"Oh yay..." I thought. "Another magical girl show. Great..." I was struggling through the crap that is known as Shingu: The Secret of the Stellar Wars (here's a hint, the secret is that it's really really gay), and I was looking for a "feel good, fun, not crappy and not gay" show to be my next series. That's when some punks on a certain message board started wacking off while telling me about how "fucking awesome and just plain awesome" Mai-HiME was. Then I imagined that they blew their load and collapsed on their keyboard in a puddle of their own sick, nerdy, love juices. Sick sick bastards.
Anyway, I then did some research on Mai-HiME and found that everybody, even hard-core elitist, freaky otaku, were praising it. So I gave it a shot. I breezed through the entire 26 episode series in three days and then immediately moved on to HiME's sequel, Mai-Otome. I finished that in four days. In hindsight I have to admit that Mai-HiME really and truly is "fucking awesome and just plain awesome." Those lamers didn't lie to me (this time).
Now, it's best to go into both of these shows blind. Don't read anything more about either of them, just kick your feet up and watch them (HiME first, of course, you moronic dillweed). Even though I really don't mean to I'm probably going to spoil the ever-living shit out of both series in this review -- just in talking about what I loved about them (well, mostly what I loved about HiME at least). You've been warned.
I truly had no idea what the real premise of this series was before simply sitting down watching it. I did know that it had something to do with magical girls and high school life, but that's it. And it kind of is, but not really. Yeah, there's girls with magical powers running around and beating up monsters, and there's a high school that they all attend, but it's not really about that. The beauty of Mai-HiME is the characters, not the shit blowing up and dying all around them. The characters are perfect, and the cast is absolutely HUGE. But even with this ginormous set of players you never feel overwhelmed or confused. You're never left wondering "waitaminute! Who's that girl? What's her power again? How does she fit into all this?! Why don't they all just get naked and start touching each other?!?" Okay, you may wonder about that last one, but that's it.
Story time: So the title character, Mai, and her younger brother are off to a new school that Mai got a full scholarship to for apparently being really fucking hot (and unknowingly a HiME [more on this later]). But on their way there, the ferry that they're traveling on gets caught up in a giant fight between two other high school girls, the cat-like Mikoto and the biker-babe Natsuki. Their uber-battle ends up breaking the boat in a big way, and Mai starts to realize what she's gotten herself into by signing up for this crazy new school. It turns out that Mai and 11 other girls are HiME (i.e. chicks who are able to materialize weapons out of thin air, and call upon the help of a techno-monster with big ass powers), and they were all gathered by Fuka Academy in order to use their techno-beasts (aka childs) to fight other, wild monsters called orphans, which seem to frequently attack the school. Nobody else in the academy, besides the HiME, the wheelchair-bound director, and the school nurse, knows what's really going on with the orphans (of course), but soon bigger and badder things than just grotesque demons attacking students start happening, and soon everybody in the whole town, then planet, pretty much gets involved in the whole HiME thing. But like I said before, that's not the point of the show.
The point of the show is to hang out with the characters. All of them rock... even the ones you're supposed to hate. The way they all interact makes this one of the best written series I've ever seen. The camaraderie between the core group of girls is more involved than anything even Joss Whedon has ever given us. Yes, I know what I just said, and I stand by it. Mai is perhaps the greatest heroine ever. The shit that she has to go through is unbelievable, yet her resolve and her choices are totally rational and reasonable. Seriously, this girl has been put through the goddamn wringer, but she's never truly been broken despite the fact that the world continues to shit all over her parade like clockwork. Mikoto was a bit annoying at first, but once she's fleshed out and you see why she is who she is, you wouldn't want her to act any differently. Natsuki has had it almost as tough as Mai, but she didn't even have the connection to another human that Mai did (in the form of her little brother) after losing everything else in life. Yet despite this, Natsuki still does her best to stand up for what's right and help out the little guy... Okay, that sounded a bit gay there, but trust me, these three plus the couple dozen other primary and secondary (and even tertiary) characters are all three dimensional beings, each with enough personality to make you believe that they're real people. Honestly, once the shit starts hitting the fan in the second half of the series you will really feel their pain when anybody bites the dust. And boy howdy do they get extinctified. Big time.
