Ultramaniac Vol. #5 (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, December 24, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, December 20, 2005
What They Say
Nina's friendship with Ayu is one of the best things in Nina's life. From playing with transforming their pets to dancing at a nightclub restricted to adults. But this friendship will be strained when Nina's grandfather enters the human world to keep Ayu away from Nina. Not only that, Nina finds out that Kaji is the perfect guy everyone thinks he is? How will Ayu react?
Ultramaniac points a bit more towards the end goal plot but keeps its focus on the standalone tales the let the characters shine.
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.
The artwork for this installment pulls from one of the better episodes here as the girls are aged up six years and are just different enough and wearing fun outfits that they don't at their current age which is a very nice change of pace. The designs are good looking and there's a solid mix of minimal and very detailed pieces to each of them. The 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 while the reverse side lists the expected months for future volumes to be released.
The menu layout is cutely done with an attractive image from the cover 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)
Ultramaniac hits up another four episodes here and brings us to the twentieth episode. While the show has made some progress along the way in regards to the overall plot of acquiring the Stones, it has been far more focused on the relationships of the characters and her own growth, something that the Principal, who is working between two worlds, is ensuring will happen over Sakura's grandfather's wishes. There is a bit more hinted about the Stones and the entire Princess part in this volume but it really is kept more on simple and solid character growth.
While tangents carry through from each episode, they are essentially still standalone pieces with self contained stories of magic and fun. This volume has a good mix and some really good material that had us laughing a lot and really enjoying the situations which reminded us more of the original authors other works than it has in the past. The opening episode was quite fun as it plays up two interesting angles. One is that Tsujiai comes across Nina when Rio is changing from cat into human form and essentially catches them in the act and says enough to Nina so that she knows that he really knows what's going on. Instead of trying to come up with an excuse she actually tells him the whole truth, minus Maya, and changes the dynamic a bit by having someone else that she and Ayu can talk to.
This is actually a small part of the episode as the real focus is on the trio and their pets. With the discovery about Rio, Tsujiai asks the obvious question of whether she can do that with other animals which leads to her creating some cookies that will allow the transformation to happen. They decide to gather at his house after school so that they can let their pets go through the process and finally "meet" them in a new way. Ayu's got a cute little girl she brings with her and she has a big crush that's kept under control with Rio but the best is with Tsujiai as his older cat turns into a very pretty dark haired guy who is so completely in love with how Tsujiai treats him. It takes on some shades of boys-love which really isn't accurate in the slightest but it's how Tsujiai reacts to it as do the others. The entire process is fun to watch and the way the pets react and reveal themselves upon being able to talk with their masters is just right.
Another area that plays with magic in a fun way that doesn't end up seemingly becoming a problem or threatening others has Nina coming up with a spell that allows her and Ayu to age six years so they can see what they'll be like in the future. The timing, of course manipulated by the principal, has an invitation to a popular club re-opening arrive and it's the same place that Nina's away-mother first met her husband at. So with the spells cast and a three hour limit, the trio go out for a brief girls night out. The younger girls aged up to twenty/twenty-one are done very well with the right amount of changes made to them so that they're not radical but you can see it easily as an outgrowth of who they are now. Ayu I think comes across the best here but Nina certainly exudes a certain confidence with her top and cowboy hat. The best has to be the mother though who dresses up just right, drinks enough and gets out on the dance floor to prove she's still got it. The one that was the best surprise was seeing Maya show up in a similar deal but not looking terribly different but still sporting a sleek loli-goth style outfit that continues to make her hot. She's definitely got the legs.
Nina's grandfather gets into the act again this volume and starts to take an active role in getting his granddaughter further along the path to becoming the princess. His messing around with everyone causes some fun problems along the way, particularly when he takes on the appearance of Kaji and goes to reveal his true feelings to Ayu. There are some amusing shades of Marmalade Boy in how this is played out with the up front nature that "Kaji" suddenly displays. The real Kaji also gets an interesting turn of character as the show progresses as Nina discovers what his real secret is. It's a twist that's closer to reality than anything else probably and it was a good change of pace to see something like this come up instead of the standard popular guy motif.
While the plot continues to meander throughout the series the focus is definitely on the girls and their interactions. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't in numerous shows out there and it's felt somewhat uneven with Ultramaniac. This volume has some episodes that just felt more enjoyable than previous ones but it's still essentially playing by the same book but everyone is simply more familiar and defined at this point. The entire portion of the episode where the girls aged up to twenty made me want to see a magical girl series based on someone that age (or older) since it looked like it could be interesting, almost like a version of the (good/original) Bewitched. With six episodes let in the series I'm curious to see how it'll all wrap up especially since the manga series ran only five volumes.
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