I’ve never been stuck for things to write about Mai-Otome- indeed, some might even venture to claim that I have already said enough about it. Nonetheless, such claims are not enough to deter me, and so the time has come to turn my sights to the recently completed Otome manga.
As I wrote in an earlier rant, for a while I was wary of even starting the Otome manga; if it was to the anime what the HiME manga was to its respective anime, the horrors contained within could easily be too much for any sane mind to bear. Even so, as the weeks passed, the nagging curiosity that has led me into so many dark and dangerous places persuaded me to download the manga and give it a try.
In its manga incarnation, Mai-Otome follows the adventures of ‘Manshiro’, a boy tasked with dressing up as the recently deceased Mashiro and taking her place as a student at Garderobe Academy. Also attending the school are numerous aspiring Otome, amongst them country bumpkin Arika and top students Nina and Erstin. Despite initially not knowing that he is a man, many of the students seem to have an unhealthy interest in waving their oversized assets at Manshiro; as much as they would like to indulge in risqué antics, however, an incredibly generic and pointless evil is rising, and only the destined powers of the main characters can stop it.
As you can no doubt guess from the above synopsis, Mai-Otome is not a series which is overly endowed with any kind of plot; in fact, for the first few chapters, each page is so confusing and incoherent that it is barely possible to tell what is going on. Fortunately, the series becomes easier to follow as it progress, although that does not mean that it attains any level of quality. If anything, the Otome manga is simply a showcase for all kinds of ‘service’; fanservice, HiME-service, traps- you name it, and Otome has it. Erstin has had quite a chest enhancement compared to her anime incarnation, so much so that she can now perform a special attack by vibrating her F-cup breasts- whilst the other females cannot boast such impressive chests, they are nonetheless all too willing to show off what they have. The HiME-service, meanwhile, is catered for by a later arc that summons dark HARD YURI versions of the HiME characters for no reason other than to titillate the readers.
That being said, like the Otome anime, the manga exerts a bizarre fascination not so much for what it is, but for what it could potentially become. In the right hands, the Otome world could create all sorts of interesting tales (see the permanently delayed but almost certainly coming in 2007 ‘True Otome’), and whilst that clearly isn’t the case in any of its incarnation, the franchise still demands attention.
It may not be able to win many fans with its content, but when it comes to artwork, Otome makes a much stronger showing. Despite a predilection for outfitting certain characters in bondage-style costumes, most of the Otome robes are well-designed and far superior to their anime counterparts; even when you don’t really know or care what is happening in the story, it is still possible to feast your eyes on the visuals.
From naked transformations to catgirl Mikoto, the Otome manga is pure fanservice from start to finish, without even the vaguest hint of a plot. It can’t really be called good in any sense of the word, but then again, when has Otome ever needed to be good to get us all watching, reading, talking and writing about it?