Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 3rd 2008
While Arika and Mashiro settle into life in the Aswald village, the cyborgs of Aswald decide that Cardair needs to be properly punished for betraying them. The arrival nearby of many refugees from Windbloom City ultimately inspires Mashiro to step up and try to be their proper leader, even though the obstacles she faces are great. Chief among them is Grand Duke Nagi, who still seeks to capture or eliminate her and Arika and sends Sergey Wang and his new Valkyries out to do the deed. Another critical discovery gives him indirect access to the fearsome power of the Harmonium, and its intimidation factor forces a split amongst other nations; while some choose to avoid its threat by siding with Nagi, others rally behind Artai to oppose them. As forces and events assemble towards a potentially decisive battle which puts Otomes and the Harmonium on center stage, opposition to Nagi works behind the scenes in Windbloom City and the final cast members – the real Mikoto and the bearer of the Fire-Stirring Ruby – enter the theater. In the midst of it all Arika must confront the ultimate truth about the destiny she has laid out for herself, Mashiro must come into her own as a leader, and Nina must come to terms with her own feelings and the heavy weight of using the Harmonium, as well as the influence of the Ultimate Black Diamond.
My-Otome may not be one of the elite series out there, but in its second half few recent series can better it for sheer entertainment value. Sure, it is cheesy at times; sure, it uses many common shonen elements adapted to suit its mostly-female cast; and sure, it still has some artistic issues that it has never satisfactorily resolved. None of that stops it from being enormously fun to watch, however. The mix of action, drama, romantic entanglements, and occasional silliness it has developed over the course of the series now works very well, even if the series will never be mistaken for a masterpiece. To put it another way, the series successfully glories in its melodrama rather than wallowing in it, as the writers seem to have realized that the events going on here, and basic world structure, would be a little too ridiculous if played entirely straight. Perhaps most importantly, they provide the series with a genuinely satisfying ending without having to resort to a “reset button” approach (a la My-HiME).
Fans of the series will find quite a lot to like in these episodes. In volume 6, the lingering mess over which girl is really the heir of Windbloom and who is really the daughter of Windbloom's former Otome (and thus the true inheritor of the Blue Sky Sapphire) is finally and definitively resolved, as is the whole deal over “the player, the protector, and the song” needed to activate the Harmonium. Previous volumes strongly suggested that the Miyu presented here is, in fact, the original Miyu from My-HiME, and now the reason she has long favored Arika becomes clear, as well as viewers finally getting to see her in action at her full combat potential. The Valkyries also get their first taste of high-powered action, and a clip shown in the omake piece included with volume 3 also finally gets explained. Episodes 21 and 25 also raise an intriguing mystery: what, exactly, happened with Shizuru, the baby rattle, and the pacifier? (Oh, wouldn't you like to know?)
While volume 6's episodes establish the circumstances for the finale, volume 7's episodes bring everything and everyone together into the expected sequence of climatic battles – and yes, Arika and Nina do eventually get around to duking it out again, too, but so does everyone else. So much effort is put into getting everyone involved (including even Miss Maria, who reveals that she has lost nothing with age) and using the traditional “you go on while I take care of this” approach that these episodes ultimately lose a bit of their edge. Still, they execute enough key moments, and carry them through well enough, that the content succeeds overall.
And it's the key moments, moreso than anything else, which make the series what it has become in its second half. In volume 6, these moments include Arika and Sergey finally confronting each other and confessing the feelings they harbored before everything went south, Mashiro finally stepping up and trying to be a proper leader, and the long-awaited appearance of the Fire-Stirring Ruby, aka Mai, the heroine of My-HiME. (For those who have not seen the predecessor series, the goings-on in episode 23 involving Mai and Mikoto mark the point in this series where not having seen the previous one will be most detrimental. For those who have seen the original series, whatever expectations you might have had about how Mai's appearance would play out, episode 23 will probably surprise you.) In volume 7, these moments include Arika's fateful meeting with her mother (so to speak) and two scenes involving Nina and Sergey: one where she finally confesses her feelings to him, and the other the poignant resolution of their situations in the very last scene. For all the flaws the series may have, that it can achieve that kind of ending proves its merits.
Of course, My-Otome still fully exploits its flashy fight scenes and displays of power, but skillful choreography and usually respectable combat animation keeps them from getting old or dull. The series also deserves major kudos for keeping the Otome transformation scenes short, lively, and interesting. For as weighty as the content sometimes gets, it never entirely loses its sense of humor, either. Regrettably the artistic quality never improves through these episodes, with the not-completely-refined look that has plagued the series and occasional breakdowns in artistry and animation lingering nearly to the end. Volume 7 does, however, offer significant fan service.
Unlike the visuals, the musical score is at its finest. Its mix of dramatic upbeat numbers liberally infused with wordless vocals and variations on the recurrent haunting lullaby perfectly support and promote the energy and melodrama through these episodes, which heightens the overall strength of the work. The content would have nowhere near the impact or enthusiasm that it does without this terrific effort. The second closer and original opener persist through episode 25, with episode 26 lacking an opener and featuring a closer set to epilogue scenes.
The English dub through volume 6 benefits greatly from most of the weakest roles simply not being present, while the one formerly weak performance that does remain (Mashiro) has improved enough to no longer be an issue. Other performers handle their respective material at least adequately well. The original English voice of Mikoto does return for an encore, and while the English voice of Mai is, curiously, not credited, it does sound like the original performer, too. Even when some of the weaker roles pop back up again in volume 7, the dub still manages to tread water by relying on strong performances in key roles, especially newcomer Tracy Sutton as Tomoe.
As with earlier volumes, each of these two has an omake for an Extra. Volume 6's “The Legend of the Fire-Stirring Ruby” explains in better detail how Mai's circumstances came to be, and only reinforces the impression given about her by episode 23; let's just say that she does not cut the tragically conflicted figure that the story had, to this point, made her out to be. Volume 7's “My-Otome vs. My-HiME” provides a comical wrap-up to the two series which focuses on whether Mai or Arika was better as the star and who should be the lead in the next franchise project (i.e. My-Otome Zwei). Volume 7 also includes a creditless version of the final episode's closer.
If you judge an anime's merits on rewatchability then these volumes should score pretty high. Those who toughed it out through the weak early stages of the series should find plenty of satisfying fun, and those hoping for a better ending the original series should find this one more to their liking.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Musical score, plentiful interesting developments, satisfying ending.
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