Besides the brief glimpse of plot I just gave you, there's also something to do with a bright, red star near the moon that only the HiME can see, some back-stabbing by a covert organization known as the SEARRS Foundation (and they don't sell cheap clothes and washing machines, they sell PAIN), and little, albino children running around, messing with people's minds. Speaking of which, episode 24 is one of the most twistedly sad and sadly bitter, brutal, mind-fucking episodes of anything televised I think I've ever seen. It's like watching Jean Grey in Phoenix form have a cat fight with that ghost girl in The Ring. Down and dirty and brutal, and nobody would come out of it sane. I found myself actually cringing quite a bit in that half hour alone.
Other than that, Mai-HiME has some of the best television budgeted animation I've ever seen. The character models are never off, and they're all attractive. The animation is smooth and all the fights are well choreographed (and bitchin').... No point in bringing this up other than I was impressed with those things.
Let's see... Oh yeah, the final episode. Episode 26. Some may see it as something of a cop out, but I really don't. Everything that happened in it makes sense if you think about it (especially after what MIYU ended up doing)... Well, everything makes sense except Alyssa. She was a HiME, so how did she... along with the keys?... Oh well, whatever. It was still a helluva ride. And if you catch all of the HiME specials too you'll be rewarded with a ton of
cheesecake explanations and background information that was either ignored or just not fully explained in the series. Like what the orphans are, who or what Fumi's child was, what led characters to make certain choices, etc. Anyway, on to...
Around 300 years after the events of Mai-HiME (at least that's what I got out of it, although lots of things that they stated in this series kinda contradicted other things that were stated and shown, but whatever), and the world's an alright place... At least by outward appearances. Politics and other behind-the-scenes forces are causing unrest across the globe, and its up to the Otome to settle things down (just like Teddy Roosevelt would have done -- with a BIG stick!). Otome are kind of like mass produced HiME in the future, but they make official pacts with noblemen and women in order to become their personal bodyguards (in maid outfits). I think the reasoning behind this is like nuclear weapons today: if every kingdom has an Otome then nobody will use them... Unfortunately unlike the nuclear world in which we live in, this isn't at all the way things play out in the Otome universe. It's apparently fairly common for two Otome who were once friends to find themselves on opposite sides of a war that their callus masters started... But I digress.
The story of Mai-Otome starts out with young, unsophisticated, rural, hick Arika (our story's plucky protagonist) meeting up with privileged and refined Nina and snotty and spoiled Princess Mashiro. They get into some typical girly trouble (assassins, giant monsters, and flying airplanes with their unknown magical powers), and soon they find out that their pasts might be more tangled up than a bunch of ten dollar hookers playing Twister (by Milton Bradley) with me pouring baby oil all over them. Nina and Arika are soon new roomies in the official Otome Academy, and Mashiro continues acting all bitchy and better-than-thou to all of her subjects. Then monotony sets in.
This is my problem with the first half of Mai-Otome: it's kind of bland. The main trio of characters is okay, but they're no Mai, Mikoto and Natsuki. The Otome trio is fairly cookie-cutter average compared to its predecessor. True, almost the entire HiME cast are actually players in the Otome storyline (either as a reborn doppelganger, an historic figure mentioned in a text book, or as the actual person from the original series who simply refused to die), and it's really fun to blurt out "Oh! That's that chick who did that one thing in HiME!", but I'd much rather have had another full story with Mai and her posse instead of Arika and hers.
