My-Otome Vol. #4 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, January 14, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, January 08, 2008



What They Say
A sudden change in Arika has got her friends worried! The usually upbeat Otome-in-training seems to have lost her luster, lost her appetite and started long bouts of deep thinking! Truly, she's begun to show signs of unusual behavior!

With her sudden realization of feelings for a certain major, Arika is faced with a life changing decision. What does her future hold in store? Will it be the fate of an Otome or the love of her life? On the other side of the world a massive explosion rocks the planet Earl as two Meister Otome face off in an unsanctioned no-holds-barred dance battle!

The Review!
The larger storyline starts to build up a bit more as the world stage is given more time and we see the Otome's place in it.

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 fourth installment of the series serves up a good looking cover once again, as it gives us more of the secondary characters in varying outfits, from the battle uniform, school uniform and the maid piece. 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 series of brief clips runs through the center while brightly colored red and blue borders are around it which also contains the various selections. Unlike the previous volumes there's now a bit of instrumental music that plays along to give it a bit more life. 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:
The extras are similar to the previous installments as we get a clean version of the second opening sequence and something else. We also get a new six minute anime extra called Beyond the Crimson Sky as we see what really happens after Kazu and Akane head off for the sexual bliss. It's very cute, very entertaining and the kind of wacky yet in character short that really enhances the show overall.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The fourth volume of My-Otome is one that has suffered at the hands of replication as it appears that a good percentage of the run are unplayable to some extent. As review copies are spotty from Bandai Entertainment, we didn't find out about this directly until our purchased copies came in just before street date. This release is plagued in a strange way in that the extras are unplayable as is the fourth episode. Some sleuthing by the more technical members of our readership discovered that the second layer of the DVD is essentially unplayable, and that's where those particular parts of the release reside.

Of the three episodes we could watch here, My-Otome moves in some positive directions albeit in a slow manner. The design of the series with its worldwide use of Otome's as a way to maintain the peace gives it a really good feeling, but the issues of it haven't been shown much. An Otome's place in that world is largely to represent their country and serve it and their master. Much must be given up in order to do that and there are consequences should Otome's actually engage in battle with each other. Both of these issues crop up during the first three episodes which gives us an idea of how it could play out. It also provides something new and dangerous for the rest of the Otome's in training to think about as their friends now start taking on a different light.

A good chunk of this volume revolves a bit around the character of Miya, one of Arika's classmates who is actually quite high in the class in regards to her abilities. She's been told for a long time that she has the potential to be the best and that her only goal in life should be to become an Otome and serve her country. Her will is weak now however as she has fallen in love with a man from her country and he's begun pressuring her for more than the light flirtations they can get away with. Her desire to be an Otome is strong and likewise he cannot give up his dreams for her either. They have time on their side though as she hasn't graduated yet, but that disappears in a puff of smoke when the Otome of her country decides to retire to become the wife of someone. It's almost ironic that she has to give up what she wants so that another Otome can't get the same thing.

Another piece of the Otome puzzle that's given a bit more light this time around happens when two countries have a small skirmish that goes too far by bringing in their Otome to deal with it. While nobody is killed, the idea of having the two Otome fight each other has many people on edge since it's been nearly fifty years since it last happened. Part of the appeal for many citizens is that they believe that since Otome all train and school together, there would be more restraint should they actually come upon each other. After seeing the numerous mock and graduation battles that occur, it's not hard to see why they think that. Yet if they just remember their own school days and the cliques and competitiveness that forms from it, it would be more apparent that there is a lot more potential for things to go wrong because of the system.

No volume would be complete without Arika in some form or another and these episodes don't disappoint. If there was any doubt about her lineage in the previous installments, it gets cleared up nicely by Sergay in this volume as he continues to work to uncover the truth of it all. This is more just in the background than anything else right now, but it solidifies what he's believed for some time and puts him into a state of conflict about what he's really doing in working with Nagi. For Arika herself, times are challenging as she watches Miya face difficult choices in love as well as hearing that Otome have been fighting each other. The manipulation she's suffering from reach a new level as well as a group of thugs have been hired to capture and rape her, thereby removing the potential for becoming an Otome. It's certainly an effective measure to take though it does bring in a bit of "adult" distaste for what is otherwise a very light and fun show.

In initially watching this release, the disc was faulty (as was just about every copy put to market) and we couldn't see the last episode. This was definitely unfortunate when we finally get around to seeing it with a replacement sent to us by Bandai Entertainment as it throws the flow of the show. The last episode on the disc ups the ante in the storytelling by setting Arika and Nina on the path for their fight between the Coral and Pearl for the graduation ceremony while also increasing the danger that the pair faces from the forces that want them removed. Tomoe's attempt is so incredibly blatant even for her at this point that it's surprising that it happens but really shows just how important it is that they two be removed.

In Summary:
With the show this far in now, I've basically moved past any comparisons to the original and am just enjoying it for what it is. The darkness level is steadily increasing and the larger background plot is getting more time as well which gives it all a lot more cohesion. This volume does a good job in moving it forward and really setting Arika's place in things with how it will proceed forward. It's still hard to say, but I'm starting to suspect that this will be my more favored series of the two when all is said and done. In just dropping into this release again for the last episode on the disc, I was reminded instantly of why this show is so much fun. With good looking animation, designs and a sense of fun that fits well with the darker themes, My Otome just hits it right time after time for me.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening #2, Beyond the Crimson Sky

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
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: My-Otome