UQ Holder Volume 1 Review
Synopsis:Despite magic having been introduced to the world 10 years ago, Tota Konoe is stuck in a sleepy and magic-less rural town, far away from the hustle and bustle of the Capital where he longs to seek his fortune with his best friends. When the village mayor agrees to allow Tota to leave the village if he can defeat his magically gifted and skilled in combat legal guardian and teacher, Yukihime Sensei, Tota springs into action, trying his best everyday to try and defeat this woman who has raised him since he was orphaned at 12 years old. But Yukihime Sensei has a big secret she is hiding, and when a deadly assassin comes after her, Tota finds himself embarking on an adventure that will change his life forever.
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Before you go any further, if this is your first time hearing of UQ Holder or of its author, Ken Akamatsu and his other popular works namely Love Hina and in particular Negima!, I would highly suggest some caution before you dive into the series. UQ Holder is very closely connected to and interlocked with his other work, Negima!, even being renamed UQ Holder Negima! 2 later during its run. Hence, you’re most likely, if not definitely, going to have to read Negima! first to truly enjoy all that UQ Holder has to offer. As someone who casually read a few volumes of Negima! several years ago, I’m going to be doing my best to review it as someone who has a little knowledge about the related content, but at the same time, also as a newcomer because I recall little to zero of what I read so many years ago.
UQ Holder’s ties to a previous series are very easily noticed through its introductory pages as it contains about 3 pages right at the start that feature characters from Negima! Now as I began reading this series completely unaware of its connections, I was a little taken aback by those pages but to the author’s credit, I wasn’t completely put off or confused by it. The story depicted in those pages could easily be processed by a new reader as the musings of one of the main characters of UQ Holder and not necessarily something demanding you come into the series with prior knowledge. That’s what I definitely will give credit to the series for, that it is to, some point, very approachable for newcomers. The first volume feels like a fresh start of a fresh series and sucks you in through the strength of its own characters (though later you will find out that a lot of them are actually call backs or characters from Negima!) and its story.
The story moves fast, wasting no time introducing new characters and new plot lines without ever feeling bogged down. You’re given just enough to understand and follow the characters and the story but not so much that you’re left gasping for air. However, the story contains a fair amount of tropes and cliches popular in shonen manga with its main offender being its ridiculously chirpy and somewhat idiotic lead, Tota Konoe. This isn’t going to please harsher critics who have read their far share of shonen and long for something unique. However, as I always say, cliches exist for a reason, and to UQ Holder’s credit, it does work them well. Most shonen fans should easily take to Tota’s sincere and goofy antics and cheer him along on his journey to seek his fortune.
Tota isn’t the only main character though and the series quickly introduces its two other mains, Evangeline McDowell and Kuromaru Tokisaka within the first volume itself. All three characters have interesting designs or quirks that leave an impression and really add to the classic shonen vibe as circumstances throw these three people together on a journey of action and adventure.We have the badass 700 year old vampire, Evangeline who’s taken on the role of mentor and teacher to the two young boys she’s travelling with. And playing the role of reluctant companion and potential friend is Kuromaru Tokisaka whose androgynous looks are repeatedly used for comedy. On that note, regarding sexual content, Volume 1 is on the tame side. It does feature some semi nude scenes and even has a hot springs chapter, but any scenes with semi nude or undressed characters are mainly there for comedic purposes rather than extended fan service.
Almost all of Volume 1 is devoted to chronicling the journey of these 3 starting from Tota’s hometown, a remote rural area, to the capital of the country. There are some minor adventures as they go through towns helping people or facing enemies and just getting to know each other better. All of this is supported and boosted by strong and beautiful art that remains consistent throughout its first chapter. From character designs to wide surrounding shots, there’s rarely a panel that looks low effort. All in all, Volume 1 is an enjoyable read as it features plenty of action, comedy and even a bit of heart. However, because of its duty to connect with Negima!, the efforts to do so might feel a bit jarring to newcomers who have absolutely no idea why information that seems like a huge deal gets slipped in using a more casual manner and tone than warranted. Whereas, on the other hand, the very same passages will have fans of Negima! will be jumping with joy or letting out squeals of recognition and excitement as UQ Holder makes references to big clues and includes bits from Negima!
After finishing the first volume of UQ Holder, I found myself generally entertained and certain that even if I personally didn’t follow the series beyond it’s first chapter, I could still recommend it to anyone looking for a classic, a little tropey but still extremely enjoyable shonen. However, as I began researching it more for this article, I quickly realized my huge blunder and with some more research, am now convinced that the series, while having an entertaining and seemingly independent first volume, will necessitate a knowledge of Negima! for readers to be able to truly follow and enjoy its grander plot. The problem though, in my opinion, is that the two manga series don’t have the exact same vibe. Negima! is a harem based story, and the harem angle is a big part of it whereas UQ Holder doesn’t seem to have anywhere close to that amount or kind of content so far. However, seeing as they’re basically a continuation of the same story and feature a lot of the same characters and even some major plot lines, there’s a good chance that as long as you aren’t averse to harem, you should be able to enjoy both series. Is UQ Holder worth going back and reading 38 volumes/355 chapters of another series? As someone who didn’t enjoy the early harem heavy content of Negima!,my personal response is a solid no. However, if you’re a more adventurous type or have a lot of free time on your hands, why not give the first volumes of both series a try? I can happily vouch for UQ Holder being a promising classic shonen and maybe if you enjoy it a lot and are a fan of harem, having to dive into Negima! might just be an added bonus for you.