Though the name might not register as much with modern anime fans these days, in 2000 the anime Love Hina was the surprise hit of the year. Not only was it the rare romantic comedy to gain widespread attention from general audiences, but it also made history in America for being the first anime to be “digi-subbed” (which was a fancy way of saying the fansubbed anime was distributed over the internet as opposed to VHS tapes). What’s more, the manga by Ken Akamatsu was one of the first manga to become a worldwide bestseller and helped make Tokyopop a force to be reckoned with in America.
With a hit series, best-selling manga, and multiple OVA’s, everyone wondered what Akamatsu would do next. After a brief hiatus, his next project was announced: Negima! Magister Negi Magi! The manga followed a ten-year-old wizard named Negi, who is tapped to teach magic at an all-female high school. The series would contain high-jinks and action sequences involving magic and lots of girls. Fans would instantly fall in love with the Harry Potter-inspired romcom. The manga was an instant hit, and an anime adaptation was inevitable. What was assumed to be the year’s hottest new anime though ended up being one of the biggest embarrassments of the year.
Negima! Hits the Airwaves
While Akamatsu’s manga may have been a hit with readers, there was some…let’s say confusion about the appropriate age group! While it features magic, wizards, and witches, it also featured lots of fan service, adult humor, and sexual innuendos. There was even some controversy (then and now) about Negi’s age, seeing as how the character must make ‘magical contracts’ with his female students by kissing them on the lips (it should be noted most of the girls are fourteen to fifteen while Negi himself is ten). Adapting the manga to anime was tricky, and due to Japanese TV standards, it was decided to tone down the adult content to make a more family-friendly series.
Most of the fanservice was reduced or cut out. The crushes the girls had on Negi were toned down enough to appear more innocent than anything. To finish things off, the character designs were simplified to look more child-friendly, giving the appearance of Negima! being a family show on the surface. The problem was the series wasn’t family-friendly enough, and the humor that made the series so much fun was largely absent thanks to the downplaying of the fanservice. When Negima! finally aired it was the kind of disaster that no producer wants to have: a series that was too toned down for adults yet too mature for families.
By attempting to please everyone the producers pleased no one. Negima! ended up being a major flop, and no second season was commissioned. Normally this would be the end of our story, yet despite the failure of the anime the manga was still a runaway success. Clearly, the adventures of Negi were striking a chord with manga readers, so the problem must have been the anime adaptation. After one short season, Negima! was canceled, and a reboot was planned for the following year.
When evaluating what went wrong with Negima! the studio behind the reboot decided there were a few key things that went wrong. They decided the animation style was too childish for the story, and thus set out to make the new anime look closer to Akamatsu’s artwork. They also decided that going for a family audience simply didn’t pan out and decided to include more visually risqué jokes in the visuals. They still kept most of the fanservice out of the reboot (most likely because of the underage nature of the vast majority of the cast), but at least they could hint at more stuff going on!
One of the strangest conclusions they came to was that the main story was simply too bloated and set out to rewrite the story to the point where it was almost an original story. The final result was Negima?!, the reboot that would hopefully make the series as big of a hit as the manga series was. Unfortunately for the producers, the changes didn’t help.
While fans of the franchise were much happier with the visuals of the series (which many noted was a significant improvement compared to what came before), nothing else really landed. The lack of fanservice still made the series feel like Negima in name only, and the drastic re-writing of the story made the show almost unrecognizable to fans of the source material.
While Negima?! didn’t do worse than the previous series, it really didn’t do much better either. It did well enough for an OVA to be produced. This OVA – titled Negima?! Summer Special – FINALLY leaned into the fanservice that was sorely missing the whole time! Sadly, it didn’t connect with fans because they did so at the cost of anything of substance (like a good story, character development, adapting a story from the manga properly, etc…)! With the OVA technically being the third strike against the franchise, the reboot was ultimately canceled later that year and the manga never got a proper anime adaptation.
Negima’s Doomed Future
While this may be a wild story, it should be noted reboots like this aren’t entirely uncommon. When Ang Lee’s Hulk failed to be the box office hit Marvel wanted it to be, the character would be rebooted a few years later with The Incredible Hulk. While that reboot had elements that carried over into future Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, Negima never found the anime success he seemed destined to have. The manga ran for an impressive 38 volumes and produced a sequel – UQ Holder! – that itself ran for 28 volumes (for an impressive 70-volume run when combined). It should also be noted UQ Holder! also received an anime adaptation.
Critically the series was liked well enough and didn’t suffer from the creative challenges the Negima series had, yet because Negima! and Negima?! were such flops, there was little anticipation for UQ Holder! when it did receive an anime, and after one 12-episode season this anime was also canceled. Since then, the series author has become a professional politician, so it appears unlikely we’ll be seeing more of Negima anytime soon. In the meantime, all these series can be streamed on various websites and the manga can be purchased from Kodansha, for those who might be interested.
Negima! & Negima?! can be streamed on HiDive
UQ Holder! can be streamed on HiDive and Amazon Prime Video
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