Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 26th 2007
On the planet Earl the Otome are female warriors dedicated to keeping the peace and protecting leaders and nobility. Enhanced to superhuman abilities by otherwise-lost technology of a past era, they form a pact with the one they protect in order to release their full powers. Fourteen-year-old Arika Yumemiya has long aspired to become one (in part because the only thing she knows about her mother is that she was one herself), so upon the death of her grandmother she crosses the desert to the Windbloom Kingdom to attend Garderobe Academy, the training grounds for prospective Otome. Her backwoods upbringing soon proves a hindrance, but helping to save a petulant princess from a giant mechanized warrior reveals her latent Otome powers and earns her a chance to gain admittance – if only she can defeat Nina Wang, the top current Otome student in her grade level, in a head-to-head battle to honor the coronation of said princess. And since she has no sponsor, what is she going to do about those massive school fees?
The full title used for the English release – My-Z-Hime: My-Otome – and the listing of My-Otome as only a subtitle on the volume cover may lead some to believe that My-Otome is a direct sequel to, or spin-off of, the original My-HiME. Based on the first volume alone, it instead appears to be a completely unrelated story set in an alternate universe where many of the faces, names, and relationships may look and sound familiar to fans of My-HiME, but the circumstances and (in some cases) personalities are markedly different. It also centers on a character who made only the briefest of cameo appearances at the end of the final episode of the original series. Mai, the heroine of the original, has yet to make an appearance as of the end of episode 4, although glimpses of her can be caught in the preview for episode 5 and the opener's visuals.
Because the story does, so far, stand alone, a viewer need not be at all familiar with My-HiME to understand this generic tale of a girl discovering her latent power and setting herself up to be trained as a quasi-mystical warrior, a premise whose execution mixes elements of magical girl and shonen action series. Nothing that goes on in the first four episodes will strike any veteran anime fan as boldly new or different, except perhaps for the inventiveness of Arika's makeshift dress in episode 2. An immature silliness pervades much of the content, which also throws in a bit of mystery, some sentimental recollections, and flashy battle scenes, but again, none of it offers anything excitingly new. Nor are any of the new characters likely to endear themselves to the viewer; Arika is, in fact, gratingly annoying a lot of the time, Nina has yet to show much of a personality beyond her intense dedication, and none of the other newcomers have had enough screen time to make much of a presence. And let's not forget the utter randomness of the naming conventions. Titles of the style used for the Meister Otome sounded cool in Shakugan no Shana but prove cumbersome here, and who outside of Mel Brooks would name an enemy organization Schwartz, anyway? Not exactly an intimidating moniker.
So what makes the first volume worth seeing? It does at least partly achieve the balance of action, humor, and light drama that made the original series so entertaining to watch, and it offers more fan service in its episode content than the original. It also comes up with an amusing technical reason why the Otome candidates cannot be male, and why they cannot have relations with males without losing their powers. (The nanomachines which give the Otome their abilities do not react well to the Y chromosome and certain chemicals generated by the male body.)
The main selling point, though, is the series' true fan service: getting to see many of the students and HiME you remember from the original series in new roles. Some of the characters have remained essentially unchanged; Haruka gets to be empowered this time but is otherwise still Haruka and still Shizuru's bitter rival, for instance, but in this case she is working for President Yukino rather than the other way around. Other characters see more significant changes. Natsuki is the Headmistress of Garderobe with Shizuru at her side, Nagi is a Grand Duke, the Duke's right-hand man looks a lot like Yuichi, Shiho, Akane, and Nao are second-year Garderobe students, and so forth. In an especially entertaining (but appropriate) twist the catty Mikoto is now an actual cat, but otherwise the most dramatic change involves Mashiro, who has turned from the gentle, crippled Headmistress into a bratty, obnoxious, and immature princess/Queen. Also watch for subtle touches which imply the original character's nature, such as the title of the book Nao has draped over her face when she trips Arika in episode 2.
The artistry emphasizes the pretty, detailed background art that was a highlight of the original series but fails to achieve the same standard with its characters. Although it retains the same styles of character and monster designs seen in the original, the designs are often rougher and simpler and quality control completely falls apart in places. Day-to-day costuming for the Otome seems designed to exploit rampant maid fetishes, and while the battle outfits for the Meister Otome do look sharp, their equivalents for the younger students look like someone tried to style a magical girl outfit as professional bikers' apparel. By contrast, the bustiers worn by some of the younger professional women look a little too sexy to be believably professional. One also has to wonder what was being implied by the “groin blaster” used by one of the Slaves (read: Orphans) seen in episode 1, as it is difficult to watch that sequence and not read something else into it. Fans of the original series should enjoy seeing the designs of prominent characters from the original aged anywhere from a couple to several years, however. For additional odd visual effects, watch Arika's highly expressive pigtails carefully. Animation quality is at its best in the CG displays of energy blasts, and at its worst in one scene where Shizuru walks in such a way that she would have to be stepping on her own feet, but normally it is unremarkable.
The musical score mixes a few entirely new themes with others that bear a very similar sound and flow to those used in the original series. Lightly jazzy themes energized with pounding beats intermingle with dramatic arias and playful orchestrated tunes to form the core, while a melancholy insert song sung by different characters in a few different scenes provides a nice change of pace. It isn't Yuji Kujiara's best work, but it does not detract or falter, either. The somewhat catchy closer is a stereotypical upbeat J-pop number, while the J-pop opener is unlikely to impress.
As with the first series, Bandai Entertainment has again called on Ocean Productions/Ocean Group to do the English dub, and they have brought back nearly all of the My-HiME cast whose roles have gotten carried over so far. Amongst prominent new roles, Angie Beers (Mika in Doki Doki School Hours) as Arika gets the style and tone right in a performance that may remind some of Tiffany Grant's rendition of Asuka in Neon Genesis Evangelion but often comes across as too loud. In fact, that is an annoyingly common problem throughout the English dub, especially also with Mashiro. Ms. Beers does, however, at least slightly outdo her Japanese counterpart when called on to sing. On the whole the dub lacks the weak and inconsistent performances which plagued the dub of the original, and the comparative loudness of the dub is a benefit in a couple of scenes where the Japanese dialog is too soft to make out but still significant. And, naturally, some of the English-sounding names which are clumsy to pronounce in Japanese sound much better when spoken in English. The English script sticks fairly tight to the subtitles, with the insert song remarkably following the translation of the original word-for-word.
Unlike the original series, where the bulk of the Extras were tacked on to the end of each episode, the first volume of this one offers two colorful items in its Extras submenu. The first purports to be a trailer for a My-HiME movie, but anyone who has seen the original series should quickly come to understand that it is instead a parody piece. (The question mark in the title should also be a dead giveaway.) The second, “This Week's Armitage,” is a parody of a brief promotional piece that might be seen during an episode-ending commercial break on Japanese TV. It plays like an Aries government-sponsored look at the Aries national hero Brigadier (Meister Otome) Haruka Armitage and her exploits during the episode 3-4 transition scene. Oddly, none of the menu screens have musical themes. Those buying the Special Edition version will get a box done in the exact same style as the one available with the final volume of My-HiME, but with a blue instead of maroon color.
Although it may shares styles and some of its cast with its originator My-HiME, the first volume of this alternate reality variation falls short in many categories. While not bad, its fan service – especially in its homages to the original series – is its primary attraction.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Reprises of characters from My-HiME in different roles.
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