The second half (well, from episode 16 on) though is where the meat and potatoes of the story lies. The whole Otome world gets twisted on its head and entire new settings and plot turns got me involved in the plight of the girls again. Some heavy stuff befalls everyone of the main characters, and each deals with their probs in different ways (not trying to be vague and confusing, just don't want to spoil too much here)... And some problems become very large because the stupid little girls can't stop thinking with their ovaries. Honestly, it's kind of like somebody else came along and tried to totally remake Mai-HiME, but with a slightly younger cast and a much lower budget. True, it's like somebody in HiME once said, "After 300 years everything becomes legend," but that doesn't mean that they have to repeat the same cycle over and over again with each new dawning of the red star-- Oops! The special star in Otome is blue. But my point is still made... Isn't it?
Anyway, I liked the last ten episodes a lot (problems and solutions were never clear cut for the characters, and I really had no idea how things would end), but the final final bit of the final episode kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Imagine watching Return of the Jedi, and knowing full well that Luke and Leia are twins they still get in the sack together before the closing credits and do the nasty. You're like, "I didn't see THAT coming, but *Blaaarrrrrg!*" I was just hoping for a bit more *oomph*, and a bit more closure. Oh well. A few of the other things that bugged me were the contradictions made within the show (like is the planet they're on Earth, or is that blue star really Earth, and if so then why was Fuka Academy below the sea when MIYU dove under water near the end?), and the non-explained bits (like are the characters from HiME just reincarnated poor fucks, doomed to repeat this cycle forever, and how did one of them survive these past three hundred years, even in that shadow realm?) Were these things explained? I don't think so, as anything I thought I missed I'd rewind and play again. I think the writers were simply trying to be mysterious about these things, but it just comes across as sloppy storytelling.
The rest of the things that really bugged me in Otome were the new opening starting in episode 16 (the new animation in this opening COMPLETELY spoils the rest of the damn series... so sucky); the fact that Mai didn't have a bigger role; the fact that at times it felt like this show was only made to sell cheesy jewelry to little girls (the power of the Otome comes from cheap-looking earrings and gaudy rings that their masters wore); the part of the story that completely forgot the whole drama of the link between master and Otome (this had such potential, but it's utterly abandoned by the end of the show); the OldBoy-like ending (reeeeeeally creepy); and the fact that I spent way too much time pausing and then clicking over to AnimeNewsNetwork in order to see who a familiar-looking character was in the original HiME.
Don't get me wrong, Mai-Otome did not suck. Not at all. It just wasn't as great as Mai-HiME. And after all, what really is? The Otome DVD bonuses make up for a lot though, but not nearly enough.
After watching these two shows that the Rossman procured, I simply had to find myself a magical girl of my very own. And operate on her.
I found one little girl beating up a bunch of homeless bums with something that looked like a magic wand because they brought the smell of unwashed, urine-filled, moth-eaten clothes a little too close to the spunky one's favorite toy store downtown, and I bagged her. I tied her up in a burlap sack and dragged her back to my lab. She kicked like a mule on steroids, and I guessed that that was the little kitty's magical power. Also I think she had the magical power to find my testicles with her foot however I twisted the sack around or however many times I dropped it.
After dissecting her and examining her appendix (my theory is that all magic comes from burst appendices, which is why magical beings are so rare in this day and age -- we stupidly remove the appendix before it has time to ripen in those individuals with enough magical power to make it a'splode), I came to the conclusion that either my theory on the magical girl was way off, and that the power to transform their clothing into short skirts and talk to animals is brought about by another part of their anatomy... or this specimen was just a average 10 year-old female who just like to beat up on the homeless. Either way I disposed of the corpse by way of the dozen or so flesh-eating pigs I now keep in my back yard (and I wish to extend a hearty "thank you" to Deadwood for that ingenious idea) and proceeded to start on my dissertation about talking animal sidekicks of the magical girl. True, I have not been able to find any real talking animals yet, but I did cheat a little and surgically implanted a human larynx in the throat of a cat onto whose back I stitched on a pair of pigeon wings. This will get me a Nobel for sure!
Something is wrong with you, gringo fucks! Chu seriously get off on shitty leetle shows about a bunch of teenage girls running around in short skirts, don't chu? How many times must I slit the throats of the employees at Benihana before Japan stops making this shit?! I'm up to 73 already. Their blood is on your hands, you sick, yellow bastardos!