Rant Bonus Round: Mai-Otome Revisited

No, I haven’t done anything as insanely foolish as attempt to rewatch the series; however, lengthy as it was, I’ve come to feel that my first rant about Otome just didn’t quite cover everything. And so it is that I return to the stage of Otome ranting to present you with the second part, entitled “why am I still subjecting myself to this?”.

DVD Specials: From good to bad to much, much worse

Mai-HiME: the movie trailer
Released back in the days when I thought Otome wasn’t too bad, this trailer for the fictitious HiME movie seemed to affirm the fact that DVD extras could be amusing. Whether or not you knew that the movie was a fake, the trailer was something of a teaser, promising an amusing adventure in which the HiME are forced to fight the incredibly new transfer student, Arika Yumemiya. Of equal interest was a promised omake story in which HiME Mikoto finally realises that cat Mikoto was the big brother she had been searching for.

This Week’s Armitage
Special #2 is a serviceable entry into the extras section, documenting a slightly amusing day in the life of Aries’ Haruka Armitage. HiME in-jokes such as her desire to best ‘bubuzuke woman’ Shizuru abound, and all-in-all, Haruka receives more character development here than she does in the course of the series. Unfortunately, we are also treated to a ‘fun’ moment from the series in which Arika’s robe is vaporised.

Juliet’s Conspiracy
Matters take a downturn from here in this ‘revealing’ segment that tells us just what favour the Corals ended up undertaking for Nao in exchange for her in-series help. It’s hardly surprising to discover that what she needs is for them to model lingerie, and underwear-related antics soon ensue, with some Nina x Erstin thrown in. Many will no doubt like the sound of this, but I can’t say it did much for me.

Shiho Spirals
Although it was later surpassed by special 6, Special #4 became a new low point when it was first released. This instalments tells the tale of the survival trek from Shiho’s perspective, which is to say that we are treated to several minutes of stock footage with an overlaid spiral whilst Shiho Maki Maki’s everyone in voice-over. The only original scene is a mushroom fuelled piece, showing us Shiho’s home planet of Jouromaki along with her grandmother, a giant turner.

By the Red Sky
After a minute or so of stock footage, Akane and Kazuya take the spotlight here, as we see them cruelly ripped apart at the love motel so that Kazu can become the ruler of Carlteya, and Akane can be blackmailed by Maya into returning to the Otome fold instead of losing her qualifications in a night of passion. An improvement over the last two specials, but still none too exciting.

Graduation Memories
The lingerie party gave us fanservice, Shiho gave us stock footage- how could Sunrise possibly top a selection like that? The answer, of course, is to combine the two into one neat package, and call it a DVD special. In that vein, this special is an Erstin flashback prompted by the letter she left Nina; half stock footage, and half an original scene in which Arika, Erstin and Nina all take a bath together. Thanks to Nao, Arika has adopted quite a disturbing method of helping Erstin to wash, involving such acts as rubbing her groin along Erstin’s leg; after this, most fanservice/ecchi series will seem distinctly tame.

In the Village of the Aswald
Charting how Midori and the Aswald came to find and rescue Arika after the flight from Wind Bloom, this special manages to save itself from complete mediocrity by including a fair helping of the best part of the franchise- fat cat Mikoto. As a dedicated Mikoto fan, I had once imagined what it would be like if Mikoto Materialised, and indeed here she does just that, granting my long-held wish. Unfortunately, this means that Mikoto’s turn in the spotlight is most likely over, and we will never unravel the mysteries of this race of fat, grey cats.

Upcoming
The eighth DVD is already listed on the official Otome website and from the looks of it, the accompanying special will feature Natsuki and Mai reminiscing in the Black Valley hotsprings *yawn*. The ninth special will apparently feature Mai HiME vs Mai Otome.

Tomoe’s Schemes: I Kill you scum
After writing the last rant, I was left with the feeling that I hadn’t really said enough about Tomoe’s psychotic schemes. Fuelled by her love of Shizuru and her jealousy of the attention new girl Arika received from beloved onee-sama, Tomoe spearheaded a campaign designed to hurt Arika and aid the course of true love. Now, for the first time, Tomoe’s seven step plan can be published for all to benefit from.

