What They Say:
Mai Tokiha thought she had enough trouble in life between taking care of her ailing brother and transferring to a new school. But when she saves a mysterious girl wielding a sword, everything changes. A power awakens within her and she becomes a HiME, a battle princess! But she’s not alone with this power—eleven other girls share her fate, and the burden is a heavy one.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the previously created English language dub, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is pretty much as you’d expect with a standard forward soundstage action/school approach to it. There are some good areas of bigger action that play in limited form across both channels here and they come across well even while lacking the impact they need to really make it feel like it hits right. There’s plenty of movement and directionality as needed which keeps it alive and the dialogue gets some good placement and depth during these scenes as well. A lot of the show is naturally standard dialogue pieces and that has its moments from time to time as well but it’s mostly straightforward center channel based kind of design. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2003 and 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-six episodes are spread across three Blu-ray discs in a nine/nine/eight format. Animated by Sunrise, the show is definitely from the early 2000’s with how it looks where it’s not a budget show in a lot of ways but it takes a cautious approach to how fluidly it wants to animate things. There are a lot of great looking areas and a lot more basic looking areas, all of which looks crisp and problem free here compared to our past DVD experiences through other distributors over the years. The color differences alone gives this some new life and the details all hold up much better with sharper and more defined looks to them. It may not be as striking as most shows today in terms of animation but it has some real quality to the character designs and the creativity of the world design, all of which is rendered really well here with clean source materials and solid encoding.
The packaging for this release has an oversized Blu-ray case with hinges to hold the three Blu-ray discs and the four DVDs that make it up. With an o-card that replicates the cover artwork, it’s not one that stands out in a bigger way but it’s a piece you’ll want as the plastic sleeve that holds the cover on the cse itself tends to wrinkle a fair bit because of the size of the case. The artwork is our familiar key visual of the three main girls together in their standard uniforms as they make their way down the sidewalk which looks good and clues you in on who they are easily enough through the archetypes. The back cover goes for the all off-yellow design here which works well with the blue from the stripe along the top. We get a trio of small shots from the show and another larger key visual piece of the main trio that’s used elsewhere on the set. The premise is covered clearly and the extras are laid out well, though the mention of character featurettes will be problematic depending on your interpretation. The technical grid covers everything accurately in an easy to read form and there are no inserts included with this release nor a reversible cover, which is rare.
The menu design for this release keeps things simple as it delivers us solid backgrounds and character artwork across it. The appeal is in the character designs as they are distinctive in a way that we don’t get in current shows with the angles and costuming, and particularly the hair. The solid orange background works about as well as you’d expect but it’s part and parcel of the design of this series while the logo looks decent across it. The navigation is kept to the bottom with an off-yellow strip that has the simple selections that are easy to access and navigate both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu in the same location.
The extras for this release are fairly familiar as we get the clean opening and closings for various pieces and a director’s cut for the final episode, which used to be more of a thing and is thankfully less of a thing these days. I’m always glad to have the clean endings for some of the special episodes that work things in that area and this release is no exception there.
While listed as extras, they’re not in the extras section and that’s one of the best things about the show; the character featurettes attached to the end of each episode. Though short and just a series of stills, they provided some interesting insights into each of the girls in a compact manner while also showing off a variety of slice of life scenes. The internal dialogues of each of them in how they talked about things and people important to them added a lot to the show. Some of them were also a bit more mature feeling than the characters acted in the show but it added a really good dimension to them. It also didn’t hurt that the already attractive character designs received some extra love with the stills both in quality and in setting. Some of them seemed to promote the love between the girls in some very strong ways which certainly caught the attention of those who would otherwise ignore such a series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original series from Sunrise that kicked off back in the fall of 2004, My-Hime was one of those highly anticipated releases when it arrived in North America. Sadly, the releases that were brought over for the first few volumes suffered from a lot of problems, such as player incompatibilities, poor cover artwork choices, minimal extras and general authoring issues that caused fans uncertainty as to whether it would even work on their device. Now, years later, we’ve finally got a new complete collection that wipes away those issues and gives it to us in high definition. It’s been an age since I last saw the show and it largely feels the same as it did way back when particularly with just how padded out it feels. There’s a lot to like with My-Hime, though I think I like the sequel work more, as it plays to familiar concepts and is one of those solid early attempts by Sunrise to break out of the Gundam mold more and do something interesting.
