Reviewby Theron Martin,
Blu-Ray/DVD Complete Series
16-year-old Mai Tokiha and her younger brother Takumi are traveling to their new school, the private Fuka Academy, when they spot an unconscious girl floating in the water. The rescue of the sword-wielding Mikoto and an ensuing attack by a young woman named Natsuki eventually leads to Mai's discovery that she is a HiME (short for Highly-Advanced Materializing Equipment), distinguished by the ability to see a special star and the presence of a special tattoo somewhere on her body. Like other HiME, she can use mysterious powers and bond with a servitor creature called a Child. Mashiro, the school's oddly youthful headmistress, informs Mai that she was given a scholarship at Fuka Academy because of her HiME nature. Her new purpose is to fight off Orphans, mysterious monsters akin to a Child. Between that, her brother's fragile health, a part-time job, the clingy Mikoto, and even hints at romance, Mai already has her plate full, before she discovers the great cost that comes with her fight.
Madoka Magica may have set the standard for dark and tangled magical girl series, but it was hardly the first of its kind. One of its most successful predecessors was this series from 2004, which was popular enough to spawn both manga retellings and anime sequels, spinoffs, and OVAs under the My-Otome umbrella. Nine years after its last release and more than four years after Funimation announced the license, My-HiME is available again, and for the first time on blu-ray.
The series' success stems from its effective blend of flashy action and complicated romantic threads, a diverse and involving cast, and an engaging story with many big plot twists, occasionally flavored with bursts of humor that don't detract from the drama. It greatly expanded the range of magical girl series by making its heroines action stars, alongside the concurrently-airing Pretty Cure series. It's surprising that Masakazu Obara has only two directorial credits to his name (The Girl Who Leapt Through Space and Accel World), considering how well he pulls off this delicate genre balancing act.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the series is the way it juggles its cast of complex characters. Central protagonist Mai is eminently relatable as a teen whose outward cheery disposition and work ethic belie a heart that is gradually being pulled in multiple directions, leading her to suffer multiple emotional breakdowns. Deuteragonist Natsuki is her perfect foil, a cold young woman so focused on revenge that she doesn't have time for anything else (except collecting lingerie, apparently). Mikoto complements them as a fierce combatant who's nonetheless pure-of-heart, presenting both the fulfillment and problems that come with having a daughter for Mai. Surrounding them is an extensive cast of friends, rivals, enemies, and love interests, most of whom have some layers to them. Good examples include Student Council President Shizuru, who seems calm and laid-back but secretly harbors a yandere bent, primary love interest Yuichi Tate, who finds himself trapped both by his own powerlessness and by how deeply he cares for two different girls, and Executive Committee leader Haruka, who initially comes across as loud and obnoxious comic relief, but gradually endears herself to viewers with her genuine care for introverted Student Council secretary Yukino and her indomitable will and bravado.
The plot is also much more involved than it may initially seem. Though there are lighthearted stretches where characters romp through various silly exploits, those incidents are less filler and more levity against a sometimes grim underlying story. The story covers three arcs over its 26-episode run: an introductory part that establishes the cast and initial premise, a middle part that focuses on the activities of the Searrs Foundation, and a final part that delves into the truth behind the HiME. Not everything is fully explained, but enough comes together to mostly make sense of the big picture. Along the way, the identities of various HiME are gradually revealed, periodically revealing themselves as relevant situations arise. None of the reveals should be too surprising, as most are foreshadowed to some extent. However, the foreshadowing is subtle enough in some cases that there are still plenty of surprises on a first viewing.
Throughout the series, various romantic entanglements also percolate until they reach a boiling point, sometimes with explosive results. Thanks to the cast's strong characterization, these relationships avoid descending into melodrama, and most are integral enough to the plot that they're key to the story. Even scenes that could have played out as cheap twists – like the late revelation about why the semi-villainous Nao has such a vicious disposition – can hit hard thanks to the extensive groundwork laid by the series.
There are also neat allusions to literature and mythology. Most of the Child designs and names hearken to various mythologies; for instance, Mai's Child Kagutsuchi has a name steeped in Japanese folklore, and some aspects of his association with Mai tie into those legends. The same can be said for Kiyohime, a Child named for a character from an old Japanese story. Some other Children have less certain connections but are influenced by such diverse sources as Celtic and Sanskrit mythology, or even the novel Anne of Green Gables. I have also seen some speculation that the location of each HiME's mark on her body may be connected to her Zodiac sign, and the name of the series is definitely an exercise in wordplay.
The artistic side of the production effort comes courtesy of Sunrise, and the artistry is generally sharp in major scenes and close-ups, but it can become sloppy in lesser scenes. While the higher video quality of Blu-Ray make that sloppiness much more readily apparent than it was on DVD, but it's par for the course for digipaint series of this era. There are charms to its dated-ness however; if this series was made in 2018 instead, the mechanized Children would probably be done fully in CG instead. Battle scenes pack plenty of flash to be exciting, and while the background artistry isn't stellar, it's certainly adequate. Character designs are refreshingly distinctive, with a wide range of expressive animation given to most characters.
What truly elevates the series from good to great is the powerhouse musical score provided by Yuki Kajiura. The series is awash with the signature sound that she developed through Noir and .hack//SIGN, including a mix of instrumental and electronica themes that give several characters leitmotifs and infuse key action scenes with pulsing beats and dramatic vocals. Contrarily, softer moments get more plaintive and melancholy string or piano numbers, while comedic moments feature mallet instrument-based ditties. Opener “Shining Days” and regular closer “You Were the Sky” get used throughout, with an insert song sung by one character popping up on several occasions in the series' first two arcs.
For this release, Funimation retains the original English dub provided by The Ocean Group, which was recorded at their Blue Water studio. As a result, none of the cast members have extensive anime résumés outside of this franchise; for some, this series and (in most cases) My-Otome are their only anime work. That results in a much more distinctive dub than usual, and mostly not in a bad way. Carol-Anne Day gives a great performance as Mai, fully capturing her character's broad emotional range. Mariette Sluyter also beautifully embodies the wild spirit of Midori, while Melanie Risdon uses a Southern accent to simulate the Kyoto accent for Shizuru. Male performances tend to be weaker on average, with the most problematic being Cole Howard's too-laconic performance as Takumi, but Jordan Schartner does impress in handling Yuichi's deeply conflicted feelings.
This release's Blu-Ray transfer is satisfyingly sharp, a small but definite improvement over the original DVD releases. Funimation's release also carries over the episode-ending character pieces, which can be lighthearted or informative, but they're more commonly poignant character studies mixed with fanservice. Skipping these is not recommended, as they provide valuable insight into various characters that wouldn't fit in the regular episode content. Also included on the final disc are clean theme songs, a clean version of the ending for episode 15, and the Director's Cut for the end of the final episode, which significantly expands on everyone's final fates, making it highly recommended viewing.
Overall, My-HiME is still a sharp series with appeal for a wide range of audiences. Despite being 13 years old, it feels like the kind of story that could be a hit in a 2018 anime. Though the story is complete within this series, those who find themselves wanting more should continue on to My-Otome, which Funimation is also releasing on blu-ray.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Strong and involving cast; well-balanced mix of action, romance, comedy, and drama; powerhouse musical score
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