-recruitment-arc was for me an important storyline to understand the plans and motivations of the big bad of the negiverse, considering its abilitys
    in regards to what happens to/with santas friend.

    1. True. I forgot to mention that—without the Santa arc, the Mage of the Beginning’s motivations or powers aren’t clear. Actually, they could have worked those in another way, but they didn’t, and they were dangerously short on time anyway. The anime ended up with an Ialda that was evil because . . . something. For some reason.

      1. another theory i came up with, is that ken himself came to regret the santa-arc later.

        Show Spoiler ▼

      2. In reply to Jancen’s spoiler-tagged theory (thanks for the tags, btw):

        Show Spoiler ▼

  2. It could be the anime team were stuck in a no-win situation from the start – maybe the production committee was insistent on them adapting up to the latest chapters to capitalize on the Negima nostalgia (ex. using the Negima OP).
    The 1-cour and budget limits could also be representative of the economic facts – Negima and thus UQ just aren’t the red-hot titles which guarantees approval of multiple season anime anymore by said committee.

    1. I think they just used the anime to advertise the manga and didn’t care much about budget. If they did it properly, they would have fans asking for a Season 2. But now they can forget about sequels or whatever for years as they have no material. They’ve kicked it into the long grass. Meanwhile the manga enjoys a boost from the exposure from the anime.

    2. That’s exactly what I argue, zztop. To go further, I was talking to Enzonon about this, and I came to the conclusion that, as soon as they screwed up the Negima anime, UQ Holder was boned (long before it even existed!). Enzonon has long maintained that Negima could have been a really good anime if it was adapted slowly, maybe give it three cours or so (or start out with a couple and see how it goes). But they screwed that up, and Negima was always more popular than UQ Holder (which largely depends on hold over Negima fans, as a mostly-sequel), so it was never going to get a more generous adaptation than its predecessor. Once they biffed that one, no way UQ Holder was going to get the adaptation it deserved.

      1. If you accept the Negima anime & manga as two separate entities they didn’t really “mess” it up per say. 52 episodes & just over a dozen OVAs is a decent run for any show.

        UQ Holder was never going to sell well in anime form anyway so they wouldn’t have a reason to give it a generous adaptation beyond using it as a tool to give the manga more exposure.

      2. That’s all a bit subjective, let’s move past that. They accomplished what they set out to accomplish with the shows and brought new fans into the Negima universe. Without the anime adaptations the manga may not have been as successful as it was.

      3. Of course it is. Art is subjective. That subjective analysis is central to my point, though, because I’m interested in how good these anime are as objects of art, not how valuable they are as commercial products. I mean, that’s kind of interesting, but the answer is too easily and therefore no fun to talk about.

        Oh, and clearly this was a follow-up to the manga, not the Negima anime. Kotarou finally got to exist, after all. Even if Santa still doesn’t *forever miffed*

      4. Heck, compared to what I’ve seen/read overall with the UQ Holder! anime, I’d say I prefer the first Negima! anime adaptation over it. Even if the first anime was changed quite a bit (along with the second attempted adaptation), I at least thought it was entertaining and had fun watching them whereas, at best, I didn’t feel much of anything watching this.

  3. I wonder what Kyoani’s take on UQ Holder would’ve been like, barring their in-house preferences.

    PS. Dana made a brief cameo in the final ep, which does leave room for her arc and Santa’s to be included in a (very unlikely) S2.

    1. Do you mean the story itself, or just the anime? Because swiftly agreed if the latter. The story is frequently harrowing, but there’s hope at its core, even if it does start from more dire straits than Negima ever did.

  4. I couldnt even bring myself to watch the last 2 episodes. I never expected this show to be good but I thought just seeing parts of the manga be animated at all would be cool but nope. Seeing all the memorable moments butchered and without all the previous context and characterization topped off with mediocre animation was depressing and honestly kinda soured my memories of them a bit.

