UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, February 20, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What They Say
Despite his parents' protests, Kazuto Tokino has taken it upon himself to run his late grandfather's bathhouse. But with no previous management experience, Kazuto must rely on his sunny disposition to keep his new business afloat. And when the alien Princess Valkyrie destroys the bathhouse, mortally wounding Kazuto in the process, dark clouds seem poised to rain on his parade of optimism.

With a magical kiss, the princess saves Kazuto's life, but at a grave cost to her own: transformed into an 8 year old, she is stranded on Earth, unable to fend for herself. Now, with an entire solar system out searching for her shrunken highness, Kazuto must defend the Tokino bathhouse, not only from hordes of alien invaders, but also from his new, hyper-adorable, sugary-sweet little houseguest!

The Review!
When an alien princess leaves her home to find something better, she winds up finding a man and a bathhouse that fill her needs.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese but sampled an episode in English as well. Both language tracks are done up in a straightforward stereo mix that have some good moments of directionality throughout them for both action effects and for dialogue. The show has a lot of spastic moments for the characters so they're often all over the place and dialogue is matched up nicely with them. The music is good here as expected but there aren't any musical pieces that really make the stereo mixes really stand out. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With the show being focused around bright and colorful aliens you can imagine what the color palette is like. Much of it revolves around a very normal looking neat future world but the numerous characters and aliens, ships and more give it a very bright and vibrant feel at times. The mixture of the two works well here and the source materials are in very good shape that allow for very little in terms of blocking visible. Colors are strong, aliasing is very minimal and we didn't see anything of note in terms of cross coloration. This is a pretty smooth looking transfer overall that captures the shows details nicely. The opening logo is left intact and is soft subtitled with the English language version.

Using artwork that appears to be from the Japanese release, the first volume has a good looking layout with a soft version of the older Valkyrie in the background while the foreground has a solid image of Sanada holding her weapon while blushing a bit. Both designs look good with some nice detail but not too much set against a white background with a light intricate border to it. It has a very airy and friendly feel to it which is very inviting. The back cover is split into a few sections with strips of shots from the show separating them. The summary is a couple of plain paragraphs that cover the basics, the discs features are clearly labeled and the bottom is filled with the production information and the always welcome technical grid. The reverse side uses artwork that's presumably from the rental or reverse side of the Japanese releases with an intricate circle that has an older version of Valkyrie taking a shower inside of it while the back cover is laid out different but carries the same information. No insert is included with this release.

The menu layout is simple but effective with its layout and design. Done in a faux letterbox style with a blue filter, the background is of the bathhouse while the foreground on the left has rotating flat images of various characters and aliens and the right has the navigation that's got instant episode access to it as some of the music plays along. Though not terribly active it does showcase some eye-catching character artwork and above all else it's simple to navigate and quick to access. Like just about every other ADV Films release out there, the disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

The first volume is fairly heavy on extra content coming from the Japanese releases. We get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as the "broadcast" versions of it for the first and third episodes which were slightly different for some reason. There's a cute section of messages from the Japanese voice actors which were print pieces in the Japanese versions but shown here and translated, something we usually see in inserts. The liner notes are split up into two sections, one covering the basics of the world and another with names. A selection of Japanese TV commercials and music videos also round out the extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie, originally known as UFO Princess Valkyrie, is an original twelve episode series that also ran in manga form at the same time. It's spawned more sequels as it went on such as a follow-up series of twelve, a six episode OVA series and another special. In watching the first four episodes here, I can imagine the creators of it coming up with the idea after seeing NieA_7 and wondering why those people didn't "get it right" and setting about to show them how it's supposed to done.

The opening volume here tells its origins a bit out of order as is common among a number of shows these days but it tells it quite clearly. In the near future, humanity has built a spaceport that's allowed for interaction with alien races. In the "if you build it they will come mode", aliens have arrived and one of the basic tenets they have is to interfere in the local culture as little as possible since it's the diversity that makes it worth traveling around the universe. Humanity in turn has come to value its culture more and progress in a lot of ways has slowed down because of it. So it's not too far off but it very much looks like today for the most part. We're introduced to a young man named Kazuto whose parents have just left to go work overseas together. They've left him and his sister Rika at home for a couple of reasons. Rika's got plans for her schooling and lots of exams coming up while Kazuto has decided to breath life into the bathhouse that his grandfather spent so much of his life on. His parents don't particularly approve but they'll let him try.

