Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 21st 2011
My-Otome 0 ~S.ifr~
Several years before the beginning of My-Otome, Sifr Fran is a 14 year old girl who has never known her father, recently lost her mother, and has now been kidnapped by Aswad cyborgs and agents of Schwartz because her uncle is the King of Windbloom. That ties her into the Wind family bloodline, which also potentially makes her a Weaver, one of the rare individuals capable of activating lost technology. She gets rescued by Bruce Windbloom, the current Prince, with the aid of his Meister Otome Lena Sayers and some of her fellow Otome, but Schwartz has hardly given up on their effort to obtain such a valuable prize and succeeds on a second try. Lena also has other problems to contend with, including the way her monstrously strong powers (both as an Otome and as one of the last true HiME) keep overloading even Meister Gems and how Garderobe Academy seems to have an agenda of its own concerning Sifr. To rescue Sifr and save the planet from being at the mercy of Schwartz, Lena will need help, and some of it comes from unexpected sources.
First released over the course of 2008 in Japan, this three episode OVA series is the most recent entry in the My-HiME/My-Otome franchise even though it actually serves as a sort of prequel to the My-Otome TV series. Though it features a mostly new cast and does spend a minute or two at the beginning setting the stage, it is hardly an entry-level title. A strong familiarity with the names, places, and organizations inherent to the setting is assumed, as is a basic understanding of the underlying mechanics of both its predecessor TV series. Those lacking such familiarity will certainly miss all of the nods to the two TV series and may be confused on certain crucial plot points. These episodes also imply or outright declare some significant spoilers for the TV series – and read no further in this review if you do not want those spoilers revealed.
For those who are already fans of the franchise, though, this is a must-have title. Its first episode shows some flashes of events in the distant backstory of the My-Otome setting that have never been shown before, including a brief cameo of Fumi, the founding Otome, in action. (And with a master who suspiciously resembles Mashiro, no less.) All three episodes partly focus on Lena Sayers, the Windbloom Kingdom Otome who becomes central My-Otome character Arika Yumemiya's mother; they further suggest who Arika's never-named father might be and show how Lena comes into possession of the Blue Sky Sapphire. Sifr Fran, the other central character here, is implied to be the future Queen of Windbloom and thus the mother of pivotal My-Otome character Nina Wang, although the link is not as direct and obvious as in the Lena/Arika case. Some older characters who have significant supporting roles in My-Otome also pop up in small roles in this one, including Miyu, Miss Maria, the blond-haired Schwartz youth who becomes the TV series' version of John Smith, and the Child Gakuten-O. (The Harmonium, though not a character, also gets briefly shown and mentioned.) Seeing how Garderobe Academy operates under a regime prior to Nagi's is also quite interesting, and the course of events here suggests that events in this series may have affected the relationship between Garderobe and the Windbloom government in My-Otome. Seeing a plethora of fresh Otome in action, with a plethora of new tricks, is also a treat.
Of course, the flashy transformation scenes and dynamic battles that formed one of the cores of both TV series are also plentifully in evidence. In fact, the battles here are arguably even more spectacular, especially the space duel between the fully powered-up Lena and the Schwartz-controlled android M-9 in the final episode, in part because they operate at power levels rarely even approached in My-Otome. The fan service which typified all previous installments is also present, though in sparser doses and without the inclusion of fan service-intensive omake, as are the humor bits. And what would a My-HiME franchise title be without at least one dedicated lesbian character?
Lacking here, though, is the compelling storyline and character development which helped make the two TV series appealing beyond just their action components. The ill-defined plot rushes between scenes and situations a little too much, leaving in its wake a messy story which feels insufficiently developed and not completely thought out. The three episodes together total 85 minutes, but taking another 25 minutes or so to more fully explain and develop various elements and characters would have helped greatly.
Also distinctly lacking here is the musical score. This is the first installment in the franchise whose music is not composed by Yuki Kajiura, and her absence can be felt almost from the first moments. The score by Kuniaki Haishama, who has done good work in titles like Blue Gender, Monster, and Spriggan, certainly does try and occasionally hits a cool sound, but it also sounds more like a mishmash of styles, including one recurring theme which sounds suspiciously like part of The Eagles' “Journey of the Sorcerer.” (It's the same theme used for the BBC radio and TV versions of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.) The end result is a score whose impact and ability to dramatize the animated events is erratic. These episodes do not have a formal opener and have an entirely different closer for each episode, all sung by Minami Kuribayashi (the voice of Erstin Ho in My-Otome).
The artwork has also, unfortunately, returned to the somewhat erratic level seen in the My-Otome TV series. Though the artistry and animation can be quite good at times – the climactic space battle is a visual treat the equal of any other scene in the franchise, and certain earlier action sequences also shine – quality control in the character designs and animation occasionally deteriorates, showing an unwelcome lack of refinement. Even Lena, who gets the featured artistic treatment, seems to vary a bit in the robustness of her build, and Bruce looks like the designers were trying too hard to make a character who simultaneously was both a dashing swashbuckler and the epitome of modern cool. Though the new Otomes seem like a varied bunch, their designs all bear similarities (sometimes intentionally, sometimes likely not) to designs used in the franchise's previous installments.
Unlike with all previous installments in the franchise, Bandai Entertainment has opted to release this one sub-only. While the dubs of earlier installments were hardly paragons of dubbing quality, this is still a big disappointment. The only Extras included are clean versions of all three closers.
Certain aspects of these episodes, including especially some of the last episode's last lines, indicate that there are still plenty more stories to tell to properly link up this material with the beginning of the My-Otome TV series. A definite gap still exists, but for now this looks like all we can expect to get. While this set is hardly top-notch fare, it should be good enough to appeal to its target audience of My-HiME/My-Otome devotees.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Fills in some of the My-Otome backstory, some very flashy battle scenes.
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