Negima, also known as Mahou Sensei Negima, Negima Magister Magi Negi and numerous other titles, is based on a long-running manga by Ken Akamatsu, best known for the archetype-setting harem series Love Hina. Love Hina was adapted by Xebec, and subjected to a not-particularly-great adaptation. Negima is almost the same in that respect, except that rather than a not-particularly-great adaptation, here we are presented with an appalling one.
For starters, this series came out several years sooner than it should have done. The manga is, to this day, still running, and promises to be around 40-50 volumes in length by its completion. This, however, was made when they were still only few volumes in. When Akamatsu was going to make this series, he wanted to make a Shonen manga, but was forced to make a harem manga in an attempt to repeat the success of Love Hina. As a result, he kicked off with a blatant harem setup, and gradually shifted away to becoming a Shonen series instead. In the process, it eventually became something of a Shonen manga for Harem fans.
Of course, while battle Shonen series are increasingly becoming a patch on the anime industry, with repetitive fights, contrived plots, one-dimensional characters, and optimal capability to be completely recycled by another series with a quick, unconvincing makeover, the Negima manga is absolutely none of those. Negima knows what it is, and gleefully runs through all the battle shonen tropes and harem tropes in hilarious tongue-in-cheek fashion. But even while happily resigning itself to being a generic shonen series, it manages to be utterly exemplary as one, building three-dimensional characters, rich fantasy worlds, plots that skilfully manage god knows how many characters and still manage to make most of them interesting an memorable, fights that are well-constructed and compelling, and humour that is outright hilarious. In effect, Negima is something that every shonen series should strive to be.
That is, however, something this series decides to completely ignore. It kicks off mostly faithful to the first part of the series, but promptly decides to deviate whenever any of the story arcs pop up. Yes, rather than actually following the plot of Negima, regarding Negi's exploits to find his long-lost father, they just decide to do... well, pretty much nothing. All the series ever focuses on are the protagonist Negi Springfield's day-to-day activities as the teacher of an all-girl high school. In a nutshell, what this is series has done is taken every piece of filler from the manga and put it together into a series. The only time they really touch on any of the manga's story arcs is the Kyoto arc, which took about 3 volumes of the manga to cover. They then proceed to dedicate about 2 episodes on this, cutting out pretty much everything of importance, and cutting a major character (Kotaro) out of the story altogether. The end result is a rushed and butchered version of what was previously a good story arc.
Of course, Negima is a character-driven series, which it would really have to be considering that it starts off with around 35 characters, and in the current arc of the manga it must be nearing 100. Problem is that the series stops at around 45, and only remembers to make a handful or two remotely interesting. The only ones that are really worth mentioning are as follows: Negi, our protagonist, a ten year old Welsh magician. As part of their training, young wizards are sent off to work to test their abilities, with Negi's test being to teach a school of Japanese students who are older than he is. He has a fantastic backstory that spans childhood horrors, parental abandonment, and a crippling need to become a great wizard for reason I won't dare spoil. This adaptation covers approximately none of it.
We also see his first of many sidekicks, Asuna Kagurazaka, whose backstory digs so far back that I can't even say a word of it without spoiling anybody. But naturally, not a single bit of it was adapted, so we are left with a one-dimensional character who is bossy and annoying. It's worth noting that even in the manga she's not particularly likeable. We also have Evangeline A.K. McDowell, a vampire who was imprisoned in the school by Negi's father and needs Negi's blood to escape, Nodoka Miyazaki, the clumsy, hyper-moe bookworm girl and primary love interest, and Yue Ayase, friend of Nodoka and general deadpan snarker. Other than that, most of the remaining 40-something cast members aren't used much. Some of them get their episodes in the spotlight, but none of them ever really shine as a result. Several cast members get as many as one or two lines in the entire series. Some others are also quite out of character, in particular Sayo Aisaka, the ghost.
On the technical side of things, Negima is as poor as it is anywhere else. The animation is awful, littered with animation mistakes absolutely everywhere, and the colouring is horribly bland and undersaturated. The music is all either annoying J-pop or completely forgettable. Negima was a series I watched before I was in the habit of watching subbed series, so I regretfully sat through the horrible dubbing. Don't get me wrong, I actually like dubs, but this is a really bad one. Greg Ayres as Negi is the highlight of how bad it gets. Effectively, Ayres is the Michael Cera of English dubbed anime. He has a distinctive, whiny voice, that can either be amusing, loveable and endearing, or horribly annoying. And the absolute pinnacle of just how annoying Greg Ayres can be when casted poorly is Negi Springfield. His voice is, in addition to its usual nasally whine, made considerable higher and given something of a British accent. To simulate the experience of hearing this, find your nearest chalkboard and scrape your nails down it. Despite the large cast, there are very few decent performances here (Brina Palencia as Yue Ayase and Laura Bailey as Evangeline A.K. McDowell are the only good ones in here), as well as several other irritating ones such as Leah Clark (Nodoka) and Monica Rial (Konoka) both putting in extremely shrill voices, with the remainder of the cast simply being either poor or unremarkable.
At this point I'm sure that several readers are annoyed at how much I've prattled on about the differences in the adaptation, but the thing is that when you take that away there is very little to talk about. When depleted of all the manga's positives, what we are left with is a series that is honestly lifeless. The comedy is mostly absent, and when it does it falls flat. None of the characters are enjoyable in the least. The plot is almost nonexistent. This series doesn't even have any fanservice to carry it for the lowest common denominator (ecchi fans).
Being an ongoing series, Negima of course had an anime-exclusive ending. While it was very contrived and the drama was laid on awfully thick, the plot itself honestly wasn't that bad and at least saves this anime from being absolutely, 100% terrible, alongside a very small handful of funny moments.
Thankfully, Negima has since left the hands of Xebec, and moves into those of Shaft. Shaft have gone on to make a TV series that is essentially Negima in name only, although it is still a damn sight better than this, two random filler OVAs, and most likely due to complaints, two series of OVAs covering later arcs in the manga, which are easily the best animated chunks of Negima. Sadly, this pretty much rules out any kind of full series adaptation.
Thanks, Xebec. You ruined it.
Final Words: For the love of god, buy the manga first.
English Dub: 2/10
For Fans Of: Love Hina, Harry Potter.