We’ve reached the end of Tota and UQ Holder’s story and…ugh. This series was a real mess. Remember, if you like this article and 5 Point Discussions, please share it on Facebook or Twitter! It really helps. And if you’ve got any comments or questions, please hit me up @SageShinigami.
1.During the close of episode nine, Yukihime reveals to Tota the truth of his origins: he’s a clone of Negi Springfield, and only existed for roughly two years before the start of UQ Holder. Now I’m going to be using several variations of the phrase “this was executed better in the manga” a lot during this write-up, but it really isn’t even necessary here.
What Tota learned about himself should’ve been a deeply traumatic experience that actually takes some time to deal with and overcome…but instead he just blows it off about five minutes into episode ten…and two of those minutes are the intro. He hears about a Martial Arts tournament held at a certain school from Negima and flips out, getting excited about entering, and he’s more bummed out when he learns the tournament’s entrants were pre-selected than he is about the fact that his entire life is a fiction.
2. One thing the anime does accomplish in these remaining three episodes is giving us a moment that the manga hasn’t gotten around to, largely because it’s been busy setting up other things for future arcs. At its core, UQ Holder is about immortality and how it might affect both an individual and the world at large. That’s why at the very start of the series it discusses Yukihime’s existence as an immortal who lost all of her friends to age and circumstance, only…that doesn’t quite bear out. Several of Yukihime’s friends in Class 3-A weren’t what anyone would call “normal”, and would’ve survived 80 years easily: her robot assistant Chachamaru, magical beings like Mana Tatsumiya and Zazie Rainyday, and especially Sayo Aisaka above, who’s whole gimmick during the original Negima series was that she wasn’t even alive!
In nearly 150 chapters, UQ Holder has gradually reintroduced some of these characters, but we’ve never really gotten to see the women remaining in class 3-A get together like they do here. Watching them reminisce over what it was like to be a part of Negi Springfield’s boisterous English class is tugs at the heartstrings, but as a fan it’s bittersweet because you can’t help thinking about all the characters who would’ve had to have died by now. The only downside to seeing them gather together (in Negi’s original classroom, even!) is that it still winds up centering around Tota, as they talk about how much he looks like his grandfather and encouraging him that being a clone wouldn’t have stopped Negi from caring about him. UQ Holder is already a backdoor sequel to continue Negima without actually having the star character in it, so its unfortunate that even this moment had to be about him as well.
3. Thanks to some “completely unexpected” circumstances, Tota is let into the tournament at the very last minute and winds up running into Cutlass. Cutlass is yet another clone of Negi Springfield, but a “failed” one, and they have a major problem with Touta for being considered the only successful creation. They take it out on Tota in a pretty brutal battle, but it feels comparatively toothless to what we got in the manga.
In the source material, Cutlass surprises Tota and hands him his first real defeat. He pops up after several arcs in which Tota has always managed to pull out victories against impossible odds, and completely outclasses him on every level. He uses Tota’s immortality to torture him, and then reveals that he’s a clone of Negi, leaving him broken physically and mentally before being chased away by the arrival of Tota’s friends.
This was a pretty crucial moment for Tota, because before then he’d been this happy-go-lucky jerk and that moment gave him some emotional hurdles to overcome. Instead, the battle happens in front of a wide audience and he’s saved before it can get all that dangerous, and encouraged by all of his friends so he never has reason to doubt or get down in the very first place. Of course, “saved” might be too strong of a word.
Just as Tota gets saved from Cutlass’ brutal attacks, Ialda (in Negi’s body) and Negi’s friends Yue, Nodoka, and Jack Rakan all appear together. This is a truly insane combination of fighters, and Ialda is clearly not playing around with making Tota join up with them. The only trouble is, if you’ve never seen anything other than this series, you don’t quite get a grasp for how powerful these characters are. But more on that later. The episode ends with a showdown between these five, and the Numbers of UQ Holder…
4. Even if you’ve been watching this series, do you even know this character’s name? It’s Shinobu, and in the manga she had an entire character arc–and this story the anime is adapting to end it off is roughly about her as much as it was Tota. Neither Negima nor UQ Holder was ever the biggest bastion of progressive thought, but I always liked how both their casts consisted predominantly of powerful women doing Things That Mattered. Now Shinobu wasn’t necessarily doing anything that mattered in the source material, but she did have agency. She wasn’t hanging out at the UQ Holder HQ all day dressed up in a maid costume. (Yes, Tota and the others wear butler costumes–that’s not the point.) She had her own goals, and she only ran into Tota again because she was working to achieve them. So having her show up about four times in a twelve episode anime series and accomplish largely nothing is kind of infuriating, really.
5. Before Touta and the others can even begin to mount an attack, the Mage of the Beginning traps them all in a magical mind maze, where Touta gets to witness the early days of Yukihime’s life–long before she was the confident member of UQ Holder we know, when she was just a young girl cursed with immortality. We see how she met Nagi and Negi, before Tota eventually pulls her out of her fantasy to join him in fighting against the mental trap they were placed in.
Now, a lot of this is semi-accurate to the source material so no complaints there, but this does remind me of a complaint for UQ Holder as a whole. When Tota and Yukihime try to mount an offense, Ialda throws the fake versions Negi and Nagi at Yukihime for distraction. Tota points out how fickle she is, and we wind up with the classic: “I’ve only loved three men in 700 years! I’d say that makes me pretty faithful!” line.
