OP: “Happy☆Material (ハッピー☆マテリアル)”
There wasn’t much about any of the various and sun-dried anime adaptations of Akamatsu Ken’s Mahou Sensei Negima that I enjoyed much. The “Ala Alba” OVAs by Shaft were the best of them (yes, that’s how bad the Xebec version was – Shaft was the best), but they were all generally unfaithful to the manga and almost invariably for the worse. The one element I did enjoy, however, was the Xebec OP, “Happy☆Material” – which not only suited the material but is for whatever reason one of my favorite OPs of all time.
It’s kind of fitting that hearing an updated version of “Happy☆Material was such a good way to start this version, because this first episode was a good start generally. “Sigh of relief” wouldn’t be too far from the essence of my reaction, because despite worrying signs from the preview material this was extremely faithful – though it’s only one episode. J.C. Staff has no karmic debt to pay for the earlier butcherings of Ken’s work – they weren’t involved in any of the Negima adaptations – but there’s been a general trend since the switch to monthly to make the “Negima 2” part of the manga the focus (that wasn’t even originally part of the title), and the anime promo material very much piggybacked on that.
The other reason for my relief was that in addition to being faithful to the source material, this premiere was rather good. It has the look of a classic J.C. Staff series, somewhat pastel in palette with mid-boss level animation, and seems to fall under their general solid but unspectacular template. If it can just keep that up we should be in pretty good shape, because while no masterpiece UQ Holder is – like Mahou Sensei Negima – a rather entertaining, often funny and sometimes moving pulp fantasy.
Making no bones about its roots (or somewhat ecchi personality), UQ Holder jumps right in with a Negima flashback, complete with ample fanservice, before jumping into the present day life of Evangeline AK McDowell (Matsouka Yuki, reprising her role). I’m not going to explain all the Negima connections here – if you don’t know the material there are good summaries out there – and if the anime follows the manga closely, you won’t really need much Negima knowledge until deep into the story (perhaps deeper than this two-cour season will reach, though there are hints it may rush to get to that part).
Evangeline’s co-star here is protagonist Konoe Touta (Takakura Yuka, spirited but sounding a bit younger than I imagined the character), a middle-schooler who has an apparent connection to Negi Springfield (his grandfather, we’re told). Touta is an orphan being raised by Evangeline (now a teacher) some 80 years after the events of the original Negima manga, living in a small town where he and his four buddies dream of going to the capital and climbing the orbital tower (at whose top Negi has promised the boy in visions that he’ll be waiting for him). Evangeline seems intent on keeping her boy down on the farm, though a fellow teacher secretly gives Touta and his pals some magical training (out of an ulterior motive – he’s a bounty hunter).
Things move rather quickly in this premiere, certainly, but that’s how Akamatsu did it in the manga – this opening sequence is very much a prequel to the real story to follow. It’s hard to know just where UQ Holder might go because we just don’t know what liberties the anime will take – there’s a lot of history here, and I have scar tissue – but the salient points regarding Touta’s past and how he came to be (like Evangeline) an immortal seem to be synched with the source material. To me, I think the notion of “If you liked Negima, you’ll like UQ Holder” should hold true for most – but with the caveat that it’s only the manga version of the original that you should measure that against. I like this franchise and I like UQ Holder, and I think the premiere did a very solid job of capturing why the series has a lot of charm. So far, so good – but no Negima fan would ever jump to any conclusions beyond that one.