5 Point Discussions – UQ Holder Episode 4: “Invasion of the Assassins”

by Sage Ashford

UQ Holder

Touta and Kuromaru get their first assignment!  But it seems like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew?  Will the more experienced Karin be able to help them out of this jam?  Remember, if you like this article and 5 Point Discussions please share it on Facebook and Twitter, and if you have any comments or questions hit me up @SageShinigami.

1. The opening minutes of the episode teach us a little about the make-up of UQ Holder. After making their way into UQ Holder at the end of episode 3, Touta and Kuromaru are finally summoned by Yukihime to go on their first mission. It’s a simple enough job–protect a simple village slum from being attacked by mercenaries looking to force the people there out of their home. But the fact that the job exists at all is surprising. The opening monologue of the manga was all about the loneliness inherent to being immortal, and how no matter how many people you tried to care about, eventually they would all die because they were only human, and had human lifespans.

So somewhere along the way Yukihime decided that she would form UQ Holder, an organization that welcomed all kinds of immortals into their ranks, so those people would have a place they could call home, and maybe not think so much about the frailty of normal humans. Knowing the group’s reason for existing, you’d then think that UQ Holder wouldn’t choose to involve itself in the lives of mortals any longer, and yet judging by the speech Karin gives this episode, it’s exactly the opposite: they’ve chosen to use their power to protect the powerless. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, though; more than anyone, immortals would know what its like to feel like outcasts without a home or a society. Plus, after years of working with a bunch of heroes trying to save the world, it only makes sense that the leader of this group would try to make an organization capable of doing the same.

2. This episode drives home one of the more unique factors about it’s protagonist. Unlike most shonen heroes, Touta tries pretty hard to avoid anything that one might describe as training unless there’s a very specific reason behind it. He worked with Yukihime because if he beat her he’d be allowed to travel to the city. Once she said they were going to the city he started turning down offers to train with her. When he joined up with UQ Holder, he only started training because if he didn’t he wouldn’t pass the test.

This episode, Touta starts training to learn the ubiquitous shonen technique of “Flash Step”, or instant movement. And again, he doesn’t really learn how to do it because he simply wants to be stronger–he and Kuromaru and Karin are watching over an orphanage, and chores have all been assigned according to who wins at arm wrestling. After losing so much he’s forced into a week’s worth of cooking, Karin points out that he’ll never beat her or Kuromaru without knowing how to perform the Flash Step. Essentially, he’s learning super-speed movement to avoid doing chores. Not the worst motivation, but it makes him stand out from the “I want to be the strongest no matter what” shonen protagonists we’ve been used to for years.

The episode also serves as a reminder of what’s so cool about the Negima universe: there are so many different ways to obtain power. In most series, magic is everything. Or control over one’s ki and martial arts is all that matters. Or technology. Whatever it is, there’s One Way to be the strongest and any deviation will inevitably lead to you getting your butt kicked. In Negima/UQ Holder, though? There’s never just one way. Though there are plenty of mages in this world, Touta runs into an older man who’s mastered his ki and is so skilled with the Flash Step he can now literally wall bounce off air like a video game character. Never let anyone tell you Double Jumping isn’t possible.

3. You might have gotten the impression up to this point that immortals were all-powerful and a group like UQ Holder was simply unstoppable once they got together. Hopefully, this episode disabused all viewers of that notion, as this episode the team was proven not only vulnerable, but that there are humans bold enough to hunt immortals! It shouldn’t be a surprise–humans are crazy enough to hunt bears and wolves and things that have been better suited to making US the prey for hundreds of years.

This episode we got a glimpse at each one of their weaknesses–as a vampire, Touta is weak to vampire sealing techniques. Karin’s unique immortality (which I hope they detail next episode) is impossible to break but she can be bound, temporarily. And Kuromaru unfortunately can simply be beaten into submission until his healing factor is overtaxed and he’s unable to fight back.

4. Like I’ve brought up before, this show really doesn’t pull back on the fight scenes. Karin winds up having to literally swallow bullets when a member of the immortal hunters gets the drop on her in the shower, shoving a gun down her throat and pulling the trigger several times. What we learn here is that while she DOES feel the pain of whatever happens, she can’t be damaged by anything–guns, knives, weapons, even actually breaking her bones simply isn’t allowed. It’s a heavy form of immortality, and honestly I’d say she caught the short end of the stick, but it does make her one of the most dangerous members in the Numbers of UQ Holder.

5. What They Skipped: I’m thinking at this point I might make this a constant. Whenever they skip a major scene in the manga I’ll just bring it up here, especially since this week there’s a bunch of stuff.

For one, there’s a threat that approaches Touta and company almost as soon as they arrive, giving Karin the opportunity to look like a bad-ass before being captured, and looking like a chump by the shadow mage in this episode. It also gave us the opportunity to separate UQ Holder’s time period from Negima’s a little more. The threat that attacks them is a cyborg that utilizes magic through the use of phone applications, probably the coolest combination of technology and magic I’ve ever had the privilege to see.

More importantly though, they skipped over a key part of Kuromaru’s character. I’m not sure if they’ll come back to it, so if you want just stop reading now in case you want to avoid potential spoilers since I’m basically done with the recap already. If you’re curious though, read on:

Kuromaru is a demi-human, and a member of a race called the Yatagarasu. When born, each member is born completely genderless, and at the age of 16 they’re allowed to choose a gender for themselves. In Kuromaru’s case, a unique thing is happening where he wants desperately to be a boy, but he’s slowly starting to fall in love with Touta, making him embrace more of his femininity. This sets up some great character development in this mini-arc, as Kuromaru tries desperately to deny the side of him that’s in love with Touta because he thinks he’d be more useful as a friend and fighting partner than as a lover.

Of course, it’d be wonderful if someone explained to him that it’s completely possible to be in love with a guy as another guy, or that being a woman shouldn’t inhibit your fighting ability (as Negima…and even UQ Holder has proven time and again), but watching him try to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life is consistently one of the most compelling parts of UQ, and I’m bummed they pulled it out.

Especially since they’re splitting this arc into two episodes already, and it only needed a maximum of three. Despite being 100+ chapters ahead of the anime, catching up actually wouldn’t be that hard if they really wanted to: at four chapters an episode they’d already be nearly there by the end of a full cour. Shame. Still, this episode was fantastic on the whole and seeing some of my favorite fight scenes animated as well as they are here has been consistently one of my favorite parts of the week.

UQ Holder! is available for streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike!