Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Ayu Tateishi, a second-year middle school student, is the ace of the girl's tennis club and all-around cool girl who has her eyes—and heart—set on Tetsushi Kaji of the school baseball club, though she is too timid to confront him about her feelings. Her life gets shaken up one night when Nina Sakura literally falls on her after a mishap with a flying scooter. Ayu soon discovers that Nina is a witch from the Magic Kingdom who has come to Ayu's world to study abroad. Nina sets about to use her magic to help new friend Ayu with her affairs of the heart, much to the chagrin of Ayu, for Nina is less than well-versed in her command of magic. Talking, transforming cat Rio, Nina's pet, also comes along for the ride, while a boy who goes to school with the pair seeks to “out” Nina as a witch. The result is a tale of one girl's struggle to master magic, while another girl struggles to master her heart, and the inconvenient ways the two intersect.
Fans of magical girl anime will probably fall in love with Ultra Maniac, as it has everything a magical girl fan could want: lots of magic, transformation scenes, an animal companion who can talk and change form, cute guys, amusingly awkward situations involving said cute guys, a cute costume idea for cosplay, and even the stereotypical obsessive geeky character. The main gimmicks this time around are that A) the “magical girl” is only the secondary protagonist rather than the leading character and B) many of the typical magical girl accoutrements are updated for modern sensibilities. (Nina uses a talking sentient PDA which plugs into a miniature magical treasure chest to work her spells rather than a wand or jewel and flies around on a magical scooter) It is also chock full of the kinds of situations likely to be near and dear to the heart of middle school-aged girls, who are the target audience. If you're not such a person and magical girl anime isn't normally your cup of tea then this is a title you should avoid, as it is too pure a magical girl title to have any hope of being a breakthrough hit. As one who only barely tolerates the genre, I occasionally found the first volume to be cute and funny but just as often found sitting through episodes to be a discomforting test of endurance.
The writing and storytelling for Ultra Maniac is fine as long as one keeps the target audience in mind and doesn't expect too much for plot development. This first volume jumps right into the middle of the story (such as it is) by presenting three “everyday” episodes and throwing out only a few small tidbits amongst them about why things are the way they are. Not until the fourth episode do we get an origin story, which I thought was a little too long to wait; I can see no good reason why a modified version of the fourth episode shouldn't have been the premiere episode or, at the very least, the second episode. Having more background and details about this very generic-sounding “Magic Kingdom” would have also been nice, but it's entirely possible that the writers perceived that well-developed settings aren't a priority for those in the target audience so they didn't bother.
Except for Nina's darling magical girl outfit, the artistic merits for Ultra Maniac are unimpressive. Female character designs are bland; girl characters aren't cutesy (except for Nina in magical girl form) and are too young to be sexy (although that doesn't seem to stop the closer from trying).
The middle school guys stand out a bit more and are generally more visually appealing. Rio is fine as a cat but hardly cute in the human form he can assume; he would have been better off if left just as a talking cat. Backgrounds are pretty in some places, merely adequate in others, and use of CGI effects is limited. Coloring overall is bright and cheery. The animation is also unexceptional, with lots of stock anime tricks used to keep things simple, but this isn't a series made with dramatic displays of action in mind. The transformation and spell use scenes are fine the first time around but become tedious on repeat usages—and the same scenes seem destined to be used in every episode.
The soundtrack for Ultra Maniac is laden (one might even say overburdened) with sound effects. The cheery opener and more sedate closer are both the right tone for the series but won't be burning up the pop charts anytime soon. While the Japanese vocals are solid, the English dub is, unfortunately, a mess. It doesn't seem like the English voice actors put much effort into their performances, resulting in a dub track which ranges from mediocre in some places to outright awful in others. Lip synching isn't good, either. Even if you're normally a dub person you're better off skipping it and just going with the subs on this one.
The English production of the first volume, courtesy of Geneon, skimps on the extras just as much as it skimps on the dub quality. The only extra available beyond company previews is a non-credit version of the opener.
Whether or not you'll like Ultra Maniac depends entirely on whether or not you like the magical girl genre in general; those that do like the genre will almost certainly rate the series higher than I do. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more stereotypical example of maho shoujo anime.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Cute magical girl costume.
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