Mai-HiME is an anime which I love. Many people don’t love it as much as I do, and I will try to remedy this situation here, somewhat, and will hopefully help you guys love this series as much as I do.
This post will have major spoilers, so the rest of it is behind the tag. This is a series that plays on emotions. That’s what you need to remember.
This series is basically an advanced Magical Girl series, where there are a bunch of girls who have powers, and they are the focus of the series. But this is not a care-free series. This is not a series where it’s all about the cutesy, and we all suspend disbelief as characters undergo cosmetic wardrobe changes which are followed by no one they know recognizing them, and a happy-go-lucky attitude.
No, if you want that type of series, then this is the wrong series for you.
The main protagonist of this series is Tokiha Mai, whose life-story is truly heart-wrenching. She suffers and sacrifices her happiness for that of her younger brother, she sacrifices her life to save the lives of her school-mates, she sacrifices everything, all the time. Mai is hard-working, cares for others, and is as pleasant and happy as you could expect someone in her position.
At some points she seems completely dazed, or after flying into a murderous berserk rage (justified), and then falls down and cries, but considering what the characters in the series are put through, I’m not going to hold it against her.
Mai’s seiyu (voice actress) is Mai Nakahara (what are the odds?) who truly brings the character to life. The happy, the angry, you feel as if Mai is a real girl. The other seiyus mostly do very good jobs as well, especially Natsuki’s Seiyu, Saeko Chiba, who pulls off the gruff personality perfectly (I’d go as far to say that she makes her personality up even more than the character’s actions).
The HiMEs, which is an acronym created to fit the word which means “Princess” in Japanese, have “Child”s (the word is pronounced in English), which are basically monsters which are bio-mechanical, and which they use to fight “Orphans”, in a sort of monster-of-the-week mode in the series. But these monsters are powerful, and unlike most other magical girl series, their battles affect the world around them. Their origins are usually in our real world, with Mai’s Child, Kagutsuchi, is more or less equivalent to a tactical nuke. The other HiMEs nearly shit themselves later in the series, when they learn they will have to fight her.
The name of Kagutsuchi in particular is telling; in mythology, Kagutsuchi burned his way out of his mother. In the series, it begins with monster-of-the-week, alright. But then 3/5ths of the series through, we get a twist, the HiMEs will have to fight one another. That doesn’t sound so bad, except that in order to get a Child, each HiME put on the line the person most important to them, and if their Child gets defeated, the person most important to them will die (they tend to go catatonic from grief as a result).
You see, all the silly antics, all the silly characters, whom you have no idea why they get any airtime? This is because they matter. They matter because they are either HiMEs or are put on the line by HiMEs, they matter because they make up the characters’ lives. And then when something happens to them, you care, you might even cry.
Yes, you get some silly animation, like when Mai is tired or disappointed, but that light-tone is not to turn the series into a more light-hearted series, it’s not even to give you a respite from the downers or so that when the downers come you fall longer; they’re there because they play a role in your bonding to the characters. You are with them when they are happy and when they are sad.
The characters in the series are layered, almost none are “Good” or “Evil”, but occupy a nearly limitless expanse of shades of grey.
And there are many characters. From a nun who gets played by the man she loves, to a young woman who hunts older men who would like to bed her, to an irresponsible teacher who is easy-going and looks like Yoko from Gurren Lagann (and has a move called “Spiral Charge”!). There’s a character for anyone to root for, and nearly all characters are characters you can connect to.
Now, here’s the thing, for those who didn’t appreciate the series as much as I do, you got dazzled by what is not the true core of the series. You got confused by the tropes of anime.
If you come to this series expecting a never-ending series of awesome fights, you’ll be disappointed, because the fights are only here for their emotional impact, for their results.
If you’ve come here just for the emotional story, you may wonder and be somewhat disappointed (especially if a straight woman) at all the shots of girls’ chests, Natsuki’s body-suit, the shots which are taken to accentuate characters’ appeal and such.
These things are there to draw people. These things are there to perhaps spice things up, but they may attract the wrong attention. If you watch this series for the “Cute” and “fan-service“, you don’t really get enough for it to be worth it, if that’s all you’re here for. If you come for the fights, they are not that numerous to be worth your time.
On the other hand, if you come for the plot and emotionally impactful story that this is, you may get annoyed by the fan-service. Don’t be. Concentrate on what matters in this series, keep your eyes on the goal. Don’t be distracted, there isn’t that much of these things to disrupt your viewing (there are enough fights, but since they keep the emotional rollercoaster going, and look good, they’re ok).
Yes, they used these things, lots of girls, some of them hot, the moe/ecchi shots to attract attention from those who might not have watched the series otherwise, and yes, it makes some people not appreciate the series’ real strength as much.
I would also not suggest this series to everyone. I am going to be a bit “Agist” here, but as always, it’s only broad-strokes for most people. I don’t think I’d recommend this series to people who are 13-14, who might not appreciate most of the things that happen, and are at stake. 16 year olds, while they are in the stage where the characters are at, experiencing crushes and first-loves and such, just like the characters, I still think that they may not be coming to media with the right mind-set, which is to let the media wash over them and affect them emotionally.
This series requires you to invest in it emotionally, and to be willing to be affected, and to understand what is at stake.
Tokiha Mai, I wanted to hug her when she cried, I smiled when she smiled. I was bothered when she went into berserker rage and wanted to kill her friend. Tokiha Mai is as real to me as any fictional character is, and her emotions affected and resonated with mine when I’ve watched the show. That made it a great show to me.
The opening song is a bit dull, the ending song has better lyrics (which reflect what the series is about), and sounds better. The song Alyssa sings is in English, but without the lyrics written you’d never make it out. Also, very fitting for the moment you get it in full, very fitting to the series’s theme, but could’ve been better if anyone who spoke English as a first language spent 10 minutes fixing it (minor fixes).
The art in the series goes from great to cute (in a slightly silly way). The score is a bit repetitive at parts, and almost sublime at others.
Score: 9/10 on punch to the gut, and sympathetic crying. And yes, I love Mai.
EDIT: Synopsis: To summarize the post above: The series has some fan-service, the series has fights. The series is not about these things. The series is about delivering a story that impacts the viewers’ emotions, and does so very strongly. Watch it for that, and don’t stop watching because of the unfitting fan-service.
EDIT 2: The ending is poor, it not only doesn’t support the theme of the show but actively subverts it and makes what happened previously, the price everyone paid, not matter. I consider the show on the strength of its journey, and don’t think of the ending much.