Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Mai's first day in her new town gets off to a bad start when she & her brother Takumi spot a body floating in the bay - although not quite dead, as CPR quickly brings her around. There's something strange about her, though - first, there's a mark on her arm which matches one on Mai's breast, and second, a group of people seem quite keen on capturing her. Mai's caught up in the capture attempt - giving her her first encounter with HiME, as captor & would-be captive battle it out below the ship's decks - and her first realisation that she possesses the same power...
That's HiME as in Highly advanced Materialising Equipment, in case you were wondering. Of course, Mai doesn't initially realise what HiME are or what they're called - the details are all fleshed out in the initial few episodes - but the first episode's battle gives a good sense of the show's action credentials and style, and a little taster of the setting, while introducing the first batch of what eventually turns out to be a huge cast.
The school that Mai and Takumi find themselves at has been specifically formed with the aim of gathering the girls with HiME powers together, for reasons that don't become apparent until the second half of the series. On the one side of this process are school principal Mashiro (a wheelchair-bound young girl) and the scheming Nagi, who are responsible for identifying the girls and bringing them together; on the other hand, student Natsuki and her associates, who initially seem equally determined not to allow that to happen. In the middle are the other girls, including Mai, who have to make up their own minds whether to play ball or not. For the first four episodes, there's not much evidence of any overarching plot - that comes later - but there's a fair amount of time spent dealing with the show's basic premise and giving the first few HiME to be introduced - Mai, Natsuki and Mikoto - a chance to show off their abilities in some very well-presented set-piece battles. The machines that the girls can summon, known as Children, have a mecha feel about them, so there's a slight giant-robot feel about the action scenes as well. So far, so good.
The cast themselves are as varied a bunch of characters as you're ever likely to see - think of a typical anime personality, and odds are someone fitting the archetype will eventually turn up. That does sometimes make it feel like the creators were trying a little too hard to please everyone who might be watching, but the way the characters are introduced feels right and not forced. Some are friendly, some aren't, but nearly all of them are enjoyable to watch.
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