Or, ‘Mai-Otome is a Stealth Magical Girl Show’.
Just polished off re-watching Mai-Otome the other day, and feeling pretty pleased with my decision. I think it’s a really enjoyable show, and is leagues more so than its predecessor, the soppy-angsty Mai-HiME. Of course, it does help that it doesn’t seem to take itself quite so seriously as Mai-HiME did, and that when it does have serious moments these are not later undermined by the big ol’ reset button… But I digress. And, honestly, I didn’t have a huge issue with Mai-HiME’s ending to begin with since the whole thing was kind of hard to take seriously in the first place.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to have it dawn on them that Mai-Otome is basically a cleverly disguised magical girl show. Its more overtly shounen in a way that many other extremely shounen magical girl shows are not (Pretty Cure’s first season [which someone once aptly described as Dragon Ball Z with ruffles], Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew) (I was going to include Magic Knight Rayearth in that list, but I decided that it’s shounen flavor isn’t hard to see). Is it the persistent male gaze? Probably not – that doesn’t seem to have caused any confusion for Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, although, then again, the genre is right there in the title. I think its just that we hear the term ‘nanomachine’ and we also come to the show knowing it as a Mai-HiME spin-off, so the thought that it could be a magical girl show just doesn’t cross our consciousness.
Speaking of the nanomachines… wouldn’t that make it not a magical girl show? It’s SCIENCE!
Well… yeah, it sort of is science, on the other hand, they’ve got all their powers from a mystical predecessor, and there are all the other trappings of the magical girl bundled in: contracts, transformation sequences, otherworldy powers… sure, it may come from the nanomachines, but does its “scientific” origination really have all that much of an impact? If they took that out and it was just that they, I dunno, prayed to the predecessor (Fumi) for powers and then were able to make contracts and use them, would that really alter the storyline at all?
Nope.Magical girls they are, then… just ones who can’t have sex. (Geez, what is this, Devil Hunter Yohko?)
But what I find intriguing about it all is its existence as a “stealth” magical girl show in a sea of more obvious examples that are also intended for a male audience, titles like the aforementioned Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha or Moetan or (the doubtlessly forgotten) Magical Kanan or the aurally offense Nanatsuiro Drops (surely the inclusion of ‘spoons’ as a theme on its ANN entry is meant as a joke?)… or the recent Magi Puella Madoka Magica. Or something a touch older like Mahou Shoujo Ai (released in America as ‘Sexy Magical Girl’).
I suppose its really all in the way things are marketed. Many of the male-oriented magical girl shows I mentioned have their genre right there in their titles. Mai-Otome was never played out by Toei/Sunrise as being a magical girl show; if you could say that Toei/Sunrise played it off as any genre at all it was as a member of the ‘Mai-HiME spin-off’ genre (wouldn’t mind another one, by the way!).
But, yes, Mai-Otome, the magical girl show. They make contracts in order to be imbued with powers, they transform, and they get power-ups right in line with the sentai/DBZ-style magical girl shows. When they die, they dissolve into sparkles and float away on the breeze. They don’t get to have “normal” lives.
I suppose this post is just one of those posts of the anime blog wherein the author felt a need to share with others that they had this “HEY!” moment. I probably should’ve just rolled it up into a larger Mai-Otome post, since I do want to do one in which I wax upon the reasons for why Mai-Otome is better than Mai-HiME. But I don’t have a lot of time to blog as of late, so I at least wanted to put this out while it was still fresh in my mind.
By the way: the Materialize sequences? Damn, those are *so* cool. Transformation sequences usually get old fast, but these ones never did. Too bad they cut away from letting us see what Nao’s looks like!