Wait. This isn’t Sailor Moon?
|TV Tokyo|2004-2005|26 episodes|30 mins.|
I think I’m gonna just breeze through the plot synopsis so I can get straight to complaining. If you don’t want spoilers, this is gonna be a short fucking review because most of my problems have to do with the ending, and unlike BECK, I can’t really vague it up. I’ll put that section in a spoiler zone after the rest of the review.
Mai-Hime is a bit of a departure for famed anime studio Sunrise, best known for all the various Mobile Suit Gundam Whatevers. It’s a magical girl anime of all things, but Sunrise being Sunrise, it’s more of a deconstruction of the genre, and a look at how traumatic that shit would really be.
Mai is a Hime, one of 13 young girls with superpowers. Like the other twelve, she has been lured to Fuuka Academy to face her destiny of battling monsters called Orphans. In Mai’s case, she’s gone to Fuuka with her terminally ill younger brother to give him the best education she can. It seems her parents are missing or dead, and so it’s up to her to look after them.
At night, the ship ferrying her to the Academy comes under attack as two other Himes seem to have gotten in a scrap: The tiny, rambunctious Mikoto, and cool mysterious Natsuki. Mai does her best to break it up, and Mikoto gloms onto her like Matt to a preschool.
Each Hime can summon both Elements, weapons and superpowers for their own use, as well as a Child, a great big monstery thing which will fight on their behalf. While not yet clear, it’s evident that the Hime have a darker destiny than they’ve been led to believe. There is a cost.
The true origin and purpose of all these things is still shrouded in mystery and it’s Natsuki’s goal to find out why. Mai, meanwhile, is content to live as normal a life as possible, settling into life at the Academy.
This show, this fucking show, is absolutely dripping with lesbians both text and subtext. Mikoto is a little more enamored with Mai than just friendship and there are some outright lesbian couples in the series. It gets to the point where at least 50% of the main cast has some sort of girl-love, implied or otherwise. I’m not sure why that’s a big deal, but I see it brought up again and again, so I thought I’d mention it. Yuri fanboys and girls, come an’ get it.
Mai Hime is also quite sharply divided in to two distinct sections. The first being fairly cheery, episodic monster/new magic girl of the week episodes. This part of the series’ greatest strength is the comedy. I don’t know that I would have been interested at all without it. We have an entire episode based around tracking down a panty thief. Come on, now.
The first part of the series is pretty good at playing with the tropes of both magical girl and school life anime. It’s stuff we’ve seen before a thousand times, but it serves both as set up for what comes later and commentary on standard anime fare. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but nothing spectacular. If you’ve already seen something like Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura this should be familiar territory for you.
The second half is what really earns the show its accolades. It takes all of the seeds sewn earlier on, and turns them on their heads. Mai Hime takes such a sharp turn into Sunrise’s usual territory of death and destruction it almost feels like a separate series. Everything that was taken for granted in the first half is now deadly serious. All of those magical girl tropes are now played straight, and the effects of this sort of life begin to take their toll. Friends become enemies, the battles have much higher stakes, things fall apart, and, well, shit just gets real. Horror! Death! etc.
I love it. I thought it was a brilliant move to screw with the audience like that. It’s done so very well that it doesn’t feel cheap, and it does seem like a logical progression from the beginning of the series. It’s certainly not out of nowhere, once you have all the answers, and I think that’s important for twists like this. Some of you may not have the patience for the goofier episodes, but reality comes crashing down eventually. Stick with it.
It gets so fucking awesome as everything that’s been building up throughout the series come to a head. I was really ready to declare Mai Hime a triumph, make a note there, huge success. BUT THEN THE FINALE PISSED ME OFF.
Animation is nothing spectacular. It’s pretty standard fare for 2004 TV anime. There’s nothing wrong with it certainly, but I don’t think it’s a cut above anything else that was on at the time. The creature design is not quite my cup of tea either. The beasties run the gamut from looking like Digimon to completely bizarre shit reminiscent of Bayonetta.
Overall, Mai Hime is really, really good. Sure, it comes in two different flavours but both of them are pretty darn tasty. Action scenes are well choreographed and never get confusing, some of them being rather creative indeed. Sunrise has done a mostly excellent job picking apart the magical girl genre and putting it back together in a new and interesting way.
That said, the finale makes me absolutely furious. Those of you who haven’t seen Mai Hime yet, it’s definitely worth watching despite that, and I think spoilers would really ruin the experience. Don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself!
The rest of you, follow me into the spoiler zone.
I warn you now, such is the extent of my rage that this will be an all caps rant. Also, any newbies, if you’re still here, you really should leave.
FUCK THIS SHOW AND FUCK EVERYONE INVOLVED WITH IT. I’VE NEVER FELT SO FUCKING CHEATED IN ALL MY LIFE AS A TV DORK. THE LATTER HALF OF THE SHOW WAS SO FUCKING AWESOME WITH PEOPLE GETTING TAKEN OUT LEFT AND FUCKING RIGHT AND THE ACADEMY GETTING LIKE ALL DESTROYED AND THE HIME STUFF GOING PUBLIC AND OH MY FUCKING GOD.
SO I THOUGHT THE FINALE’S GOING TO BE AWESOME, RIGHT? NO, OF COURSE FUCKING NOT. OF COURSE THEY HAD TO GO THE CHEAP FUCKING MAGICAL GIRL ROUTE OF BRINGING EVERYONE BACK TO LIFE. I FUCKING HATE IT. IT IS A RESET BUTTON. IT IS HARD TO DO WELL, AND WHEN IT IS NOT, IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE THE WRITERS ARE LAZY.
IT IS BULLSHIT. IT INVALIDATES THE DRAMA OF THE PRECEDING EPISODES IN SUCH A WAY THAT IT SOURS THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE. IT MAKES ME NOT CARE ABOUT ANYTHING THAT HAPPENED. IT MAKES IT FEEL LIKE NONE OF IT REALLY MATTERED AND THERE WAS NEVER ANY DANGER. I KNOW SAILOR MOON DID IT, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO PLAY BY ITS RULES, SUNRISE. I’VE SEEN ZETA GUNDAM. I KNOW YOU CAN BE COLD MOTHERFUCKERS.
SRSLY IF YOU’RE GONNA DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT THERE HAS TO BE A COST. IT HAS TO BE DIFFICULT. BUT NO, EVERYONE’S BACK AND IT’S SUNSHINE AND RAINBOWS AND FRIENDSHIP. THE WAY YOU FUCKING IDIOTS DID IT, SUNRISE, IT’S LAZY, IT’S CHEAP, AND IT MADE ME PISSED AT THE REST OF THE SHOW IN RETROSPECT.
tl;dr: Fuck easy resurrections. Fuck pussying out of the mess you’d made, fuck the Mai Hime finale, and fuck you, too Sunrise.