I’ve been putting off this review for a few days now, because I haven’t been able to think of a good place to start. Normally I’d start out the story section with a longer version of the synopsis listed above, but it’s hard to do so without spoiling the twists and turns of Mai HiME. Thus, I’ll have to go about things a little differently this time...
Mai HiME starts out feeling like a typical (though darker) magical girl type series. We are introduced to a variety of characters who all attend (or will start to attend) the same prestigious academy. Some of these characters seem to possess strange innate abilities that are somehow linked to an ominous red star that hovers alongside the moon. Of course, where there are special powers, there are monsters! The magical girl element comes into play due to these monsters, since the girls tend to be kicking monster ass for the majority of the first half of the series. Interspersed with the monster mayhem is a great deal of character development and slice of life situations in general, much of which is lighthearted. These early episodes reminded me quite a bit of Stellvia, which also combined action and plot with a number of light school kid type scenes. One entire episode, for example, is based around a cooking contest.
I’ll admit, these first episodes were decent, but nothing extremely spectacular. You could tell there was something up with the monsters - some plot point that hadn’t been introduced yet - but nothing tangible at that point. I found myself becoming steadily bored... until episode 8 hit. Without a doubt, most people will talk about it being a turning point, a sort of wake up call that makes you think "wow, maybe there is more to this than first meets the eye". In this episode, something quite dark and serious happens, which is definitely reminiscent of the rest of the series, that’s for sure.
The actual "OMG DAAAARK" aspect kicks in a little after the halfway point, and stays downhill the entire time. Think of X TV, but with younger folks, and you have Mai HiME’s second half in a nutshell. Then again, it’s not completely the same... the plot is different, the stakes are different, and the pacing is different. Still, though, it’s damn similar, and really caught me by surprise. Instead of staying a fairly neutral (borderlining dull) magical girl slice of life deal, it becomes something very dark, very serious, and very depressing all at the same time. The story comes out of nowhere and is rich, detailed, and amazing. Twists and turns abound, characters grow, live, and die... and in general, it makes for a moving experience.
But what is the actual story, you ask? I can’t tell you, it would ruin the fun. Just trust me on this one... the beginning is NOTHING like the end of the series. If you dropped it after a few episodes out of boredom, and enjoy tragedies, I urge you to pick this back up. Very seldom have I seen anything that comes out of left field to surprise me like this did. It went from an original score of a 6 overall, to around a 9, and that says something. There are only a few things I think didn’t fit well in Mai HiME. First, there’s the pacing of the first half versus the second half. I’ll admit that I was a bit bored in the first half, and part of that was because of the almost unnecessary character development or frivolous episodes. Then again, after getting to the second half, I really appreciated all of the work that was put into making the characters grow. Remember Kenshin TV? Many people including myself hated the first 20 something episodes, but found they were an invaluable addition once Kyoto arc hit (since they helped build up the relationships and such in our minds). Mai HiME is no different; these slower scenes helped us become attached to the characters and thus, made the tragedy involving them that much more sad. The second thing that I really didn’t enjoy was the fan service, but I really don’t think it was as prevalent as some people say. The main offender was definitely the breasts that jiggled unnecessarily every time one of the girls would stand slightly different. Trust me, as a female, real breasts really don’t do this unless the person’s breasts have been replaced with flimsy plastic molds full of jello. Now, admittedly, the jiggling didn’t happen ALL the time, thank god... but still was enough to make me annoyed. Other occasional ecchi bits were thrown in, such as one of the girls accidentally having her skirt fly up, but these scenes tended to actually be genuinely funny. It wasn’t flaunted like a harem comedy, and was infrequent enough to not become a focal point. I’m not sure why people complain about it as much as they do, because I didn’t find it to be very bad (and you are talking to someone who doesn’t like ecchi at all).
In general, Mai HiME’s story started out really slow but interesting, and became something amazing that I’d recommend for anyone. If you like darkness and tragedy, the story will be right up your alley. One thing I will mention is the ending, which although might have been a bit too cut and dry, was still decent, even though everyone else seems to say it’s terrible.
Like the audio, the animation is top notch. Colors are brilliant and vibrant, and the level of detail is high. Backgrounds are gorgeous pretty much everywhere, including the panning overhead shots of the school. Fighting scenes are definitely beautifully choreographed, combining shots of the monsters attacking, the girls transforming (not always the same, and definitely not cheesy), and their companions fighting back. All of the monsters themselves were wonderfully designed, looking creepy sometimes and downright scary other times.
Character designs were good as well, though there were a few I had problems with. Namely, Mikoto looked like a small animal (though she acted like one as well). Besides that minor fact, the rest of the animation was stunning and interesting to watch.
