Birthday book: Ultra Maniac

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.

13 Responses to Birthday book: Ultra Maniac

  1. I have read the first volume of Marmalade Boy (Michelle Smith is loaning me the rest) and I have to say that it seems to be completely charming. 🙂

    I hope this does become a regular feature! 🙂

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    Well, semi-regular, I hope, when a) I have time, and b) I like work by the birthday girl or boy.

  3. JRBrown says:

    “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.”

    For finding used books I recommend the very useful bookseller meta-search site bookfinder.com, which has made my late-to-the-party collecting much easier. Bookfinder currently lists 187 used copies of the various volumes of Marmalade Boy in English, many under $10 including shipping; searching by ISBN is usually the most effective way of finding the exact volume you want (the Wikipedia article List of Marmalade Boy chapters gives the ISBNs for the Tokyopop editions).

  4. davidpwelsh says:

    Thanks, JRB! Great advice!

  5. Dawn says:

    Ultra Maniac is charming but I hadn’t given it that much thought. You’re right about how solid and refreshing the girls’ friendship was.

    Personally, I found Marmalade Boy disappointing compared to Ultra Maniac.

  6. Joy says:

    One of Yoshizumi’s other works is on my licensing wishlist. Cherish is a 3-chapter work about a young woman who encounters her first love from middle school during her freshman year of college. The art is appealing, and the story is sweet.

    • Danielle Leigh says:

      Also, doesn’t the protagonist of Cherish have two dads? I liked the fact it wasn’t a big deal, it was just kind of the way it was.

  7. […] Sakura Taisen (Japanator) Julie on vol. 1 of Tower of the Future (Manga Maniac Cafe) David Welsh on Ultra Maniac (Precocious Curmudgeon) Connie on vol. 5 of We Were There (Slightly Biased Manga) Sesho on vol. 1 […]

  8. I enjoyed what I read of Marmelade Boy, though it has a few weaknesses. Based on what I know of you taste, I think you’d dig it.

  9. Raquel786 says:

    really i hope you get to have more books over ultramanic i enjoyed it

    I REALLLY WANT TO READ MORE MANGA ( ULTRA MANIAC)

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