Ultimo is one of those manga titles where the concept should write itself. Giant robots running around fighting each other should be pretty awesome. Add in a cosmic threat and you’re set. Unfortunately, the manga gets unnecessarily complex, throws in time travel which really hurts the story and just goes in a lot of odd directions. As a result, it wasted a bunch of time so then when it was effectively cancelled it had to rush everything to the end. The ending is very original and will remind you a lot of Madoka Rebellion, but it’s not exactly the ending that many of us were hoping for. It’s just a very odd story.
Yamato is a guy who is fairly down on his luck. He is always caught in awkward situations by his friends and he can’t work up the nerve to talk to Sayama…especially after these incidents. One day he notices a robotic kid called Ultimo or Ulti for short. Ultimo seems to be an antique, but he randomly wakes up one day and takes on a giant robot named Vice in the middle of the street. Both of them are severely damaged, but then Yamato finds out that he is Ultimo’s master. There is apparently a war going on between Doji (That’s the official robot name) of good and evil. I believe there are 12 total with 6 on each side. A mysterious being named Dustan created these Doji so he could see once and for all which side will ultimately emerge victorious. Yamato doesn’t totally understand all of this, but he can’t let the Earth be destroyed so along with Ultimo he gets to work on stopping these guys.
That plot actually isn’t half bad. The first few volumes were pretty good as well as Yamato gradually meets his allies and enemies. The fights are good and I thought the series would be fun. Then the Rune plot happens which I’ll delve into later. Then the low point of the series happened…the time travel. Time travel is typically a really good thing, but this one completely wrecked it. Yamato gets taken to early Japan where we find out he was a Yakuza or something. Every character is doomed to infinite reincarnation by Dunstan and the heroes and villains were deadlocked there. Not only is this a complete waste of time that doesn’t go anywhere, but it is immensely boring.
Yamato finally makes it back to the present, but he arrived too soon so we have to relive a few fights and action scenes again. They’re a little different of course, but not enough so that it really matters. Also, Yamato has control over time so he can just rewind it whenever something happens that he doesn’t like. As a result, it was a little hard to get interested in the plot. That and the fact that the rest of the cast weren’t too interesting despite their overpowered abilities.
Lets talk about the characters. Yamato is the lead and I suppose he isn’t too bad. He’s not quite as tough as you’d imagine despite his punkish design, but he does his best. He learns the abilities after a little while and is then able to fight with the best of them. From there on he did good and at least he always shut Rune down. He does have a tendency to get kidnapped and placed into awkward positions though. Ultimo is a better character even if he can be a little confusing. He is meant to be the ultimate hero, but is actually the shadiest of them all. He lets rage consume him quite a lot and acts like Optimus Prime in the Michael Bay movies. He just wants to completely eradicate all evil and is consumed by this desire. He starts to turn evil during the middle of the series although Yamato has a talk with him about that. He can be real intense, but that’s part of why I like Ultimo. He’s a cool hero and I like the confidence that he has. He may not be too strong without an operator, but shows that he still has a nice degree of skill. The series did a good job of showing why he deserves to be the lead.
K is the human operator of Vice, the ultimate villain counterpart to Ultimo. Unfortunately, he is a really bad character. He just likes eating instant ramen and is always being ordered around by Vice. He’s a total comic relief character, but is also pure evil. It’s a really weird combo and I’m not totally sure what they were going for with his character. Either way, I don’t think it really worked. I did like Vice though. He had a really good design and at times he reminded me of Bass. He’s naturally not as cool as the latter, but he is definitely in my top 3 favorite characters of the series. He super forms are all really good and he was a very persistent enemy. Vice just kept getting back up over and over again for as many times as needed. He was one guy that would never give up and also didn’t like being a pawn which was a good motivation for trying to go after Dunstan. Too bad that guy was just a little too strong.
