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Negima! Volume 11

Written and illustrated by Ken Akamatsu
Del Rey Manga
208 pages, $13.95
ISBN: 0345492315

 

Read this all-too-typical sequence from Negima! right-to-left. Better yet, don't. ©2005-2006 Ken Akamatsu.

 

This is where I take back the nice things I said about Ken Akamatsu.

In The Comics Journal #269, I praised Akamatsu's previous work, Love Hina, for a fidelity to the reality of male-female romantic relationships that hid behind a thoroughly entertaining mix of cartoon violence, wacky slapstick, an endless parade of fan service and a level of melodrama that could kill a sufficiently cynical reader. For all its pandering, Love Hina at least acknowledged the reasons why we hide away vast chunks of our sexual apetites in public places and settings, and made no secret of why the differences between men and women required such an elaborate mating dance. At the time, I refered to the story's moral core as "surprisingly conservative," and while the notion turned a few heads on otaku message boards, I feel comfortable in standing behind it a year later.

Alas, Negima! reverses all of this. Here's all you really need to know: Negi Springfield is a ten-year-old boy dropped into an endless sea of sexual temptation from teenage girls who wind up naked for a list of reasons as long as your arm. Makes it sound kind of icky right out the gate, doesn't it? Hold that thought.

At first glance, Negima! looks like little more than a cheesy attempt to cash in on the Harry Potter phenomenon by adding big, heaping dollops of teenage cheesecake to the proceedings. Second and third glances do nothing to dispel this initial impression. Negi — again, a ten-year-old boy — has just graduated from Wizard School in England, and for his residency has been assigned for no solid reason whatsoever to serve as a teacher at a Japanese all-girls' high school that also secretly acts as a local nexus-point of magical forces. Right off the bat, he's also saddled with another problem: Every time he sneezes, the clothes of nearby females fly from their bodies. Despite this potential source of trouble, he quickly settles into academic life, as well as the endless soap opera that only a roomful of teenage girls can produce, and even the attentions of several students who find him sexually desireable.

Again: Negima is a ten-year-old boy.

Unlike Love Hina's Keitaro, Negi can't really respond to the endless sea of exposed flesh and compromising situations with anything other than embarrassment and confused expressions. He hasn't hit puberty yet, so there's nothing with which he can react save an English boy's sense of modesty. He's too naive in the ways of men and women to even understand just how sleazy the whole situation looks to anyone who isn't a ten-year-old boy. The result is a story that indicts its reader with practically every turn of the page. I hate those kinds of stories.

What's most frustrating about Negima! is the way Akamatsu's craft, storytelling skill and slapdash wit still peek around the corners at regular intervals. Case in point is the new Volume 11, the second of a two-part storyline that takes place at the school's annual festival. Negi must be especially on his guard because of a magical tree at the center of the school: Students who pledge their love near this tree during the festival are guaranteed to win the heart of whomever receives the confession. Adding to this is the fact that Negi has absent-mindedly agreed to see the exhibits of virtually his entire class of girls, a schedule that requires more hours than there are in a day. A hastily produced time machine allows him to meet this schedule by endlessly repeating the same day again and again. Akamatsu is a good enough entertainer to milk these plot devices for all they're worth, and if he weren't so concerned with titillating the reader, the results would be entertaining without reservation.

Alas, Negima is a ten-year-old boy.

I've never seen a series of graphic novels that simultaneously created wildly entertaining situations and creeped the living fuck out of me quite this often before. Here's hoping I never do again. Ewww.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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