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.

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