Rune is one of the characters that makes the series a little dicey. After Yamato got to experience his original self along with everyone else since they are endlessly reincarnated, Rune also kept her memories. The problem for her is that she was reincarnated into a male body this time, but still wants Yamato to herself. So her female soul is literally trapped in a male body. I don’t think we needed this plot and I know that I definitely didn’t want it included. It gets a lot of screen time and creates some awkward situations that have nothing to do with the plot. I never cared for Rune as a hero, but she isn’t much better as a villain either. This is Jealousy
Dunstan is the big villain of the series but he is comically overpowered. He is made to look just like Stan Lee which is pretty interesting since the guy helped to write this series. He has the powers of all 12 Doji and can use them all at once. The guy can alter time as a result and his physical stats are off the charts. The main cast can’t do anything against him even if they all team up. It’s a rather odd twist to the whole thing since that means their goal of stopping him is unattainable from the start. Either they’ll have to win him over to their side which is possible since he claims to be impartial, but that would also mean that he wouldn’t pay for his crimes. It is a direct result of Dunstan’s actions that a ton of people died after all. Alternately, they can fight him, but they’re doomed. Despite the fact that Dunstan is probably too strong, he makes for a pretty fun villain. He rarely ever gets to appear, but he seems like a nice enough guy. That’s probably meant to help us not look at him in a poor light which doesn’t work, but I’m at least glad that he is a likable villain.
Musashi is a space cop who travels time. He sounds a lot cooler than he actually is. Despite running through time, he doesn’t really seem to have a clear idea of what to do and he’s also not that tough. He looks good during his initial appearance, but fades into the background after that. We did see a brief glimpse of the future I believe which was fun, but the series could have done more with him. However, like the rest of the humans, he was ditched by the end. His Doji Sophia is pretty useful since she can mess with the 5 senses and even affect the 6th one. It’s hard to hit anything when she’s around since she’ll have you seeing double or everything in reverse. It’s a great ability to have for sure but since every Doji has great abilities it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is the best.
Sayama is the main heroine and it’s definitely hard to get a read on her. She acts nice enough at first but seems less innocent and oblivious than most. She has a pretty big twist at the end and gets some good fight scenes. Her motivations may not make a lot of sense at times, but she seemed like a reasonable character. The twist actually works pretty well if you ask me and makes her more of a deep character, she’s no longer just here for the school scenes.
I keep mentioning how strong the Doji are so lets quickly talk about their abilities. Here are the hero abilities. First off you already know Ultimos. He has complete control of time. This allows him to weave in and out to the past and future to dodge attacks. Unlike other series this does not create alternate dimensions so it can be spammed as much as you like. Unfortunately, Yamato is typically distracted and rarely uses it. When he does, Ultimo is unbeatable which is why he commands the hero group. Service is also a powerful hero. She can manipulate a Doji’s power which includes the time stop. She can simply nullify its abilities along with any other. In a sense, she could be the ultimate fighter as long as she can defeat the enemy. Some of the villains are still more powerful than her even without their abilities after all. Regula’s ability is complete memory manipulation. It can erase all of your memories in an instant and replace them with others. Since he is a hero he doesn’t do this, but you can see how it would be useful in a fight. If your opponent forgets how to fight and thinks you are now an ally, then the match is already won. There are some counters to this though like the emotion Doji as a person can fight with their emotions rather than memories. Pardonner is a healer that can heal any injury in an instant. It can also place illusions within the soul of your mind so that it fools all 5 senses. He’s a great support fighter as he can keep healing all of his allies at any time. Slow has the classic Fate Alteration ability. She can simply alter fate so that an attack which landed actually missed. Altering fate has no real limits, but it takes up a lot of energy so Slow can’t afford to have a long drawn out battle. It’s really hard to counter this, but if you keep attacking without letting up, Slow can run out of energy. Of course, your fate could be to miss and stab yourself by mistake. Finally we have Goge. He manipulates emotions to prevent you from battling or to make you erratic. It’s very similar to the memory manipulation so getting hit by both at the same time would be intense. It’s another very valuable ability to have.
