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Once More To Planet Valhalla

Despite not having anything as poignant as dwelling upon the nature of god itself to say, I thought I would write about the latest animes I watched while they were still fresh on my mind.  (I should really get back to work on my game development, as I have fallen off the wagon somewhat, but at least I have kept the morning exercise habit for now.)

The latter half of Ah! My Goddess: Flights Of Fancy (the second season of the 2005 anime remake) turned out pretty much as I feared it would.  In fact, the very last episode of the series focused on Keiichi working up the moxie to tell Belldandy he loved her... something that would have been touching if it were not for the fact that he already did many times earlier in the series.  Moving on to the manga, I have a little over 300 chapters to read (this anime was made at about the 200th chapter) but it is a pretty great manga.

I find myself on a bit of a romantic magical girlfriend anime kick right now.  Cat Planet Cuties is in the mail, but the two episodes I have seen on Hulu were of great quality.  I should really get back to finishing My Bride Is A Mermaid, also available on Hulu, which I also remember as being rather good.  What can I say?  I like my 2D girls wholesome, no wonder I was a shoe-in for Ah! My Goddess.

Over the past couple days, I decided to go ahead and bulldoze through the entirety of UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie (a.k.a. UFO Princess Valkyrie, this is another early-2000s anime).  Seasons 3-4 are readily available enough, but seasons 1-2 are tough to find through a legitimate source, which is a bummer because the first two seasons make up 24 of the 32 episodes.  The premise is pretty standard, as far as magical girlfriend goes:
The irony is that Princess Valkyrie is technically
the older woman here, but ends up spending
most of her time as a child.
  1. Mild mannered high school student Kazuto Tokino is so overwhelmingly kindhearted that he has decided to run his late grandfather's bathhouse, a money pit that his parents are against, and his nerdy sister Rika reluctantly tags along to help.  
  2. It is one of the few traditional Japanese bathhouses still left considering this takes place in a future where humankind has regular spaceflight and is part of the intergalactic community.  Despite this, most technology on Earth is still 21st-century.
  3. Princess Valkyrie is one of eight princesses from a powerful alien race with angelic features.  It is decided that she will be married to some other race in order to strengthen interstellar relations, but all of her suitors are jerks!  She flees to Earth, a planet belonging to some other race.  Goodness, if only this conflict would resolve itself somehow.
  4. Princess Valkyrie crashes her ship into Kazuto's bathhouse, mortally injuring him.  To save his life, Princess Valkyrie splits her soul with Kazuto.  Apparently that's how souls work; she's from a magical race, whatever.
  5. Instant soulmate with bodacious space royalty?  What a lucky guy!  However, splitting her soul regresses Valkyrie's mind and body to that of an 8-year-old.  Little tip here, Japan: that's not an "ultramaiden," that's "underaged."  Good thing Kazuto is not a pedophile, but little Val's condition is a central conflict in their relationship.
  6. High jinks ensue amidst a cast of close-knit, colorful characters, including:
    • Akina Nanamura, a childhood friend of Kazuto who always had a crush on him.  She is also a shrine maiden who can conjure up powerful barriers and seals like nobody's business.  (Nobody bats an eye at this any more than they do the aliens walking their streets, this is just that kind of anime.)
    • Valkyrie's brazen sister Hydra shows up to force Valkyrie to return to Planet Valhalla, but acts like such a brute that Akina ends up sealing her (causing her to revert to the body of a 10-year old). Akina and Hydra end up roomies at the shrine for the rest of the series.
    • Sanada, the doting chief maid of the royal family (and cat girl) locates Valkyrie and immediately whips out a ray gun to create a loyal cat girl entourage from the local population.  Oddly enough, her victims are pretty much okay with this, a couple of episodes are just the cat girls going on a field trip and enjoying their new found sorority bonds as members of the royal maid corps.
    • The other seven princesses all visit and introduce conflicts of their own.
    Among other interesting characters, with Spottenheim (the family pet and an infamous space pirate) being a favorite of mine.
  7. This is also a magical girl show.  If Kazuto and Valkyrie are of like minds and kiss, Valkyrie undergoes a transformation sequence to her adult form, complete with overwhelming cosmic princess powers.  Hydra and Akina are not bad in a fight, either.  However, in banal harem anime form, Kazuto is entirely moral support.
The main character designs are easily
distinguishable and oozing with personality.
What makes this series stand apart from many is that the setting is so novel.

