"Ultramaniac Vol. 1": Authentic, Energetic Shoujo For Kids
Magical Girls. Mahou shoujo, as they might say in Japan. The concept, at least in anime, is nearly fifty years old. As such, it’s hard to imagine that there’d be much life left in it. There have been girls with swords, batons, cards, compacts and probably almost every other object under the sun. The heroines have had goals ranging from becoming the Clow Card Master to becoming a Prince. And yeah, saving the Earth from some kind of supernatural distress usually comes into play as well. However, Geneon’s new magical girl title, Ultramaniac, manages some fresh ideas.
The first episodes center on the day-to-day lives of Ayu, a teenage tennis prodigy, and her delightfully immature friend Nina, a witch-in-training who has opened Ayu’s eyes to the supernatural world. The formula is pretty basic: Ayu runs into a problem, Nina tries to fix it with magic, and hilarity and lessons ensue. Sometimes that lesson is as simple as “don’t mess around in other people’s romantic affairs”; other times it’s as bizarre as “don’t change your friend’s sex so she can win a tennis match.” But the series switches it up pretty quickly when it introduces Uta, a boy from the same magical kingdom (no really, that’s what it’s called) Nina comes from. Uta has known Nina since she was kid, and though he’s a jerk and he teases her, he secretly likes her. We find this out thanks to a magical Polaroid camera whose photos show the person you love most. We also find out that he doesn’t make a move on her because Nina’s still a kid: her magical Polaroid photo shows Ayu, and since this isn’t based off a CLAMP manga, it’s a sign that she still finds boys yucky. The show also features a glasses-wearing dork who is like Dib in Invader Zim—he’s trying to find proof that Nina is a witch. Nina also has a little magical animal guide. Both of these characters are basically comic relief.
Ultramaniac is not a deep show by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s cute and sweet and actually made for kids, which is a wonderful break from the vapid, fanservice-laden magical girl shows for hardcore otaku. It’s got pretty good animation, great super-deformed takes and expressions, and very nice compositing. Yeah, it does pull the old “fill time with a reused transformation sequence” trick, but it’s a neat sequence for the most part, so it’s not a drag to deal with. The character design keeps a lot of the detail from the manga, especially in the eyes and outfits, which is very nice. The music is also pretty good: it has a suitably cutesy and saccharine opening, and the end credit music is very good as well. Both are immensely catchy and sure to stick in your head. The dub and sub are both enjoyable and appropriately cutesy, so no fault there. Basically, it does everything a good kids’ show should do, and though it will definitely appeal to girls more than boys, the humor gives it a bit of a general draw.
DVD-wise, it’s Geneon, so although the video and audio quality are great, we also get a seven-disc release where six woud have been better, and it’s lacking in extras. They even combine the language and extras menu, so even that’s been stripped down. There is a little preview of the Ultramaniac manga.
Basically, if you are a young girl or are one at heart, you’ll love Ultramaniac. It’s proof that magical girl anime still has life outside the hardcore otaku set, and it’s really just a great show for kids. It’s positive, it’s fun, it’s heartwarming, and it’s even worth your money in spite of Geneon’s stingy release style. Though here’s a little consumer alert: if you’re looking to try Ultramaniac on the cheap, the first issue of Shojo Beat includes an episode.