Do screeners really sway critics to giving positive reviews? Is this the end of an era? Why can't you see the dub of Blue Dragon anywhere? And why are late night anime selling more on Blu-ray?
Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 21st 2006
Reito invites Mai on a date to the annual Tamayura Festival, a popular Fuka event commemorating legendary Battle Princesses and traditionally focused on lovers, and Mai runs out of excuses for turning him down. Shiho also decides it's time to make her move on Yuichi, but Yuichi's growing attraction to Mai gets in the way. Any hope for proper resolution is scuttled when the Searrs Foundation, led by the fake HiME Alyssa Searrs and her loyal companion Miyu, invade the Academy with the intent of seizing the HiME. With the students being held hostage as the HiME are sought out, the remaining seven known HiME assemble to strike back at the attackers and free the students, while Akira secretly helps in her own way. Even after that matter is resolved, though, the respite is brief, for as the HiME start to bond a new challenge with potentially devastating consequences arises.
In some senses episodes 13-16 compose the most dramatic and dynamic content in the series to date, as the romantic battle lines are finally clearly drawn and the subplot involving the Searrs Foundation comes to a crescendo, an event which gives Miyu, Alyssa, and all of the known HiME an opportunity to show off their stuff. It also includes significant character development and one of the more touching sequences in the series to date, and not from the source you'd expect. By the time it's done a couple of characters who hadn't seemed especially likeable before may arouse much greater sympathy.
In other senses, though, it's a somewhat frustrating volume, as the actions of the Searrs Foundation seem uncharacteristically bold and rash for an organization apparently willing to allow centuries for a plan to come to fruition. The awkward transition between episodes 15 and 16 is a bigger trouble spot, as it feels like the writers couldn't come up with a decent logical progression for how a character apparently lost at the end of 15 winds up back in the story at the beginning of 16 as if nothing happened, so they didn't bother to try to explain it. Also missing is the revelation of any of the remaining three unrevealed HiME or any substantial hints as to who they are, but ten episodes still remain so that isn't a big deal yet.
Volume four also represents a transition point for the series. It begins with a self-aware comment by one character about how everything so far has just felt like preliminaries and ends with a pair of cliffhangers, one of which is relatively minor and could easily be anticipated but one which is not. With the Searrs Foundation subplot wrapping up, it's time to push on to the subplot that will carry the series to its conclusion, and the surprising and dramatic second cliffhanger promises that it will be anything but tame. The ramping up of the romantic entanglements also ensures some juicy interpersonal issues are yet to come.
Despite leaning in a more serious direction, My-HiME still resists the urge to become too serious. The cosplay karaoke session by the HiME after the Searrs Foundation battles are over allows for a fun-to-watch bonding experience, Midori is as childlike and clueless as ever, and other characters used in the past for comic relief remain true to their natures even in the face of crisis.
The occasional bits of fan service present in previous volumes are almost completely absent in the regular episodes, however, and even the extras tagged on to the end of each episode, which were traditionally laden with fan service in earlier volumes, are much more sparse this time around as they explore more serious subject matter, such as Yuichi's growing feelings for Mai and the relationship between Miyu and Alyssa. The only other extras on the volume are company trailers and a textless version of the alternate closer for episode 15, which like the normal closer is shown only with original Japanese credits. (The English credits, as before, come at the end of the volume.)
The combat scenes offer up enough flashiness to make things entertaining to watch, at times the artwork is really sharp, and Mai still looks really good regardless of whether she's in school uniform, a yukata, or cosplay outfit. Even Shihu finally finds a look that's appealing on her. On other occasions the character designs looks rougher and background/foreground integration is also sometimes a problem, which contribute to artistry that is generally good but uneven in quality. The animation relies too much on cut scenes to be considered good and isn't especially fluid, and some of the action scenes are almost crude – but in at least one case it's possible that was done intentionally. Regardless, the animation is unquestionably the weakest production aspect in this volume.
Contrarily, the musical score is at its best here. Some may lament the nearly incomprehensible “Engrish” of Alyssa's theme song, but its base melody is still a great tune which becomes a recurring musical theme throughout the first three episodes. A solid new rock number highlights a key action sequence, and at least four new songs are offered, most of them during the karaoke episode. Returning themes are also well-used, making the soundtrack the volume's greatest highlight.
The English dub in this volume is as uneven as the artistry. Wendy Morrison unquestionably improves on the original performance of Alyssa Sears by making her sound more expressive and age-appropriate, Carol-Ann Day does a fine job of making the role of Mai her own, and excellent vocal matches can be heard in the roles of Midori, Miyu, and several others. That Ocean Group's Blue Waters Studios has pulled in a lot of new and relatively inexperienced talent for the expansive cast of this dub shows in weaker performances of some other roles, most notably the headmaster and the too-hesitant-sounding Takumi. The English script and the good vocal aspects are good enough that it can't be called a bad dub overall, but it's not likely to satisfy those who aren't already dub fans.
The drawing power of My-HiME has always rested on the appeal of its chief heroine and a nice blend of action, romance, mystery, and comedy mixed with just a bit of fan service, and that hasn't changed. Its artistic, technical, and storytelling merits may not be on par with top-tier titles, but it's still one of the more entertaining series out there.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Good musical score, good balance of various story elements.
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