Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 16th 2012
Maria Holic Alive
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
It's been two months since Kanako Miyamae first arrived at the all-girls Ame-no-Kisaki boarding school, and in that time her desire to find her lifelong mate and her nosebleed-generating flaming lesbian tendencies have not waned one iota. Neither has her tendency to break out in hives whenever she comes in contact with a male, but that wouldn't be so much of a problem if it weren't for regular visits from Father Kanae, who tries in his incompetent way to take her under his wing as he struggles with his own desires, or the fact that her very pretty and popular first-year roommate is still secretly a cross-dressing guy. As the rainy spring progresses into and through the hot summer, Kanako faces many trials (in one case literally so) and tribulations that are as often as not brought upon her by her. First up is a veritable test of courage through the abandoned, trap-filled Girl's Dormitory #1, followed by a round of weird card games, misadventures in dieting and swimming, failed finals leading to summer school, troublesome birthday parties, a cursed rosary, and visits by Kanako's sister and Ryuken's supposed fiancé, amongst other shenanigans. Shizu (and her butler, Matsurika's twin brother Rindo) also make appearances, and Kanako even finds herself silenced for one entire episode.
The first season of Maria Holic was an energetic exploration of overactive psyches, comically cruel twists of fate, amusingly bizarre characters, and completely random parodies and cultural references which combined to make one of the most madcap comedies since Excel Saga. Its second season, which mostly follows the first chronologically but has one episode (episode 7) which overlaps with the final episode of the first season, is at least as effective and may, in fact, be even funnier. Episodes which can leave a viewer sitting with a silly grin for nearly their entire run are few and usually far between, but Alive accomplishes that feat more than once.
Nearly everything which made the first season fun to watch is back. Kanako's hyperactive libido is still in overdrive as she imagines all sorts of bold scenarios of the type normally attributed to male characters, her nosebleeds still leave her in fixes which restrict her activities, and her tendency to spout utterly random cultural references when she freaks out is even more pronounced this time around. Mariya, meanwhile, still delights with his dramatic contrast between the sweet, girly public persona he displays and the more sadistic, acerbic personality that only Matsurika and Kanako get to see – although, like in the first series, occasional moments do still pop up which suggest that he may have a soft spot for Kanako. Matsurika's sharp tongue is much more restrained this time around, but that's made up for by a much more pronounced role by Father Kanae, whose tendency to overthink everything leads to him making all sorts of shaky assumptions, and the introduction of Shizu's butler Rindo, who is suave on the outside but a survival nut on the inside, one who has some sort of fixation on catching Mariya in one of his traps. The Dorm Supervisor is still creepy good fun as she goes around continuing to call herself God and suggesting that she may actually be inhumanly old. All of the other girls are back, too, but their presences, with rare exceptions, are less critical to the series' comedic success. More surprising is the reappearance of Enjouji, the sexy, dark-skinned swim teacher who appeared only in Kanako's dream in episode 12 of the first season.
The series does not just depend on its great cast of core characters, however. While it does not really have an overall plot, it differs from most other gag comedies in its episode-to-episode continuity; whereas others tend to consist of one or more standalone gags per episode, the gags in one episode of this series often set up the gags in the next. For instance, the consequences of the “dieting gone wrong” gag in episode 3 are the foundation for the “trial of Kanako” sequence which takes up most of episode 4. Kanako failing all of her finals in episode 5 leads to her spending a week in the functional equivalent of Dragon Ball Z's Hyperbolic Time Chamber, at the end of which she emerges to find out that many strange trends have been established in her absence; episode 6 spends its time explaining how those came about, while further fall-out comes in the summer school she has to take in later episodes. Episode 7 of this series interlaces with episode 12 of the first series. Kanako's failed actions during episode 8 led to her having her mouth taped shut for all of episode 9. (She is forbidden to speak.) Never truly explained is the cliffhanger ending for the first series concerning Kanako's rosary, although it does end up being used for something special in the final episode of this one.
The series has plenty of random fun, too. Episode 12 features a brief shot of a mysterious underground beneath Ame-no-Kiseki, one which has all sorts of curious oddities in it that are, of course, never explained or elaborated upon. In addition to the aforementioned DBZ reference, astute viewers can also catch references to Infinite Stratos, Doreamon, Initial D, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, among possibly others. Installments of “Matsurika's Journal” sometimes pop up as post-credits bonuses, while other parody bonuses take the place of the time slot normally occupied by Next Episode previews. Viewers familiar with Japanese TV programming beyond just anime may also catch other random references, and additional jokes are occasionally slipped into the artwork.
The artistic style and gimmicks remain consistent with the first series, though the rendering quality may have even improved slightly. Those are still Escher patterns on the carpet of the dormitory room, we still see a fair amount of SD and highly stylized shojo images of characters, and various other artistic gimmicks are regularly used to give the series an interesting look without making it seem to try too hard. Character designs are consistently nicely-drawn and eye-pleasingly attractive, whether it's Kanako's great height, Mariya's girlish charm, or Kanako's sister Miki's appealing cuteness, as is background art; for all of the mixing of various styles, SHAFT's quality control never slips. Animation is good enough, with cleverer use made of still shots here than in most TV anime series and attention paid even to small details like how differently certain characters run. (In one scene where Matsurika, Kanako, and Mariya run side-by-side, Kanako runs in the traditional “arms flailing” style of anime girls while Mariya runs more aggressively like a boy and Matsurika runs like some swooping caped avenger.) The series also has some nicely-animated openers and closers but very little true fan service.
The musical score needed to be very flexible to handle all of the sudden shifts and wackiness inherent in the content, but it does impressively well enough that learning that music director Tatsuya Nishiwaki has only one other minor scoring credit outside of this franchise is rather surprising. Even within the same episode it can shift from being lightly sentimental to wistfully sad to jaunty to even a variety of pop and rock beats with an '80s flavor. The first season featured a particularly strong premise-explaining opener, and this one starts out that way, too, with “Moso Senshi Miyamae Kanako,” a rip-off of classic mecha and sentai series opening themes, which is used for the first four episodes. After that “Runrunriru Ranranrara,” which is sung by Mariya voice actress Yu Kobayashi for all but one episode and focuses on an abnormally cheery version of Mariya, provides an entertainingly enthusiastic start; the exception is one episode sung by Matsurika's seiyuu Marina Inoue, which also has some amusing Matsurika-focused touches. The closer for all but the first and last episodes is an upbeat dance number. Amongst Japanese vocal performances, the stand-out is once again Asami Sanada (probably best-known as the voice of Di Gi Charat's title character), who continues to do a wonderful job of keeping up with Kanako's rapid-fire delivery and giving her a distinctive vocal style.
Like with the first series, Sentai Filmworks is also releasing this one undubbed and DVD-only. This time around the Extras include clean versions of all of the openers and closers and a Japanese audio commentary track for each episode which features various seiyuu. The subtitles also regularly include on-screen translation notes for some of the more obscure bits, although especially in the early episodes one needs to be quick with the pause button to catch some of them. Interestingly, the subtitles specifically refer to Kanako as a “lipstick lesbian” this time around; clearly the American rather than British connotation of this term is intended here.
Alive also suffers the same weakness as the first anime series: it flounders on hitting the right note on the rare occasion when it tries to be serious, though this happens less often and more effectively this time around. Between that and its consistently effective humor it will certainly not disappoint anyone who liked the first season.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Lots of highly entertaining humor, parodies, and crazy, inventive gags.
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