    The most depressing part about seeing another awful Akamatsu adaptation is that according to a comment in one of the Negima volumes there was apparently going to be a long Negima anime. I dont think we heard anything about it other than that small comment but I’m 99% sure that it was changed to that awful movie probably due to Akamatsu ending the manga abruptly. Who knows if what they planned was gonna be any good but it’s still sad thinking of what could’ve been.

    1. A long Negima manga was probably long dead by the time the movie came around. I think they were already doing Ala Alba OVAs by then, which was them saying, “We’re never going to do this properly, so here’s a snapshot of what could have been.”

      1. Nah what im talking about was in one of the later volumes released after all the OVAs and shows. To be more specific there was a Q&A section at the end of the volume and one of the questions was asking if Negima was gonna end soon which Akamatsu responded to by saying that theres going to be a long anime coming next year so its probably not ending anytime soon. Tragically the manga did end shortly after and all we got in terms of anime was that movie.

      2. Ahhh. Musta been something that was in the planning stages, and when Akamatsu-sensei got scared about losing control of his IP due to that law that (thankfully) didn’t end up passing, it got scrambled. Or the long anime got scrambled before the legislation scare, and he ended the manga due to that.

  5. As someone who never read the manga (only read bits and pieces of stuff on the wikia), I thought that I might be able to weather a bit more as I would have no clue about much going on and so changed/cut/etc. parts might not bother me as much, but even someone like me just felt something was…off or missing as I watched and I ended up dropping it four episodes in, and after reading about just how much things were changed/cut, it seems I made the right choice overall.

  6. I have a fundamental disagreement with you in one sense – I think Ken’s manga are quite straightforward to adapt properly, if someone would ever just do a straight adaptation. But no one ever has, and it seems very likely we’ll never know which of us is right.

    Even just giving UQ Holder two cours to work with, I think the anime could have done a more or less linear adaptation without much problem (though that bridge has been burned now). And I would agree with the assertion that the Santa arc was crucial in many respects, and the decision to cut that was a real indication that the UQ adaptation was pretty much doomed.

    1. Yeah, I recall people were saying that Ken wanted to do more of a straightforward magical fighting series (like we see in the last leg of Negima!), but it was editors/publishers or someone that pushed him to add in all the harem style comedy hijinks, and that UQ Holder! is more of what he had wanted to do with Negima! originally, with more focus on fighting and character building rather than pushing romance.

      1. That applied mostly for the first few volumes of Negima. Then he stealthily transitioned it into what he wanted to do, and it worked and was popular, so he got to keep doing it. The first few volumes of Negima are faaaaaar more Love Hina than anything that comes after it.

        He still likes plenty of goofy comedy harem hijinks, that’s for sure. UQ Holder has that too. It’s part of his special sauce. But he definitely wants to do more magical fighting, and that at least he eventually got to do (in the manga).


        Two cours mighta done it, with some prudent tweaks as opposed to the hack job we got. Though they’da needed a real budget + a director and/or series composer (maybe Akamatsu-sensei’s inexperience at working on an anime actually hurt them here? We’ll never know) who have killer comedy timing chops to make all that work. But yeah, that bridge is hella burned now.

      2. Negima’s main problem is it doesn’t have the status of a Jump shonen, even if it shares a lot of traits, one of them being the length. I understand there is no one willing to do an endless shonen anime or throw money to it since the risk is high, but they could go with the Zero no Tsukaima formula instead, do a part and do some more when someone is up to it.

        I don’t think Akamatsu’s mangas are that complicated to adapt too, I think of Ruri Miyaharas’ mangas who are too cramped with side text and the anime adaptations were pretty good. JoJo isn’t the easiest manga to adapt too and they are doing it pretty well, I’m sure the producers are planning carefully since we are reaching Stone Ocean and Steel Ball Run, and those are major words. Akamatsu has really bad luck, the only ones willing to adapt his work are experimental producers or just plain incompetent ones, all of them short sighted.


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