Anime Review: Maria-sama ga Miteru

Maria-sama ga Miteru is a 2003 anime about the relationships between the girls on the student council at Lilian Private Catholic School for girls. It’s a famous shoujo ai or girls’ love series which most anime otakus have heard of. Yet most people haven’t actually seen it. I definitely recommend watching it! The series had 3 other seasons after the first. All four were based on the light novel series written by Oyuki Konno. The title is often translated to “The Virgin Mary Watches Over Us,” but this is misleading, because title really means, “The Virgin Mary Is Watching.” The implication is that the girls must not misbehave because they’re being watched; it isn’t meant to imply they are being kindly cared for by Mother Mary.

Why is the title important? Well, in addition to having a specific meaning in the story which I won’t spoil here, it helps set the tone of the series. Some of the girls are here by choice, but many were pressured into it or ordered to attend Lilian by their parents. Even the ones who came by choice can have a hard time following the rules of the school. They must always remain “ladylike,” from a very old-fashioned and closed-minded idea of what it is to be a refined young lady. Basically, they aren’t even allowed to be teenagers. The restrictions also go for romance. Even the pairs of girls who are obviously more like couples than friends (such as Yumi and Sachiko)– even they don’t play around physically, at least not usually. Why? Because Maria-sama is Watching.

Story: 7/10

In this review, the story category includes the originality, excitement, and pacing/structure of the plot, in addition to how well-written it is and how it compares to similar anime. Maria-sama ga Miteru is a school drama with shoujo ai and romance, so the only real plot is how the girls in their couples deal with difficulties in their relationships and in other day-to-day issues. Objectively, it’s a weak plot and it’s not “exciting.” It’s also not the most original story anymore, but that’s because so many stories with shoujo ai and all-girls schools were actually inspired by Maria-sama ga Miteru. For its time, with the first light novels published in the late 90s, it was a unique story. This is one reason why the it’s difficult to analyze.

Given that it’s not exactly exciting and no longer original, I might say the story is average, for a rating of five. However, the pacing and structure of the plot is quite remarkable. In addition, the unfolding of events and the scripts are written excellently. Furthermore, compared to other similar anime, Maria-sama is not about “yuri action,” nor is there any kind of fanservice. It’s about the girls and their various complex relationships, in a time and place where it’s neither safe nor acceptable to be lesbian. Focus rests on the characters’ daily lives and not their sexual play.

I think the insistence on being free of “yuri action” is quite bold, and it shows that the creators really wanted to represent the world of a private Catholic girls’ school. They strongly believed in their own characters, too. Kudos to the show for this dedication, and this originality. Anime is typically an industry with content produced to make fans happy, but in this case, the creators refused to have any part of pandering. Thanks to the good writing, pacing, and refreshing stance seen in the plot, I think it’s far better than “average.”

Art: 7/10

(Later seasons improve the art, but this is from season one)

I enjoy seeing the style of art seen in Maria-sama ga Miteru. However, the anime was made in 2003, when art and animation were less polished and detailed. There was also less budget for anime, and it really shows in Marimite. (For example, there are tons of still-shots.) I have to admit that the art isn’t as visually appealing or high-production-value as some modern, higher budget series. The animation of movement still looks ok to me, most of the time, and the face expressions are great. The nature and tree backgrounds are simple but beautiful, and many have the look of being drawn or painted by hand.

People with low tolerance for diveristy in style might complain about Marimite. Some of the characters have eyes the size of plates, noses sharp enough to cut yourself on, and bodies without the over-sexualized, distinct curves and breasts of today’s anime girls. Now, today’s anime still has characters with absurd proportions and features that are exaggerated or minimized in some ways; the difference is in what parts are exaggerated or minimized in what ways. That’s why I think it’s absurd to say the art in Maria-sama is bad; it’s simply different.

Sound: 9/10

(Mamiko Noto is the voice of Shimako)

If you can find the DVDs or a rendering on a streaming site with decent audio quality, then your ears are in for a treat with Maria-sama ga Miteru. It’s magnificent! The main theme music is beauitful and I’ve never been able to forget the tune. We hear several versions of it in the anime besides the one that plays in the opening. The other pieces of music are pretty good, too. I think the voice-acting is terrific, and that makes up for sometimes awkward or vague lines. (Part of that issue is due to translation.) Kana Ueda, who later played Rin Tohsaka in the Fate series, also voiced Yumi. Her voice is adorable! Sachiko was played by Itou Miki, a favorite of mine who later voiced Miyo Takano in the Higurashi series. Mamiko Noto, voice of Enma Ai in Hell Girl, appears in the role of Shimako. Her voice is so soothing.

Characters: 8/10

(L to R: Yumi, Sachiko, Yoko, Yoshino, Rei, Eriko, Sei, and Shimako)

Some say the characters aren’t good because they look alike or all have hard-to-pronounce names. I can sort of understand that if they’re not used to anime yet or have only seen super colorful anime. For me, though, the characters are easy to tell apart because of their different hair designs, range of expressions, and memorable seiyuu voices. I forget their family names sometimes, but it’s not difficult to learn their given names. Regardless, the characters for this series are well-written and interesting. They are the life of the show, since there’s no real plot except the interactions and relationships between the characters.

The characters are each believable, which you can’t always say is the case in shoujo ai and yuri shows. They are all sort of “normal,” but not boring. They could be real girls. That’s what it feels like. Each character has some complexity. If Yumi were more simply written, then as someone who adored Sachiko, she would have agreed to be Sachiko’s Soeur right away. Instead, she refused, because Sachiko at first only chose her at random. Yumi couldn’t stand that. It took at least several days for she and Sachiko to work it out. Instead of being a one-dimensional, elegant senpai character, who is always poised, Sachiko can be very emotional. She’s prone to frustration and impatience, and isn’t always lovely.

Personal Enjoyment: 9/10

(Yes, Sei’s hand is where you’re imagining it)

My favorite things about Maria-sama ga Miteru are the music, the voice actor performances, the characters, and the different kinds of relationships between the girls. The music is so soothing, and when appropriate, dramatic. My favorite couple is Yumi x Sachiko, but my favorite characters by themselves are Sei and Shimako. I can’t really say why they’re my favorites without spoiling parts of their stories, but in essence, it’s because they are both people that defy the norm. If anything took away from my enjoyment in the series, it was just that Yumi x Sachiko never kissed, or else they did and it was never shown. However, that’s only a small irritation, and I was very happy about what they did together in the last episode.

Overal Score = 8.0/10 Excellent

I highly recommend this show if you like shoujo ai or just friendships and sisterhoods between girls. If you’re a fan of more explicit yuri, I still recommend giving Marimite a watch when you have free time, because it’s a classic that set the stage for many other all-girls shows. If you’re an major anime otaku and yet haven’t seen the show, definitely watch it as soon as possible. You’ll understand a lot of references in other anime series if you watch a few episodes of Maria-sama ga Miteru. This has been Anime Rants. Ja ne!

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