Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 23rd 2007
Arika has finally made it into Garderobe and is fast making friends, but she is without any familial or government support to pay for her tuition. It is with this hanging over her that her school uniform is discovered—sold to an unscrupulous shop that barters in Otome memorabilia. The rumors fly, and Arika must face the ill will of her classmates in order to come to the truth. Afterwards, Shiho maki-maki's her vengeance on Arika and Nina at the school pool, an act with consequences that even she may not be able to control. And then Mashiro and Arika meet up while Arika is working part-time on the construction crew that is repairing Mashiro's castle. When Arika accidentally discovers Mashiro's secret insecurities, the two form a prickly friendship, one that might be all that can protect them when they discover a mysterious device under the castle and are cornered by one of the Schwarz.
If anime shows were sodas, then My-Otome would be My-Hime Lite. A reasonable simulacrum of the original, just minus what little substance it had and not quite as tasty. Where My-Hime excelled by expertly blending its various elements—comedy, angst, melodrama, romance and violence—and building its cast and plot with subtle yet razor-sharp precision during its generic light-entertainment opening, My-Otome is too sloppy and slight to transcend its similarly generic setup.
It is following the same basic formula, however. Peppy yet vulnerable lead, school setting full of rivalries, an unknown destiny, vast conspiracies and spectacular battles. Even at its silliest, it works in vital details, and is populated with a vast cast of well-designed characters. There's even some playful shoujo-ai thrown in. And yet the series lacks the edge of genuine darkness that haunted the fringes of even My-Hime's most frivolous episodes. It rarely deigns to delve into the darker and uglier emotions of its cast, and as a result the interpersonal drama lacks impact. Arika's mix of energy and fragility is neither as convincing, nor as affecting as Mai's was, and the relationships are neither as complex nor as intense as they should be—especially Arika and Nina's incredibly pedestrian rivalry. Even the shoujo-ai, couched in madness and murderous obsession in the original, is merely jokey and titillating here.
There are plenty of hints dropped in these early episodes as to the bigger picture, but instead of unforgiving personal revelations built on subtle glances and almost imperceptible shifts in behavior, we get what appear to be plot revelations built on flashbacks and worn hints about the true identity of the princess. And if the quality of the plotting thus far is any indicator, the potential for those future developments isn't exactly good. The solution to Arika's financial problems is torn straight from the pages of Daddy Long Legs, and the show even dredges the tentacle monster up from the dank pit of 80's hentai that it had been (rightfully) consigned to years before.
On the upside, the fights—goofy pseudo-maid outfits notwithstanding—are still solidly executed, and there's something weirdly but powerfully cool about the Otome's transformation sequences and combat techniques. And if the drama is merely passable—the Mashiro/Arika relationship being the only sporadically interesting development this volume—the humor is generally pretty successful, if not stunningly so. Of course, we're also treated to the sight of fan-favorite characters living under kinder circumstances, most with their quirks and even their hard edges still intact. Nao proves that she's a powerful ally when under the proper control, Shizuru and Natsuki's comfortable partnership is just plain nice, and bit players are crawling all over the production like ants at a picnic. Heck, Mikoto even manages to graduate from cat to mysterious black silhouette and Mai shows up...as a mushroom (and, if you have sharp enough eyes, as a picture at the Backstage shop). Ultimately though, the power of the returning cast simply serves to highlight how weak the new cast is. And there's no Haruka this volume. Dammit.
Production values are still on the high end of normal. Most of the animation is perfectly satisfactory, excelling mostly during close-ups of characters' faces. The use of unusually mobile facial expressions persists, but is generally used to more humorous ends (particularly in the case of Shiho). Action scenes are quick and beefed up with their share of shortcuts. They benefit greatly from higher-quality animation during more complex actions, as well as sharp editing, cannily used digital effects, the seamless integration of Yuki Kajiura's excellent score, and an eye for high-impact compositions and movement. The character designs emphasize round-faced cuteness, but have lost none of the original's feel for striking hair-and-eye color combinations, nor the pervasive fan-service. The character designs held over from My-Hime are as stunning as ever, and the settings are rendered with the same detail and care. Kajiura's score is her usual blend of guitars, orchestral pieces, and haunting vocals—used with care and sometimes sly knowing.
Thankfully the dub for My-Otome isn't quite as weak as that for My-Hime. It retains some of that dub's better traits, especially the lower, more natural register for the female performances and Shizuru's light drawl. Perhaps Mashiro sounds a little too old, but that's a small price to pay for dodging the unnatural squeakfest this might otherwise have become. The acting is still rather spotty, but the weaker scenes are less noticeable and less frequent, and the actors seem to be getting comfortable with their roles. It is however, missing any strong central performances, and it's hard to shake the sneaking suspicion that the poor acting is less noticeable simply because the series doesn't require as much from its performers.
Of interest, extras-wise, is a funny, fan-service saturated short detailing the price Nao demands in return for her assistance.
On its merits alone, My-Otome stands as slight, fun entertainment, on which level it generally works well. Given how closely the show is cleaving to the formula laid out by My-Hime, there really shouldn't be any doubt that there will be a sharp shift in tone approximately halfway through. That shift, however, will be built on what happens here and as such, its success is less than certain. With any luck it will succeed, and will do so before entirely expending what promise it still has.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Mixes mild adventure and humor well; good fights.
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