The series initially keeps its focus around one or two central characters as we’re introduced to Mai and Takumi, a brother and sister who have been given scholarships to Fuka Academy. The Academy is a well known private school that’s got a heavy focus on the students being involved in doing the governance of the student body. It’s not hands off for the teachers but those on the student and executive councils tend to be more hands on about the problems that crop up. For Mai and Takumi, they’re excited about being someplace new and Mai is, in general, glad that she’s able to bring Takumi along as well since she’s responsible for him. Little is said of their parentage in these episodes but you can tell easily enough that there are some issues going on here.
The trip to the Academy is done a bit different than the norm as the pair are traveling there via a ferry. The trip was meant to be something of a weekend excursion before the start of school and to simply do something new but it turns into a lot more when the body of a middle-grade school girl is found floating out there. She’s rescued, along with a long dark sword that quickly disappears, but the arrival of the girl sets the stage for an opening battle. Another young woman in very tight biker gear makes her way on board the ship in an effort to kill the other girl who has woken up just in time. The results are disastrous on a major scale but what becomes apparent is that strange powers are afoot. The mysterious woman is willing to kill Mai to get to her target but Mai apparently has some innate flame powers that build a shield around her.
Of course, school starts up with no real problems, though some on the council now have a big issue with Mai. But between her, the new girl and the mysterious crop circles that got created on the school grounds, there’s a lot to cover. Mai tries to get into the normal swing of things but eventually, she learns that she and her brother have been brought to the school under less than honest circumstances. Mai is one of twelve HiME’s, or “highly advanced materializing equipment”. The woman who was trying to stop them is a student at the academy as well, named Natsuki, and she’s been trying to stop the arrival of any new HiME’s as well as learning who is already there so she can stop them. There is a group within the school that is bringing these people to the Academy in order to fight off a demonic looking race of creatures called Orphan’s as well as the less threatening “Childs” that are floating about. Mai’s given the choice of accepting to do this as she learns about her powers as one of these HiME while also having the issue of Natsuki and others trying to stop it all from happening.
The character-driven side of the show is given a slow but steady boost once past the initial opening as we see some of the medical related issues with Takumi and how Mai is so dead set on doing everything she can to help take care of him. His continued testing and examinations is something that’s obviously not cheap so it’s something that Mai takes quite seriously in how she’s working as many hours as she can even to the detriment of friendships with those in her class. In a nice change of pace though, this is something that doesn’t set them against her but rather puts them in a position where once they understand what’s going on they’re trying to help her without her knowing. The secondary “normal” characters that populate the show accent the main relationships very nicely here and help to keep the show being more than just about the very core cast.
A good part of what happens throughout these episodes is that we see how the events that Mai got introduced to in the beginning are going to continue around her even if she doesn’t want to join in with the program that’s being orchestrated at the academy. She’s intent on doing things with the focus on Takumi but her nature as someone who wants to do right by everyone and a simple belief in justice in general forces her to take action when she sees the Orphan’s becoming involved. Of course, in some ways, she’s being manipulated by others into achieving their goals but it’s something that isn’t all that difficult to do based on her moral compass.
Once past all of that, however, it’s time to bring on more of the Hime and get the show on the road. One of the more interesting ones to my surprise is Midori, a character we’ve seen mostly just as a co-worker at the restaurant with Mai. It’s not a surprise that she’s a Hime since she’s presented as someone in the same age range but it turns out she’s actually a bit older as she takes on the role of a substitute teacher at the school which is certainly an unusual twist for what’s essentially a magical girl show. Rarely is anyone outside of the main character’s age range involved in the same way as the lead never mind it being someone “old enough” to take on the role of a teacher. Midori’s also rather amusing in that she’s the character type who is very much into what she’s doing so that she comes across as being someone living out a role she should have had a few years earlier, leaving her to be a bit… well, almost clichéd in how she approaches it.
I was also glad to see the arrival of Nao as a Hime but one that doesn’t use her powers in the same way as the others but rather almost as a villainess. Her character design alone is appealing but when she brings out the razor-sharp fingernail blades with the metallic looking hand and the almost positively evil grin that’s in her eyes, she becomes even more appealing. Her agenda isn’t completely known at this point and even what’s revealed is something to be taken with a grain of salt but the way she uses “compensated dating” as a way to try and get closer to men to find what she’s looking for and then uses her abilities to wrap them up so she can take true advantage of them is priceless. She’s a very aggressive and proactive type who doesn’t just deal with things after the fact but sets about to create her goals. So far she’s the character I’m most interested in seeing how she progresses outside of Natsuki.
