Shoujo – Romance, comedy, magical girl
5 Volumes (complete)
Ayu is a middle school girl who just wants to be seen as cool. One day, the new transfer student, Nina, announces she’s a witch! But Nina isn’t very good at magic. Thanks to Nina’s spells, Ayu’s cool girl image is at stake. How will this affect her relationship with the guy she has a crush on?
Ultra Maniac might be a good gateway manga due to its All Ages rating and text adaptation, but everyone else would probably want something of more substance.
This series is about as innocent as you can get. In true young shoujo style, everyone ends up living happily ever after. Any crises are relatively short, and nothing is in here that you wouldn’t see in a Disney animated film. It’s cute, but while Disney’s major animated films are loved by young and old, Ultra Maniac has more of a Disney Junior flare. This is a children’s/kodomo manga more than a girl’s/shoujo manga. Again, this doesn’t make it terrible, but it does narrow the reader demographic.
The magic aspect doesn’t overshadow the story. It is more of a plot device rather than a central element. Magic is also very subdued compared to many fantasy stories. Nina has to go through a process to use her ability, and she does not use her powers constantly. She only casts spells to try to help people, and even more experienced witches keep their powers in check. Magic is an important part of the story, but love and friendship are the more prevalent themes. This helps keep a balance, but readers wanting a more well-developed romance or see a girl struggling to handle her magic will want to look elsewhere. The series is only five volumes, so neither side can overtake the plot.
The manga is also more episodic in the beginning (Nina wants to help but causes trouble) before moving into multi-chapter storylines. The story is pretty straightforward and doesn’t include much filler. The resolution to the problem the characters face in the final volume may be considered cute or eyerolling depending on the reader. The fourth wall is broken at least once.
The author reveals she’s always wanted to do a story with two female leads. In this case, she succeeded. Ayu is the main protagonist originally, but Nina’s story moves into the forefront. Despite not starting off as childhood friends, Ayu and Nina quickly form a bond. In many stories, a character like Ayu would reluctantly have to put up with Nina, so this is a nice change. They don’t change drastically over the course of the series but do some developing thanks to their friendship. However, Ayu’s crush Tetsushi is rather bland. I thought he was going to become more interesting, but he quickly goes back to being boring and the odd man out. His friend Hiroki, despite seemingly a cool bishounen, has a childlike streak that makes him more refreshing. Other characters appear, but none that I strongly related to.
The art and layout are crisp. Part of this is because of the target demographic, and the other is because the author is a veteran. Dialogue is pretty straight to the point and doesn’t overcrowd the panels. Backgrounds can be limited at times and make scenes look empty. Closeups or page spreads are limited. There aren’t many action scenes, but even magic blasts are limited to being drawn as lightning bolts. The busier artwork and closeups are much more visually appealing than simple SD faces with comic screentones. For instance, I really enjoyed the image of Nina blowing bubbles. Character designs are typical of the author’s works. If you’ve read Marmalade Boy, then you’re likely to see heavy similarities in the character designs.
Since this series was released 10 years ago, many aspects of this adaptation are dated. Details and text are heavily Americanized. Japanese middle school goes from seventh to ninth grade, but Viz Media made the students at this school sixth to eighth graders. Characters use first names regularly. No honorifics are used. Nina’s “Ayu-chan” is changed to “Ayu dear”. It’s a fair attempt, but Nina comes off as more of an old biddy type rather than childish type. The adaptation does keep Nina’s speech in the third person instead of first person. Her magic word “practice” (which is revealed in the side columns to come from the phrase “practical magic” and not the meaning of rehearsal or run-through) is changed to the nonsense word “spamola”.
One strange thing is the heavy use of bolding for words. I guess it’s a way to help determine key words, but I found it kind of annoying.
A pretty innocent magical girl tale where the magical girl is not the sole focus. It has its charm, but older and more experienced manga readers will probably want something with more depth and/or less Americanization.
Ultra Maniac did get an anime, but it is quite different and more magic-focused. It was released in the US by now-defunct Geneon.
Yoshizumi is better known for her series Marmalade Boy, released by Tokyopop.
I really enjoyed the bonus section on the author and her friends’ trip to Africa. Peach Girl author Ueda sounds like a hoot.