Well. I really let things slide, didn’t I? I have a good excuse (and we all know what those are like, don’t we?) involving visiting family, visiting girlfriend, and work stress, but you don’t want to hear about all of that. You want your long-awaited recap, don’t you? Of course you do.
When last we left our adorable young Master and Otome, they’d made a contract involving gems provided by Arika’s deus ex pendant. As this is a great big no-no, they’re now taking great pains to hide their new jewelry. Mind you, they’re not fooling anybody who matters. Natsuki knows, and Shizuru offers to discretely snoop around a bit to see how much the girls really understand about what they’ve gotten themselves into.
Arika ends up with drudge duty, cleaning up the shrine/library/what-have-you that resides over what is known to be the “resting place” of Fumi, the first Otome. She can’t very well participate in Otome battle classes when she’s under contract, and she can’t reveal this particular condition to her classmates and instructors, so… she digs an academic pit for herself. It doesn’t help that she’s not doing well in her other subjects, as her friends Erstin and Irina (and Nina, whose intentions aren’t as pure; she’s there to spy on Arika at Sergei’s behest) point out when they come to visit. Erstin brought food, even. What a nice girl! Arika might get some help with the cleaning, thanks to Irina’s new device built out of purloined parts, some technical specs copied from a book Erstin loaned her, and a bit of imagination!
Well, the Roomba redux doesn’t work out quite as planned so it’s back to the basics for Arika, and then she’s off to the library, continuing her efforts to fulfil Mashiro’s mandate that she be the one to figure out how to nullify the contract. (It takes two to tango, but Mashiro’s all about getting out of doing real work.) Shizuru drops by for an impromptu tutoring session and immediately makes Arika the envy of everyone else nearby. If only the other girls knew why Shizuru was so interested in the pig-tailed girl, eh?
Arika escapes with only a slight case of foot-in-mouth, and while she’s congratulating herself out in the garden for not giving too much away… a dark and menacing stranger appears! Oh, wait, it’s only Miyu and her little songbird, Alyssa.
This is the point where Mai HiME fans collectively gasp in delighted surprise. Sure, we were fairly certain that we saw her briefly in the last episode, but this is something else altogether!
Apparently Miyu (and her, quite literally, songbird) are lifelong friends of Arika’s who just wanted to check up on our up-and-coming Otome. Miyu didn’t know that Arika’s grandmother died; nor did we, if I remember correctly. This tells us that perhaps Miyu is filling the Master Yupa role in some sort of Nausicaa storyline overlay, here. It’s something to think about, isn’t it? There are at least a couple of similarties, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s much you can predict about future plot elements based on that. (Yet?)
During the conversation, by the way, something freaky happens. My best interpretation is that we see Arika through Miyu’s eyes… and Arika’s hair is all a-glow. In Mai HiME, this is what Alyssa-chan’s hair looked like right before she called down the SOL-system beam from orbit. Why in all the heavens does Arika’s hair look like that to Miyu? This is far and away the most intriguing mystery introduced in this episode.
At any rate, after we get the exposition and backstory out of the way, Mashiro conveniently turns up and we learn two things: One, Miyu is able to remove the gems. (Or should I say, GEMs? Do they need to be acronyms? Time will tell.) Two, removing the gems doesn’t nullify the contract. Well, that’s not even half a solution, then. Ah well. (Another question: Where do the removed gems go? Back whence they came, or just into a pocket? Or did Miyu hang onto them? We’re not shown this bit of presumably-vital information.) Miyu does have a suggestion for how to learn the technique of removing the contract: Break into the secret library!
Of course, as these things tend to go, our spunky young heroine brings her friends in on the plot. But how to proceed? Leave it to Nina to think of going to her sempai. Who better than Nao to lead them in mischief? (There’s a price to be paid, however, and Nina seems embarrassedly in-the-know about what the price will be.) And so the girls set about sneaking, though Arika may be getting into the spirit of things a bit oddly. The last time I saw the old “bandana tied under the nose” routine, it was during the first onsen episode of the Tenchi Muyo OAV. Or was it one of Happosai’s panty raids during Ranma 1/2? No matter, Nina tells Arika to remove the silly headpiece.
While the girls are learning the fine art of B&E, King Nagi goes undercover (in shades and a loud Hawaiian-style shirt?) to meet with another cameo. I mean, he meets John Smith, arguably one of the most one-dimensionally evil characters in the previous series. The gist of the conversation seems to be that Smith is trying to convince Nagi to use those black crystal Slaves. Nagi seems amused and a bit aloof, so we’re not sure what his game really is. This isn’t anything new in and of itself, but it does mean that Nagi may just be toying with Smith. Either way, they are being observed…
Back at the library, which Arika helps open by way of mangling Ali Baba’s passphrase, the girls are agog at how much information may be at their fingertips. Ever the catalyst for weird stuff going on, Arika sets off some kind of floor-display of scrolling data. It shuts back off as abruptly as it turned on, and the girls go looking elsewhere. What they find is another, more disturbing reference to the previous series, in the form of a pillar mausoleum. Here, we learn from Miss Maria (who is there to pay respects to her long-dead sempai), is where fallen Otome are laid to rest. We also get some backstory on the wars that have raged across the lands, up until the last “Dragon” war of 50 years previously. “This is what Otome are for,” Maria tells them, “to fight and die for their Master, selflessly and with honor.”
Arika is, along with most of the other girls, appalled at the notion of fighting one another to the death if a war breaks out. Nina is thoroughly gung-ho for this idea. Arika doesn’t like it one bit, and goes so far as to declare that she’ll see to it that there’ll be no more wars. Maria seems to react with a mixture of biting sarcasm and a kind of, “we’ll see, my spunky young charge” encouragement. It’s possible that I’m reading more into the exchange than is there, but the whole bit feels like one of those declaration-and-response moments that sets the main plot goal for the rest of the series. How it plays out, of course, is anyone’s guess.
It’s right about then that Maria notices (in the dim light, I can understand why it took so long) that Arika has her gem earring covered with tape. What an affront to the spirits of fallen Otome present in this place! Uncover that at once! What? Gasp! And the secret is very out, as everyone can see that Arika doesn’t have a gem anymore.
Cue more cleaning, only this time Arika has plenty of help. Nao’s taking the role of slavedriver, while pointedly reminding the girls yet again that they owe her for the help she provided getting them into the library in the first place. Mashiro puts in an appearance to berate Arika because she, too, got a good scolding, presumably from Natsuki. Everything seems to be back to something resembling normal…
Meanwhile, in a country near-or-far away, shadowy figures are engaged in negotiation with a sinister-looking monarch. The leader of these technophiles is none other than… Midori? Whoah. I wasn’t expecting to see her at all, and certainly not like this. The plot is most definitely thickening!