Full Series Review: My-HiME/Mai-HiME
Intro & Summary
Mai-HiME is a blend of the action and magical girl genres. It's kind of every genre, every imaginable anime trope, and every character type, all at once.
Mai is a typical (boring) high school girl, going to an elite sparkly anime school. She finds out she's a thing called a HiME, which is sort of like a magical girl. I say 'sort of', because, while other magical girls fight their battles with rainbows and hearts, these girls can summon weapons and mechanical monsters. She teams up with other girls with the same powers, as you do. One is always pissed off, and the other is as dumb as a box of rocks, in a way that's supposed to be cute and endearing. But that's in the eye of the beholder. And there's like a million other characters, all even more boring and even less fleshed out than the main trio.
Anyway, for a while a formula is established where something bad happens, the dumb one can sense it and takes off, running on all fours like an animal, embarassing Mai. Mai or one of the other HiME (there's a total of 12, because there's a prophesy, because of course there is). Then that formula is given up for a "battle royale" arc at episode 15. The HiMEs all have to fight each others' monsters. Problem is, when a HiME loses her monster (which is called a Child), the person most precious to her dies. So this particular "battle royale" is not about fighting for one's own life, like it is in most other anime of this genre, but it is about fighting for the lives of people you love.
Of course, Mai wants to avoid fighting and make sure innocent lives aren't lost, but of course, since that would make the show rather boring, the HiME can't help but fight each other. Plus it's in the prophesy, yo!
My-HiME (aka Mai-HiME)
None - Anime First
Action, Drama, Romance, Battle Royale, Fantasy
DVD shorts, 'Mai Otome' spinoff, manga
When an Anime News Network article and TV Tropes praised this anime, I sincerely wondered if they had actually watched it. Sure, it seems promising to have a 'magical girl' show where the girls do stuff that's a little more edgy and less babyfied.
But here's the thing; all these girls are still infantile and cutesy, with the most tired, unnecessary fanservice. They're all character types or character clichés rather than feeling like real people. You have enough brother-sister incest to make George R.R. Martin uncomfortable. The infantile and fetishized way the "strong" female characters are presented misses the "girl power" mark they're trying to hit, by a lot.
The show borrows stylistically from CLAMP and Evangelion, without getting quite close to the elegance of either style, and having nothing original in terms of character design. Anime fans will find familiar tropes everywhere.
TV Tropes calls it a 'deconstruction', and I get that it subverts the expectations set by more flowery shoujo shows, but I don't think it deconstructs anything. To really be a "deconstruction", a work has to question or show the full, realistic consequences of a trope or tropes. For example, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a deconstruction of magical girl stories. Magical girl stories (the classic kind) are about fantasy wish fulfilment for elementary to high-school-age girls. They're about friendship, love, and miraculous acts of heroism. But Madoka questions, defies, and challenges the tropes of that genre by making a system where magic comes at a terrible cost, and being a magical girl is a burden, not unlike being a soldier in the real world. My-HiME does not question or challenge its own clichés, which are numerous. It seems to relish in them instead. That's not enough to make it bad, by itself, but it's no deconstruction.
Mainly, the show has a problem with failed promise. It seems exciting, but fights are dragged out with flashbacks and perspective switches so much that they become less interesting. Characters are, for the most part, static, predictable, and defined by the type of anime character they are, in a box they rarely emerge from. Magical bullshit means none of the "gritty" sacrifices are real, and you know they won't be real. If you've seen at least one other anime series to completion, you can probably safely predict how My-HiME will play out.
Nothing is well explained. I couldn't even remember what HiME stood for, it's some kind of elaborate acronym, a play on the word "hime" meaning "princess" in Japanese, but they always block it out with characters' heads when they show it in the opening, and I'm not going to bother to look it up. Without reading TV Tropes, I doubt I would have kept all the characters straight, let alone all their powers and identities. The fact that HiME have special marks on their bodies is mentioned, then not important later in the story at all. The fact that loose monsters are called "Orphans" and monsters bonded to a HiME are called "Childs" is only mentioned a few times. And no, there is no interesting reveal that the monsters are literally children, or that "Orphans" can become bonded to HiME, or anything cool like that. Don't get your hopes up.
If I were to describe My-HiME in a few words, it would be, "incoherent blob of anime clichés trying to make a story".