Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Far East Alchemy
  by Jenny Rae Rappaport
July 2006

My-Hime: Part One

So, let's talk about the nature of the anime television series. This column is the first of three that will be devoted to the anime series, "My-Hime", which consists of twenty-six episodes of about twenty-three minutes each. That's a lot of anime to be discussed within the confines of one column, and thus, why it's being broken up into thirds. For the purposes of Part One, spoilers won't really pose that much of a problem, since we'll be discussing episodes one-eight. For the remaining two columns concerning the show, I'm going to assume that you, dear intergalactic Reader, will have watched the previous episodes, as any other assumption will render it impossible for me to effectively discuss them.

Anime that's aired in Japan as a television series is done on a weekly basis, and almost always follows a continuous story arc throughout the entire series. American cartoons, such as "Family Guy", are much more episodic in nature, while the television anime aired in Japan can be best compared to American SF shows such as "Babylon 5" or the new "Battlestar Galactica". Japanese anime studios are particularly fond of structuring their series' so that they are divisible by thirteen weeks, which allows them to easily fit into the four broadcasting seasons that make up Japanese television. The multiple-of-thirteen rule is not one that is hard and fast, but it tends to give the animators a way to break up the main storyline, and insert smaller story arcs that are covered in blocks of thirteen.

In the case of "My-Hime", the animators at Sunrise—the animation studio which created it—have decided to allow for a slow buildup of character development and plot within the first story arc. You may wonder how I know this, since the American DVDs of

Mai


Mikoto


Natsuki

"My-Hime" are still being released, and the simple answer is that I've previously watched the entire series via fansubs. Fansubs are a topic for an entirely separate column, so for the time being, we'll return to the first eight episodes of "My-Hime".

Since the series is just getting started in these episodes, they have a genuine slice-of-life feel to them, with a good dash of drama and comedy thrown in. By the end of the first episode, we are introduced to the triumvirate of girls around who the series rotates: red-headed Mai Tokiha, whose life revolves around caring for her ill younger brother, Takumi; Mikoto Minagi, who has an insatiable appetite and is never without her trusty sword, Miroku; and Natsuki Kuga, a motorcycle-riding, high school student with a thing for guns.

These three are, quite literally, girls that kick ass. They are all HIME (Highly-advanced Materializing Equipment), and are characterized by their ability to materialize an elemental weapon, as well as summon a Child to aid them in their battles against the monstrous Orphans that only they can kill. The Orphans are creatures that are terrorizing the lush and resplendent boarding school, Fuka Academy, which the main characters all attend. Now I know what you're thinking at the moment, which is something along the lines of: "Summoning, huh? Sounds like a bad Final Fantasy or D&D rip-off. And girls that kick ass? How is that different from any other "Sailor Moon" clone?" The key thing to understanding this series, however, is that it is very, very different from your assumptions

For starters, as I've mentioned before, it's not episodic in the least; the storyline is one that is incredibly complex, and involves a large cast of characters which number around twenty. Fuka Academy is a place that positively reeks of mystery and concealed truths. There's the child-like headmistress, Mashiro; the random clock in the school library, as well as what lurks beneath the library floor; the strangely ominous Nagi;

Nagi
and the HIME themselves. What does it mean to be a teenager with awesome fighting powers, which you can't explain? Why can only the HIME see the red star to the right of the moon? Who are the mysterious District 1, and why are they covering up any HIME-related activity? The storyline addresses all these things, but it also explores the web of relationships that forms between all of the main characters. We are allowed to watch as Mai and Mikoto's friendship grows by leaps and bounds, and Natsuki tentatively begins to trust them. We see the interactions of Mai's first-year high school class, Class 1-A, and the dynamic that exists between the students in it. And we finally begin to see Takumi start to assert his own independence, as he adjusts to life at Fuka Academy, and at the same time, we see Mai's puzzlement as her world turns upside down.

Mai is the beating heart of "My-Hime"; a teenager torn between what she thought was her stable, placid life, and the new one as a HIME that she finds herself plunged into. The ramifications of the powers she has are mind-boggling to her, and she has trouble understanding why she should learn to use them to summon her Child, Kagutsuchi. It is only when she realizes that she has the potential to possibly help other people, by defeating the ever-insidious Orphans, that she slowly begins to accept that she is inescapably a HIME. With the rings of fire that encircle her wrists and ankles as her element, and the faithfulness of her dragon-like Child, Mai is a force to be reckoned with, as she dances through each battle.

It should be noted that the Japanese are very fond of word puns, and the Chinese character, or kanji, that precedes the word HIME in the title is pronounced "mai" and means "dancing". Hime is also the Japanese word for "princess", which does have some relevance later in the show. Taken at its literal meaning, the translated Japanese title of the show would be "Dancing Princess"; the actual title when it appeared in Japan was "Mai-Hime", but the official romanji (the transliteration of the Japanese alphabets into roman letters) title was "My-Hime" according to the Sunrise website. Bandai, the US distributor, could have chosen either of the first two titles for their American DVD release, which I feel would have been more appropriate, but instead they chose to go with the third version of the triple pun.

In addition to its intricate storyline, "My-Hime" is one of those shows where every battle matters. There is no fighting just for the sake of gratuitous violence; every battle serves as a leaping-off point for character and plot development. This can lead to interesting results, particularly with the lingerie-thief premise of episode four, but trust me, it all makes sense. "My-Hime" also includes a generous amount of slapstick comedy, which is often a feature in anime, and it's used to good effect by undercutting the tension in scenes that might otherwise play as melodramatic. The humor is sometimes bawdy, but no more so than anything discussed by high school students today, and it never veers towards anything vulgar. By mixing the drama with the comedy, the series manages a balance that both amuses and propels the plot forward.

What does get somewhat vulgar are the short omake or "extra" pieces that are included after each episode. They often involve underwear, gratuitous nudity, and racy themes involving teenage girls. That said, none of them verge on anything truly porn-like, and they actually contain interesting snippets of background information about the characters. Whether you watch them or not is completely your own choice, but consider yourselves forewarned as to the content.

Finally, "My-Hime" is an excellent anime series, and I strongly urge you to watch it for its nuanced portrayal of Japanese high school life combined with the great SF twist of the HIME.


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