Upon the release of Ranma 1/2 on Bluray, Mike takes a stroll through the world of Rumiko Takahashi.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 3rd 2006
First-year high school student Mai Tokiha and her middle school brother Takumi are on a ferry to Fuka Academy, their new school, when a half-drowned sword-wielding girl is found floating in the water. Soon Mai finds herself caught in the midst of a fierce and highly destructive battle of mecha and magic between the revived Mikoto and Natsuki, a young woman who seems intent on preventing Mikoto from reaching Fuka Academy. At a critical moment Mai realizes powers of her own, ones that mark her as a HiME (short for Highly-Advanced Materializing Equipment). She eventually discovers that her magical nature it is the reason she was granted a scholarship to Fuka Academy, for its headmistress is assembling HiME to fight the Orphans, otherworldly monsters who have recently started appearing on Earth. And while there might be others involved with hidden agendas, Mai's main concerns for the moment are looking after her sickly brother, contending with a boy she met on the ferry, and trying to fit in at her new school. But it seems that the implications of her magical nature are not something she can easily ignore or avoid. . .
My-HiME can hardly be lauded for being fresh or original; teenagers who accidentally discover magical abilities and guardian creatures and use them to combat otherworldly threats have long been a staple of anime, and there's little comedic content here that hasn't been seen many times before. That doesn't keep its first volume from being one hell of a fun view, however. As these first four episodes prove, great execution can overcome even tired jokes and stale plot formulas.
One of the main reasons these first four episodes work is well-paced and well-balanced storytelling. The series takes half an episode to establish its main characters before tossing in the first action scenes, then over the course of the next few episodes alternates between establishing further characters and setting, inserting mildly comical moments and fan service, and dishing up more action. It never takes any of its elements to extremes, but it also doesn't dwell long on any particular scene. This keeps the story developments moving along at a brisk pace one might expect more from 13-episode series than a 26-episode run. And while generally a serious story, the series never takes itself too seriously; one of the funniest sequences involves one girl trying to get back to her room in her short school skirt without revealing that her panties have been stolen. Rarely before has a stray breeze been a character's biggest enemy!
It also doesn't hurt that the title character (of the original title, anyway) is quite an appealing lead heroine. She's caring, resolute, and vivacious without being over-the-top in any aspect, something that's uncommon in recent anime series. Most of the cast members surrounding her are stock stereotypes, although the fierce, catty, and naïve Mikoto, who swings a sword almost bigger than herself in a fight, is a particular bright spot and Mashiro Kazahan, the wheelchair-bound, seemingly-too-young Headmistress of Fuka Academy, sparks a lot of questions. Yuichi Tate, the boy Mai meets on the ferry, is obviously being set up to be a future love interest, as indicated by the amount that the two squabble in this volume, and there is some chemistry there. His “sister” Shiho is too annoyingly possessive, though; one can only hope (in vain, probably) that she gets offed in some future episode. Although there are suggestions that more HiME are present at Fuka Academy, only Mikoto, Natsuki, and Mai have revealed their powers by the end of the fourth episode.
What really sells the series, though, is its spectacular action scenes, which give Mikoto and Natsuki a chance to show off what they can do and allow Mai to discover some of her true power. These are great blends of dynamic movement, flashy magical effects, and mecha action, with the latter coming from the guardian creatures (aka Children) bonded to each HiME. Duran, Natsuki's Child, is a wolf-like mecha with side-mounted guns whose shell-loading scenes are especially sharp. Mikoto's seems to be her sentient sword Miroku, which even Mikoto's petite form can use to strike powerful blows, while Mai's is the dragon-like Kagutsuchi. Their Orphan opponents are generic otherworldly beasties, but these action scenes are much more about the flashy, exciting moves of the heroines and their guardians than the caliber of their opponents.
Although it does not have quite as refined a look as the best recent artistic efforts amongst series anime, Sunrise's production of My-HiME still makes for a good-looking series. Mai's charm comes at least in part from her distinctive design, which sports features as much pretty as cute and a figure that's busty but not unbelievably so for her build. Most other characters also have appealing and very distinctive looks; one does not need to worry about getting cast members confused visually. As with her personality, Shiho's look is ridiculous, but she and Mashiro's maid are the exceptions. Less impressive are the beastie and mecha designs beyond Duran. Background art is also generally good, though there are some minor problems with background/foreground integration and at least one scene where Mikoto's body proportions are grossly inconsistent. (This seems to be a common problem in anime when characters are mostly covered by a blanket, though.) The animation in the action scenes is very sharp, although some of Natsuki's scenes of ordering Duran to load and fire are recycled. Particular attention is also paid to facial expressions, which are heavily emphasized. Elsewhere the animation is generally good except when deliberately being rough, as is the case in a few scenes with Shiho.
The mostly synthesized musical score does a fine job of setting the mood and pacing for individual scenes, whether it's dramatic flashbacks, fast-paced action scenes, or more light-hearted and whimsical moments. The opening theme “Shining Days,” which sounds tailor-made for play in one of those dance games, is an upbeat J-pop styled number, while the closer is a more sedate piece very typical for anime titles.
Bandai Entertainment's English dub was produced by Ocean Group at their Blue Waters Studio in Calgary. As with their recent effort in Starship Operators, Ocean Group used an outside casting company to populate the dub cast with numerous newcomers, only this time there aren't any prominent VAs anchoring the cast; even the veterans have only a handful of titles to their name. The lack of experience isn't as evident as one might expect in the deliveries, though, and the accuracy of the casting and performances in most roles is good. The only potential oddity is that Class President Fujino sounds like a Southern belle in the English dub, but it's hard to tell whether that's meant to reflect an accent in the original performance. The English script by Kathleen Westlake, who is best-known for her work on the adaptation of Inuyasha, remains reasonably accurate most of the time and never gets liberal enough to be a problem. Overall it isn't a spectacular dub, but it's good enough to satisfy most dub fans.
The one big quibble which could reasonably be made about the English release is its alteration to the original title. The series' original name, “Mai-HiME,” was very carefully chosen because it's a play on words in both English and Japanese. Taken literally, it's the name of the central character with the honorific given to her for being a HiME, but if the anagram aspect is ignored then it also translates as “Dancing Princess,” an apt name given some of the moves Mai makes when using her power. For some reason Bandai chose to ignore this and instead respell it using English phonetics, creating an English name for the series which sounds like the original but makes little sense in context. This is one case in particular where the original title should have been left alone.
Extras available in the Extras subheading on the Main Menu are limited to company trailers and a promo clip, but additional ones can be found at the end of each episode, after the Next Episode preview. (They are also accessible from the Episode Select menus, although you can't chapter-skip to them.) These bits, which are generally more light-hearted and racy than the regular series content, fill in more background and setting details. Like many Bandai releases, the closer retains the original Japanese credits, with the English credits tacked on at the end of the volume.
My-HiME should not be mistaken for a magical girl series; this is a shonen action series in the spirit of Fullmetal Alchemist but without the dark overtones and heavy baggage. Despite its retread construction, it is a fun and lively view that is certain to have most viewers hooked by the end of the first episode.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Spectacular action scenes, good pacing, appealing lead character.
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