Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 7th 2006
Mai is adjusting to life at Fuka Academy, working at Linden Baum's, and being a HiME, but the weight of all her responsibilities, and the way they restrict her social life, starts to get to her. Although Yuichi seems to want to comfort her, the jealous Shiho sees Mai as competition. Meanwhile the Founder's Day Festival preparations proceed apace, the occasional Orphan pops up and needs to be put down, Nagi continues to be thoroughly enigmatic, and the identities and powers of three more HiME are revealed, one of whom has a sadistic streak. Other forces are at work in the school, however, one of which has a nasty surprise for one of the HiME, which makes the potential cost of being a HiME devastatingly clear.
Whereas the primary focus of the first volume was on introducing the main characters and getting the viewer's attention with a series of fantastic action scenes, the second volume, which spans episodes 5-8, is mainly concerned with expanding and developing the cast of HiME. This doesn't actually involve introducing any new characters, just revealing which three girls whom we've already met have their own powers and hinting at the HiME status of a couple of others. As a result, Mai only calls upon her powers and Child once in this volume, which is a disappointment since her powers are the flashiest and most impressive to watch of the HiME revealed so far. It also brings up the potential for future time management issues since there are supposedly 12 HiME total. For now, though, the story remains firmly focused on Mai with only occasional short looks at the other HiME.
And that's the way it should be, since Mai is both the most interesting character in the series and one of the more likeable heroines in recent memory. Sure, she's got an ample (but not unbelievable) bust and pleasing, somewhat rounded features in her design, but she's just as likely to attract a viewer with her personality. The lack of exaggeration in her traits makes her more credible than the typical anime heroine, as does a balanced mix of motherly and girly characteristics not unusual in more mature and responsible girls of her age. While sensible, dedicated, and independent, she does also have a vulnerable side, as episode 5 makes quite clear. The series is worth watching just for her.
A broad and interesting supporting cast does liven things up, however. While none of the other characters are especially well-developed, they are invariably distinct both in appearance and in behavior – not an easy task given the sheer number of “name” characters being juggled here. One of the newly-revealed HiME is a wild child with a flair for dramatics who's older than she pretends, another is a man-hating trollop with a very mean edge, and the third is so earnestly in love that it leaves her vulnerable. There's also still the standoffish, sour-tempered rich-girl outsider Natsuki (who is likely patterned off of Kirima Nagi from Boogiepop Phantom), the catty and immature MIKOTO, the creepy Rei Ayanami clone Miyu, the annoyingly possessive Shihu, and the varied array of Mai's friends, executive committee members, and potential male love interests. Nagi continues to be so self-righteously mysterious and manipulative that some viewers may cheer when something in the last episode actually catches him by surprise, even though it involves a tragedy to another character.
While little has still been revealed about the Orphans, how Nagi fits into the picture, or the nature of the Headmistress's disposition, this volume does see at least some plot development. A bit more comes out about the nature of the HiME, the role of District 1 in the whole HiME arrangement is clarified some, and it's revealed that there may be another force out there opposing the HiME; one of the characters has an ugly secret about her true nature which implies that someone else is involved, too. And what is the connection between that individual and the “Golden Angel” Alyssa Searrs, the only completely new character introduced in this volume? It's still too early to tell where this is all going, but the end of episode 8 definitely gives the impression that the series may be headed into darker and more serious territory than it's shown so far. The action quotient is lower in this volume than the previous one, but that seems to be just a temporary lull required by the storytelling focus in this volume.
Although the second volume reinforces My-HiME's status as a second-tier title visually, it still looks good enough. Character designs are mostly pleasing, though not quite as sharp or refined in their drawing as seen in some other recent series, while most of the Orphan and Child designs look silly and/or like leftovers from s-CRY-ed. Background art is typically very good, although problems with imperfect foreground/background integration persist. Action scenes are filled with both energy and animation shortcuts, which downgrades their impressiveness a bit compared to those in the first volume, while a lot of mileage is gained from animating the expressiveness of some characters' faces (especially Mai's). It's not the smoothest of recent series in this category, either, but it's hardly bad.
Capably enhancing both action and non-action scenes is the musical score by Yuki Kujiara, the woman behind such great scores as .hack//SIGN, Madlax, Noir, and Le Portrait de Petite Cossette. Present here are all the elements you'd expect from a Kujiara score: heavy use of synthesizers occasionally counterbalanced by piano and string melodies, a broad blend of more intense action themes and gentler dramatic themes, and very effective use of supporting vocals both in the background and in featured singing pieces. The style is also consistent with her previous efforts. As is usually the case with Kujiara's work, the series is much better for the presence of her capable musical backing.
Bandai Entertainment's Ocean Group-created English dub modifies the style of delivery of a couple of the characters a little bit but otherwise remains faithful to the original performances. Use of broader casting than the usual suspects means fewer veterans populate the cast, but as a trade-off the dub does an excellent job of matching voices to roles, especially given the size of the functional cast; Midori's voice is distinctly deeper in the English dub than in the Japanese, but that's the only significant discrepancy. The dub script has a couple of minor variations to the original but otherwise remains reasonably tight, and performance quality is generally competent. As with the first volume, it isn't a spectacular dub but it isn't likely to generate major complaints.
Normal extras are limited to a clean opener and company trailers. As with the first four episodes, though, bonus content follows the Next Episode preview at the end of each episode. Each such extra features a different character reflecting on her feelings (in three cases) or detailing the kind of email messages she uses to lure men into traps (in one case). All are much more prone to fan service than the regular content.
My-HiME has the look and feel of a series assembled from typical elements of both high school-centered comedy/dramas and shonen action series, but an interesting cast of characters, writing which avoids wallowing in clichés, and effective use of action allows it to stand out amongst similar conglomerate titles. It's not at the point where it's going to “wow” anyone with its quality (at least not yet), but it is still a highly entertaining series well deserving of the attention it's gotten in fandom.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Excellent musical score, highly likeable heroine, broad and distinct supporting cast.
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