Mahoromatic: Automatic Maiden Vol.02 Review
After the seaside encounter with the panty-thieving-crab-beast-thingy from hell, life has settled back to normal for Mahoro and Suguru. Naturally though, this temporary respite comes crashing to a halt by impending summer activities and festivals. Also, increasing Saint activity is making it more and more difficult for Vesper to control sightings of alien vessels by the nation’s media, but as long as no major damage is being caused they cannot engage the enemy. What’s more worrying is that Mahoro is a warrior known to Saint and the earth forces are concerned that the aliens may wish to track her down and get some payback for the damage she caused back in the war. However, it seems their worst fears may have already been realised when a deadly opponent from Maho’s past shows up as a replacement teacher at Suguru’s high school. Just what is Saint’s number one combat Android, Ryuga doing in town during these supposedly peaceful times?
Considering the story of Mahoromatic is partly built on an action sci-fi premise, there has been a surprising lack of plot development in the Vesper-Saint conflict that dominated most of Mahoro’s former life. Volume two redresses the balance a little with the enemy making it’s first proper showing in the latter two episodes. The first couple of episodes are pretty similar to what we saw in the previous volume; episode one is a fun, disposable ghost mystery that almost seems to be obligatory in Anime comedies of this type. Episode two is another genre cliché: a summer festival episode, but it’s much more involving than the opener because it explores some of the more poignant aspects of the story: Maho’s desire to live out the last of her days in as peaceful and normal a manner as possible, Suguru’s pain at the loss of his parents and how Maho has helped fill the void left by their death and last but perhaps the most touching: Slash’s pain at being demoted from top mecha assassin to canine babysitter. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
The real meat of the volume lies in it’s second half, because now that we’ve reached the midpoint of the season, it’s time for some proper story to kick in. There are many questions that need answering about the events in Mahoro’s past. Like what exactly was the Alien wars about, who are Saint, what’s their goal and how well known was Suguru’s father to this enemy. We know from flashbacks in the previous volume that Mahoro had to kill Suguru senior in the line of duty and this secret continues to haunt her throughout proceedings on this disc, but for now she has bigger fish to fry in the shape of newcomer Ryuga. The concept of a strong rival who couldn’t be beaten in the past return to threaten the protagonist’s present will feel very familiar to Rurouni Kenshin fans, but this sort of cribbing is part and parcel of Anime and Manga in Japan and certainly GAINAX have always been a studio who are inspired and pay homage to a whole host of shows in their own series. Also, they never take it all too seriously - they always remember to give the fans a knowing wink of parody or tongue in cheek reference of whichever show they’re ripping off in each episode. Besides, it’s a plot device that clearly works; just as Saito Hajime’s arrival signalled the start of a great story arc in Rurouni Kenshin, Ryuga’s arrival gives the series a much-needed antagonist and a new direction for the story to go. At the moment the character is pretty a bit of an enigma, a proud warrior who is embarrassed about never being able to defeat Mahoro in their previous encounters, he also seems a lot less evil than we’d have thought, seemingly going out of his way to help people at times. Hopefully the character will continue to play an active role in the story and provide more insight into the Saint organisation in episodes to come.
As ever the deviant Shikijo sensei is on hand to intimidate her flat chested rival and terrify Suguru with threats of abnormal and dangerous first contact (whatever could she mean?). She may not appear half as much as she did in the first four episodes but if you ask me her character works best in the sidelines than in a central role. Suguru’s friends are given a similar downsize in screentime but I can’t say I’m missing them at the moment, overall this second batch of episodes has raised the bar for the show and provides some great gags whilst fleshing out and giving a face to the villains of the piece, thus introducing some much needed plot intrigue. Bring on the concluding volume!
While I have tried my best not to reveal too much about each episode in these synopses, please bare in mind that the second episode and onwards may feature spoilers for the episodes prior.
Episode 5. In an Hydrangea Garden: Suguru ropes Maho into getting involved in his upcoming Summer Group Activities. The theme this year is to explore the nine mysteries of Hiryu School. The group has to search the premises looking for the ghosts that legend has it roam the hallways at night. Naturally Maho is skeptical and quick to point out that she’s an android made of human intellect and science, so therefore doesn’t believe in unscientific ideas. Suguru himself is a little skeptical, but two legends in particular have piqued his curiosity. Can these legends persuade Mahoro to forgo her scientific values and believe in the existence of the undead?
Episode 6. Lady Teacher Saori, Age: Twenty-Five:
Another day, another Summer festival is looming. This time round it’s the town’s annual Dance of the Dead celebration and the old lechers on the town council have elected Mahoro for the all-important role of Dance Maiden. At first, Maho’s reluctant to accept their invitation, saying there must be more suitable candidates for the position, but once she find’s out Miss Shikijo was a former Maiden she’s soon persuaded to graciously accept and soon gets stuck into rehearsing the grueling dance routine. Meanwhile Vesper are having difficulties covering up increased activity from Saint vessels, what’s more they’re concerned that the enemy may track Mahoro down and try to eliminate her. To counter this possibility, Maho’s old attack droid, Slash is sent in to protect her, but Maho’s got other ideas about how to put the deadly feline robot to good use….
Episode 7. How Shallow the Grave: There’s been a breakout at the local jail and as the escapees flee in a stolen car they lose control of the vehicle, careering into the path of Chizuru. Suguru and the gang can only look on in horror, but the day is saved when a handsome, athletic stranger hoists the youngster out of the car’s path. It turns out this stranger is their new supply teacher Mr. Ryuga. He’s an immediate hit with the female students but Suguru isn’t so impressed. He’s more concerned with the physical prowess the teacher displayed when rescuing Chizuru. Could he be another android? If so, is he friend or foe?
Episode 8. I Will Shoot Him Through the Heart: With the arrival of her most formidable opponent back in the war, Maho’s thoughts are more than ever in the painful events of her past. Suguru is picking up on her change in attitude and comes to the decision that he needs to find out just who exactly Ryuga is. He knows Maho would never tell him the truth if asked directly, so he plans a welcoming party for the new teacher to gauge how his maid will react in Ryuga’s company.
This is how you slap an anime onto disc – Mahoromatic Vol.2 looks great! Anamorphic, 1.75:1 with pristine colours, solid detail levels and no signs of cross-colouration. Some banding does creep into darker tones but for the most part the visuals are crisp and clean, contrast and brightness levels are spot on as well.
For audio there’s a choice of Japanese or English DD 2.0 surround and both audio tracks are very good. On the Japanese DD2.0 track, dialogue is clear as a whistle and bass reproduction is solid. Obviously it doesn’t quite have the same punch a proper 5.1 remaster would, but when the action kicks in the 2.0 handles it admirably. Overall it’s a warm and involving sonic experience. The English track echoes the Japanese in all but the language.
Optional English subtitles are provided in the usual yellow font for dialogue and white font for numerous signs that appear throughout this show.
Not much here I’m afraid, just an Art Gallery, Japanese TV commercial and a couple of Japanese Promos, not to mention ADV trailers for Neaon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Edition, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, Azumanga Daioh, Last Exile and Generator Grawl.
I have to admit that while proceedings aren’t getting any more original, the characters remain as likeable as ever and with the introduction of Slash and Ryuga we have two welcome additions to the cast. Add some much needed plot development and you have the ingredients for another batch of entertaining episodes. If the season continues to improve as it goes along then volume 3 should be well worth the wait. ADV’s DVD presentation is bang on the money as well, there may not be much in the way of extra materials but the Audio/Video side is very good indeed.