Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Complete Collection
Kanako Miyamae is a flaming lesbian who so abhors men that she breaks out into hives on contact with them. Given her predilections, transferring to Ame-no-Kisaki Academy (an exclusive girl's school which is also her dearly departed mother's alma mater) at the beginning of her second high school year is the ideal situation, as it offers Kanako a smorgasbord of tasty options for love, which occasionally leaves her overcome with nosebleeds. Fate can play cruel tricks on heroines, however, for the first student she meets and crushes on, the highly-respected first-year cutie Mariya Shido, is actually a boy in disguise, and an evilly manipulative one (complete with a smarmy maid) at that. He quickly discovers her “perversion” and uses it to blackmail Kanako into keeping quiet about his true gender, even becoming her roommate to make sure she behaves. With such an array of luscious girls around her, though, expecting Kanako to completely restrain her hormones may be asking too much.
If Maria Holic fails to entertain some viewers, it certainly will not be for lack of effort. More a pure comedy than a romantic comedy, it tackles its subject matter with energy and glee and flavors its humor with healthy doses of outright weirdness. The series, based on a manga by Minari Endo, takes two tried-and-true comedy gimmicks – the aggressively love-obsessed lesbian and the boy/young man who must pass for a female in an all-girl's school for some contrived reason – and not only throws them together but also puts fresher spins on each; he is two-faced in personality as well as gender, while she has all of the voyeuristic habits of a classic male pervert and a libido so overactive that she might give Ataru Morobishi a run for his money. It even adds in new twists on stock characters in lesbian girl's school series, such as the princely upperclassman who seeks to protect the heroine but goes more than a little overboard in the process, a maid who is shockingly disagreeable towards both her master and the heroine, and the jealous girl who has some bizarre notions on proper intimidation tactics. Toss in a few other oddballs, such as a pint-sized Dorm Leader who has animal ears, merrily sings morbid songs, and insists on being called God, and you have a lively mix for muddling through all sorts of mundane and not-so-mundane school life situations.
Some of it is even funny. The way the maid Matsurika casually inserts very blunt insults into what she says may catch viewers off-guard the first time but is often good for at least a giggle after that. Some of Kanako's antics also amuse, particularly since she displays such a masculine mindset to her perversions despite her decidedly feminine appearance, and the notion of a girl who develops hives from physical contact with boys getting a nosebleed from a girlishly cute display by someone she knows for fact is a boy disguised as a girl has a certain wicked charm to it. The reason behind why Mariya is doing what he is, once finally revealed about halfway through the series, is also as absurd as the circumstances surrounding it. The series definitely saves the best for last, as the last two episodes are the funniest, due in no small part to the presence of Father Kanae, the series' lone (obviously) male character, who carries his attempts to interpret the subtleties of events and comments to ridiculous extremes. The series' very last scene may, in fact, be its most sputter-worthy moment.
At other times, though, the series is just outright weird, and that weirdness does not always translate into humor; in fact, it sometimes gets in the way of the jokes rather than enhancing them. The whole business with seafood (and later mountain food) being used as an intimidation technique is an example of the latter, with the “expanding seaweed” gimmick in particular spinning out of control. The bag with the mysterious tentacled critter inside is a little funnier, but the more bizarre elements are very hit-or-miss. The same could be said about the occasional attempts at actual drama, which feel out of place and rarely actually go anywhere.
The effort to entertain also shows up in the artistry. Director Yukihiro Miyamoto, who gets his first lead job with this project, mixes the style up a lot, with regular art alternating with extreme caricatures, flashes of shojo manga art stills (from the original source material?), and scenes where background characters are not colored. He even borrows some from Gankutsuou in the way that clothing patterns sometimes remain static as the characters move and uses carpet patterns reproduced from a famous M.C. Escher drawing. These and various other effects in the visual milieu contribute towards keeping the look of the series from ever getting boring. The series also offers a nicely-rendered and attractive set of character designs but restrains itself from delving much into fan service. It is not all that fully-animated for as frenetic as it often is, due to the number of still shots it uses, and the animation it does have is decent but unremarkable, with a creative emphasis on the nosebleed scenes.
The musical score is better, as it handles well the pacing of events and various mood changes, especially the stranger parts. Opener “Hanaji” (i.e. “nosebleed”), a peppy, rockin' number whose lyrics explain the premise of the series, makes the series almost worth checking out for it alone. A cutesy closer, which features old-school video game-styled visuals, rounds out each episode; watch these carefully and you may notice that the visuals change slightly each episode.
Like all first-run Sentai Filmworks releases, this one has no dub. The subtitles are mostly error-free this time, though their choice of translation in places (such as not retaining the word “cosplay” at one point) is a little odd given that these subbed-only release play more directly to established anime fans than broader audiences. On the upside, Sentai has added numerous notes to clarify various obscure topics that periodically come up - and some parts of this show definitely would have made less sense without them. The original Japanese dub features some spirited performances, especially Asami Sanada's rendition of Kanako; she has such a high percentage of the dialog, and delivers it so intensely and so rapid-fire, that it has to have been one of the most draining vocal performances since Kotono Mitsuishi's Excel from Excel Saga.
Atypically for a Sentai Filmworks release, this one has a substantial set of Extras split across its two disks. On the first disk is a 19 minute interview with the three lead seiyuu done as a prerelease series promotion for Japanese TV channel AT-X; the most interesting tidbit in this piece is how Ms. Sanada felt like a “middle-aged man” while performing Kanako. The second disk has a broader set, including a Japanese promotional video, a collection of Japanese TV commercials, and a complete set of clean closers. The other Extra is “Amenosaki Holy Night Festival,” a 22-minute collection of clips taken from a Christmas promotional event for the series held at a church - a very interesting choice for a number of reasons. Each episode also has an extra bit tacked onto its end, at least some of which were apparently originally Japanese DVD Extras.
Ultimately Maria Holic is a series without a meaningful plot, as it never much explores the one potential plot thread it does offer up (i.e. that Mariya actually occasionally seems to be genuinely sympathetic towards Kanako) and never seems to be going much of anywhere else. The end makes it clear that there is no intent to animate any further content, either. It is more a stand-alone sketch comedy than anything, but taken in that sense, it works well enough.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Interesting twists on (and combinations of) common gimmicks, sometimes quite funny, opener.
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