Skin and parody go hand-in-hand. As the US porn industry knows, the fastest way to make a good send-up of a famous movie or popular genre is to strip everyone naked, add some corny dialogue and milk the associations (among other things). Of late, we've seen Seitokai no Ichizon parody every popular anime of the last decade and Ladies Versus Butlers making fun of itself, so how could a satire of a classic show like Ultraman fail? Well, Ultimate Girls demonstrates that without teeth, wit, or nipples, even the cleverest of ideas can fall flat.
The story lurches into action when Japan's alien protector, UFO-Man, flattens three high school girls under his massive foot while fighting a monster. The perverted hero revives the students, but only so that they can--through the remaining vestiges of his power--fight monsters on his behalf. For all its stupidity, the first episode delivers some raunchy laughs when Silk Koharuno, the first fighter, has to grasp a particularly phallic portion of UFO-Man's hovercraft so that he can cum the magical girl outfit onto her before battle. To add insult to injury, the poor wench's outfit begins to dissolve within moments of her transformation, leading to massive amounts of embarrassment as she finds herself fifty feet tall AND growing more naked by the second. While contrived, the first episode doesn't sink the show; its temerity for the following eleven episodes, however, does.
Every good show takes its strongest elements and refines them as it progresses. Osaka (Azumanga Daioh) gets stranger with each passing scene, Hayate's (Hayate no Gotoku!!) bad luck lands him in ever more dire situations, and Gohan (Dragon Ball Z) destroys a larger mountain/ocean/empty plain in each successive episode. Ultimate Girls, on the other hand chooses NOT to become more depraved with each installment, instead trying to play to its considerably weaker character drama--and ruins itself in the process. After the awkward moment in episode two where Silk has to grab a monster phallus and stroke it to defeat the creature, the show fails to offer up adequate titillation OR cringe-worthy battle scenes.
When the series shuns its shock value and becomes a flaccid romance yarn concerned with Silk's pursuit of Makoto, all the life drains quickly out of the endeavor and leaves ecchi fans scratching their heads in confusion. Setting aside the soporific leads, the dating, scheming, and blushing on display here shows neither skin nor imagination (Oooh! A Ferris Wheel! How original!). Given the raunchy hook and perverted UFO-Man who feature so prominently in the initial episodes, Ultimate Girls' transformation into a chaste and furtive love-story should cause the viewer to wonder where all the fun went.
The stiff and slipshod visuals do little to help distract from the lackluster plot. As an Ultraman parody, some amount of campy motion comes along with the satire, but at no point did any of the action sequences impress. Where the series could have chosen to use over-acting and exaggerated moves to further the parody, the show instead features more plain fighting punctuated with with stills and long shots of dissolving outfits (that seem to replenish before every change in angle).
Even when the girls stay on-model, their character designs leave much to be desired, especially Vivienne, who spends most of the anime trying to impart subtle emotional cues. The blank expanse of the blond heroine's face can't live up to the modest demands of the script, and strains the already thin subplot between her and Silk. In contrast, the over-the-top monster designs provide the only satisfaction that comes from the series' visuals. Whether it be a train monster with a lewdly placed engine car or a masked manga artist at his desk, each of the antagonists provides an amusing sight-gag that elicits the episode's only chuckle.
A strong voice cast could have transformed this anime. Much how Yuri Horie's Haruka transformed Kanamemo into something memorable, an inspired UFO-Man, or nuanced Silk would have the power to elevate the characters out of their mediocrity. Instead, everyone in the cast manages to fill their roles without leaving any lasting impression. The music follows along the same course, mirroring the '70's feel of the content without causing any auditory distress. Thankfully, the opening theme contains just enough drama to allow it to grow on the viewer, and actually represents the high point of each episode's score.
Silk, for all her insipid temerity, does show some development during the boring half of the season, and for that the series deserves the tiniest sliver of credit. However, her mewling reluctance to take the reins of her own life until forced places her in the same category as other frustrating characters like Strawberry Panic!'s Hikari and Kannazuki no Miko's Himeko, preventing all but the most empathetic viewers from rooting for her. Of course, the series provides some contrast to this near-worthless protagonist in the form of a paper-thin supporting cast. Most of the anime's characters have little more than a single character trait: Tsubomi is a cosplaying otaku; UFO-Man is perverted; and Silk's sister, Mayu, is a reporter (no, seriously, that encompasses her entire breadth and depth).
Regrettably, the same level of detail also applies to the two other legs that comprise the most half-hearted love triangle in anime. While Vivienne's stoicism seems admirable at first brush, the weak art and voice acting cause it to come across as wooden, and even the small signs of life that she shows in the later parts of the show fail to perturb her personality significantly. Similarly, Makoto remains firmly fixed on his obsession with monsters through the show's end, but he gives no reasons for his single-minded nature. Frankly, a log could play him for all the emotion he shows when Tokyo's skyline is devoid of looming monsters; this outlook would serve a secondary character adequately, but as Silk's main romantic interest, it leaves a good deal to be desired.
Going off half-cocked turns a funny OVA's-worth of humor into a slog of a series. While a tongue-in-cheek send-up of tokusatsu shows presents a ripe field for humor, Ultimate Girls chooses instead to focus on an abortive romance between two boring leads. As their listless drama takes up more and more screen time, the show loses the little energy that makes it entertaining at the onset. Combined with the mediocre visuals and middling soundtrack, even an ecchi fan will have trouble finding much to love here. In short, skip this one and watch something with more tits and teeth. You'll be glad you did.
What happens when you combine a beloved Superhero, three sexy high school girls, and loads of ecchi? The Ultimate Girls! When the superhero UFO-Man accidentally squashes three curious girls, he resurrects them using his own body and powers. Now the three girls are solely responsible for saving Tokyo from certain disaster when monsters appear every Monday. UFO-Man's power can only last for up to three minutes, at which time their suits disintegrate into thin air. The onlooking citizens have dubbed the Ultimate Girls "Little Boobs", "Big Boobs", and "Loli"; and you can bet they'll never miss a chance to see one of these girls in action – err… naked!
These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.