Fuka Academy holds a secret - it's the gathering point for girls with the power to control powerful creatures, and Mai Tokiha's about to discover she also has that power. But what are they being brought together to do? Watch My-HiME and find out...
What They Say:
Before coming to the Fuka Academy, all Mai Tokiha wanted was to live an ordinary high school life, but that’s the last thing she’s going to get. It turns out that Mai is a HiME, one of twelve girls with supernatural powers that are gathered at this school to fight the Orphans, demons that dwell around the school. A secret organization has other plans for the HiME than just demon-busting and Mai and the other HiME will have to risk something precious to protect the ones they love.
What We Say:
Audio for this set is provided in both English and Japanese stereo versions – as usual, I listened to the Japanese track for this review. There's good use made of the sound stage for effects and background sound, particularly during action scenes, while dialogue for the most part is fixed to the centre channel. Music tends to feature quite heavily during battle scenes and adds to the atmosphere without getting to the point where it drowns out other sounds. There were no obvious problems.
Originally released in 2004, this is a 1.33:1 full-frame series. As for most Sunrise series, production values are quite high and the show mostly just looks great, with plenty of vibrant colours, background detail and fluid animation. The transfer seems to be free of any problems
The set comes packaged in a 'brick' keepcase, with the seven discs held by retainers on the inner front and rear covers and a 'floppy' holder inside. Discs overlap while on their holders, so getting the one you want out isn't always straightforward. The front cover features Mai, flanked by Mikoto and Natsuki and set against a distant fire; the rear cover features another image of the three girls, along with the usual promotional blurb, technical information and episode listing. Not the best-looking of sets, but practical and won't take up too much space on the shelf.
Menus on each disc in the set have the same basic layout, with a series of clips playing at bottom right with options provided for Play All, Episode Select, Disc Setup and Extras. A rather moody piece of background music plays over the top. There are no transition animations, so it's all quick and easy to use.
At first glance, there are surprisingly few extras with this set - browsing the Extras menus of the discs will only uncover a 30-second promo clip for the series, creditless versions of the opening and closing scenes (including the 'special' closing for episode 15, and a "director's cut" of episode 26. However, each episode is accompanied by a short, fanservice-heavy make clip which just about makes up for the lack of "real" extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Mai's first day in her new town gets off to a bad start when she & her brother Takumi spot a body floating in the bay – although not quite dead, as CPR quickly brings her around. There's something strange about her, though - first, there's a mark on her arm which matches one on Mai's breast, and second, a group of people seem quite keen on capturing her. Mai's caught up in the capture attempt - giving her her first encounter with HiME, as captor & would-be captive battle it out below the ship's decks - and her first realisation that she possesses the same power...
That's "HiME" as in "Highly advanced Materialising Equipment", in case you were wondering. Of course, Mai doesn't initially realise what HiME are or what they're called - the details are all fleshed out in the initial few episodes - but the first episode's battle gives a good sense of the show's action credentials and style, and a little taster of the setting, while introducing the first batch of what eventually turns out to be a huge cast.
The school that Mai and Takumi find themselves at has been specifically formed with the aim of gathering the girls with HiME powers together, for reasons that don't become apparent until the second half of the series. On the one side of this process are school principal Mashiro (a wheelchair-bound young girl) and the scheming Nagi, who are responsible for identifying the girls and bringing them together; on the other hand, student Natsuki and her associates, who initially seem equally determined not to allow that to happen. In the middle are the other girls, including Mai, who have to make up their own minds whether to play ball or not. For the first four episodes, there's not much evidence of any overarching plot - that comes later - but there's a fair amount of time spent dealing with the show's basic premise and giving the first few HiME to be introduced - Mai, Natsuki and Mikoto - a chance to show off their abilities in some very well-presented set-piece battles. The machines that the girls can summon, known as Children, have a mecha feel about them, so there's a slight giant-robot feel about the action scenes as well. So far, so good.
The cast themselves are as varied a bunch of characters as you're ever likely to see - think of a typical anime personality, and odds are someone fitting the archetype will eventually turn up. That does sometimes make it feel like the creators were trying a little too hard to please everyone who might be watching, but the way the characters are introduced feels "right" and not forced. Some are friendly, some aren't, but nearly all of them are enjoyable to watch.
