Negima Vol. 1
Fans of Love Hina and A.I. Love You now have another source for Akamatsu goodness with the arrival of Negima, courtesy of Del Rey books.
As should be expected from Mr. Akamatsu, this is a series about a boy who has to deal with a lot of girls. Unlike Keitaro from Love Hina, however, our brave protagonist, Negi Springfield, is only ten years old. He's also very intelligent. In fact, it is his precocious talent in English and Japanese that brings him to an all-girls school in Japan, where he is to become their newest English teacher.
What makes this series truly fun, however, is the fact that Negi is a master wizard in training.
So essentially, take Love Hina, make the main guy younger, cuter, and smarter, give him magic powers, and force him to deal with 31 high school girls. The possibilities are endless, even when not in the hands of a master harem comedy writer such as Ken Akamatsu. With him at the helm, this is great stuff.
So far, this series feels slightly more childish than his other works. With a young protagonist, Negima might not initially appeal to an older audience. Here in America, this presents a bit of a problem. There are, of course, bath scenes and some dialogue dealing with breasts and other body parts that EVERY kid thinks about from about age ten on up. Nothing gets too explicit - nipples are never shown, there is no sex, and you're not going to witness any full frontal nudity here - but outside of Japan, the little bit of "mature" content the book does offer forces Del Rey to protect themselves by wrapping the book in plastic, putting a "Mature Audiences Only" sticker on it, and rating it for Older Teens.
From my perspective, this is an annoying and yet acceptably small price to pay for an unedited book. This is the compromise Del Rey announced after deciding to not redraw scenes our sensitive American eyes would shy away from. Del Rey isn't the cause of the annoyance; our culture is. So just keep in mind that this is a book that's great for ages 10 and up in Japan, or ages 16 and up over here.
Speaking of the artwork, Negima is pretty impressive. It can't be easy to design and maintain such a large cast right off the bat, but Akamatsu succeeds. Sure, you might see a little bit of Naru here or there and other shadows of Akamatsu's older characters, but for the most part, this series has established within the first book a visual style of its own. It's rather impressive, and it reminds me again of why this author is so popular.
Del Rey has adopted what appears to be a standard format for translations, and it's quite good so far. Honorifics are upheld, with a handy cultural explanation in the beginning of the book for people who have never read manga before. Or at least, for people who have never read manga with honorifics intact. There's also a copious amount of bonus material, including early conceptual designs, artist information, and a nifty preview of the next volume from the Japanese edition of the series. I personally love seeing the original version of the book; it will be interesting to compare the translation to the Japanese text. It may not give you a hint of the story (if you can't read Japanese, that is), but it's safe to assume that the story's going to move along just fine.
Altogether, this is a great new series from Ken Akamatsu and a respectable start for Del Rey Manga. The price point is higher than average (what, are we paying for the plastic covers?), but the quality of the translation, printing, and the series itself is worth the extra dollar. Negima is cute, funny, and enough of a change from A.I. Love You and Love Hina to keep fans of Akamatsu's other two series from getting bored. At this rate, there's no chance of that ever happening.