Birthday book: Ultra Maniac

June 18, 2009

um1The Comics Reporter notes that today is Wataru Yoshizumi’s birthday. Yoshizumi is the creator of one of my sentimental favorite shôjo manga, Ultra Maniac, which I’ve always thought was under-appreciated.

It was one of the earliest releases in Viz’s Shojo Beat line, though it was never serialized in the magazine. It’s only five volumes long and seems too short to me, not because its plot elements weren’t satisfyingly resolved but because I would have enjoyed spending more time with the characters.

The most striking thing about Ultra Maniac is the Yoshizumi maintains focus on the friendship between her female leads, cool and composed Ayu and way-out-there Nina. Ayu’s hopes of coming off as a poised junior-high princess are put in serious jeopardy when she earns the undying friendship and loyalty of Nina, a witch of disastrously limited skill. Nina’s so hopeless that she’s been transferred from her home universe to the regular world. That doesn’t stop her from using her magic to try and help Ayu. Needless to say, the road to teen shame is paved with good intentions.

In a welcome twist, Ayu genuinely appreciates those good intentions and genuinely likes Nina as much as Nina likes her. There are boys in the mix, but romantic entanglements never take priority over the girls’ bond; they never devolve into competitors, no matter how circumstances might tempt them in that direction. Better still, their mutual support never seems saccharine or flat. Magical mishaps aside, Yoshizumi sticks to very grounded storytelling.

Yoshizumi earns bonus points for very polished, pretty illustrations and for some endearing snark in her intermittent author notes. They basically amount to amused confusion as to how her comic ended up being adapted into an anime that bore so little resemblance to her story. I should note that the title has no relevance to the story whatsoever, seeming like it came from some random manga title generator, but that’s not uncommon, and it’s hardly problematic.

Tokyopop published another Yoshizumi series, Marmalade Boy, though it seems to be out of print. I might need to undertake one of those painful and frustrating projects and track down used copies of the series, as I was too stupid to pick it up when it was actually in print.