UQ Holder – Complete Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 368 minutes approx.
Ken Akamatsu is synonymous with the harem comedy, having given us the seminal Love Hina and the rather preposterous Negima! Magister Negi Magi, about a ten year-old wizard from Wales serving as a teacher to a class of high school girls in Japan. Negima! is Akamatsu’s longest running series and now, it has a sequel of sorts.
Set 80 years after the events of Negima!, Tota Konoe is a high-spirited school student in a small rural town he wants to leave so he can experience the outside world. Tota is an orphan adopted by his homeroom teacher Yukihime, as a dying request of Tota’s parents despite her being involved in the accident, who forbids Tota’s wishes.
One day Tota and Yukihime are attacked by an assassin posing as a schoolteacher. He dismembers Yukihime and cuts off Tota’s arms, but before he can deliver the final blow, Yukihime’s disembodied head tells Tota to drink her blood and become immortal. Tota does so, recovers, and easily defeats the assassin. Yukihime also recovers and explains to Tota the truth about his origins, and takes him on a journey of discovery.
As opening episodes go, UQ Holder goes straight for the jugular with the violence and wrong foots us all with its shock twists. The very beginning with a very brief reminder of what Negima! was all about then the tawdry teenage antics of Tota and his friends does not prepare us for the brutal onslaught of the graphic decapitation and geysers of blood that follow.
But how exactly does this correspond with the ribald comedy of Negima! that preceded it? Admittedly, the connection is tenuous in terms of content, relying on the shared bloodline between Tota and Negi Springfield, the Welsh protagonist mentioned earlier and Tota’s grandfather, as the core connection. Negi’s spirit is a recurring presence in this show but Tota isn’t aware of who this spectral figure is. Yukihime does, but then again, she already has a lot of explaining to do anyway.
Fans of Negima! will be surprised to learn that Yukihime is in fact an alumnus of Negi’s original class, the 700 year-old vampire Evangeline A.K. McDowell! Her true form is that of a 10 year-old girl but as Yukihime she adopts the look of a buxom, long legged blonde woman, presumably to make it okay for Tota to lust after her (which he does).
Yukihime also runs the secret organisation for immortal beings and magic users called UQ Holder and takes Tota there to hone the new fighting abilities he adopted from drinking Yukihime’s vampire blood. This makes Tota a vampire too yet he never shows any vampiric leanings at all during the series (the again neither does Yukihime), but he has also developed new range of powers that emerge at every stage of his training.
So far we are in standard shonen fantasy territory but what of the harem aspect? This is a subverted with the first entrant – an immortal genderless swordsman named Kuromaru Tokisaka. He behaves and dresses like a boy, yet he wears his hair in pigtails like a girl, and has a slim, effete body. When Kuromaru reaches the age of 16 he gets to choose his permanent gender, but his romantic feelings towards Tota and embracing of his feminine side cause confusion over which one he will choose.
This might sound progressive and prevalent to today’s world of transgender politics but Akamatsu simply isn’t classy or smart enough to use this as anything as a way to make implicit confused gender gags at Kuromaru’s expense. The rest of the young females finding themselves falling for Tota are 100% female and 100% trope – taciturn badass swordswoman Karin Yuuki, bespectacled time manipulator Kirie Sakurame, and shy “normal” human maid Shinobu Yuuki.
Aside from the rather subdued but never ignored harem frippery, Tota goes on a journey of self-discovery, gets involved in dangerous missions, and competes in a brutal fighting tournament against a team of immortals whose leader is quite the surprise, but all is not as it seems. It all sounds exciting but sadly exposes a major issue with the shows in how it is cramming a long running manga into just twelve episodes.
Given Akamatsu wrote the TV scripts himself, there is nobody else for fans of the manga to blame for this rushed adaptation – others won’t be aware of what has been excised or truncated but jumps in the narrative, random disappearances of characters and skips in the timeline are all palpable enough to leave us underwhelmed by the briskness of the story telling and patchy character development.
J.C Staff are responsible for the production which is commensurately competent given the material, but deserve kudos for not shying away from the graphic violence. Action sequences are handled with flair and energy but all too often are kept short. It should be noted that Tota is a Monkey D. Luffy clone with his perma-shouty voice and naïve but well-meaning demeanour.
You don’t need to have seen Negima! to watch this show but when it comes to the three OVAs in the extras, I’d suggest watching them afterwards, even though the release of first one pre-dated the TV series. Lovers of fan service will enjoy these bonus chapters to compensate for the comparative dearth of sauciness in the main show. The second OVA episode in which Kirie accidentally freezes time except for her and Tota is quite fun and not as prurient as it could have been.
For UQ Holder to be a show worthy of its appetising premise, it needed to have been written by somebody other than Ken Akamatsu. Imagine if Dapper Laughs had written Romeo & Juliet and you have an idea of how a good story can be ruined by the wrong approach. For sheer bloody-minded nonsense however, this will have a ready audience, whether they are existing Negima! or Akamatsu fans, otherwise the best advice is to set your expectations low.
English Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Disc 2 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animations
Rating – ** ½
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