Anime on my mind a lot, probably for the whole escapist-fantasy aspect. Also, as I have stated before many a time, writing about a series helps me to sort out exactly how I felt about it. This is important, because as with all good television / movies, you'll think and feel just a tiny bit differently about the world at the end of it, if the story touched you in any way.
Therefore, let us move into the profound disappointment that was Mai HiME. Yes, I know it's sort of old and I'm behind the times, but honestly, to keep up with every freaking anime that gets released, you'd have to make it a full time job. I have no desire to do so, and I do not necessarily pay attention to every Magical Girl High School Teen Squad show that comes across the internet.
I was surprised to find this series available for download since it came from 2004, which seats it firmly in the "old but not outdated" category. The animation and character designs are straight-up old school, where nearly every female character regardless of storyline importance has enormous breasts, giant magical mechs duke it out with extensive super-power charge up pose times, and cute doe-eyed kids glomp on everyone. One notable exception is one of the main characters, Kuga Natsuki, whom everyone says is beautiful but actually appears to be normally proportioned. Not that any of this matters to the story, but I do find it a tad annoying that animators seem incapable of drawing normal-looking women, in almost any series.
Story sum-up: Every 300 years or so, 12 Magical High School Teen Girls, or HiME's, are gathered together to duke it out in a cosmic battle so that one of them can emerge as the strongest and save the world from certain doom. You don't know this for the first half of the series, but that's the line. In fact, you spend the first season watching the girls fight monsters called Orphans. Each girl has an Element, which is their personal weapon of magical might, and a Child, basically a semi-mecha animal-like summon creature. The girls fight the monsters using their own monsters and it's all part of a plot that doesn't really matter except as a means to move along the character development, which essentially ends up uniting the girls as a squad who vow to save their school, and possibly the world.
Then, through a series of brilliant plot devices and twists, they are forced to fight each other to the death. And it's not necessarily their own deaths, no, because in order to use their powers at all they must put the person who is most dear to them on the line. If a girl loses, their loved one dies, which ends up fucking with basically everyone on a very raw emotional level. This is the most brilliant part of the series, in my opinion, the idea that to use your powers to save the world you must willingly sacrifice the one person you love most. In some cases, this actually means that they must sacrifice each other, or themselves. In others, it's their first love, sometimes a person that they never really admitted they loved until it was too late for them to hear it. This results in a series of events that is powerful and emotionally devastating, as our lead heroine Mai has everything in this world she cares about methodically torn away from her.
It shows us how true love can so easily be turned into hate. It shows us how obsession and love are quite different, but easy to mistake for one another. It shows us that our time really is short on this earth, and that to make the most of it we must understand our own feelings and make our love known, no matter the risk to ourselves. And it shows us that the greatest love, in the end, is truly that which allows us to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another.
All of this is brilliant and perfect until, in another series of twists, everything is soft-reset and everyone who had died comes back and the school (which has taken quite a beating with all the magical fighting going on) is rebuilt and the world is saved without any long-term consequences at all. Thus my sadness at a cheap deus ex machina finale that forced a truly heart-wrenching series to say to it's audience, essentially, "Wow that was all super crazy. Hey let's forget about it and go get ice cream because the world is such a happy place!" I can't go into the details without making this post super-long, but suffice it to say, it saddened me. All the growth and pain and love and death Mai lives through goes for naught, all the characters who found themselves and found it in their hearts to give themselves up to death willingly for the sake of mankind are brought back. The series treats itself like a bad dream, and we see no consequences spill from an apocalyptic battle for the fate of the world.