Okay, those were the heroes. Did you memorize all of the abilities? They’re all extremely great and overpowered so the villains have to have really good powers to match. Fortunately they do so lets dive right into them. Vice is the leader so he’s got some good powers. He can steal and copy an opponent Doji ability so he can potentially gather any. He has incredible speed and power and can fire omnidirectional spikes that hit in all directions and can also block any attack. His overall ability is called incompetence which is absolute destruction, but the ability is rather vague and even the wiki doesn’t seem to totally know what it means. Taking it at face value, maybe his opponents will be unable to use their full strength since they’ll be incompetent. Desir is another ability nullification type who can shut down all abilities in decently sized radius. This includes allies though and Ultimo’s time travel seems to be immune. It doesn’t seem as useful as the hero version. Edile has super strength. It’s actually pretty laughable next to everyone else since all Doji have a measure of super strength. Lets move on. Avaro can duplicate himself. He claims that he can fill the whole planet with copies of himself but take that claim lightly. It’s not a bad ability, but not great either. Paresse has a lot of spikes to stab people with. It’s another really weak villain. Wait…the villains must have some good members right? Rage has electrical abilities and was even able to overwhelm Ultimo in a fight. It may not sound very impressive on its own, but I suppose manipulating electricity always has a lot of uses. He can move with that level of speed after all and since the Doji are all robots in a sense, his attacks can be super effective. Jealousy can read the hearts of his opponents. This allows him to know what they will do next with 100% accuracy. This is actually a very good power since it is effectively knowing the future and unlike the mind reading strategy where a character can fight without thinking, your heart always knows what’s up. Finally, Orgullo has fire abilities. Eh…that’s not too impressive although I like fire.
After writing all of those powers down I think it’s safe to say that the heroes should have a massive advantage. However, they end up dying most of the time so Yamato has to retry the battle. It’s like a video game in that sense. The villains surprisingly have better teamwork at times and it is easier to power up their Doji. That’s because it’s easy to be evil while it’s hard to be good. That’s actually a pretty interesting concept that they decided to tackle and it was actually handled relatively well.
The whole series has a lot of discussion on good vs evil. The characters try to blur the lines between these two and even Yamato starts to be unsure of whether or not there is really a good side. He starts to think that everyone is part good and part evil which is probably the wrong conclusion to have. It’s hard for anyone to switch sides for this reason. The heroes are still trying to destroy the villains after all rather than taking them hostage and they’re doing it all effectively because Dunstan is forcing them into this situation. It’s definitely pretty interesting and the fact that Ultimo keeps acting evil doesn’t help matters. I believe more in the rationale that there is a clear line between good and evil and that line isn’t hard to see. I believe that’s a superhero quote that I saw in a recent article, possibly by Destroyer14 but I can’t remember which.
Now the ending is certainly one that we should talk about. There are some spoilers….to put it lightly, in this paragraph so skip now if you don’t want to see. Are you out? Here we go! In the end, Dunstan wins. Yamato got all of the heroes and villains to unite, but Dunstan just one shotted them all and laughed a bit. He then rewinded time so everyone was still alive and decided to try it in a different setting. He’s going to continue the games, but this time with everyone being friends and we’ll see how it turns out. Yamato can finally hang out with Sayama so he doesn’t seem to care. It’s very similar to Madoka Rebellion where Homura won in the end and everyone is content to live in her world. The difference being that most of them didn’t know about it there. Yamato certainly realizes it here and I believe Sayama does as well. It’s possible that the others did have their memories wiped though. It’s just a very odd and somewhat depressing ending based on how you look at it. Dunstan showed that his power is leagues above the rest of the cast so they never even had a prayer of beating him. The fact that the character looks exactly like Stan Lee is also interesting. He effectively wrote himself into the series as the strongest being ever. Stay humble.
