Mai-HiME – My Princess, Focus thy Attention [Long]

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.

Mai-HiME anime

Left to right – Makoto, Mai, Natsuki.

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.

18 comments on “Mai-HiME – My Princess, Focus thy Attention [Long]

  1. Snark says:

    I remember watching this a year or so ago; good stuff. Weak ending though.

    And don’t even get me started on Mai-Otome >_<

    • Guy says:

      Ah, yes, the ending, where it kinda jumped into super alien unknown enemy.

      And we were left wanting to know Nagi better. Nagi was awesome. And I really liked his voice and personality.

  2. Mai-Hime is solid stuff, and I think it’s especially good when marathoned.

    In a way I think the fanservice and the light-hearted tone of some of the first half actually helped it work better: because of them, I didn’t expect it to take the serious turn that it did.

    • Guy says:

      I marathoned it. Only took a break for a family dinner I think.

      And yeah, it was strong stuff.

      I may agree on the lighter moments. I think it helped us bond to the characters, it fleshed them out as people who had upsides, we caught ourselves smiling when they did. But hm, I might need to think some more about the reason you provide, though yes, the Highlander came out of left field.

      But I felt the series was pretty serious all along.

      • I rewatched it a few months back and, being able to read the first half through the knowledge of the second half, I did find it more serious — there was a lot I’d missed the first time around.

    • Guy says:

      Foreshadowing can be an effective tool.

      I think that’s the thing, even when we don’t really pick up on it, we do.

  3. lovelyduckie says:

    ****SPOILERS****

    I watched this one when I was about 16 or 17 I believe? I remember REALLY liking this series but not liking the ending so much. I don’t think I liked the fact that a manufactured Hime could count as one of the real things…something about columns going down and she counted as a real Hime kill? My memories are sadly a bit fuzzy on the details of the series though. I skipped Mai Otome even though I liked Mai Hime. Although I have to admit I think I attributed my “like” of this series to the fact that I watched it when I first started watching anime in bulk and was pretty much impressed with anything. Maybe I should re-watch it to figure out if it was truly that or if the series really was worthwhile to me.

    • Guy says:

      I think the fake HiME is a niggling point, a minor annoyance.

      The problem with Mai-HiME’s ending is that it’s basically the opposite of Code Geass’s ending.
      One is all about paying the price, and then the price is paid, and the other is all about paying the price, but in the end, the price they paid is returned to them.
      So in Mai-HiME it’s the road, because the end kinda nullifies it, where Code Geass goes all the way.

      • lovelyduckie says:

        I disliked that too…I wanted my wasted tears back. Oh man though, it took me a while for me to warm up to Code Geass but that ending with Euphemia was amazing. I haven’t touched season 2 yet…I was about to start it right after that last episode but I was too blown away by how random the episode looked and stopped. I plan on watching it at some point but the fire that was lit under me went out.

    • Guy says:

      Be strong and watch season 2.

      I’m talking to some people and they tell me how they didn’t like season 2.
      I might have to write two entries on Code Geass, one on how awesome it is, and one on how to understand it properly and why to disregard those who said they disliked it, heh.

      In some ways, it’s a lot more Death-Note like in the beginning. But still, Lelouch would blow Light out of the water. And notice how all the masterminds have names starting with “L” :)

      • lovelyduckie says:

        I noticed that season 2 is highly ranked on Anime Planet. What the heck maybe I’ll watch it after Ergo Proxy and Darker Than Black. I’m in the mood for darker series lately.

    • Guy says:

      Make sure to also watch “Shigofumi” then. Seriously.

      • lovelyduckie says:

        I actually added that to my “watch soon” list recently too…someone talked about it on their blog and I liked the sound of it. I’m also trying to get through Detective Conan, that series will probably occupy at least half of my anime watching time until I catch up to Japan.

    • Guy says:

      I suggest a jet-plane.
      *rimshot!*

  4. Noirsword says:

    Everyone has their favorite series, so I won’t knock Mai-Hime too hard. I personally thought the show was average-above average. I wasn’t drawn in by the prospects of action or fanservice, in fact I don’t even remember why I picked it up in the first place. The main players were excellently fleshed out like you said. Mai’s development with the other major characters was the big highlight of the story, especially the love-hate relationship with Yuuichi. I’m not as fervent about her as you are, but she was a likeable and realistic character, two traits that don’t always mesh well together.

    However I just couldn’t care about any of the secondary characters like Nao, Shiho, Yukino, etc, and seeing how much time was devoted to developing them did hamper my enjoyment of the show. I wish there had been more build up to Shizuru turning yandere as well. I guess you could say the surprise is what made it, well, a surprise, but that subplot totally came out of left field with no warning.

    When the show entered HiME Royale mode there was a lot of potential and was good up until the last few episodes, but after all the build up it fizzled out and ended up being a let down with a cop out ending. Mai-Hime could have been great but dropped the ball at the end and wound up simply being good. To me Mai-Hime never lived up to its full potential. But hey, don’t mind me. What should matter is that you liked it.

    PS: For the love of Natsuki please disable the snap preview links, else I go Shizuru on you.

    • Guy says:

      I hope the site previews got nixed. I forgot I could turn it off for you folks as well, I always turn them off for myself.
      “mShot previews” is not the right way to term something on the dashboard when it’s called “Snapshop” on the site.
      Tell me if I turned off the wrong thing.

      Yeah, the end fizzled, but unlike others, I didn’t take it to heart, because the road was what mattered, and it was great.
      (No, Mai-HiME is not my favourite anime, something with a lower score can be something I liked better, scores are more about accomplishing their goal, but Mai is probably my favourite character.)

      I dunno, Shizuru going psycho didn’t surprise me that much, on one hand once it was revealed she was in love with Natsuki, it wasn’t that surprising. And on the other, it totally fit where the series was at, almost all characters had gone mad to some extent by that point.

      Edit: I love it so much that maybe it is one of my favourite anime, but not THE favourite.

  5. Yi says:

    I love Mai Hime as well. In fact, it’s among my top 10 favorites of all time.

    • Guy says:

      The other anime review that might be really lengthy and “preachy” in the sense of “This is how you need to look at the series” I want to write is about Code Geass, where the lens one needs to put on to appreciate it properly are “At what cost victory?” I believe when viewed through these lens, it makes sense why this is such a great series, and why how the things many people objected to are not only beneficial to the show, but necessary.

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