Shaenon takes a crawl through the manga version of one of Makoto Shinkai's beloved films.
Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 16th 2006
G. novel 1
Yuuichi Tate is a new student at Fuka Academy, and he's going to have to learn the system fast. When he sees two girls battling each other with elemental, he realizes this isn't the average high school experience. These girls are HiME, specially trained fighters who defend the school from mysterious creatures called Orphans. When teamed up with another person called a "Key," a HiME can release an elemental beast called a "Child." However, Tate turns out to be the Key for both feisty Mai Tokiha and standoffish Natsuki Kuga—which makes an already strong rivalry even stronger! Soon he's battling alongside the HiME, sharing dorm space with them, and trying to prevent damage to the school. Then a rival group called the Ori-HiME shows up, and the real challenge begins.
Oh, manga adaptations of popular anime series, why must you always be so ... divergent? Not that altering the plot is necessarily a bad thing, but with projects like My-HiME, the spirit of the series deviates enough from its TV counterpart that fans of the original are likely to end up bewildered. It's like coming home and noticing that someone has subtly moved all the furniture, creating a simulacrum that doesn't feel quite right. As for newcomers with no prior HiME experience, the prognosis is even grimmer: this looks like yet another fantastically bland tale of hot girls fighting each other with special powers. Get ready for the wild but confusing battle scenes, weakly fleshed-out characters, and a story that's headed nowhere fast. Is this what we signed up for at Fuka Academy?
Give the manga credit for one thing: it kicks off at a brisk pace and never lets up. Tate has barely shown up for school before seeing his first HiME battle, and before the chapter is out he's already witnessed his own special power twice. While it doesn't move quite at monster-of-the-week speed, there's certainly enough explosive action, whether it be the HiME battling with Orphans or with each other, and on Tate's side, a bit of sensual action too. (The last page alone earns the book its Mature rating.) Look into the story a bit more, however, and the weaknesses become apparent. Everyone is fighting, but where did these Orphans come from? Why is it so important for everyone to fight? Why are they introducing so many girls so quickly? Can we just stop for a moment and get to know each other?
It would be easy to explain away such questions by saying it gets better later. But the situation hardly looks promising: battle, school antics, battle, flashback, repeat. It could be that the first volume is just trying to lull us into a false sense of mediocrity—but more likely, the writer is scrambling to back up the characters and concept with some kind of story. Aside from Orphan attacks, there is no strong motivation to fight, no galvanizing enemy force to get Mai and friends worked up. The Ori-HiME faction doesn't even count, basically being the product of catty rivalry. On the personal level, things don't look interesting either: any attempts to develop relationships result in high school pap like love-triangle arguments, Tate being accused of being a pervert, or fanservice. The flashbacks, meanwhile, are erratic and dull—oh, Tate and Mai and Natsuki are all driven by some past trauma in their lives? Right, like we haven't heard that one before.
The artwork in this manga is erratic as well, and might be more likeable if it weren't so cluttered. Battle scenes are clearly the highlight of this volume, especially when a HiME's Child is summoned, but often times these impressive scenes dissolve into messes of randomly dynamic lines. It's still possible to follow what's going on—but barely. In fact, the same might be said of ordinary day-to-day scenes; crowded panels and constant activity give the eye little room to relax. With all that clutter, there's very little background art aside from the bare minimum—once that classroom interior or school courtyard establishes the scene, you won't see backgrounds again until there's another change of location. The character designs are appealing and easily recognizable, although fans of the anime will definitely note some stylistic differences. And just like the anime, fanservice is a big deal here, often going to a risqué level: there are flashes of near-nudity, and you might be surprised at just how much clothing a female character can lose in a fight.
A high-spirited translation reflects the "always ready for battle" attitude of the story, although the staff may want to check certain details more closely. (It's Fuka in the dialogue, but Fuuka on the back cover? And who uses a shinai—a bamboo sword—in "fencing"?) Japanese honorifics are in regular use throughout the text, although without any mini-glossary to help out, and sound effects are also left untranslated. In fact, don't expect any supplemental material here, in the back of the book or anywhere. At least the paper and print quality are decent, with most of the artwork coming out sharply except for the grayscaled watercolor pages (slightly blurred, especially at the beginning).
So there it is, another anime-to-manga conversion fallen short, this time by taking the characters and concept but failing to work out the fundamentals. Even serious My-HiME fans might want to steer clear, as this altered storyline and character viewpoint could taint their image of the series. The soaring, magic-powered fights are exciting enough in themselves, but the characters lack a deeper motivation—instead, they're fighting for the sake of fighting. Even attractive girls, explosive attacks and powerful beasts can't compensate for that emptiness. The path towards a great My-HiME experience ... probably lies in the direction of the DVD store.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : C
+ Exciting battle scenes and quick pacing.
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