My-Otome Vol. #2 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, September 04, 2007



What They Say
It's Arika's first day of class and she's determined to start off on the right foot. However, other people within the school have different plans for her...as one of her uniforms ends up for sale in an Otome idol shop. And if Arika and the rest of her friends don't solve the mystery behind her disappearing uniform, she may be forced to leave the school before she learns anything!

However as one culprit is discovered, another mysterious figure will come into Arika's life in the form of an unknown sponsor " someone who will pay for all her school expenses " on the condition that she
writes to him once a week. And she'll have a lot to write about, as Arika and her classmates face off against a phantom presence in the school pool, and discover an ancient power known as the
Harmonium...

The Review!
As more and more coincidences happen regarding Arika on campus, greater mysteries are slowly unearthed about her Blue Sky Sapphire.

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 art for this release is once again pretty solid with a good action pose by Arika in full gear mode while Shuzuru and Natsuki are larger than life in the background. It does keep to the girlish tones with lots of shades of purple but it works well for the material and provides for an attractive cover. 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:
Sometimes the extras delve into territory that's just not right. It doesn't mean I don't want it though, because the far too brief lingerie party that's shown in here just needs to be a full blown episode. Fitting into the events after the episodes on this volume, it's a great mood lightening piece that also just lets the fanservice go wild. In addition to this, there's also a clean version of the ending sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With a complete re-imagining of a series, My-Otome is certainly setting itself up for a lot of trouble as it can easily alienate a large chunk of its fans. Though it is completely different in setting and mood because of how it's being handled, I continue to come away from the series with a smile on my face. The little things that made My-Hime so much fun is still very much present here for me, with the little gags and slowly building plot points, but it's also seeing the new interpretations of the characters that is simply a lot of fun. I mean, how can you not like having Mikoto re-imagined as a chubby cat with serious attitude?

My-Otome is intent on following some of the traditional narrative devices for its early episodes now that the initial setup is all out of the way. With the core characters and setting introduced, we end up going through a series of mildly amusing situations wherein Arika learns what it's really like to be in training as an Otome while making friends and enemies along the way. Her arrival in the academy has not met with universal applause but some people are intent on forcing her out through unsavory means. Some of the girls in the school are easily manipulated, which should disqualify them in the long run, as they're set to small tasks that will undermine Arika. Whether it's secretly selling off her uniform to get her in trouble or using other means to take advantage of her weaknesses, Arika is put through a lot of trouble here.

Where Arika does gain a bit of help is in that she has a new mysterious sponsor. Having this person formally sponsor her, with approval from Natsuki, gives her a bit more leverage in staying in the academy. The only part of the deal that Arika has to uphold is to write weekly letters to whoever it is with updates on how her time at the academy is going. This is a simple plot device that does help to flesh things out a bit. It lets the writers use it either at the start or end of episode to bring about either a new plot point to deal with or closure for another. As simple as it may be, it is effective even if a bit treadworn among some recent series. Arika gets to have some fun scenes with it as she struggles to find the right voice to use for her mysterious benefactor and just what it is she should write about.

As much fun and lighthearted moments as there are in the first few episodes, the series does start moving towards the serious again as it goes along. What looks to be another part of the larger picture takes shape here as Mashiro and Arika end up forced together through amusing circumstances caused by Nagi. The castle that Mashiro calls home is big enough to begin with but when the two of them stumble into a hidden door, they discover a massive underground section that goes back a couple hundred years. What's down there is something that puts the entire country at risk when the pair activate it without realizing it. There are hints of something larger from all of it, but the short term is that Mashiro and Arika end up forming a contract under the Blue Sky Sapphire. This brings in a good bit of variety to the situation as it gives Arika seemingly unlimited powers to go with her unlimited confidence.

As the series expands its scope, the cast last is getting a bit more detailed as well. Arika and Nina continue to be used the most but there is more time given to some of the friends that Arika makes early on here, such as Erstin and Irina. Erstin in particular is fun since she has a bit of a crush on Nina and is getting a bit bold about revealing some of it to her through amusing circumstances. Irina is a bit of a poor character in that she's used often to bring about more unusual devices for everyone to play off of. Shiho has grown into a bit more of a vicious character through some of the things she does in this volume, but her water snakes are something that you can forgive her for considering how sexual they make the scene where they attack Nina.

In Summary:
Though it doesn't have quite the same charm and intriguing aspects as the My-Hime series, the second installment of the series has cemented it for me as something I'm going to enjoy quite a lot. A bit lighter in nature with an attitude of fun about it, My-Otome is running through the standard plot points early on here as it expands on the characters and settings. The bigger picture has been making an appearance in small ways throughout as well. While it's plainly obvious what some of these elements will revolve around, the overall production values and the fun script work to make it fun and interesting to watch. Though My-Otome likely won't work quite as well as My-Hime did, this is the last volume where I'll really be making any serious comparisons between the two. My-Otome has to stand on its own and the show has been doing quite a good job doing just that.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Otome Lingerie Party

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: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: My-Otome