Reviewby Theron Martin,
Akane, one of the Trias of the Pearl Class at Garderobe Academy, has been given a rare honor: even before graduation she has been chosen as the Meister Otome for the country of Florince. Such a duty goes at odds with her love for boyfriend Kazu, however, forcing her to make the choice of a lifetime. Meanwhile, Arika's development of feelings for Sergey that she does not understand trouble her greatly, as Mashiro's inadequacy as Queen troubles her and Sergey's orders from Duke Nagi trouble him, but even darker schemes are afoot both within Garderobe Academy and the world at large, schemes which threaten Arika personally and the stability of the world as a whole. Could a distant but worrisome battle between the Meister Otome of two rival kingdoms merely be a side effect of those greater plans?
In its early going My-Otome got by mostly on the strength of borrowing characters from parent series My-HiME and offering a decent mix of action, comedy, and light drama, but its writing and artistic achievements were decidedly mediocre. It has always remained at least somewhat entertaining, however, and possesses a remarkable ability to keep a viewer coming back despite artistic inconsistencies, ridiculous situations, and various annoying characters. Along the way it has gradually started to piece a substantial plot together and develop key characters and relationships in more satisfying directions. In other words, it has also started to become somewhat good.
Which brings us to volume 4, which begins the series' second half and in many ways represents its heart. The feelings Arika had started to develop in volume 3 come to a boil, Queen Mashiro starts to take a more serious outlook on being a ruler in the wake of fresh concerns over whether or not she really is the Queen, the covert anti-Arika scheming at Garderobe steps up dramatically, and the plot Nagi has been cooking up for the past dozen episodes finally starts to reveal itself, along with a number of other important developments and crises, not the least of which is insight as to what actually happened with the doppelganger for Mai from the original series. The biggest development is, of course, the revelation in episode 14 of who the true Queen of Windbloom actually is, which should surprise no one despite the series' determined efforts over the past several episodes to obfuscate the issue. Where that might ultimately lead remains surprisingly unclear as the volume comes to a cliffhanger ending, but clearer is the complexity of the issue and the difficulty of the decision facing the one who discovers the truth.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you; that does mean that the series actually now has an involved story and characters worth caring about. Arika still occasionally gets annoying, but the writing in this volume handles her emotional scenes both wonderfully well and in a manner consistent with her established character. Nina remains a bit flat, but Erstin has started to distinguish herself as an interesting supporting character, Mashiro is finally starting to mature a bit, and devious Tomoe has risen to the level where one must wonder what really motivates her to do what she does. (Is it just jealousy or part of the bigger scheme?) A bit of the foolishness pervasive in the early episodes still lingers, but on the whole the series has shifted to a more serious and dramatic focus as it deals with the trickier character and plot issues.
Unfortunately the artistry has not similarly improved. Backgrounds still look great, but the occasional roughness and inconsistency in the quality of the character renderings not only remains but occurs more frequently. Additionally, new character designs not only fail to impress but often look much cruder, and Slave designs continue to be silly. At their best most of the character designs are appealing and well-proportioned, but all too often they are not at their best. Sparse CG effects still work well, but the animation is unlikely to impress anyone. Unlike previous volumes, not a stitch of fan service can be found in the regular episodes, although the bonus short gets a bit racier.
Improvements do show in the musical score, which is at its best in this volume. It hits all the right notes at all the all the right times, effectively setting the mood for crucial dramatic scenes while continuing to stylistically mirror the score for My-HiME, and its heavily-used, melancholy insert song continues to be the highlight. The original closer remains throughout, but the opener changes to a new number set against spoilerish-feeling imagery beginning with episode 16.
The English dub may not be a shining example of quality, but does passably well overall and hits key emotional moments exactly right, especially in Angie Beers' key performance as Arika and Kelsey Schimpf's more minor but still heartfelt turn as Miya. Major roles tend to be strongest while minor roles tend to be weakest, and no complaints can be offered about the singing ability of the actresses called upon to sing. The dub script stays satisfyingly tight.
Only two Extras are present in this volume: the clean version of the new opener and “Beyond the Crimson Sky,” this volume's bonus short, which provides a “what happens next” look at two significant characters in the wake of episode 13's climax. Its serious side details events outside of the main storyline, but it is just as worthwhile for its occasional absurd humor, some of which only a veteran anime fan or frequent visitor to Japan will get (a roadside “love motel” instead of a “love hotel,” for instance).
This volume was one of those involved in the Bandai Entertainment recall fiasco in early January 2008, so it may have taken a while for fans to finally get a correctly working copy. (If you bought a copy which glitches badly when you try to play episode 16 and/or the Extras, consult the Bandai Entertainment Web site about getting a replacement.) It should prove worth the extra wait, however, as this is the best volume yet in a steadily improving series. These four episodes may not have as much action as previous volumes but more than make up for it with their wealth of plot and character developments.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Rich plotting, vastly improved character and relationship development.
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