Did you like the music from .hack//SIGN? Madlax? Avenger? Guess what? The woman behind Bee Train was in charge of the music in Mai HiME, and that spells one thing: perfection. Well, in this case, near perfection... but who’s counting? Absolutely gorgeous ballads accompany most scenes, especially in the second half of the series when the tone becomes dark and foreboding. The intro and outro songs are catchy, but definitely not a must-have as far as which songs I’d want on the soundtrack; this literally is the only reason I marked the section down.
If the music needed to be lighthearted and fit the tone of the slice of life feel (of the first half of the series), it did so, marvelously. During fight scenes and in general, the last half of the series, Bee Train’s signature music shone through with haunting pseudo-opera type vocals and deep dark synthesized beats (combined with orchestral instruments). I can’t say enough about the music; it was amazing. Though Mai HiME’s plot was amazing by itself, the music really helped with the mood and feel, and made my viewing experience so much more enjoyable. And hey, unlike other series that Bee Train does the music for (hack or Madlax, anyone?), this won’t put you to sleep!
One really major thing I must point out, though, are some of the voice actors. One of the girls sounds like a man, and Takumi sounds like a 20 year old adult, and he’s only 14! The first time I heard him talking I could have sworn he was Mai’s older brother, until he started calling her oneechan. Everyone else’s voice actors played their parts just fine, though.
Mai HiME’s story is as strong as it is because of the characters, so it should be easy to see why this section is rated highly. We are introduced to a variety of characters who all have their unique roles and personalities, and they all fit together very well... well, most of them at least.
First, we have Mai. Why does everyone hate her? I hear this all the time and really have no idea why. The only argument I’ve heard is that she’s angsty or whiny but I really disagree. Mai has had a crappy life but still manages to stay positive since she’s had to raise Takumi. All she knows is her hardship and thus, when she goes through more hardship, it seems only natural that she’d react the way she did. Truly, I think Mai is a very realistic character; maybe people just didn’t like her because she wasn’t a stereotypical anime girl, who knows?
Other characters include the cold and reserved Natsuki, the optimistic little brother Takumi, and a whole mess of others. Each has their own quirks and grows on you in time, even though at times it seems like there are too many characters to keep track of! The interpersonal relationships between all of them make the tragedy of the latter half of the series that much more compelling and moving, and you easily will feel sorry for what the cast has to go through. Even the villains have their own likeable (or hateable) characteristics. I think the best part about the characters is how deep they were, and how much they were developed. Each character seemed to have something in their past that was stirred up in the present. These dark histories always seemed to give the characters more depth, and helped you to empathize with them a bit more (especially once the tragedy hits). I don’t feel like there was any sort of weak character except one: Mikoto. She truly was one of the most useless characters I’ve ever seen, but that’s the designers fault for giving her the temperament and appearance of a forest creature. She didn’t walk; she bounded like an animal on all fours. She didn’t talk about normal stuff, she spoke in third person like Pai in 3x3 Eyes. She was obsessed with food, constantly looking chibified in nature (distracting and unnecessary). She also clung to Mai like a 3 year old. All in all, her character annoyed the hell out of me and quite frankly I wish she hadn’t been involved at all.
In general though, a very strong cast of characters.
Mai HiME started out feeling like a 6 in my mind, with its interesting but fairly dull story, seemingly average characters and all around, an average magical girl type feel to it. Once the second half hit, though, it skyrocketed up to a 9 easily, and that’s where the score will stay. If you watched a little of Mai HiME and gave up because you thought it was boring, dull, or too girlie, please think again. Though misleading, the end is so tragic and moving that you’ll be glad you finished it too. Don’t get hyped up by the ending because it’s not as bad as people make it seem to be, and don’t pass up the chance to watch this wonderful series. From the music to the visuals to the great characters, Mai HiME is a great watch all around.
Guided by a star only they can see, a group of maidens known as HiMEs have begun to gather at Fuuka Academy. These young women have been endowed with dangerous supernatural powers that they can use to their heart's content, but there's a price: to wield them, they must put their most important thing on the line. Now, in the midst of school work and friendships, they find themselves caught in the midst of strange conspiracies seemingly related to the terrifying monsters that attack them. Is the power of the HiMEs strong enough to save themselves and the ones they love?
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My fav genres include sci fi and horror, but you'll find a lot of obscure reviews from me too, given I watch a ton to add to the database. My new reviews are written a lot better than my old ones, so when in doubt, sort by date! ^_^ Enjoy, and I welcome any and all feedback.