Ultramaniac - Vol. 1: Magical Girl

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21st Century Witchcraft

May 22, 2005 (Updated Apr 19, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:a very cute and well done start to what's sure to be a fun series

Cons:Reminds me of Kiki's Deliver Service in a few places

The Bottom Line: Just a good start to a series. I'm curious to see what will happen next.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

Intro

This is the first of many (I think the count has now gone up to 5) new series that I am starting this weekend.

The Story

Ayu is in eighth grade at her Jr. High and she’s really nothing more than average. Even though she’s drop dead gorgeous, she’s still painfully shy and has an incredible crush on another guy. Normally that would be hard enough as it is except for she also happens to have a very interesting best friend in the form of her classmate Nina who is secretly studying abroad from the Magic Kingdom.

In the Magic Kingdom (not to be confused with Disneyland ) , Nina attended magic school where she was learning how to be a witch, unfortunately she’s not very good at it and was very close to flunking out and so at the suggestion of her Grandfather, she decided to travel abroad to the human world and study there for awhile. No one in the human world knows that Nina is a witch except for Ayu who found out completely on accident and another guy known mostly as ‘The Chairman’ who is certain that Nina is a witch but lacks any kind of solid evidence to back up his claim so everyone thinks that he’s just a geeky wack job.

Four episodes are on this first volume and they do a really great job of introducing us to the characters and showing us exactly what kind of people they are. In the first episode, Ayu and Nina are introduced and right away we are introduced to Ayu’s crush, Kaji, and her incredible fear of rejection if she were to go forth and actually tell him how she feels. Nina decides to intervene and give him a magic chocolate that will make him fall in love with Ayu. As you can imagine though, things don’t exactly go as planned.

In the second episode of the volume, Nina’s child hood friend from the Magic Kingdom visits and instantly decides to show off just how naturally talented with magic he is while in the course, also asking out Ayu. This was a very cute episode. I liked all the tiny bits of character development that were involved.

In the third episode, the boys and girls tennis team get into an argument because the boys are jerks and have decided that they don’t like letting the girls team use the extra court for their pointless practices and so a grudge match is determined. It’ll be the star of the boys team vs. the star of the girls team, Ayu. Nina once again decides that she wants to intervene in order to give Ayu a bit of an edge… and once again, it doesn’t exactly go as planned as instead of giving Ayu an edge, it gives her a penis and turns her into a boy.

The final episode of the volume I thought would’ve made a good opening episode but I can see why and appreciate why it was used to close the first volume instead of open it. It is in this episode that we are shown how Nina and Ayu first met when she came over to the human world. This was easily the best episode on the volume, albeit not the most original that I’ve ever seen (see below). I really enjoyed how the characters reacted to first meeting each other and seeing how Ayu reacted the first time she saw magic being used.

The Good And The Bad

This series has lots of good and bad points that I really like and really dislike thus far. To start with, this series does have some very original points that I thought were really cute and funny. I really liked how this is a magical girl anime that takes that term literally. While we do still get to see the interesting and fun transformation sequence of Nina whenever she is about to cast a spell, I think it’s fun that in this series she doesn’t change identity or anything like that. She just changes clothes into her magic school uniform (though I’m a little curious to know why she has to change into that outfit in order to perform any kind of magic).

Another big point that I really like about this series is, as usual, the really great animation. Computers are utilized a lot in this series to create some very cool and fancy looking graphics making this into a very visual effects based series but none of them feel like they are out of place and none of them take away from the story which is something that I am deeply appreciative of. Most of the time when something is based on it’s visual and special effects (Let’s take 99% of American live action block busters for example), the entire project ends up being one big special effect with absolutely no story. In this case though, the special effects really add to the story and help bring you in further but even if they weren’t there, the writing and great characters would still make the series very enjoyable and worth watching.

The other bit about the animation that I really enjoyed was the way it switched back and forth between normal animation and then going for the kawaii (Japanese for ‘cute’) style with the big eyes and over drawn expressions on the characters complete with the big eyes and everything else that goes with it. The constant switch back and forth had me laughing quite a bit and was a very welcome addition to the series letting us know that they aren’t taking themselves seriously in the slightest so we shouldn’t have to worry about that either.

I also really have to give big props (gods, did I really just say that?) to the creators of this series for the interesting way that Nina casts her spells. Instead of making her seem old fashioned by riding around on a broom and casting spells in a big iron cauldron, she rides around on a magic scooter (Nina’s line in episode four says it all: “Brooms were in fashion in my Grandma’s days!” lol) and uses her magic PC and treasure box to cast her spells. I just thought that this was a great way of keeping the character current and not making her feel like she was out of place in a very modern setting though I sure wish that I could just use my PC whenever I wanted to cast a spell! Lol

The only really big complaint that I can think of for this series is that I really don’t care for how much it reminded me of the Ghibli movie Kiki's Delivery Service. A lot of this series just made me think of that movie which really took away from what normally would’ve been a very charming and original series. I didn’t really think about it at first but then when I watched episode four of this series, I started to notice the similarities instantly. The scene in which Nina makes her first appearance especially looked like it was taken almost completely scene for scene out of the movie and then when I saw her in her uniform again in that episode, it reminded me of Kiki. This isn’t a big complaint with me though since the two characters are completely different if you boil it down but still, the fact that it really made me think about it for as long as I did kind of bugged me.

Music

The opening and ending themes of this series are good but not great. While I might be tempted to listen to them on occasion away from the series, I would probably skip them most of the time. They aren’t bad, they just aren’t nearly as good as some songs that I’ve heard from other series.

The background music in this series is also something that I really enjoy. This is a series that really wallows in it’s cheery, light atmosphere and all of the music in this series reflects that. Even when it lets itself get slightly dark (the parking lot scene of episode four is a prime example) the lighting of each character is still very bright as though there were a constant spotlight on them which again is reflected in the background music. Well done here to make sure that the mood always stays light and fun.

Dub vs. Sub

Both the dub and sub tracks were well done in this series. Neither one had any bad performances and even the small roles such as Nina’s stepmother in episode 2 were well done. I can’t say that I have found a real stand out performance yet but I will say that neither track has anything worth complaining about on it. The tracks were transferred over very cleanly and I didn’t hear any drops in the sound quality. Purists were insist that the sub track is far superior over the dub track on this volume and I can definitely see where they might say that but in this case, dub fans have nothing to fear. Ayu and Nina especially sound great.

Extras

Unfortunately just some alternate clean opening animation. Nothing worth noting.

Overall

I’m really glad that I started with this series for the first one of the many new series that I am going to be watching this weekend. The characters were wonderful and the story was mostly original and very hilariously drawn. This is definitely a series that I have no problem recommending. While I think that girls are going to be more interested in this series, I think that there’s enough in here for guys to be entertained as well for the most part

Final Grade: 89% - B

Related Reviews

Ultramaniac Vol. 2: Magical Friends



©L.B. Bryant 2005


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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