Tuesday, 17 May 2011

舞-乙 / Mai-Otome

Well, since it’s been well over a year now since Mai-Otome: Sifr came to an end, and it looks like the planned follow-up has turned into Sora–o Kakeru Shoujo, the preliminary plot possibly going into the new Mai-HiME manga, so I felt it was finally time to watch the very last episode and lay out my impressions.

Mai-Otome is the follow-up to Sunrise’s highly successful Mai-HiME, which I enjoyed very much. Rather than the usual continuation of plots and new perils for the same characters, however, Sunrise took the unusual decision of total reinvention. The general idea is that hundreds of years have passed, present-day sci-fi transformed into a futuristic and very, very silly vision. Sunrise are all for embracing the silliest concepts they can and then taking them very seriously, filling their plots with melodrama. That’s the case here – a naïve but sprightly young girl called Yumemiya Arika, looking for clues about the life her mother lived, goes to a special school where they train otome (meaning ‘maidens’), young girls who for whatever reason can use old nanotechnology to fly, wield huge weapons and become incredibly resilient. So incredibly strong are these girls that they have becomes the primary way wars are fought, all the leaders of the world employing an otome. Arika not only gets tangled up with her future queen, but manages to enrol in the school and in spite of her natural haplessness, becomes rival and friend of the best student.

The link between this and Mai-HiME? Strange. One character is, it is inferred, the same as in the original series, but the rest just happen to look identical to older counterparts. Some are reimagined cleverly, like Mashiro, while there are surreal turns in other places, one or two characters returning as animals. Essentially, the link is tenuous and if anything, it comes over as a hollow attempt to cash in on a successful series despite offering something completely different. Oh the other hand, Otome was successful enough to spawn not only a second series but a rather confusing and lowbrow OVA prequel as well. The characters are fun, pretty and likeable, the daft premise soon becomes deeply enjoyable, and when things turn serious, it all works well. Arika is a great character, and so are Nina and Mashiro. Mai-HiME was nothing very sophisticated, although it did get surprisingly heavy and emotional, and Mai-Otome was considerably lighter yet, but for something to relax to and enjoy, few action series did it better.

(originally written 6.3.10)

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