One of the best ways to create some new character friction or to expand upon existing relationships as the show gets closer to the middle of its run is to have an event where people are put together for something they’re not all that interested in and have them work together. Since there’ve been so many things going on at the school lately, there are those who’ve been missing or skipping classes but that’s not going to be let go. The home economics class, in particular, has been going badly so Midori puts on a special event where those students are paired up in groups and have to put a public cooking performance that will be judged by some students and faculty. Add in a few bleachers for onlookers and you have a weirdly amusing event. Of course, there are other things tossed into the episode such as an Orphan that causes chaos during the event but it’s the character moments that are the best as we start to understand more of them. With as large a cast as there is here and still growing, any new moments where we learn their background and motivations are good moments.
Moving past the halfway mark of the series, My-Hime almost feels like it’s a thirteen episode series that runs an episode or two long and that kind of stuck with me for the remainder of the run. It has interesting things happening and it certainly becomes its own thing, but the structure of the series always left me a little off. We’ve seen more of the twelve HiME’s that are around the school but Mai and those who continue to fall within her circle of friends are more concerned about the recent events and revelations with Alyssa Searrs. What they’ve seen haunts them a bit but it really sticks to Mai and she’s a bit more somber than usual which is something that the others try to shake her of. It also comes at a time when her confusion is something that Reito wants to take advantage of. There’s a new festival just a day or two away and most of the girls are placing ribbons inside one of the school areas where they write the name of someone they like on it and it helps them to become a couple. Mai has little interested in all of this, unlike the very amusing Mikoto who doesn’t quite get the kind of relationships people are praying for.
Ever since Reito’s introduction, he’s always struck me as something of an evil character because of his looks but that may just be a red herring. While his intentions aren’t really cleared up in these episodes, his asking Mai out on a date and the way it unfolds is something that does point toward him having much more interesting and potentially sinister plans for her. His asking her out is shocking enough for her but you can imagine how all the other girls probably feel about it. The one that seems to be the most affected though is Tate since he’s liked her since they first met on the ferry ship. But he still tries to ignore those feelings even if their relationship has been skewed in recent episodes. What gives it an added tinge is how Shiho has been trying to keep Tate to herself and how she does her best to pretend that he doesn’t have any interest in Mai. It’s a tried and true routine in how the relationships are firming up if you’ve seen any number of romantic comedies.
All of this is good character building and mythos expansion for the show overall but it serves more as a precursor to the larger events that are about to take place. With the Searrs Foundation intending to make their goals a reality, Alyssa has taken a more proactive role in events and is trying to force out all the HiME by first destroying the main connecting bridge to the academy and then by sending in the Foundation’s own private military to deal with it. With cards in hand that have photos of the known HiME, the soldiers move through the school and corral the students while trying to capture those that the Foundation wants. Sides are slowly being chosen by those who are aware of the larger scope of things and some obvious revelations are made along the way – especially with Akira – but we get the first full-on confrontation between the HiME and the Foundation via Miyu and Alyssa.
Almost like birthing pains in a sense, Mai is forced to look at a new world and accept who she really is as there is a threat that affects not only her brother but everyone else that she’s coming to care about in the school. She’s not necessarily a leader in all of this, something that Mashiro seems to take on but more as a guide than a true leader, but Mai is the heart and soul of the HiME that are now seemingly gathering around her. She’s still ruled very much by her emotions, not surprising for a sixteen-year-old girl, but she’s also driven by a sense of justice and being on the right which makes her a natural for doing what needs to be done regardless of the risk when it’s really warranted. Mai’s been a decent character for the series and certainly fun but these episodes take her character to the next level where she gains the respect of the others.
Over the first twenty episodes of the series, there was plenty to enjoy and it had a number of nice little moments to it that helped elevate it above an otherwise average show. The animation was solid, the character designs attractive and the story wove in some small things that made it stand out from some of the competition. Where it really shined was in having something of a real loss built into it for the main characters and actually exploiting it. Instead of seeing them always saving their true love in the nick of time we saw them fail and lose those who meant the most to them. As this started happening the show gained a much stronger sense of self and conviction for its characters.