Bathhouses aren't exactly in style anymore but once Kazuto opened it up it did some good business due to the aliens that would frequent it. Those and the numerous hot springs in Japan have made the country a welcome attraction among space travelers who spend much of their time in starships since the chance to soak is rare. While Kazuto's place does good business it's often never enough to break even and there's little real help since he's at school during the day and Rika doesn't do more than watch the entrance while she studies. Everything goes out of whack one day though when a special class UFO crashes head first into the bathhouse. The only person in the ship is an attractive young woman who from when we see her is graceful, sophisticated and intelligent. Named Valkyrie, she left her planet of Valhalla as she didn't want to go through meeting the first person up for her marriage contract.

Valkyrie isn't alone though as she's being chased by someone from her homeworld called Hydra who is upset that Valkyrie took off and left her holding the bag so to speak. Kazuto finds himself in the middle of this in a weird way; due to Valkyrie's arrival and incidents that happened along the way, Valkyrie repays Kazuto's kindness with the thing most important to her, that being her soul. She provides him with half of her soul which in turn creates a massive connection between the two of them but also changes Valkyrie from the graceful person she is into a girl about the height of a first grader as well as the overall mindset and attitude of one. Kazuto already had a desire to protect her but once she's in this mode it's even stronger.

When Hydra finds her like this it doesn't stop her from trying to take her down by Hydra finds herself in a sticky situation as well when Kazuto's childhood fried (which automatically means potential love interest and conflict with Valkyrie) Akina gets involved. She's from the nearby shrine and uses a ward on Hydra that turns her into the same height as Valkyrie but she keeps most of her wacky violent personality. She even goes to live with Akina since she holds her responsible for her current form and therefore has to take care of her. For Kazuto, he gets one more interesting member in the household when Valkyrie's main maid shows up. Mrs. Sanada is a young and curvaceous catgirl that… do I really need to go beyond that? Just saying catgirl seals the deal for so many. Interestingly, Sanada brings a really fun weapon into play that helps her ensure her princess doesn't have competition. The ray gun turns girls into catgirls who become subservient to Sanada.

Talk about a quick way to get employees for the bath house as well eh?

The series is nicely animated with some very bright and colorful designs to the alien characters that come running through it. Both Valkyrie and Hydra have some nicely detailed outfits that shift into their smaller sized forms. Some of the aliens that pop in have similar kinds of designs but a lot of them are very basic forms and shapes but with humorous things to say. The human characters are what you expect as they all fit into basic stereotypes as do their basic relationships. With the inclusion of the aliens in this kind of show you get some nice added effects from special weapons and "magic powers" of sorts but the best has to be the weapon that creates catgirls. The catgirl army that gets created here is hilarious and for many probably worth the price of admission alone.

That said, while the show does have some fun moments to it and is filled with a lot of energy, it does feel like a lot of other series that have come before it. The references to NieA_7 are humorous but even with a show like that which tried to do aliens among us in a different way there are common elements that get played out here much more strongly. What hurt the show for me the most was what was originally the most interesting aspect; Valkyrie giving half her soul to Kazuto. I liked the idea since it created a real bond between them, even if it does seem forced on Valkyrie's part. But this plays against things in my view as well because it takes the older Valkyrie character, someone who we have a very positive view of as a refined character, and turns her into a tot that any normal parent would smack several times over to behave properly. Valkyrie becomes her own worst enemy in this.

In Summary:
UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie has some sweet spot moments throughout it that definitely give the viewer a reason to keep on watching in hopes of seeing that kind of magic shine through again. When Valkyrie's dancing out in the night throughout the puddles and you get both visions of her, it provides an almost magical moment. But the show also plays heavily to clichés and all too common themes and gags in these kinds of series as well as dumbing down its lead character intentionally. It certainly has the potential to be more than it is now and with a follow-up season already made as well as some OVAs there's a good chance that it might get there. The show has a strong and interestingly realized couple of opening episodes with the aliens among us theme as well. The trick with this show will be seeing things you like and balancing it with things you may not care for though.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Valkyrie World Notes, Messages from the Original Japanese Actors, Music Video Segment, On-Air Opening for Episode 3, Original Japanese TV Commercials, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie