|"Konstantin's Review Corner" by Konstantin|
With the semester winding down at CMU, we have just finished off Mai Otome and Shakugan no Shana at Vermillion. One of the perks of being scheduler at an anime club is having a pretty good idea of what's going to be shown over the following semester, so that you can set aside certain shows for watching along with the club. While there are rare series that bear repeat viewings, there are many more that are fun to watch once, but get boring on repeat viewings, so in the end it's a tradeoff between watching the shows as they come out and participating in the latest gossip on 4chan or holding off and having fun watching them for the first time in club. Luckily, I think Fate/Stay Night, Haruhi, and Higurashi would all bear out repeat viewings, so I'm not feeling any regrets about grabbing the subs for those as fast as they come out.
Shakugan no Shana was definitely a case of a watch-once show. It's too bad too, since the beginning looked so promising. While the first story arc was great, presenting the characters and explaining the basic mechanics of the world quite nicely, and the second arc was carried by the sheer awesomeness that is Margery Daw and the promise of Yuuji's and Shana's awakening powers and awkward romance, the remainder of the show fell kind of flat for me. The show, I think, suffers from the Inu Yasha syndrome, where, having established the setting and the characters, an anime starts churning out story arc after story arc without letting the characters grow and progress or developing a meaningful overarching plot. Part of the problem, of course, is the fact that the novel series Shana is based on is at 13 volumes and still going, which explains the static relationship and lack of any resolution at the end, but doesn't make for particularly fun watching. All that aside, though, the show is short enough that it never quite reaches the point of outright tedium, has a wonderfully detailed metaphysical system, and is competently animated. It also sports some of the prettiest character designs in recent memory. Between Shana and Haruhi, Ito Noizi is quickly rising in the ranks of my favorite character designers. So in the end, I definitely think this show is worth a look, but your mileage may vary. Final Grade: B+
Mai Otome never quite escapes the shadow of its predecessor (in fact it can be quite reasonably described as Mai Hime lite), but still manages to be a fun and fluffy little show. It seems that a couple of years ago anime producers have hit upon the idea of merging the magical girl concept with the shounen fighting show, and the Mai franchise, along with Nanoha, is one of the better results. While I would definitely recommend watching Hime before giving Otome a try, just to get all the in-jokes if nothing else, I think the latter show makes for a worthy sequel. The characters are fun, the palette is bright, and there are about as many yurilicious hyjinks as you would expect from a shounen show set in an all-girls' academy. There is a similar change of tone halfway through, but things never get quite as dark as they did in Hime, and the ending is nowhere near as bold or wonderfully ridiculous. In the end, if you loved Mai Hime, you'll probably like Mai Otome as well, and if you hated it, you'll want to avoid this one like the plague. Personally, while far from perfect, I thought this show was great fun, if approached with the proper expectations. Final Grade: A-
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