My-Otome Vol. #1 (also w/limited edition) (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, July 26, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2007



What They Say
They possess the powers of a lost era, serving as the peacekeepers and protectors of the numerous kingdoms on the planet Earl; they are the Otome. And for Arika Yumemiya, the dream of becoming a Meister Otome has brought her through the desert to the Windbloom Kingdom where she hopes to train at the prestigious Garderobe Academy.

However, gaining admittance the Academy won't be as easy as she thinks it is. Not only will she find herself rescuing the soon-to-be-Queen of the Kingdom, fending off a giant mechanized warrior, and discovering her latent powers as an Otome, she'll also have to win a battle against an established Otome in order to be admitted. And even if she makes it in, how is she going to pay those school fees?

The Review!
The cast of My-Hime returns in an alternate world retelling of the story with plenty of differences but much the same charm.

Audio:
The bilingual presentation of this series is pretty well done as each language track features a solid stereo mix done at 224 kbps. The show has a good mix of action sequences alongside the dialogue while also featuring a very enjoyable Yuki Kajiura score that is nicely expansive. The mix overall comes across well as it handles each of the elements without problems across the forward soundstage. It may lack a bit of oomph and impact in some of the bigger action scenes but it's a solid piece overall. We didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Similar to the My-Hime series, the show has a strong visual sense of color with lots of bold bright colors that stand out but don't dominate overall. The combination of this with some very fluid animation could be problematic but everything comes together in a solid way without any real issues at all. Aliasing and cross coloration is generally non-existent and colors are very solid throughout with hardly any significant noise or noticeable blocking. With an average bitrate in the sevens with lots of spikes into the eights, this is a great looking disc overall that really lets the content shine.

Packaging:
The cover artwork for the first volume does a good job of highlighting three of the primary characters the series deals with as it features Mashiro, Nina and Arika in decent psoes without all that much skin or fanservice really being applied. With a fairly bland background to it, the character designs get to stand out more which is certainly part of the appeal. There's bound to be confusion with the series logo though as it's highlighting the My-Hime aspect more than the My Otome part but that's just part and parcel with how the series was created. The back cover has a good design overall with some of the symbols from the show containing artwork and the summary of what to expect. The discs features are clearly listed as are the episode numbers and titles. Technical information continues to be one of the weakest parts of Bandai's packaging as you have no clue as to what to really expect either in terms of audio or video. No insert is included with this release nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
Considering how bad the initial menus were for My-Hime, these come across pretty well even if they are simple. A static image of the characters is through the center while brightly colored red and blue borders are around it which also contains the various selections. No music is associated with the menus though which gives it an even more basic feel. Access times are nice and fast and with no transitional animations it all moves about very quickly. The disc did not read our players' language presets unfortunately and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
A couple of extras have made their way onto the first volume which are fun to watch. The first is a "fake" trailer for a My-Hime movie which mixes characters from both series in a retelling of the original. The other is a fun comedic piece entitled, "This Week's Armitage" which covers Haruka from a news perspective. It does a nice take on some of the events she's been involved with using some mild character humor and awkward situations.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Something that's been very appealing over the course of my reading lifespan is the idea of alternate worlds, parallel worlds and retellings in a different vein. Having grown up on DC Comics books and being part of their big Crisis on Infinite Earths gig back in the 80's, there is something that is just inherently appealing about seeing a familiar set of characters acting in a different way or in completely different settings. Used as a device in many science fiction TV series and handled in a very thorough way in Stephen Baxter's Manifold series, it's very rarely used in the anime and manga world outside of the occasional standalone episode.

After the successful run of My-Hime, Sunrise went and created the My-Otome series which is a full length twenty-six episode series that reworks the entire franchise. Though not entirely clear in these first episodes that it takes place on either another planet with people descended from Earth or an alternate future/past world, the main cast is made up of the original cast from My-Hime and placed in new situations. New characters are heavily brought into it as well, both in the form of the ostensible lead Arika as well as the other various Otome's in the academy. There's a bit of an overload with characters, mostly if you're familiar with the cast from My-Hime, but it handles the premise very well.

Taking place fourteen years after an attack on the castle in the land of Wind Bloom which resulted in the disappearance of the princess with her Blue Sky Sapphire, a young woman believed to be the princess is about to be crowned queen. Mashiro is young and impetuous with a belief that her way is the only way and she has a kingdom at her beck and call to back it up. Not surprisingly, the coronation is the kind of event where things seem to coalesce around. One such event is the arrival of a young woman from the fringes named Arika who has come both in search of her mother as well as to become an Otome herself. Naturally, she ends up caught up in numerous events that are swirling around and finds herself closely attached to some of the key cast members.

Arriving when different sects are intent on disrupting the coronation, Arika finds herself meeting up with a young woman named Nina who is the leading Otome candidate. The two certainly don't get along well, mostly because Nina has no interest in her and Arika has all sorts of interest in Nina, but they find that they come together for the same cause, such as when the discover that Mashiro is sneaking out of the castle and being hunted down by someone. The first four episodes cover a rash of events that almost seem to be too much but fit in when you consider the arrival of numerous nations and representatives for Mashiro's coronation. The fast pace, fluid animation and quick dialogue keeps it all flowing along wonderfully as we're immersed in what this world is like.

The most amusing part is the concept of the Otome's themselves, which is similar enough to the Hime's from My-Hime. The academy, with Natsuki as headmistress, trains candidates that are sponsored by individuals or nations to become Otome's that protect the one they're assigned to. This isn't a simple thing as each pairing is done for life and the Otome and her partner end up sharing things such as illness and pain. The advantage for the non-Otome is that they have someone that is sensitive to their needs and can defend them with incredible powers. For the Otome, there is a sense of justice that motivates them to do this but they pay a heavy price. The nanomachines which help them utilizes their gifts can be lost easily if they have sexual contact with a man as something in their chromosomes can disable the nanomachines. Similar to the previous series, this provides plenty of yuri-like implications but also heavily pushes the virginal state of the Otome's.

My-Otome has a real hurdle to overcome and that's to be able to tell a story that's not dependent on knowing the previous series. For people going fresh into the series, I think they'll be able to handle it better than those coming in with the history of My-Hime. I found myself spending more time trying to figure out who became who in this new variation and wondering where certain characters are that haven't been introduced yet. There is also a good deal of similarity between some character designs which can throw you off as well. All in all though, My-Otome presents a strong show on its own without the need for the original. Though it's reworking the concept of the original, it brings in so much new material and new ideas that it doesn't feel like a retread.

In Summary:
A full on re-imagining of the original series in a new setting with lots of new characters, My-Otome achieves what it sets out to do by providing a solidly engaging series without feeling like we've seen it all before. The solid designs are continued on with here with some mild tweaks and plenty of new characters as well. Combine that with the new costume designs and location settings and the show has plenty of new things to offer as well. My-Otome provides much the same slick and polished feel as the original but also with a bit of a lighter atmosphere to it as well as being a bit faster moving in terms of plot. This looks to be a very enjoyable interpretation of the franchise and worth checking out if you're familiar or new to the entire thing.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,This Weeks Armitage Animated Short,My-Hime The Movie Short,LE: Premium Art Box,LE: Cell-Phone Strap

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.98/49.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: My-Otome