1. Recruit an underling (Miya) to do all the dirty work and eventually take the fall for it. Have her discredit Arika by stealing her uniform so that Arika will be blamed for losing it. Unfortunately, Miya will sell the uniform for money and the plan will backfire, but the official explanation will place the blame at Mikoto’s paws.

2. Take advantage of Shiho’s creation of eel-like monsters that are destroyed by salt by switching the salt bags with sugar bags, resulting in the creation of a giant tentacle monster when the sugar is poured into the swimming pool where the monsters reside. You can’t go wrong with a tentacle monster, no matter how pointless it may seem.

3. Use Miya to arrange for Arika to be raped and lose her Otome qualifications. The plan is bound to fail, as they always must, but Miya can take the blame and get kicked out.

4. Steal acid from an important but poorly guarded lab and try to spill it on Arika. Erstin gets in the way, but it is important to make the effort.

5. After the takeover of Wind Bloom, sign up for the side of evil as soon as possible. As a Valkyrie, you can beat up anyone who calls you a mobile armour reject.

6. Convince the imprisoned Shizuru that her dearest Natsuki is dead so that she will transfer her affections to you. Have your way with her in a baby equipment fetish room, unaware that she is the one playing you.

7. Allow Shizuru to escape after she ties you up during a particularly enjoyable bondage game. Fight for the side of evil, lose, experience slight back discomfort due to falling several thousand feet, and finally experience great frustration at being relegated offscreen.

The manga
For many months, I swore that I would not try the Otome manga. The HiME manga was much worse than the anime, and if the same rule applied, then the Otome manga surely had to be an offering of unbelievable direness. By now, however, you will know how it goes- I just can’t get the better of my sense of curiosity.

The Otome manga follows a very different path from the anime; following the apparent death of Queen Mashiro of Wind Bloom, a young boy (“Manshiro”) is given the task of dressing up as Mashiro and attending Garderobe in her place. Harem fun soon ensues as he befriends country bumpkin Arika and top student Nina, whilst in the wider world, Slaves named after historical figures are sent to attack the Otome.

I’ve read twenty chapters of this (there are 44 in total), and I have to admit that amongst the expected awfulness there are a few grains of merit. Every so often, the world of the Otome manga reveals details that make it more complex and developed than the shallow politics of the anime. It should be made clear, however, that this is no way gives the manga any kind of exceptional merit. The series is filled with fanservice and ecchi moments beyond anything seen in the other aspects of the franchise (except perhaps the Otome Super H manga). Erstin is now an F-cup with a special ability that depends upon the vibrations of her breasts; characters have a ‘relaxed’ approach to removing their clothes, investigating each other’s bodies, sleeping in the same bed and sharing a shower, whilst naked transformation scenes are nothing short of mandatory. Admittedly there is more action than in the anime (a shame, then, that manga is not a good medium for action scenes), but the story itself ranges from thin to nonsensical, featuring such delights as ‘generic evil villain’ Sergey, and dark HiME summoned from another world.

Final thoughts: Is the Mai franchise really all it’s cracked up to be?
(‘Crack’ being the operative word in more than one sense.)

With the R1 DVD release, I have begun rewatching Mai-HiME (or My-HiME, if you prefer), and whilst the first four episodes seemed as enjoyable as they always had been, I began to feel a creeping disappointment when I came to watch volume two. The volume begins on a weak episode with some Mai/Takumi angst, and despite the introduction of Midori-HiME, it is slow to recover, only getting back up to par with the loss of Kazuya. Even this once dramatic and tragic scene seemed a little lacking this time around- we barely knew or cared about Akane and Kazu, after all.

Thanks to this bad experience, I now find myself loath to rewatch the rest of the series- having enjoyed it so much first time, will I find myself horribly disappointing on closer inspection? Did HiME, in fact, only ever seem good in the first place in comparison to its poor sibling Otome? Has the magic, at last, died?

Regardless of that, events indicate that I will be watching the rest of HiME sooner or later, and worse than that, the Otome OVA, Mai-Otome Zwei, will soon be upon us. Despite the title’s alarming similarity to the dreaded Gravion Zwei, and the promotional picture proudly displaying Arika, Nina and Mashiro, little doubt remains- no matter what awfulness the franchise has in store, I will be dragged along with it.

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