Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 12th 2008
As the Schwartz attack Windbloom City in earnest, Headmistress Natsuki activates all of the Otome and personally leads the defense of Garderobe, while Arika defends Queen Mashiro. The forces of Aswald also make their move and one of the Otome reveals her long-planned betrayal, but the arrival of Artai's military and Duke Nagi's revelation that he is behind it all, accompanied by a great tragedy, is the final blow. Forced into hiding in the wake of the take-over of Windbloom, Mashiro comes to appreciate for the first time just how much her citizens hate her and gets a lesson in what it really means to be a good leader, while Arika finds some unlikely new allies and discovers more of the unsettling truth behind the Otome. Meanwhile Natsuki makes a personal appeal for foreign aid, Miyu reappears, and Nina entrusts her loyalty to Grand Duke Nagi by becoming his Meister Otome, the wielder of the Ultimate Black Diamond - for better or worse.
Although its earliest episodes were of questionable quality, My-Otome always remained at least moderately entertaining. Somewhere along the line its story started to get good, with its merits truly starting to show in volume 4. With volume 5, which spans episodes 17-20 of 26, the series hits full stride. Major developments abound as the core of the overall plot comes to the surface, providing four full episodes of entertainment goodness. Action, betrayal, tragedy, scheming, dark revelations, hard-learned lessons, and just a touch of comedy - what more could you ask for?
Actually a viewer might hope for some improvements in the artistry, but the series established early on that, while it might have its moments, a consistently refined look and top-caliber animation were not going to be among its strengths. The Aswald cyborgs utterly fail to impress and, in some cases, look rather dorky, and designs for minor supporting characters continue to have a basic, ill-developed roughness to them. Even main characters sometimes look a bit rough, but background art is still solid and key scenes still impress. Regrettably the series is rarely at is best visually, but that should not detract much from appreciating the story content.
And these episodes offer a lot to appreciate. Rarely are protagonist queens or princesses shown being so thoroughly despised as what Mashiro is in My-Otome, which makes episode 18, which focuses on Mashiro's exposure to how much her subjects hate her, so remarkable. She may have looked liked an annoyingly immature throwaway character early on, but recent developments have shaped her more into a very flawed individual clearly too young and inexperienced to be a proper leader, too spoiled and self-centered to realize how poorly she was behaving, and weighted by the gnawing insecurity that she was never the proper heir. In other words, she has actually become an interesting main character rather than just a tedious distraction.
Nina and Arika both have their own further development in the wake of the climatic events at the end of episode 17, though less dramatically so than with Mashiro. Through Arika's eyes we learn more of the truth behind the seminal attack on Windbloom Castle 15 years earlier and some of the biggest and darkest secrets behind the power of the Otome. Nina's course, meanwhile, includes more of a look at her past and an almost desperate need for acceptance even as she undertakes a vastly greater responsibility. Other characters get their turns, too, including Tomoe, who shows where her priorities truly lie; the content here strongly hints at the real reasons behind her scheming in earlier episodes. The revelation of who the traitor is in Garderobe may also surprise many viewers, although her ultimate role was at least vaguely hinted at in earlier episodes. Miyu also returns for another appearance, while Midori takes on a more prominent role as the Aswald step up and other sundry Otome make their own guest shots. Nagi, as expected for anyone who followed My-HiME, reveals himself to be every bit the schemer that he was in that series, while Sergey still displays his mixed loyalties.
For all the serious content and plot development, this volume does find at least some opportunities for humor and fan service. Haruka's behavior and some of Natsuki's post-take-over experiences are good for a chuckle or two, while Shiho is still up to her usual antics despite the crisis. Both of the short omake (i.e. bonus animation) Extras - “Graduation Picture” and “In the Aswald Village” - also offer sputter-inducing moments of eye-popping silliness and naughtiness in looking at untold events that happened amidst the regular animation.
Yuki Kajiura's musical scores tend to work best enhancing hyped-up dramatics, and this volume offers a wealth of excellent opportunities for it to strut its stuff. The musically unremarkable second opener and original closer remain. Some may still find the voice of Arika to be a little irritating in English, but Kate Rowan is at her best as Mashiro through this stretch (which, admittedly, isn't saying much) and none of the other performances disappoint much; Barb Mitchell may even be a slight improvement over the original as Miss Maria, whose title remains intact through translation. The English script does not vary a lot through this span, although it strains to deal with the “don't call me Nina anymore, I'm not a kid” issue in episode 20.
The revelations in these episodes require some earlier content to be regarded in a new light, especially the significances of Arika and Nina both knowing different verses for the same song. Combined with the high-powered action, the scheming, and the character development, fans of the series should find this volume to be the most exciting and satisfying one yet, with its end only leaving the viewer anticipating the next volume.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Lots of story development, excellent music.
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