Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Courage of Class 2-A

So I finished watching the Negima anime yesterday. Hopefully it goes without saying that this upcoming blog post, like the last one, has spoilers for the anime (and probably the manga as well) in it. And if it doesn’t, well, I just said something about it, so you’ve been warned.

That said, though, I didn’t go into the ending without expectations. While it’s hardly on the same level as the details I’m about to reveal, in a conversation with some of my friends, I was informed that the ending wasn’t great. And the setup for that ending in the two episodes prior to the finale did nothing to dispel that belief. I was expecting to dislike the ending of the series when episode 26 began.

Then I actually watched the final episode and promptly forgot about that. There were one or two scenes that set off my inner nit-picking nature, and five or six more where I just sat spellbound watching Negi and Class 2-A beating the crap out of demons. The break point, though, the part that I would bet determines whether a person likes the ending or not, is what happened to practically the second lead character of the series (after Negi), Asuna Kagurazaka.

...This is the last spoiler warning you get, and this is one hell of a plot twist to reveal. Warning has been duly given. Of course, if you’ve seen Negima and/or don’t care to see it, feel free to read on.

You see, in episode 23, Asuna dies. This is kind of a big deal, pretty much shattering class 2-A to pieces as far as their emotional stability is concerned. The rest of the series, however, is not just moping around and getting past her death. As it happens, the time machine comes out in episode 25.

And this is where I can see why some people might not like the ending. I think it depends on how cynical one likes the plot lines. If one would prefer the message in the story to be about how death is inevitable and would have preferred to see Negi deal with Asuna’s demise rather than try to bring her back to life, the ending will look like a cheap dodge that avoids that truth. Star Trek fans tired of the endless time-travel plots will likely have an issue with this one, especially since this time travel appears to be run at the demands of the plot more than most. And those who have an issue with the primal forces of evil and the making of contracts with those forces will likely have a word about this whole thing as well.

Then again, if one wants gritty realism and cynical plot lines, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m surprised you endured 22 episodes of a ten-year-old boy in charge of a class of thirty girls that all seem to be crazy in some way or another to make it to these last four. Realism (or more precisely, “verisimilitude”, since magic is not exactly realistic to begin with) is not exactly high on the list of goals for this story, and it doesn’t try too hard to be cynical.

The message of the Negima anime isn’t one about death, or betrayal, or any kind of cynical theme. As far as I’m concerned, Negima concerns itself with courage. Which at first glance may seem kind of odd. After all, this isn’t a series about war or fighting, that much. Most of the season is taken up with the tensions inherent in placing a ten-year-old girl magnet in charge of a class of thirty girls.

As far as courage goes, there isn’t much courageous posturing or determined last stands in this one. Negi does get one of those last stands (and is dragged away from it by Asuna), and the entire class practically jumps to fight for Asuna’s sake in the final episode. But that isn’t the courage that I’m looking at. In fact, it really wouldn’t have helped for there to be more of that display.

No, the courage of Class 2-A isn’t the will to march into battle or the determination to stand up for a friend, important as those are. The courage of Class 2-A is the courage of Nodoka Miyazaki in episode 17 or the courage of Asuna herself in the final episode. It’s the mental fortitude to express yourself and your feelings to others.

It may not seem like much. As I touched on with my last post, some people don’t seem to have a problem with that at all. But who among us would willingly express all of their secrets to even their closest friends? At the fear of being branded insane, silly, over-emotional, who would try to tell someone that they know they’ll die in two hours?

Perhaps I over-value this kind of emotional courage simply because it is something that I know I lack. When it comes to my college life, I’m confident in my ability to handle my classes, and face down tests and the like with something that could be called courage. But when it comes to expressing myself? When it comes to saying those three little words that Nodoka managed in episode 17?