It’s great, and she’s absolutely correct, but something about this still doesn’t set well with me, and I believe it’s that at this point Eva’s been chasing the Springfield line for something almost a century. Falling in love with whomever she wants is fine, but with a great-grandfather, a grandfather, and a son all from the same bloodline? That’s just feels creepy.
6. So I’ve been holding back on asking this question, but to tell the truth it’s one that’s bugged me since the show was announced: who is this series for? In the middle of episode eleven, Asuna Kagurazaki (the leading lady for much of the original Negima series) saves Tota and Yukihime from the constant barrage of attacks by Ialda despite being in stasis on Inverse Mars for another twenty years, as part of Negi and Fate’s one hundred year plan to save Mars. And as I was putting this recap together I realized something: that’s a sentence that makes perfect sense to me, but has to sound like gibberish to anyone who’s only watched the UQ Holder anime. Or even someone who watched only anime and had seen Negima, which veered way off course by the second half of the series.
So again: Who is this series for? It’s not for people like me, geeks that have followed Negima since the early days and eagerly read UQ Holder in the hopes that they would eventually tie the two series together and explain Negima’s wonky ending, because we’re too busy getting pissed at this series for botching so many amazing moments. It’s not for people who just wanted to tune in and watch a new fantasy battle shonen series either, as there’s more tangled-up continuity to explain in these last few episodes than a DC Comics crossover. They shot this series in the foot the second they branded it as “Negima 2”, something the manga never marketed itself as.
7. So Asuna shows up and gives all of our heroes advice on how to battle Ialda and Negi’s fellow mages, and episode 11 ends with a big showdown between Ialda’s group and the Numbers of UQ, which leads into our final episode. They’re still about to lose though, so fortunately Fate steps in and uses a spell to separate Negi’s mind from Ialda’s control, and they have a discussion for a bit over what to do next. Here Fate unveils his plan to stop the Mage of the Beginning: give everyone immortality. It’s another anime original bit, but I’m not mad at it because Fate’s plan in the manga has simply been “you should all do what I say, because shut up”, which isn’t going to cut it when two of the greatest mages ever have already lost to Ialda already.
Still, Negi points out that even if humanity was safe, they would have to sacrifice him in order to take out Ialda, and Fate is unwilling to do that after working for so long to free him. And while they argue over whether or not it’s the right path, the spell’s connection is broken and the battle is on again.
8. Negi’s Raiten Taisou II is easily one of the coolest transformations in shonen manga. A form where Negi literally becomes pure lightning, it’s a more ridiculous, magic-fueled Super Saiyan 2. But they really botched it during the showdown with Tota and Negi with their utterly crap lighting; instead of giving them legitimate lightning effects, they just made everything glow this same weird white tint that makes it impossible to see what’s going on. In fact, most of the first half of this last episode is hard to see because of this same, distracting white glow. Granted the ending isn’t all that good anyway, but at least let us finish it without giving us eye strain.
Still, Ialda and Tota face off and both go at it in their Raiten Taisou forms, but with Negi fighting against Ialda’s possession, Tota actually stands a brief chance…before some of his helpers break free of their battle with the Numbers and interrupt their fight, ending with Tota getting impaled (again) with Jack Rakan’s giant sword.
9. In spite of their best efforts, UQ Holder can’t keep up with the best mages in the known world. Tota winds up impaled, Kirie has her teeth ripped out so they can’t reset time, and there appears to be no hope…until Asuna appears in “person”, generated by the unique DNA structure inside Tota. There’s an anime original moment that features Class 3-A showing up, but as cute as the moment is I’m ignoring it because it doesn’t make any sense at all. Realizing the people that are surrounding Ialda are people who will help Negi keep his sense of self and fight against Ialda’s control, Asuna decides to travel with them to help give UQ Holder a little more time to figure out exactly how to win out against Ialda once and for all.
10. Final Verdict: I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in an anime adaptation in my life. It’s not simply that this series doesn’t “follow the manga”, as arguments can be made that sometimes changes are necessary in order to make the best product possible. But UQ Holder’s decisions and choices are often nonsensical and baffling. The whole thing feels like it’s indecisively geared to chase after two audiences, only to get neither judging by the responses I’ve seen to the series online. It’s too hard to follow unless you’re a die-hard UQ fan, and if you’re a UQ fan you don’t want this. It animates some of your favorite moments from the manga, but in most cases the emotional context is removed or changed so severely that the emotional tie you had to the scene is cut, which happened so many times over the last six episodes that I went from bubbly excitement at the start of things, to downright hating the series by the end.
Worse still is the absolutely miserable animation, which always “settles” for just pulling the manga characters off the page, rather than elevating the world and trying to properly bring it to life. It’s the polar opposite of Black Clover, where Studio Pierrot gives Black Clover an artistic style all its own. UQ Holder just looks like “every other anime”, which is a shame because with a world that’s just as much tech-as it is magic-focused, the animation could’ve really leaned into that and given us something special. Plus they botched about every crucial, awesome looking moment they gave us, from Yukihime’s glorious ice spells to Negi’s frightening Raiten Tensou II.
A Ken Akamatsu adaptation apparently hasn’t gotten a worthwhile since Love Hina. Hopefully, in the future someone can give both this and the original Negima series the credit it’s earned with proper adaptations. In the meantime, I’ll be switching from this series to a new one in January, so look forward to it!
UQ Holder is available for streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike service.