Mahoromatic Anime Review
Mahoromatikku: Automatic Maiden
Mahoromatic: Automatic Maiden
US Release By
Tragicomedic drama about life and death
Season 1: 12 25-minute episodes+special
Season 2: 14 25-minute episodes+special
2001-10-05 - 2001-12-28; 2002-09-26 - 2003-01-16
Unbeknownst to most of the world, Earth is waging a war against an alien intelligence called SAINT. Mahoro is the best fighting android of Vesper, the secret Earth organization opposing SAINT. Having expended most of her life energy fighting for Vesper she is rewarded with the right to spend the remaining time she has in any way she chooses.
In season one Mahoro has chosen--for a reason not apparent--to become a maid working for Misato Suguru, a jr-high-schooler whose parents have died. In order to extend her remaining lifespan from a few days to a little over a year, Mahoro has to disarm, thus lowering her energy expenditure. Suguru leads a fairly ordinary life going to a fairly ordinary school with fairly ordinary friends and one incredibly out-of-the ordinary schoolteacher, the sleazy Shikijou-sensei. The appearance of the quite extraordinary Mahoro in the midst of this (who by the way looks for the world like an ordinary 19-year-old girl) causes some understandable tension and comedic situations. Mahoro's past begins to catch up with her, however, as Ryuuga, the best fighting android of SAINT, shows up to settle his rivalry with Mahoro. He challenges the now severely underpowered Mahoro to a duel to the death and cannot comprehend why Mahoro's current state. This conflict between Ryuuga's violence and Mahoro's devotion to Misato and humanity in general is the focal point of the first season.
In the second season a third organization, the shadowy Keepers, make their appearance. They are the secret government of Earth and perceive both SAINT and Vesper to be threats to Earth's (and their) security and thus set out to destroy them. They view Mahoro as a valuable specimen to improve their cybernetics program and attempt to capture her as well. Meanwhile Mahoro's time is running out, and as all three organizations converge on her, Misato Suguru's house becomes ground zero for the struggle for the future of Earth.
If you are wondering what on earth I meant when I described the genre of this series, I must admit I am wondering about that as well. This series, along with many other Gainax works, is so varied that it is hard to describe with a word or even a phrase.
Is it an action anime? Parts of it are, and the title character Mahoro is a fighting robot, though not of the giant variety. Is it a comedy? Once you see Misato Suguru's interaction with his friends and witness his being chased by the shouta-minded Shikijou-sensei you may well think so. Is there romance? Yes! Suguru is surrounded by girls! This leads to light, humorous romantic moments but it is his relationship with Mahoro that deserves serious consideration in this category. Tragedy? Absolutely. In the very first episode it is made clear that Mahoro has little more than a year left to live (to say "to function" would be putting it too coldly) and it is this inevitability of death that provides one of the main points of the series. Given this premise, and a few other events along the way, this series has all the trappings of tragedy. However, none of these are definitive of Mahoromatic which is what makes categorizing it hard. I think "All of the Above" would be a good choice.
The art of Mahoromatic is very pleasant, clean, with character design following the conventional anime style. The action is very well done as well. The character break into Super Deformed every now and then, but it is kept to a minimum.
I've noticed that Gainax generally does a very good job with its soundtracks and Mahoromatic is no exception. The music is just as varied as the themes in the show and each piece suits its theme perfectly from the manic "Sou! Sou! Sou!" to the serene "Saigo no Negai". It is applied with the same level of talent with which it was made, providing a perfect backdrop for the action.
One of the things that would probably strike anyone as unusual about this series is the amazingly frequent use of "fan service" shots. Almost every episode, excepting Mahoro's climactic confrontation with Ryuuga in season 1 and with the Keeper forces in season 2, contrives some way to show one of the female characters (predominantly Mahoro or the all-too-willing Shikijou-sensei) in a revealing situation. In most cases, if not all, this nudity does not advance the plot and, if anything, detracts from it by making it harder to take the series seriously. Before watching Mahoromatic I'd never seen this much fan service used in a non-H production so it took a bit of getting used to. Everything else about Mahoromatic is so good, though, that this shouldn't be a problem for most viewers.
