Has it really been 9 years, 38 volumes and 355 chapters?
I have been translating this story since November 2010, 47 chapters ago. Vetus has been open for business since October 2008. Negima first became known to me in 2005, three years after I finished reading Love Hina. This has been the only weekly series I have followed every week without fail. And now, I have read its last chapter.
No doubt most readers have found the recent chapters lacking in depth. “How the mighty have fallen,” I saw more than once. And truly, the plot leading up to the finale is notable by its absence. What happened to his quest to find his father? His plan to save two worlds? The identity of his one true love? They were all confined to a meandering epilogue, all build-up and foreshadowing left behind, all conclusions left by the wayside as the story rushed towards its ultimately happy ending.
But I doubt anyone will forget the battle in Kyoto. The memory of that snowy night. The tournament. The siege of Mahora. The whole new world. The crescendo of an epic in the making. And then, the realization that the entire story had become a titanic struggle between two central players, where the magic of friendship had no place and comrades were nothing more than pieces on a board.
Though to be honest, this was not a change I was entirely upset by. Yes, I did miss the mood of the older chapters, but I also enjoyed the new-found seriousness and intensity of the story. It was taking itself in a new direction, evolving into another form. And of all the things I enjoyed about Negima, I think its evolution and growth was the biggest and most crucial pull factor to me as a reader. I would continue to enjoy the development because I could not entirely guess where the story was going.
In the end, it was likely this escalation that brought the series down to its knees, crushed by the weight of its own myth, the complexity of its characters, the intricacy of its plots. The stakes were raised too high and too quickly. No matter how many quirky characters were brought in, how many ridiculous adventures were had, how many jokes were told and gags were used, somewhere the innocence had been lost. But it was never ‘too late’.
A choice could have been made, to let the characters continue with their progression and deal with what they will soon become: serious figures in a serious world. But Akamatsu tried to go back, and that I think was one of the major failings of Negima. Elements of the old status quo were forced to remain. Lesser characters stood in standstill, unable to progress further, and all attempts at past routines feel contrived against the spectacular moral clashes of the primary cast.
What actually went wrong in the course of the story — whether that be its ‘serious’ finale, its true finale, or sometime between or before these — depends on your view. I don’t think I need to bother convincing anyone here, and it’s too soon to tell what exactly reined in the series to its abrupt end. But at this point, what’s done is done. Negima as we know it is complete. I will not hesitate to say that translating the final chapters of this manga has left a bitter taste, but I certainly will not renounce the past 7 years of steady readership just for the last, rocky one-tenth of the story.
To me, it will likely remain one of the greatest manga experiences I have ever had. Negima was the reason I learned Japanese. The first Japanese book I bought was a volume of Negima. Negima and Akamatsu made me the anime fan I am today. It deserves that much, I think.
PS: As for Vetus, I doubt I need to say this, but I have no plans on closing down this site or stopping its updates (assuming we ever get new information, like the next Bible).