Ultramaniac Vol. #3 (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, August 18, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2005
What They Say
Because of the arrogant Maya, everyone's life is turned on end. Firstly she engages Yuta's help to look for the Holy Stone, then sends a cursed doll to disrupt Nina's life, and then Maya's butler comes from the Magic Kingdom which causes problems for everyone including Maya! After all this, Ayu catches Kaji and Maya embracing by the riverside. What is going on here?!
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports are rather good stereo mix with a lot of moments where the sound is coming in from varying directions but generally not for all that long. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and that had a few good areas of directionality as well. The mix has a good full sound to it and comes across as problem free. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With it being as much of a girls show as it is and being such a recent production, this is one of those transfers that really just stands out because it's so bright and visually vibrant that you can't help but appreciate how gorgeous it looks. Between the lush reds and the solid blues for the backgrounds and skies, this is just eye-candy all around. The transfer appears to have no noticeable problems with cross coloration or aliasing and it even looked blissfully free of blocking and color gradient banding. This just looked gorgeous from start to finish.
By the looks of things, the Japanese release came in three double-disc box sets and none of them have the artwork we have here, though it may have shown up inside of it. The cover for this installment is a rather good one as it has the two leads of Ayu and Nina together in summer kimono's while some of the secondary characters from this volume are sprinkled about. They layout for this is nicely done with bits of magic items along the top and bottom though the series logo is a bit confusing at first glance. The back cover goes minimal on shots from the show with just a small strip of four down the center while giving most of its space over to a fairly detailed summary of the premise. The discs features and episode numbers and titles are clearly listed while the production and technical information is squashed down a bit to get it all to fit. The insert replicates the front cover but with some additional images of a couple of the guys from the show while the reverse side lists the expected months for future volumes to be released.
The menu layout is cutely done with an attractive image of Ayu and Nina together in the center while various glittery lights emanate from behind them in a swirl of stars other thingamajigs while a bit of simple instrumental music plays along to it. The navigation is a bit awkward since it's laid out in a way that moving in direction can take you to another but it's easy to see where you actually are. The only thing I really don't like and it's something that seems to be becoming more common on Geneon releases is putting the set-up and extras in the same section. Even worse, there are no real extras this time so it's rather misleading as well. Access times are nice and fast here but the discs subtitle layout did not provide us with our expected subtitle stream; the first stream is the signs and songs stream so it picked that up instead of the second one as both are listed as English.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The second volume of Ultramaniac didn't really impress us terribly since it was playing things a bit safe as far as magical girl shows are concerned, but the third volume starts to reveal more things and has a bit more fun with things as the cast expands and the show plays with pushing its own envelope a bit in doing some fun things.
The arrival of Yuta into everyone's lives is certainly enough to throw things off balance but since he's got an ulterior motive, when he's pushed away by Nina as strongly as she does he decides to give the information he's swiped from Nina's grandfather to Maya instead. Between Nina and Yuta, both of them talk a bit more about the holy stones throughout these episodes but both are keeping huge secrets about it since they allude to the fact that once someone acquires all of the holy stones, they disappear entirely. It's pleasantly vague enough that you know it's either a misinterpretation or something else that will add drama to the climax of the series. In the meantime though, it allows for Ayu to start wondering what the real story is behind the stones and for the viewer to get a few tantalizing tidbits through the thoughts of others.
Another character that arrives in much more full force with this volume is Sebastian the butler that wants to serve only Maya and is just far too overprotective. Even worse, Maya doesn't want his services and continually pushes him away but he just keeps on coming and doing what he can. He's got his own quirks and can't stand for anyone to have any time with Maya other than him, so even Ruru ends up on the bad side of things and he finds himself being sucked into a massive magical vacuum cleaner. Anyone who tries to talk to Maya gets brushed aside as well and should something fall from her desk in school, he dashes in to pick it up. The most amusing part is when her teacher gets involved and he gently chides her in the hallway by bonking her on the head three times every so lightly with a notebook that Sebastian takes it as an act of war and goes all out.
To my surprise, my favorite episode on this volume involved something fairly formulaic but was just done with such a neat sense of humor and snarkiness to it. Maya, deciding to spend less of her time actually searching for the holy stones and intending to just thwart Nina decides to use some voodoo magic and takes a straw man and turns it into an ugly little doll and has it delivered to Nina's place. Unfortunately, Ayu finds it first and wants to get rid of it when it starts backtalking to her and giving her evil looks but it plays it nice when it's around Nina by not talking and just being a normal doll. It's attempts to disrupt Nina's life are pitiful and she ends up scaring Ayu more than anyone else. The doll is just plain ugly but has such a high self-preservation sense to it that it'll do whatever it's told. When it shows up at school and decides to bother Nina by tossing bits of eraser at her I practically lost it. It's just so mind numbingly evil-cute..
Slowly but surely, Ultramaniac is growing on me as it gets past the basic roots and premises that are needed to hook people in. It's now flexing its own story and objectives as well as the kind of humor and gags that can come from these kinds of characters and stories. The supporting cast gets some really good meaty moments throughout these episodes and it plays fast and loose with normal plot devices, most notably in the fourth episode here. Even better, it takes an interesting turn to the serious near the end that makes me wonder how, if at all, things will change in the next volume. This one ends just right in that it definitely makes you want to see more right away. Ultramaniac's taken a bit to grow on me but it's finally starting to win me over with its charms. Especially when it shows Maya in those long black boots and short skirt. Yum.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2