Mai-Otome 0~S.ifr~
by Polly


I don't often make it a habit of reviewing things that aren't officially licensed (which gets me a lot of funny e-mail), but for the sake of completeness of the current Otome trilogy, I'll go ahead and make an exception.

My-Otome 0~S.ifr~ (or just Sifr for the duration of this review) is yet another OVA spin-off of the Mai-Otome TV series, but instead of pushing the plot even further, Sifr is a prequel that begins to tell the story of important characters whose names and images popped up quite a bit in the original. This story's focus is primarily on Lena Sayers, Arika Yumemiya's mother, and Sifr Fran, the future queen of Windbloom Kingdom (and another important character's mother...) prior to Mashiro Blan de Windbloom's ascension to the throne in Mai-Otome. What we get here are just the beginnings of what seems like it could be a fairly epic story, but unfortunately it gets cut off far too early for its events to really feel like they have any impact on the events that transpire in the original TV series.

Sifr has a mere three episodes to tell its story and, possibly taking the hint from Zwei's fairly stupid intermissions, this show doesn't waste very much of it at all. The pacing is fairly brisk and only slows down for a bit in the second episode, but it's strictly for storyline purposes. The only real problem is that we don't get to spend much time with all of the new characters that are introduced, which is a shame since many of them are very important to the Otome TV series' history. What we're left with is a show where I can tell you almost exactly what everybody does, but I couldn't tell you a thing about their personalities or what makes them tick. It's really hard to connect with a show beyond a real base level when you can't really relate to someone or something in it. The players are more like pieces on a chessboard than living, breathing human beings that bring the story to life.

Much ado is made about Lena Sayers/Yumemiya throughout the TV series and it's clear, despite the series name, that she's the most important character here. It turns out that she's a highly reluctant Otome, having dropped out at graduation because she fears both her own immense power (seriously, her shit's fucking HAX LEVEL) and having to someday fight with other Otome. You get the idea that she cares and wants to protect those around her, but how does that really make her special? That's almost every Japanese Cartoon protagonist in history. Lena is also the series' attempt to try and desperately connect both the Mai-Otome and Mai-HiME series, and when the show is trying to make these connections, it's just fuck-all stupid. For some reason the writers really wanted this connection, but it feels so ridiculous and tacked on that I had a really hard time taking it seriously.

Sifr Fran is the catalyst that pushes the story forward. Her complicated lineage has put her into a direct line of people that can control the sacred technology of Windbloom Kingdom. For this reason, the Schwarz (headed by both the former and current Mr. Smith) will do anything to get their hands on her, and Garderobe Academy sees fit to have her assassinated should she fall into the wrong hands. Other than her special powers and spunky personality, there's not a whole hell of a lot else you can say about her. She's a fun and spunky character who's genuinely entertaining, but in the grand scheme of things she doesn't quite stand out as much as the writers probably wanted her to. She spends most of the series captured by the Schwarz learning that Garderobe has a hit out on her, and becoming the energy supply for a super weapon that'll destroy whatever the hell they wanna destroy.

There's also the usual smattering of side characters who are either "throwbacks" (it's weird using that word when these characters are actually in the past, so maybe...."throwforwards?") to characters seen later in the Otome storyline, or are directly involved in the events that transpire in the years after this OVA. We're obviously given even less time to connect to these characters and it's hard to appreciate the characters that aren't instantly recognizable as being references. I can appreciate characters like Bruce Windbloom, Elliot Chandler, and M-9 for being pretty cool or total bad-asses and making the best of their screentime by just being fucking awesome, but I always found myself more interested in finding threads of characters more recognizable in the original's storyline.

Thankfully, even though it lacks a whole lot in the storyline and character departments, Sifr does deliver in one of the vital areas where it counts. It has all the glitz and glamour to be entertaining. If the action and quality animation and artwork in Zwei was your thing, then there's almost no way this show can disappoint. I daresay you'd be hard-pressed to find much wrong with the animation and overall look of the show unless you were frame by framing this shit. The character designs are just as good as always and the special battle effects are just as eye-hole pleasing as ever. The production values seem cranked up higher than ever before for this installment, as the fights are even more tense and action-packed than they've ever been. Watch for the character M-9. Then, just sit back and enjoy all slick ass animation and crazy ass action that she, Lena, Miyu, and other Otome unleash upon your screen. And explosions! SON OF A FUCK ME, EXPLOSIONS! There are so many explosions in this show that "& Explosions" could have been a suitable subtitle for the series.

In conclusion, though it features some of the highest production values and best action the brand has to offer, My-Otome 0~S.ifr~ just isn't as enjoyable as Zwei can be at the end of the day. It was entertaining, but unlike Zwei it sorta had to be more than that, given that it wants to be a Mai-Otome history lesson. At least, that's what it prides itself on. Unfortunately, there's no pay-off. Zwei had the advantage of familiar faces and only had to focus on telling a story and keeping the viwer interested with its action or fanservicey elements. It had an established base to work from. Sifr didn't have that advantage and had to work much harder at trying to give depth to and make you care about an entirely new cast. Knowing that Lena Sayers is an important figure in Otome's history isn't enough to carry this show and make me give a damn about her or any of the other people involved. The three-episode runtime, which actually works in some ways, actually ends up being the noose that the show ends up hanging itself with.

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