The manga can get a little crazy, but one thing it is good at is bringing in a lot of nonstop action. You can make a lot of comparisons to the Bayformers movies, but this one is certainly better than those. The plot just takes a backburner at times as we get fight after fight and then the plot is given through exposition as opposed to actually telling us about it. Honestly without the time travel nonsense which basically introduced the Rune plot (Since she wouldn’t have regained her memories without them) this series could have actually been real good. It’s futile to look at hypotheticals like that, but interesting to think about nonetheless.
The fact that each of the characters are so powerful and made to be unbeatable also helps make the series a little more entertaining. I still think the heroes should win and having time control is way too overpowered for Yamato, but that helps us bring in the plot hax. Also, the power levels matter a little more since virtually anyone can beat another in one hit. It just depends on who strikes first. Yamato limiting his own power reminds me of Angelic Layer which I’ll talk more about when I get to that review. I suppose it would be too easy otherwise though as Yamato could just stop time and finish everyone off.
Each Ultimo was already strong so the introduction of the God Ultimo forms and then their second modes was cool as well. They just kept on getting stronger and stronger to the point of no return. Again, it’s a shame that parts of the manga were so weak like the characters (I basically liked all of the Doji, but none of the humans were particularly good. If I had to pick a favorite human it would probably be Musashi or Yamato, but that’s not saying much) and the time travel since otherwise parts of it felt like Hunter X Hunter level writing. There was a lot of strategy during the fights to counter the abilities and a lot of potential for directions which the series could go in. Since it was a full war of 7 vs 7 and players could keep on changing sides there were just so many interesting variables.
I’m glad that the pre arc phase ended early on though. As I mentioned, most of the human characters aren’t so good. There are a bunch of them running around, but most are either unlikable, bland, or forgettable. The last two are similar I suppose. The school friends never actually contributed anything and the heroic Doji owners made it hard to root for them at times. One thing I like is how everyone is bloated with self importance as they never give Yamato straight answers, but while amusing, that doesn’t help make them likable. The villains aren’t either although they’re not supposed to be. As I mentioned, you’re really reading this for the action and feats more than anything else.
The art is really good for the most part. The characters look good and I like the designs of the Doji. Their ultimate modes look quite good as well and you can tell that the artist has a lot of experience. What does bring the art down a bit though is the fact that it gets a little too chaotic during the fight scenes. Each page gets very cluttered to the point where it is hard to follow the fight scenes. You will need to spend a long time with some panels to actually see anything. One positive is that each volume takes a lot longer, but I feel like the fights could have been scaled better. I think the author had a problem with showing the scale of the fights while still making them small enough to fit in the actual scene. The trick to that is messing with the background, but I am sure it is difficult. In the end this lowered the art’s ranking overall, but most scenes still look good.
Overall, It really has been a long time since I read the series. I read volume one almost a decade ago and all of the volumes were separated by very long waits. It took ages to finally read the final volume so you can imagine that my recollection on the early parts is rather iffy. It’s definitely better to read something like this in a marathon batch like with Pandora Hearts. I remember not enjoying it all that much more than I remember why I didn’t enjoy it much. That’s the tricky part since other parts of my memory seem to remember the series being rather dynamic and interesting. I think it’s probably because the concept was cooler than the execution so I still think about what it could have been. For all I know there could be animal violence scenes that I’m forgetting or a bunch of hype moments that I can’t remember. It’s a tricky case and I may re read it someday, but certainly not in the near future. What I can say is that if you’re looking for a mecha series with fighters who are comically overpowered then this may be the title for you. It gets chaotic, but that helps it feel like a summer blockbuster. On the other hand, most action titles just handle all aspects of themselves better than this one does. You’d be better off reading DBZ, Kenshin, Black Cat, or any of those other titles. I’d slightly recommend this one and the positives are a little better than the negatives, at least as far as I can recall. It’s certainly nostalgic looking at this title since it’s been such a long time, too bad it never got an anime. At the very least I’m sure the visuals would have been really cool.