Thoughts on: Negima!?

On my watch list this week was Negima!? AKA the absolutely mental Shaft version, and not the rather sweet original. I’m not too hot on which the anime community generally considers the best out of the two, but for me, it’s got to be the original, hands down.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a massive fan of Shaft – and can totally see what they tried to do with the show, but so much of what made the original so charming is lost in the process. So I wanted to put pen to paper as it were, and jot down some pros and cons between the two.

PROS

Animation quality – Holy God does this show look incredible. OK, the DVD version I have (Manga’s Entertainment’s discs) is dog ugly in places – it looks like the original picture has been badly upscaled to fit widescreen tellies or something, because the picture is all blurry in places. But regardless, this is Shaft through and through, and it’s pretty enjoyable ticking off all the bits and bobs that clearly went on to be executed even more effectively in Madoka and Monogatari. The only bit where it falls down for me really is the ‘moving boxes’ / windows where it tries to show several elements at once on screen – this just feels cheaply done, and at odds with some of the other, more elegant visuals (AKA Evangeline’s fight with Negi in the early episodes)

Magic and cards – Did they ever try and turn the card element into an actually, physical real-world game? It seems like it was trying to set this up anyway, and while it’s executed quite poorly at times (and rushed, too) – it’s a clever concept and builds something new into the show in a fun way. The magic sequences look great too and see the show using its music to its best, too.

Chupacabra – You’ll probably either find this incredible annoying, or – like me – eventually warm to it and find it hilarious. There’s actually something quite sweet and inspiring about how dogged Asuna is about selling her ‘chupa-tees’. God bless.

Evangeline – Seriously, best girl, hands down. It needs to be said, but whoever decided to dub Evangeline, Chachamaru and Negi with proper English accents was a genius, and deserves a medal, or something. It’s hilarious, and inspired, all at the same time. She steals every scene she’s in, especially the tea scenes with the teacher, as well as the face pulling face-offs with Asuna. Basically, she’s the best pint-sized vampire you’ll ever see, aside from Shinobu from Monogatari.

CONS

OP and ED themes – I haven’t seen many anime where the OP and ED themes are dubbed over into English. I’m not a big fan of it, as I think Jpop tracks re-sung in English usually come out really badly as the rhythmic differences between Japanese and English can rarely reconcile. Plus also, difference in singing ability.

Characterisation – I was tempted to put this in PROS, as some of what Shaft’s version does with the characters is rather nicely done. I know a lot of people didn’t like how they made Asuna seem more ‘stupid’ / bratty, but in a way, I quite like how they make her even more bonkers in this – she just has SO MUCH ENERGY, you sort of can’t help but be swept up in her hairbrained schemes (and seriously, is there anyone that has longer twintails than her?!)

But on a more serious note – all the romantic poignancy of the original is left by the wayside. And for someone like me – who’s totally a sucker for a harem, it doesn’t feel great. For example, the stuff that happens with Nodaka, Konoka and Yue is heartbreakingly realised in the original as the girls come to terms with their feelings, but here they’re mainly all just foils for Asuna’s schemes.

They even largely gloss over the great moral dilemma that lies at the heart of Negima!? AKA – guess what, Asuna is in love with this absolute minor of a teacher (and let’s not forget she’s in love with a bloke old enough to be her dad, too). In the original, everyone’s favourite blonde Ayaka totally blasts her down to size for this and says, hey Asuna, you realise you might be pretty messed up liking these dudes? (despite being even more obsessed with Negi than Asuna herself) – But here, it’s just played for laughs.

Plot – What plot? Ok, joking aside – the plot in Shaft’s version is pretty damn hard to follow. But then, perhaps  that’s besides the point. You’re supposed to just sit back, let Asuna and her lackeys take the ropes, and enjoy. But really, while Negima!? Is first and foremost a comedy through and through, it kind of sucks that so much of the original (which could be both incredibly poignant and deep in terms of lore) is cast aside.

Every time I sit down to watch this show, I keep thinking there’s supposed to be some deep, other level of meaning beyond the wacked out visuals. Taken to its logical conclusion, Negima!? is anime on crack – almost to Excel Saga degrees (Asuna and Excel are totally cousins right?) – it’s the drugged-up Pink Floyd album of anime, he Monty Python of anime. Heck, even the Red Dwarf of anime (wait, no, that’s Space Dandy). It’s never not entertaining, never not a visual treat. And while it drags like heck, you know that another insane chupacabra reference or visual gag is around the corner. Hence, you’re held in a constant suspense of semi mediocrity that remains at worst a firm seven out of ten.

And after all, why have one best girl when you can have thirty-one?

Now, bring on the remake where the English dub actually gives Negi a Welsh accent. Get the bloke who did Mr Drippy in Ni No Kuni to do it, and away you go.

Man would that be amazing.

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