16 August 2010

Review: My HiME

I finished watching My HiME a couple days following the announcement posted on the 6th of August. However, things have been extremely busy for my family as well as me, and posting a review seemed to be an indulgence rather than a necessity. I felt that now would be a good time to post a few thoughts about this series, especially since that will allow my mind a good change of pace from all the logistics of the new position. Warning, spoilers will be posted below.

My HiME is, on its face, a bog-standard magical girl anime. There's actually quite a few magical girls hanging about in this series as well, twelve to be specific. It would seem that there are too many of them, and the show tends to agree. A couple of the magical girls serve as early cannon fodder rather than actual characters, which is not a shock. The show is actually a bit like a ripple from a stone... there's one main protagonist, two fairly up-front supporting characters, and a set of about four surrounding supporting characters that jump-start the final portion of the plot. It's a reasonable way to give us a good set of sympathetic characters and the characterization corresponds to the amount of time that the character needs on screen.

The characters are a bit pedestrian and nothing to really write one thousand words about. However, the plot and the series pacing were rather thrilling, I felt. There are the usual eight to ten episodes that set up the premise and put the pieces in place, and then an arc of about two or three episodes around the midpoint where the crew deals with what was in essence a mid-level boss. However, it did not feel like a mid-level boss on the first watching... it felt almost as if it was the final boss. I enjoyed that the show was able to build up the midpoint climax so well and that there really was a palpable sense of "now what?" that you don't usually see with other shows.

Of course, building up to the second climax necessitated a completely different style, and it was accomplished with what I thought was a rather gutsy move. The viewer was treated to a few views of the final baddies, including the reveal of one of the starting character's motivations... but the story almost divorced them from the first couple ramp-up episodes. They really didn't do a whole lot of active motion, they just sat back. The reason that the show did it, I thought, was to build a sense of suspense, for the viewer to wonder just what would happen from that point. Of course, some viewers may feel cheated from this type of plot decision, but I feel that it really allowed the show to breathe, it allowed the characterization to come forward while still ratcheting up the stakes. This form of plot did not last for an overlong time, it was deployed in a way to not be obtrusive or annoying and did not last long enough for this viewer to wonder whether or not these fellows really were doing anything.

One of the setting elements towards the end of the series was rain. This was a good context as well as a nice way to compare the plot. One knows that rain is coming when the clouds start to gather, thicken, darken, and the wind kicks up. In many storms, there is that quiet period where it seems that sounds are muted just a bit. When I've witnessed a few of those times, I always wonder exactly how a storm will come about, what destruction it may generate, and try to figure out a spot to ride it out...

...well, this is almost exactly how the second half of the show felt. There was that calm spot before all heck broke loose, and all heck really did break loose. To put it into plot and story context, and without trying to be TOO spoilerish about it, the story raised the stakes in ways that I completely did not see coming. Destruction absolutely abounded in the final couple episodes. I really sympathized with the characters as I thought about issues with the plot; the plot set up very unfair scenarios for some of the characters, and you could emotionally feel as drained as the characters were if you thought about these situations and the rules of the universe that the plot set up. I was extremely happy with the way that the stakes were raised and I think that it completely helped the plot.

About the only other spot that I could point to as not being thrilled with was the way the climax resolved and the epilogue. I almost wished that they kept some of the aspects of destruction, just to see how some of the main characters would react and to really get a good idea of their growth and future path. Considering the paths the plot took, it was almost as if a lightning strike set off a forest fire. I was truly hoping to see a few saplings in among all the ashes of trees. Alas, the climax and the epilogue pretty much took the status quo and completely gave it the rose-colored glasses routine that is fairly common in the genre. The epilogue reminded you fully that you were watching a magical girl anime, emphasis on the "magical" part. I almost could not believe that the same people who wrote the stakes so high and made such interesting decisions in the run-up to the climax wrote the epilogue. To put it into context though, this was nowhere near as terrible as the climax to season one of Code Geass

Overall, I'm definitely happy with the series and enjoyed watching it. I would give it a very solid nine out of ten, and could certainly be talked into an extra half-point sometime down the road. For those who like the magical girl genre and wanted to see a bit more grown-up take on the plot and story arc, I heartily recommend this show.

I've got both Mai Otome as well as Gundam 00 seasons one and two to see, but it seems that the summer of anime will be drawing to a close shortly. I can now count the number of days I will be working on both hands, which means that I can also count the number of remaining bus rides... and time will not be as available as before. More news to come, and posts whenever I can find time to write an update.

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