This one’s been on the list all along. I waited until now to do its write-up not because it’s particularly bad or embarrassing, but because it’s a tough one to actually recommend. The criteria for the list, however, has always been “what has brought me joy?” And while this one can be a bit grim… I still adore the damned thing. For some reason(s).

Pictured: One key reason.

How’s that for an intro?

What is it?

Mai-HiME is a 26-episode anime series. It’s more than a decade old now, and while it spawned a manga spinoff and a sequel series even more absurd than the original, for the most part it’s a standalone story.

What kind of story is it?

The extremely brief elevator pitch could be, “Magical-Girl Show Meets Highlander.”

Look for the genuine HiME mark of authenticity. Accept no substitutes.

Mai and her brother Takumi arrive at a new school. Actually before they fully arrive, fantastical shenanigans take place and they’re plunged into a big mess of intrigue and danger. And love, or things which resemble love if you squint your eyes and tilt your head just right. And betrayal. And really weird people. And it all centers on one question: “Who is your most important person?”

Why do you like it?

This is a tough one. I love this show; I also don’t like some really big parts of it. Mai-HiME tries to do something a bit different with its genre blend and I think it mostly works, insofar as nobody should pretend that this is a high-gloss serious piece of profound fiction. When it’s fun, it’s super-fun.

Pictured: One of our leads, wearing one of her most frequent expressions.

I think what keeps it together for me is that there are some really great characters which keep me going through the periods of whining and the occasional backstabbing and the gut-wrenching losses. And in the end it all works out okay, albeit in a ridiculously improbable way. (Er, spoiler!) What I mean is, it’s not actually a grimdark show. It just… looks a lot like grimdark from time to time.

This one’s complicated. Sorry about that.

What might one not like about it?

In this case it pays not to beat around the bush.

  • Our heroine goes through stretches of being a whiny blubbery useless lump.
  • Our heroine’s romantic options include a guy who’s very, very unhealthy for her.
  • Another lead character ends up under the sway of someone who has some very, very unhealthy impulses.

Then there’s this jerk. He’s the kind you love to hate, though.

And that’s just the highlights. If the notion of watching a show which includes some ooky relationship scenarios gives you the creeps, this might be one to skip. I won’t blame you.

Other thoughts about it?

If you’re going to populate your show with a dozen or so super-powered characters then it pays to make them distinctive. Mai-HiME does that superbly. On top of which, they play with the magical-girl tropes just enough to make for some fun comedy bits for those viewers familiar with said tropes.

Watching along as the show aired was a wild ride. Without spoiling too much, suffice to say that viewers’ grasp of the show’s tone and stakes were inadequate to one particular twist a little ways into the plot. It’s a helluva thing. If you do decide to check Mai-HiME out, don’t spoil yourself if you can prevent it. (Yes, I know it’s over a decade old. I know.)

Where can I watch it?

If (for some reason) you’re intrigued by the above wandering thoughts… you’ll have to buy the shiny platters or find a friend who has them, I’m afraid. Funimation bought the rights but seems to have done nothing with them so far.