As we begin I never did an overview of the Autumn 2006 Anime season because, frankly, there was (and is) damn little yuri to be found anywhere. The few series that have anything are mostly minor characters in minor roles.
There was, of course, the Maria-sama ga Miteru OAV, Kohitsuji no Kyuuka, which I have reviewed previously. And there are a few series I’ll be covering in the upcoming days, as well. And also of note to fans was another continuing anime going direct to DVD, Mai Otome Zwei.
Like most other OAVs, Zwei is pretty much for the established fanbase. There’s no introduction, no set-up – you’re just thrown into the story, such as it is.
(Let me back up for a sec, because I know I get new readers all the time. If you have no idea what fanbase I’m talking about, you’ll want to take a moment to read my comments on Mai HiME .)
If you are already familiar with Mai Otome, then slipping into the OAV will present little difficulty. It picks up a year after the TV series ends. Like most action stories, it begins with a short vignette that sets our protagonist up as a powerful superheroine. It then follows that up with a quick change of place and tone, to show that she’s also still a young girl and comedic relief… a technique used in many, many James Bond movies, without the “girl” part. ^_^
The plot, which is the predictable “fight an unknown opponent who/which is massively more powerful than us good guys” has some good elements. That is, right off the bat the opponent removes the most powerful forces we have (almost in order of power, in fact) so that by the end of the first episode our resources are significantly weaker than we should be able to expect. The problem here is that this plot complication is incredibly overplayed in anime, so while it’s well done – it’s also kind of “uh-huh.” It’s not like we’d really expect that the new mysterious enemy would be easy to handle…where’s the drama/angst/power-ups/new transformation in *that*?
Secondly, the relationships. As I mentioned, this OAV is strictly for the previous fanbase. All relationships are assumed. You simply need to know before you start who everyone is, and all the in-jokes of their relationships and personalities. Which works fine for me. In fact, I saw that as a strength, that no time was wasted restablishing prior relationships, except through interactions that read as quite natural. So, if you don’t know the couples, you wouldn’t see anything that even remotely resembled Yuri (with one notable exception, also pointed out by Zyl.) If you *do* know the history, it’s easy to see Shizuru’s and Natsuki’s interaction as that of a long-term couple.
The notable exception is a single line voiced by the eccentric Professor, a former Schwarz rebel now working with Garderobe. As she puts it in her eccentric mix of Japanese and English “[Shizuru]’s definitely getting a pretty girl now” – followed by a typical jealous/denial reaction from Natsuki and accompanying titters from the gathered cast and crew. The teasing feels like a group of old friends having a little fun at their friend’s expense…which is exactly what it is supposed to feel like.
The fact that the relationships are understood makes the OAV feel more comfortable and less strident than the Otome TV series. The weakness here is that if you were a first-time viewer, you wouldn’t be getting any of the in-jokes.
All that having been said, if I had not already watched both Mai HiMe (and yes, and I am refusing to refer to it as “My” HiMe”, because that totally misses the point) and Mai Otome (whaddaya gonna call that in English Bandai, huh???) I probably wouldn’t have given the time of day to this OAV. Because in and of itself, it has no depth, no body. It is a fanfic of a fanfic. Mai HiME created the characters, personalities, powers and backstories. Mai Otome played with those in an alt-universe setting, altering some of the relationships, adding others. (Moving Tate away from Mai and sticking mopey Nina with him, for instance. Changing Chie and Aoi from a fanon couple to a canon couple, that kind of thing.) This OAV doesn’t have time (or to be fair, the need) to do anything else other than write a new battle story with the same pieces as before.
But it’s hardly over. Like the Marimite OAVs Zwei will be released piecemeal over a series of months. I believe the total is 4 episodes, so who knows what they may add in terms of character development. My guess is that we’ll get to see Nina’s new relationship with Serge/Tate, but probably not much more.
Whether the plot will hold up, or turn into another Sunrise reset is also a matter of some speculation. Check back after Episode 4. ^_^
Art – 8
Story – 6
Characters – 7
Yuri – 3
Service – 4 (inappropriately worn thong bathing suits, unecessary jutting breasts w/nipples during transformation)
Overall – 6
As the first installment of an Otome fanfic, Zwei is a decent enough way to kill an hour. ^_^