Regardless. In the end, the only conclusion I can come to is that the ending only reinforces what I’ve already said about Negima. This isn’t an anime about death or even about the magic that Negi wields. It’s an anime about relationships. As far as I’m concerned, Negi and Class 2-A are an inspiration - a reminder to have courage. And not the courage of fighting or of risking oneself physically. Whether a plea for help or a declaration of love, the courage of Class 2-A is the courage to speak a word (or three) that can change the course of a life.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reaching Out

So lately I’ve been watching an anime series called Negima. The premise can probably best be called “insane”, but hardly in a bad way. Ten-year-old Negi Springfield, the main character, is an aspiring wizard (or “Magister Magi”, if you prefer the anime’s title for them) and is in training to achieve that end. But this latest phase of his training involves the young English boy becoming a teacher at an all-girls school in Japan, and as far as I’m concerned, the challenges to Negi’s magical skills are nothing compared to the task of keeping the girls of class 2-A under control, especially when it seems like half of them are in love with Negi.

One of those girls that can’t seem to take her eyes off of Negi is possibly one of the most unlikely candidates ever: Nodoka Miyazaki. I call her an unlikely candidate because at the beginning of the series, she’s all but terrified of men, period. When Negi saves her from a hard fall off a stairway, her reflections later on center around being touched by a boy (Negi, obviously), and she seems to be confused as to why she doesn’t hate or fear the idea.

Nodoka proceeds to spend a good portion of the series trying to work up the courage to even admit to what she’s feeling, much less tell Negi about it. (Well, as far as I’ve seen, anyway; I’ve seen 18 out of the 26 episodes.) Since, after all, Nodoka seems to be just cripplingly shy with everyone, this ends up taking quite a while, even when they do end up on a date in episode 17 by the machinations of Nodoka’s friends.

And yet, out of all the characters in the anime, I find myself rooting for Nodoka and sympathizing with her more than anyone. Even over Negi himself or Asuna Kagurazaka, who practically seems like the second main character of the show sometimes, I want to see Nodoka be successful.

…I guess that makes me one of those crazy fans that goes on and on about the relationships he wants to see in the different shows that he watches. At least I haven’t created any little combinations of their names, like… wait, never mind, where was I?

Anyway, I can see why Nodoka might take some criticism for her general attitude. I know people who would likely tell her to stop cringing and speak her mind clearly. (They’d probably also tell her to cut her hair, especially since she practically hides behind her bangs when talking to someone directly, but that isn’t as important.) And I think that’s emblematic of society as a whole. As a general rule from my own experience, people don’t really sympathize with the shy introverts; they simply tell them not to be shy.

See, part of the reason why I sympathize with Nodoka over the rest of the cast is because I think I’m the same kind of person. As far as I’m concerned, the hardest thing I did this afternoon was to call someone that I didn’t know, looking for a job. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do by any measure, and yet I was agonizing over it for a good ten minutes before I actually made the call.

For people like Nodoka and myself, even reaching out is hard to do. Nodoka seemed to be practically terrified of talking to Negi even after she finally told him about her feelings at the end of her little date in episode 17, avoiding Negi for much of episode 18. And I? I didn’t want to feel like an idiot, which as far as that little voice in my head is concerned happens every time I try to do something I’m unsure about.

As a side note, that same little voice is stridently protesting what I’m about to write... it can be quite insistent sometimes. And yet, my more logical side can’t find a hole in it.

Simply put, though, sometimes it has to be done. Nodoka had to get around to the admission of her love for Negi eventually, and I had to make the attempt to find a job. Practically the hardest thing either of us does on a day to day basis is to actually break away from the books (Nodoka) or anime/games (myself) and interact with other people. (I am assuming on Nodoka’s part, but I don’t think I’m far wrong.)

There are miscues, sure. Sadly, my call was one of them. Not that it went badly, simply that I did indeed feel like I should have expected the negative result that I got. Logically, nothing really happened, but I still spent a minute or two after the call feeling like I was an idiot. (I finally decided to write something about to take my mind off it. This is the end result.)

Thankfully, Nodoka had it better off. A side effect of having your entire fate decided by writers that like happy endings, I suppose. While Negi didn’t exactly leap into her arms, they’re now much better friends than they were before, and Nodoka seems to have fully taken in the lesson here about courage when it comes to reaching out. If nothing else, she got her symbolic “I’m not hiding anymore” moment when she brushed her bangs away from her face and looked Negi straight in the eye, something she had had severe difficulty with before.

When all is said and done, reaching out is rarely something that you regret after the fact. And maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll actually learn that one of these days.