Going into the final six episodes, everything has been evolving to the obvious crescendo but there is something that is just a bit edgier and more intense in all of it. Seeing how Reito has moved so easily into his new role, one that he was practically destined for since he was first introduced, isn’t a surprise. Seeing how he has fought against or why he was after Mai through one of the featurettes though adds a rather nice dimension to him. Mai for her part in this ends up taking a bit of a backseat for these episodes but she has some key movements as well. Having lost Takumi she is now far more focused on attaining the power that may give him back. Though they had almost all agreed initially to not fight each other and find a way, the group has splintered considerably since then and Mai is on a real dark streak. The loss of Takumi was certainly bad enough but having it accented by Mikoto being Reito’s brother sealed it. The people she cared for almost suddenly have been removed from her life and the things that she felt were reliable no longer are.
A lot of machinations are going on in the background here as the festival is lightly explored both in its history and its present. Notably, learning that this has all happened before and that it will happen again gives it a sense of déjà vu at first. But there are elements at work that want to ensure that this does not happen again and a bigger game is afoot. Mashiro and Reito have their own history which is just difficult to really put in context at first but there’s also the Searrs Foundation’s own goals as well as that of District 1 coming into play. You almost feel like Reito may have the upper hand on such things but with so much unknown history and mysterious groups involved it’s hard to say if this confidence is unwarranted.
Where I think this part of the series really shines is where it deals with some of the HiME girls who are now revealing their true selves. Natsuki ends up being rescued by Shizuru who harbors several secrets that are revealed here. Her nature has always been the most interesting of the girls since it was obvious, like Reito, that there was far more to her. But to see how it really goes here is something that can likely turn away some of those who liked the character since it seems contrary to her nature. She’s more like Reito than has been revealed though in how she’s kept such secrets about herself and only revealed them when there was no other recourse. The entire sequence with her and Natsuki along with the other two girls from the student council was some of the best material on the volume. It’s drenched in angst but it doesn’t feel overblown or whiny.
As the HiMe’s have been pared down over time, the losses of others are making the remaining ones all the more intent on winning. Shizuru, in particular, has a real wicked streak to her during all of this but she’s doing it all for the one she cares the most about. In her own way, Mikoto is doing just the same now that she’s working for her brother. With the mix of their summoned fighters and their own skills, there are some beautiful scenes as this plays out. The early scene in the church with the nun has a real sense of tragedy to it. Shizuru and Natsuki’s battles are intense after Natsuki manages to escape from her captor. Shizuru doesn’t spend all of her time battling Natsuki either as she’s intent on freeing Natsuki from that which seems to bind her the most.
The show has been filled with angst for awhile now, particularly when it culminated in Takumi’s disappearance. There’s an attempt to twist that feeling in this set of episodes as Shiho takes on a new role and actively works against Mai. The angst in the series, as well as the loss that each of the girls starts to suffer, has been a real attraction. As overblown as it has been at times, the girls have all felt like that they really have a reason to act and do so. At the same time, as some of them have begun to experience the losses not only of their loved ones but also their summoned beasts, they were able to go through some great emotional moments. That does put the show in a real quandary though as they either have to go through with it “for real” or give everyone an out at the end. Does story win over merchandising?
The ending to the series certainly isn’t a surprise and the writers sort of put themselves into a corner with it. Since it could go a couple of ways but only two main directions, there’s going to be disappointment among many people. If you wanted to see everyone stay dead and have the survivors find a way to live and grow from there, seeing the opposite happen turns it all into a good-feeling ending that doesn’t feel true. But if you wanted to see everyone come back at the end to reinforce the whole love conquers all aspect, seeing nobody return would feel like a betrayal of trust. There isn’t a lot of middle ground to really work with here in order to please everyone.
Though the ending disappointed me in not being able to really achieve a higher level, the series overall has left me pretty happy. At times it works better in being marathoned while in other areas it felt more like it would have been better off broken up more. Some of the promise of the shows overall potential wasn’t quite reached, but it was another series to me where the journey outweighed the ending. While there may have been a few too many characters involved, they were necessary in order to provide the kind of loss and realization for the others what kind of stakes were at play. Though there were a few that didn’t get fleshed out quite enough, the production qualities of the series in terms of animation and character design made it far less of a sin than it would have been otherwise. Getting it in such a great looking form here with a clean look and problem free compared to the originals just makes this a much better experience overall and one worth the wait.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Featurettes, Textless Closing Episode 15, Episode 26 Director’s Cut Ending, Textless Opening & Closing Songs, and Trailers
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: January 9th, 2018
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.