Looks can be deceiving. Prejudices can blind unreasonably. Combine these two and it gets extremely easy to watch the beginning of Mai HiME and swiftly dismiss it as yet another mediocre clone that goes nowhere. Equipped with your standard issue of charm items of adolescence:
- School girls as premier combatants. Check.
- Busty school girls. Check.
- Fan service. Check. It's almost like an unavoidable formula denoting a law of physics.
- Childish conversation - how else can kids get by? Check.
- Destructive nuclear power at the hands of growing girls. Woah... hope they rip each other's clothes off with all those abilities.
- Unimpressive mecha design. (Is that even mecha?? Hmmm... read more below.)
If you are anywhere as jaded as me about the sorry state of shounen anime, you'd would be tempted to drop this series real early upon witnessing these traits. Even the opening sequence makes you think it's bright and upbeat action. And by that I mean shallow. But like I mentioned, deceptive it is. Boy can we go so wrong with our biased opinions sometimes.
The first clue of what was truly to come came from the closing song - kimi ga sora datta. Usually I do not factor in opening and closing sequences because directors tend to lack the skill and affection to mold them into the same theme and mood of the story. This time round however, the closing earns my praise for being befitting. Be patient, and you will be treated to pleasant surprises that make this production a lot more polished underneath than it appeared on the surface. And be filled with sorrow.
Mai HiME sets up the concept of several girls, who are classified as HiMEs, getting empowered with incredible fighting capabilities. Besides gaining the ability to materialise their weapons, each get to summon a "mecha pet" to augment their combat tactics and effectiveness. Only a few are identified at the onset, and we follow the life of the main HiME Tokiha Mai in her struggles to discover the true meaning of being a HiME. It is this initial bout of incidents with the above attributes that make it somewhat of a pain to watch, but the biggest attraction on an episodic basis is the unraveling of the characters; trying to find out who the remaining HiMEs are out of an entire school of characters.
The plot does pretty well withholding information, dealing it out page by page, and having you coming back for more. It really helps that each revelation builds the characters with deeper foundation, and they behave less like the shallow renditions as they did in the beginning. This in turn helped by demonstrating what each person hold dear in their eyes, their motivation, and how preventing them from reaching their goals can make them really angry. In an ironic way, this series truly shines as the whole plot starts moving the characters into the dark abyss of directed hatred and relentless destruction. Oh the beauty of it all, to witness how ugly people can get when you block their path. Human emotion is best tasted raw and unprocessed.
While showcasing the "brilliance" of humanity, the show also reveals more and more of how its underlying mechanism borrows heavily from the bio-spiritual theme made infamous by Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE). Those mecha pets (referred to as "Childs", I wonder why...) are not mechanical by any means, but I shall not elaborate any further to keep their truth intact. Albeit a well-done concept at the individual level, the inclusion of world-catastrophe motions with evil overlord beings in the grand scheme of things only served to dilute the matter as a whole. I cannot help but feel Mai HiME blatantly trying to out-do and out-scale NGE at its own game. I am sorry, Obara Masakazu, you are not Anno Hideaki. Good attempt, though. If only you chaps did not completely mess up the ending by reversing everything just to keep the kids happy. Things were turning out really well, until the last moment. Wow. Talk about pulling a wheelie and falling off the bike before riding pass the checkered flag.
Casting aside the botched ending, the misleading front, the bandwagon habit, Mai HiME surprisingly turns out to be a pretty strong title. Forget about the action and art. This is one of the best anime to watch about people per se.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Ugliness of anger and hatred; emotional chain bomb; surprising; unexpectedly grows above its mediocrity; relatively good character art; teaches the value of "second look"
Typical traits of mediocre anime; bio-spiritual clone; Can't let the children cry in the end, can ya?