Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
In a future Earth where interplanetary commerce is normal and aliens peacefully cohabitate with humans on Earth, high school student Kazuto Tokino is struggling to operate his family's bathhouse when a spaceship piloted by Valkyrie, princess of the interstellar power Valhalla, crash-lands into it, killing him. Distraught over harming Kazuto, Valkyrie brings him back to life by sharing her soul with him, an action which changes her physically and mentally into an 8-year-old version of herself! Valkyrie's full adult form and power is temporarily restored whenever she kisses Kazuto, but for the most part she is happy to relive her childhood by Kazuto's side – much to the consternation of Kazuto's best friend Akina (a shrine priestess) and the annoyance of Princess Hydra, Valkyrie's sister, who also finds herself physically reverted to an 8-year-old form by one of Akino's seals, although she retains her full mental capacity. Serving and protecting Valkyrie and Kazuto is Ms. Sanada, the Valhallan Royal Family's chief catgirl maid and her veritable army of catgirl convertees.
Despite some feeble efforts to generate respectability, the opening episodes of UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie are awash in a sea of stupidity. That the series exists at all means that somebody must have thought that it was a good idea to blend a cliché-ridden shojo magical girl series with an even more cliché-ridden shonen romantic comedy – and why not throw catgirl series into the mix, too? The resulting mishmash of elements from all three fails because it tries to be too many things and, so far at least, has not succeeded at any of them. It badly wants to be funny but most often ends up being annoyingly silly, its attempts to be dramatic fall flat, and its characters are too uninspired and insipid for the series to be endearing. It also has a bad habit of using the whole “aliens living among us” gimmick to justify randomly tossing odd-looking characters in amongst the population of a typical-looking modern-day Japanese setting, and let's not even get started on the whole “spaceship sticking out of the bath house/shrine and nobody commenting on it” bit. The only thing the series has done well so far is to provide lots of catgirl action for catgirl enthusiasts; heck, there's even a catspaw-shaped whistle to summon the army of catgirls and a Catgirl Ray Gun which not only turns young women into catgirls but apparently brainwashes them to be slavishly loyal servants of the Valhallan Royal Family in the process. Sadly this is nowhere near enough to carry the series even if you are a catgirl fan.
Then there's considerations about who, exactly, the target audience is supposed to be. The series attempts to be both shojo cute and shonen sexy at the same time, an awkward balancing act achieved only by alternating between fan service shots and exceedingly cutesy content, such as having an alien who looks like a banana with legs in amidst nude girls in a bath house scene or emphasizing breast growth in the magical girl-styled transformation scenes. Would anyone other than a fanboy appreciate something like this? That an 8-year-old girl (who looks and acts younger still) kisses a 17-year-old young man on the lips to trigger the transformations is also more than a little creepy even though the viewer knows that she's really 18. Let's also not forget the uncute floppy-eared dog Spottenheim, who seems to exist primarily to be a source of abuse (torture?) by the younger version of Valkyrie.
Defining a low point in a series this bad is a real challenge, but the leading contender in this volume is the apple-obsessed prince who appears in episode 4 with his bugle-tooting mecha in tow and a “Take Back The Most Important Thing For A Girl That Was Stolen Gun Mark 808,” which is the culmination of his planet's technology. No, really.
Character designs emphasize extreme cuteness in the kid-sized versions of Valkyrie and HYDRA and big-breasted sexiness in the adult versions, with designs for other human characters looking like holdovers from any of a number of other romantic comedies. Alien designs are completely random, looking like anything from an old woman shopkeeper with antennas or a sexy girl with huge floppy ears to the aforementioned banana with legs. Costuming is a blending of elements borrowed from innumerable other series, with Valkyrie's mature form looking like a cross between the Class President in Kujibiki Unbalance and Rosette from Chrono Crusade – but of course she also has the magical girl staff, too. Shots of Valhalla could have almost been taken straight out of Ah! My Goddess, while other backgrounds are more typical. The bright, vivid use of colors favors a shojo style, but again, all the fan service favors a shonen look. The visual clash this creates serves the series as poorly as its competing story elements do, but there's little else about the look of the series that's distinctive or memorable. The animation quality, while not bad, also fails to impress.
If the series has a bright point, it's in the musical scoring. The varied musical themes work so hard to support and enhance the action, humor, or drama of each individual scene that it's a shame they have so little worth supporting. Both the opener and closer, contrarily, are quite forgettable. ADV's English dub is also worthy of merit, as it does a good job of matching up actors and performance styles to the original roles, with Kira Vincent Davis convincingly pulling double duty as both the young and old versions of Valkyrie (which are voiced by two separate seiyuu in the original Japanese). The dub script does take liberties in places but they aren't outlandish ones and stay true to the spirit of the character and scene; no, we're not talking about Ghost Stories-level changes here.
ADV also does well with the extras, providing a substantial list of them to complement the reversible cover, company previews, and next episode preview. The highlights are the World Notes and Name Notes, the latter of which explains some subtle, clever things done with naming conventions which will be lost on most anyone who doesn't speak Japanese and the way they were handled for the English version. The former fleshes out background and setting details and provides additional information and commentary on some story elements. Reading these before watching the series is recommended even though they contain a bit of spoiler content, as it will help make sense of a series which jumps in at the middle before going back to explain how things came to that point. Other extras include clean opener and closer, Japanese commercials, written messages from the original seiyuu, a jukebox collection of music videos using footage from the four episodes (one entirely consists of fan service!), and clean versions of the original on-air openers for episodes 1 and 3 and the closer for episode 1, the former of which are a bit racier than the versions used on the episodes on this DVD.
If you're looking for a magical girl/shonen romantic comedy crossbreed loaded with fan service and catgirl action then you've come to the right place. Anyone else who cherishes their brain cells should avoid it like the plague when it comes out on March 7th.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Good extras, worthwhile musical scoring.
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