The story itself comes in two distinct arcs. In the first, the diminutive Alyssa Spearrs, creation of the secretive Spearrs Foundation, has a weapon of immense power that she intends to use for her creators' benefit. This arc really kicks into gear around episode 8, and is the first point where My-HiME indicates that it's not afraid to kill characters off. We knew the HiME were being gathered for a reason, but in this arc it's also made clear that the "bad guys" also have a foothold in Fuka Academy, and that it maybe hasn't been made entirely clear to the HiME what the price will be if they fail to live up to their end of the bargain they've made with Nagi. The cost of failure is extremely high, and with that knowledge suddenly the stakes are also that much higher. The events here also clearly underline that no-one in this series is really safe, and that's a refreshing change. The way events played out in the closing scenes here left me staring almost slack-jawed at the screen on my first time through the series, they were so unexpected. That's a quality I like in any show, and My-HiME pulls it off with style.
In a way, though, the first arc is just a marker to show what the series is prepared to do in the name of drama, and while it reaches the sort of climax that you would usually expect from the end of a series, not the halfway point, there are some reset-button shenanigans that go on to leave the setting intact for the show's second arc, where the gloves come off, Nagi's true intentions are revealed, and the show becomes a whole lot darker than you would have initially though possible. In a leaf taken from the Highlander book of plot devices, it turns out that there can be only one HiME, and while Nagi announces to the HiME that they'll have to fight each other to the death until just one is left standing, a group of mysterious old women explain to Mashiro that the Obsidian Prince will soon awaken - and that the more tears are shed by the HiME, the more powerful he will be. Suddenly the pieces of the overall plan are beginning to slot into place. The problem is, most of the HiME have no desire to fight amongst themselves, especially after learning from Akane about the price of defeat - but the approaching HiME Star may be the one thing that could force the girls to do what they really don't want to do.
While it wasn't much of a surprise that My-HiME made the switch towards darker storyline, I have to say that in this case, it's unusually dark, in that even by episode 17 or so we're already at the stage where every decision the girls make can have immediate consequences, and where disasters can happen that they have no control over. Destiny is a tricky thing – some of the HiME don't believe in such things and are willing to try and wave two fingers at it, but the more you get into the final arc, the more you realise that destiny may just have the last laugh.
At the start, all of the known HiME are prepared to just sit back and see what happens – they don't want to fight, so they're not going to be forced to. But as time passes, circumstances (and some well-applied psychological pressure, in some cases) conspire to make sure that the HiME Festival begins, and it's not long before the first victim falls. This is where the series takes on those slightly Highlander-style tones – only one HiME can defeat the Star, and to gain the power to do that they have to be the last one standing. Does that sound just a little bit familiar? Fortunately, I'm a fan of the original Highlander movie, so to me that's a good comparison.
In situations like this, sides must be chosen and difficult decisions made, and there's a fair amount of on-screen angst as the girls figure out what they're going to do. In places it maybe gets a bit over-emotional – but the most heart-rending scenes of the arc belong to Mai and Akira, and in their cases it's completely justified. While Mai remains undefeated through these episodes – and that's not from lack of people trying – there comes a point where she's in the unenviable position where she can no longer trust her HiME "friends", and the rest of her support network has been neatly cut out from underneath her, leaving her very much alone in the world. She becomes a heroine you really do feel for – and her actions to try and heal or bury the pain she's feeling only look like leading her into even more trouble.
To round things off, there's a series of revelations about various characters as true natures are revealed and sides are switched. I'm always a bit wary about this sort of plot-twist – it always feels like cheating to me, especially when you're not given any hints or clues in advance so that you can say you saw it coming. In most of the cases here, it's completely out of the blue, which spoiled some of the impact for me. There's also more use of the Big Red Reset Button to make sure that Mai's not alone when the time for the final confrontation finally comes – and so rather than getting a suitably epic final battle to round things out, we get the odds heavily tilted in Mai's favour and a lot of the suspense and drama taken right out of the show's climax. I usually get just a little bit riled at things that have happened being undone, but in this case I can live with it as it's a comparatively small failing compared to the good in the rest of the show.
Across the series as a whole, My-HiME has been consistently entertaining, with an almost perfect balance of comedy and more serious moments. I've been watching anime long enough to know that nothing's perfect – you can't quite turn a blind eye to the show's flaws, but you can certainly forgive them simply because the show is so entertaining. It's a shame that the urge to go for the happy ending just got too much for the writers, resulting in the ending having less impact than it really should have had – but it's hardly the first show to do that and won't be the last. For the most part, we get an all-action finale with the resolutions of some good character stories thrown in for good measure, and it's thoroughly enjoyable throughout. A suitably good ending for a very enjoyable series, and one that's an easy recommendation.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Featurettes, Promo Clip, Textless Opening & Ending, Episode 26- Special Director’s Cut Edition
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.