All the alien races visiting Earth turn nearly every scene into the Star Wars cantina scene.  In general, the aliens are pretty laid back, you will have a hard time differentiating their behavior from that of your average human, and perhaps this is a subtle underlying message of the series: wouldn't it be nice if we all just got along with everybody else in the universe?

I really love a good space opera and I also like slice-of-life.  This particular plot setup makes it easy to shift between slice-of-life scenes and an epic space battle at any time.  It is really quite liberating.

I was looking at some of the other properties made by Kaishaku (the mangaka duo responsible for UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie) and it seems they have a few big fields of specialization that have a tendency to show up: cat girls, shrine maidens, angelic figures, and yuri (lesbian relationships).  These tropes can all be found somewhere in UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie, and have an expert treatment.

Unfortunately, having just watched it all, I cannot say that UFO: Ultramaiden Valkyrie was as good an anime as Ah! My Goddess was.  Thanks to the technical merit and creativity on display, I can at least give it a "good" (8 out of 11 on the Anime News Network scale) with only season 3 as managing to do a point better.  A lot of this score was due to averaging to episodes; the last episode of season 2 was probably the highest point of the series, but the average episodes of the season dragged it down a bit.

As if designing these eight princesses was not
enough, Kaishaku also made a bunch of
classmates from princess boarding school.  I
think they were showing off their ability
to come up with distinct character designs.
I really want to rate UFO Ultramaiden Valkryie higher, because it is fun, with clever fourth-wall lampshading, likable characters, and a lot of great zany episodes.  However, simultaneously, a number of lingering issues made me want to rate it even lower than I did:
  • The romance between Kazuto and Valkyrie is remarkably skeletal.  Because her 8-year-old form is utterly incapable of romantic sentiment and mostly just torments Spottenheim, the only chance Kazuto really gets to know Princess Valkyrie is in brief exchanges after she magically transforms.  At the end of season 1, Kazuto apologizes that he does not really know her, and was largely capivated by her appearance when they first met.  Inexplicably, by the end of season 2, their love is so great that it can apparently disturb the dead from across the universe.  I guess the whole "instant soulmate" thing is supposed to be doing the heavy lifting of this relationship.
  • Valkyrie's 8-year-old form uses up an awful lot of screen time for very little return.  Whenever she is not a brat that introduces some conflict, she is just being so silly that an 8-year-old would be embarrassed to know her.  At the end of the series, they contrive a way to have both adult Valkyrie and 8-year-old Valkyrie out at the same time, presumably so fans of both can enjoy them, but I get the feeling that fans of the younger weren't all that discriminating.   Her younger form's whole point to being here was probably to shoehorn in some kind of subverted lolicon attraction, but it really does nothing for the series.
  • Our leading man, Kazuto, does not have much of a personality, either.  He's a nice guy who wants to run a bathhouse and make everybody around him happy.  That's about all you can say about him.  Even Belldandy had more personality-defining flaws than this guy.  Maybe his soul transplant made him slightly retarded.
  • The fanservice was a little over-the-top, as if it was not obvious from them crowbaring a bathhouse in to the setting.  It was still not nearly as ridiculous as Tu Love-ru, which is the gold standard in barely-scraping-past-the-censors shonen, but there was still tons of nudity (without genitals) and panties.  Apparently Planet Valhalla had yet to invent bras, because all the princesses display their perky nip prints like it is a matter of national pride.
Overall, I think it is pretty clear that this anime was only ever intending to target sh┼Źnen (boys), so I should not be too surprised that it did not have a deeper significance that would interest an older seinen (male, late teen and beyond) demographic like Ah! My Goddess was.  Plus, this being a 2002-2007 production, it might not be fair to compare it to recent anime whose artistic innovations have been increasing by leaps and bounds lately.
Admittedly, those Valhallian proportions might be a factor behind my captivation.
(I'm not sure if they're for sexing or for breaking a bottle on and sending out to sea.)
I regret to report that this anime touched me.   That would normally be a good thing, but I just don't know how UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie has managed to burrow a little niche in my heart, as my laundry list of complaints certainly establishes good reasons why it was a pretty short-lived series.  However, despite all that, the other characters were overwhelmingly likeable and the times they had were remarkably fun to watch.  So I find I am going to miss it.  Nobody bothered to translate the entire manga into English, but the entire series direction makes it simple to connect the dots as to how the series should conclude ("They get married and adopt little Val as their child and live happily ever after") but that's all the closure I am going to get, all the other characters introduce loose ends of their own.
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