UQ Holder!, Vol. 2

By Ken Akamatsu. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

I still get the impression as I read this second volume that Ken Akamatsu is doing a victory lap, showing off the fact that he can do what he wants now and is not as constrained by editorial fiat. Much of the time we spend here is seen watching battles between our heroes and antagonists, be they monsters, bad guys, or even jealous girls who are supposed to be on the side of justice. There’s also a healthy dose of things Akamatsu likes to write no matter what – comedy, nudity. The large number of new male characters, however, and the minimal harem antics (they are there, but it’s part of the background events for the most part) must be a relief for him, and I think he’s having a ball here. But are we?


The biggest change between Akamatsu’s prior works and UQ Holder is the role of the hero. Keitaro and Negi both seemed to be of a certain type – somewhat shy, a tendency to worry, a tendency to overthink everything, and a tendency to fall into other people’s boobs. Tota is very much a complete 180 change – he goes by instinct, doesn’t really dwell on anything much, and gets by on having fun and being awesome. He’s a traditional shonen hero in a battle manga, which for the most part this is. And as such he comes with the traditional shonen hero problems – he seems to be painted as exceptional far too fast. Everyone remarks here on how Tota’s ability to learn new techniques is simply superhuman beyond belief. He escapes an inescapable dungeon in only a week, learns shundo in a day, etc. Sure, he may get beat in arm wrestling, but if you don’t like ‘boring invincible hero’ types, this may not be for you.

The other two major characters here fair better, as Evangeline/Yukihime takes a step back for a bit. We finally get the story on the gender ambiguity of Kuromaru, who is actually genderless – reminiscent of the anime Simoun, when he turns 16 he’ll decide if he wants to be a man or woman. I say he as Kuromaru is clearly leaning towards the male choice. Kuromaru not only looks a lot like Setsuna from Negima, who I suspect she may be related to, but also shares many of her self-loathing traits, so it doesn’t take much for Karin to completely destroy her, noting Tota is drawn to inner strength that Kuromaru doesn’t have. Karin herself is also intriguing, having a somewhat disturbing attachment to Yukihime that is mostly played for comedy, and a corresponding hatred of Tota that is played likewise. There’s nothing comedic about the kind of immortality she has, though, and the revelation that she still feels the pain of attempts on her life is rather chilling.

There are a few more Negima teases here (the nun in the slums they’re sent to protect is named Kasuga, and some of the monster girls in UQ Holder are reminiscent of Fate’s minions), but not as much as the first volume. I’m sure we’ll here more of Negi and company later, but Akamatsu is content for now to just take the cast where it wants to go and show off awesome fighting moves. And if it all feels a bit lightweight and fluffy, I’m sure that won’t last long. For now, let’s laugh along with our boring invincible hero.

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