Oh dear. Well, this is awkward. Based off of a suggestion from a friend of mine (JB), I decided to take a look at Ultra Maniac. I was told this was a pretty good show, and since I had heard of it only and never seen it, I figured 'what the feck' and watch the first 3 episodes and determine from there if I should continue with or not.
Ultra Maniac is a 26-episode series from 2003, originally based off of a manga of the same name. The anime adaptation is done by Ashi Production, the same studio that did Jewel BEM Hunter Lime. It was originally released by Geneon in 2005, before they went defunct. I ended up watching it on VizMedia's website since they hold the rights to the manga series, though it's subbed only. So, no comments on the acting for this review, as I am not a proper judge of Japanese voice acting.
Episode 1: Ayu and Nina (oh how original)
Opening song is a stock standard J-pop over montage of all the characters, with a nice little piano bit at the start. Nothing too special about it. The two main characters are middle school girls Nina and Ayu. Nina is a witch in training who is a bit ditzy, cute and well-meaning but often becomes more of a nuisance then help. Her magical device is a handheld computer with a small treasure chest hooked up to it with a USB cable. Ayu is Nina's human friend who is a "Cool Beauty". Ayu has a crush on Kaji-kun, the nice looking boy in the school. Oh joy, boy troubles! So, Ayu's goal in this series is to confess her love to Kaji. Gee, I wonder how long they will stretch this concept over the next 25 episodes?
So, Nina makes a ‘fall-in-love’ chocolate that was supposed to go to Kaji, but Tsuijai (Kaji's friend) ate it instead. Awkward hijinks ensue as Ayu runs away from him at all costs. Nina says the spell wear out in 4-5 hours, oh how very specific. Halfway through the episode, Nina does her requisite transformation sequence: it is pretty freaking tame, but then again this is obviously meant for young girls, of which I am not.
SO, Nina makes another spell to fix the problem she created in the first place, which is a ring of protection for Ayu. However, when Tsujiai comes into contact with Ayu, it electrocutes the poor dude under the spell, which cures him (thank good Haruhi).
There is also some weird dude in glasses (who looks like me at that age and schooling) on Nina’s trail to expose her as a witch, but I figure he will be unsuccessful in every endeavor. Moving on...
But the ring won’t come off (oh noes) More hijinks ensue. Ayu leaves school early but runs into Kaji, falls and is rescued by him (oh god how trite). Both end up in the nurse’s office (Nina fawns over him some more-oh geez >.<)
Moral: Using magic to get what someone to love you should be more carefully planned
The ending song is a downbeat and sedated piano piece. Once again, not really remarkable.
Episode 2: Boy meets Girl (again, how original-not!)
Picking where we last left off, the main crux of the show is dealing with Ayu’s boy troubles. You know, because dealing with Nina’s magic isn’t enough for this show. Oh no, it's boy troubles! Then again, I'm not part of the target audience so this complaint is a bit overreaching, but still it has to be said: This is just a romantic comedy with magical beings tacked on for no good reason. In fact, it feels a lot like Harry Potter, sort of.
Apparently, Nina on some homestay program, sort of an exchange student program (which more way too many questions) The mom is human and the dad is a magician. That's about it, as they are probably peripheral characters. Ayu also meets Rio, a pet mascot cat who turns into a young grade-school boy with grey hair. She also meets with Yuta, a male childhood friend of Nina who also has an eye for Ayu. He is more skilled and competent with his magic than Nina is. He is also very direct, as he just comes out with it: He wants to go out with Ayu but she will have none of it. Nina will try to interfere but probably won’t succeed at all, good lord this is very predictable.
Ayu goes on a date with Yuta who is starting to annoy me with his bluntness, which should be a relief from the main cast and their indecisiveness. But, he is boastful and a bit full of himself as he just does magic at a whim, with no concern or worry if actual humans spot him doing so. This earns him a bitch-slap (well deserved) and a stern talking to by Ayu. Good for you, Ayu. You are fast becoming my favorite character in this series, despite her boy troubles.
So, Yuta decides to not be a complete goof and have a good time with Ayu. Later he uses a magical camera to determine Ayu’s crush Kaji (slightly prickish move) which Ayu tries but fails to use it on Kaji himself (oh well, I could care less) But, it is revealed that Yuta likes Nina. Well, color me surprised. I’m gonna need a diagram to keep track of the relationships in this series.
Episode 3: Changeover (unexpected title, I’ll say)
Ayu is a tennis ace, in fitting with her character. Of course, this episode is the first to mention this fact about her, but yeah it helps to develop her as a person rather being a 'stock character'. Anyway, the main conflict is between the girl and boy teams of tennis at the school. They are fighting over how many courts each team should use. Ok, nice, a plot that isn't related to boy/relationship issues.
They decide to hold a tennis match to decide how many courts each side will get: Ayu vs. Tsujiai-kun (Kaji’s friend). This is due to the fact that both of them are stars when it comes to tennis. Thus, Nina uses her magic to make a chocolate to help Ayu win, but it changes her to a boy (wah wah waaaa) Gender Bendering, while a neat concept, they don’t use it as well as they could have.
Boy-Ayu (Ayuo) still goes through with the match anyway, runs into complications as the boy body is ill-suited for her tennis techniques. Of course, Kaji comes up during the match, which does throw Boy-Ayu off a bit. She loses the match nonetheless, but a compromise is reached on the tennis courts. All is well. So, what now?
Akiho, the baseball manager, who has a crush on Kaji (baseball player) is also introduced. She is a love rival of sorts to Ayu's efforts. She decides that Ayuo should come and hang out with some students involved with the baseball club. Fudge, it is going back to the relationship issues.
So, the next day, Jin (Boy-Nina) and Ayuo hang out with Kaji, Tsujiai, Ahiko and some of their friends, all the while Ayuo keeping an eye on Kaji. They end up doing karaoke, which is something not surprising as most anime rom-com/slice of life shows have that one episode that takes place. Also, the Nerd from the first episode ends up following the two again to the karaoke place and meets Rio who proceeds to troll him hard. A bit fluffly, but funny asides nontheless. Things get complicated, ending with Akiho kissing Boy-Ayu. It is a bit awkward, for both involved, if you stop to think about it.
The episode end with a truly WTF moment: Old Man Principal jamming out in the karaoke bar dressed like Elvis. Wow, what an ending!
Well then, should I continue? Well, the premise is interesting and has potential, but it doesn't really grip me in the first 3 episodes. Stated again, I am not part of the target audience (young girls) so most of my complaints might not figure into what the expectations of the shoujo audience want with this show. It is a bit trite, relying too much on tropes from magical girl and school romantic comedy genres, and does nothing one hasn't seen before in better shows. Heck, if i wanted to watch a school comedy with magic, I'd stick with Negima! At least that's funny and quirky, which Ultra Maniac is not.
The few positives are the music, which is pretty good and the decent voice acting for the Japanese version.
So, I don't much care for it. Sorry. I shall move from this.
Next week: Nyrako-san Another Crawling Chaos Episode 1/First Impressions