Ultramaniac Vol. #7 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, April 10, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, April 18, 2006



What They Say
The Dark Zone is expanding and threatens the well being of the entire school during a costume ball. Secrets are finally revealed and Nina's future appears to be a bittersweet one as Maya struggles one last time to gather all the holy stones by herself. The decision of who will be crowned princess of the magic kingdom is at hand!

The Review!
Bringing the series to a fairly obvious but satisfying close, Ultramaniac is a textbook vision of a magical shoujo series.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Back on track for the finale, the last cover to the series has the four main characters together in their standard school outfits but with a closeness that you wouldn't be able to find earlier in the show. It's simple but effective with its layout and design as the characters expressions say it all. 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 release months for the series.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Though the show would have faired a bit better in its last couple of volumes by not going to three episodes or seven volumes, the concluding set of episodes here is a lot of fun and it's a very quick experience as so much happens but it flows so well. Though a new element is introduced at the end here to push forward the events and there's a bit of a twist that becomes revealed, it's all fairly standard shoujo clichés that are well executed.

Things have been busy for everyone involved during the last few episodes both on a personal level and for Nina with her quest for the holy stones. The personal side of the story has been really great since it doesn't save the relationships actually happening until the very end but rather allowing us to see some of it before the show ends. It's a lot of fun now that Kaji and Ayu are actually together and the humor has grown well with them. The opening episode has a story that revolves around a costume party happening and since everyone is now happy that the two of them are together, they get nudged in a nice way to show up as Romeo and Juliet so that they can be well tied to each other. Nina and Tsujiai don't quite have the same kind of luck but watching how their relationship is growing is just as much fun because the arrival of the prince from the Magic Kingdom provides a bit of a foil that Tsujiai needs.

A final foil does appear for everyone to deal with though in the form of the Dark Zone, a magical zone that sucks the magic out of things and is fed by negative feelings. Combined with the power of the holy stones, Maya is able to use the zone in order to try and achieve what she's secretly after but it only reveals the true darkness that's been inside her. She's been an interesting character to follow throughout the show since she's been practicing the dark arts but that doesn't necessarily make her a bad person. Some of the things she's done haven't been above the board of course but as the deal for becoming the princess is getting closer to being decided, she's at a point where she'll do whatever it takes to win. Her kind of character is the kind that will take advantage of it and do what needs to be done so to see how it happens, particularly how the white holy stone reacts to Maya is very well done here.

If anyone seems to be underserved in the series, Nina has been that person at times but at the end here she really does get to shine throughout all of the episodes. While she may not dominate most of the scenes as the show has taken on more of an ensemble cast feel as the guys became more prominent, she does have a much bigger presence throughout the end and has a number of key scenes that show just how much she's grown over the course of the series. She was never exactly a bad person or someone too self involved from when we first met her but she's become what I think is a more mature person along the way. How she deals with the revelations at the end about the past and in particular with how she deals with Maya shows a level of maturity that a lot of people don't hit. It's something that allows the series to finish out not with fights, raised voices or violence but rather the things you'd expect from a shoujo series with discussion, understanding and compromise.

In Summary:
While the show visually is highly appealing, it took some time to get into it and to get past some of its more clichéd aspects. Once it hit its stride though as the characters became more familiar and the relationships began to grow, everything clicked really well and continued to do so right up until the end. The show is definitely helped by the fact that the manga series its based on is only five volumes and they were able to expand upon it without changing the nature or mood of it. As a whole, Ultramaniac is a really solid series in just about all areas. Some of it was weak when taken in smaller parts but the full series in retrospect is spot on. Well written characters, quirky magical aspects, beautiful visuals and a bit of a different pace when it comes to the actual romances in the show help Ultramaniac rise above its average roots to be something a bit more. Definitely worth checking out if the various components of it interest you.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
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.
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ultramaniac