In order to write even half-coherently about what I saw as important ideas in the series I believe I must make references to events in Mahoromatic and so if you would not like anything to be spoiled (and I don't think you should, there are some interesting surprises in the story) it would perhaps be best to skip this next indented section.
Mahoromatic is full of contrasts. From the first episode of Mahoromatic it is established that Mahoro will die, and soon. Her impending death is further accentuated by a little counter appearing at the end of each episode displaying her remaining time. This is put in direct conflict with the lightheartedness of the ordinary life of Misato and his friends. The viewer and Mahoro are the only ones that have to deal with her fate which lends even otherwise completely ordinary moments great emotional power. Mahoro's expression when Misato and co. are making plans for next year (beyond her remaining lifespan) and inviting her to join them is incredibly touching. This is where I think the ecchi moments may have a purpose as well. By juxtaposing those mostly comedic and always life-affirming moments with the background of inevitable death a tension is created that adds to the emotional impact of the series.
Why, however, would a robot care whether it died or not? Another, quite obvious, contrast is between humans and robots, which is personified in Mahoro. In the beginning she takes her job as a maid in order to atone to Suguru for being directly responsible for his father's death. (Suguru has no idea that his father was a member of Vesper and commanded Mahoro in battle.) She expects to serve him until he finds out the truth at which point he will reject her. Mahoro isn't concerned with her impending death too much because she believe she will be found out won't have a purpose to serve anymore thus removing a need to exist. As time goes on, and rejection never appears, her relationship with Misato and with the other characters makes her value her own life both because of the pain that her death would cause to others and because she herself has begun to enjoy living, thus transcending the boundary between the human and the machine. Ryuuga, witnessing Misato's devotion to Mahoro and finally understanding why she is no longer eager to fight to the death, declares his inferiority to Mahoro and withdraws his challenge. He is awed by her transcendence.
A more lighthearted contrast is between the outwardly Puritan Mahoro and the lewdness that crops up on a regular basis. Between Suguru's obsession with breasts and frequent appearances by the lustful Shikijou there are plenty of opportunities for Mahoro to use her famous catchphrase, "Ecchi nano ha ikenai to omoimasu!" - "I think Ecchi is inappropriate!". As the series progresses and Mahoro's hidden discontent, bordering on obsession, with the small size of her breasts (!) is revealed, it becomes the first indication that she is more than just a cold machine. Though Mahoro values her life, she also accepts her death, far more than Misato is able to. Her emotional involvements cause her to put others' welfare, especially Misato's, before her own when fighting the twisted creations of the Keepers and so the inevitable occurs.
If most of the series is about facing death, the last episode is about coping with it afterward. Set twenty years after Mahoro's death, it shows a different world and a very different Misato Suguru. Even the art, far more realistic than before, suggests that this world of perpetual twilight is nothing like the sunny world of Misato's childhood. He has not been able to deal with Mahoro's death and is perpetually tortured by his past. The ending, and his reunion with Mahoro is relatively open-ended, but seems to suggest his retreat from reality and memories into death as well.
Mahoromatic runs the gamut of all possible genres and compiles them all into a cohesive, powerful work. No matter what the viewer's preference in genre, I would think that he wouldn't be disappointed by this series. The only thing that kept it from being perfect was the unnecessarily frequent fan service that clashed with the more serious parts of the show. Nonetheless, you really can't go wrong with Mahoromatic.
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Notes and Trivia
US DVD Review
Geneon's DVDs boast of English and Japanese audio tracks, anamorphic widescreen video, an art gallery, clean opening and ending animation, promo trailers, TV commercials, and actor commentaries. They're available in both six individual volumes (three for each season) or a thinpak box set of the works that also includes the soundtrack CD.
13-up; perhaps unnecessarily frequent fan service shots
Violence: 2 - Combat between robots, mostly.
Nudity: 3 - Fan service, yet again.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Ecchi humor resulting from the mixture of nudity and jr-high-schoolers, or those with that mindset.
Language: 0 - Nothing special here.