"Ultramaniac" Vol. 3: Average But Appealing
Magical girl anime is dead.
No, really, I think it’s a mostly fair assessment. The genre certainly has seen better years, and lately otaku with creepy complexes are as much the target audience as children, at least if posters in the otaku-centric Megami magazine for shows like Lyrical Nonoha and figurines aimed at otaku for shows like Pretty Cure are any indication. However, there are still some mahou shoujo shows for an audience other than 20-something geeks with issues. Ultramaniac is one such show.
Volume 3 continues the havoc that volume 2 started, as the bratty, arrogant Maya harasses Nina in her quest to become a better witch, and Ayu in her daily life. In episode 9, “Item,” Nina and Maya race to get one of the 5 Holy Stones, which can greatly enhance a witch’s powers. Maya’s motives for collecting them are murky, but Nina’s hoping to go home to the Magical Kingdom (no, not that Magical Kingdom) with head held high. It’s an intense episode with some shocking revelations about what happens to a witch gets all the stones.
In episode 10, “Jack Straw,” Maya uses an enchanted doll to try to scare Nina into quitting her search for the stones, but it ends up scaring Ayu a lot more. Then, karma finally kicks in and Maya is thrown a problem of her own: in episode 11, “Knight Spirit,” Maya’s butler, the cloyingly doting and foppish Knight, arrives in town and annoys everyone, even Nina and Ayu, with his jealousy and self-centeredness. The last episode on the disc, “Lovesick Night” gets a bit more movement into Ayu and Kaji’s relationship, ending on a cliffhanger that’s could totally change Nina’s life. I’m waiting on bated breath for the next volume.
In a sense, Ultramaniac is an insanely cliched show. It’s a throwback to the 1970s, before Sailor Moon injected a heavy dose of sentai into the genre, reorienting it toward a group-battles-monsters focus and a crossover demographic. A show like Ultramaniac that uses the magic element for situational humor rather than just beating up some bad guy is a nice change of pace. It’s definitely much more amusing than a lot of the recent entries in the genre, and it often allows for some neat romantic entanglements as well. On the whole, it’s snappy and doesn’t feel played out.
However, as an adaptation of the manga, it is a bit lacking. The manga goes whole volumes without a shred of magic, focusing on the character relationships a lot more directly and extensively. Personally, I wish the anime had followed that a lot more closely. A more faithful adaptation could’ve made the show from merely entertaining to breathtaking and poignant. The cliffhanger does show potential, however.
The visuals are also still very nice appealing, from the cute character design to the clean compositing and well-used 3D elements. The music seems more varied, and the opening theme and ending theme are still catchy and memorable, but some parts of the score work better than others. Both dubs are still pretty listenable as well, though they wear thin in some places, as if they are trying too hard to be cute.
The only big beef I have with the release is that Geneon seems to have found a new low – there are no extras. It’s absolutely infuriating given that even much smaller companies, like Central Park, Right Stuf and Media Blasters, manage to pack a lot more background material on their discs. At least the disc has great audio and video encoding, and a fairly navigable menu.
Still, though Ultramaniac isn’t innovative, the release is mediocre and it’s not a great adaptation of the manga, you know what? It’s entertaining and enjoyable. Sugary with just enough comedic, dramatic and romantic flair. It neatly sits between darker series like Fruits Basket and pure fluff like Sugar. That’s a hard balance to strike, but Ultramaniac has it locked down. Most importantly, it’s upbeat and cute enough for kids to enjoy, and I’m glad to have that kind of content around, especially in the magical girl genre, because I’d hate to see it evaporate as a genre for kids.