Class S relationships and pure shōjo-ai drama are basic staples of Maria-sama ga Miteru. Staples that are sublimely handled and well-integrated into such a pleasant title.
Title: Maria-sama ga Miteru (Translation: Maria Watches Over Us)
Episodes: 13 (+7 specials)
Producer: Studio Deen
Genre: Drama, Romance, Shoujo-Ai, Slice-of-life
Recommended/Similar Titles: Aria, Aoi Hana, Strawberry Panic
Review Source Medium: DVD Boxset
When Yumi Fukuzawa entered the Lillian Girls’ Academy, a prestigious all-girls Catholic school in Tokyo, she never imagined she would catch the eye of beautiful and demure Sachiko Ogasawara, one of the school’s most popular students. Now Sachiko has offered to be Yumi’s soeur, her “sister” and guide for all her years at the academy. The whole idea has Yumi completely flustered – after all, they hardly know each other!
The entire campus is abuzz with rumors about the two of them, but Yumi is conflicted over accepting Sachiko’s offer. While she admires Sachiko, being her soeur would also mean constantly being at the center of the entire school’s attention!
For most viewers in the east, Maria-sama ga Miteru (Maria Watches Over Us In English) is one the most beloved and cherished series that sports an aura of refinement, grace, and visual splendor behind its melodramatic mask. Without a doubt, this rings true for such a elegant and straightforward title.
The premise for the series centers around the illustrious Lillian Girls’ Academy, a catholic school designed on the seour (french for sister) system, where a select few 1st year girls are granted a rosary by their seniors to become their petite soeur (or little sister). Yumi Fukuzawa, a new student is approached by one of the most popular and model students of the Yamayuri student council, Sachiko Ogasawara to be her sister, but Yumi is hesitant and yet, undeniably interested in Sachiko. Throughout the series, Yumi is introduce to her fellow Yamayuri Council mates in the Rose Mansion and all the while, learning what the bonds of soeurship entail and her own developing bond between her now grand soeur (french for big sister), Sachiko.
As honored as this series is, the first two episodes are rather bland and tedious to sit through. Examples include: massive info-dumping of terms without explanation, loaded to the rim with stifling dialogue, lines of relationships hard to follow (due to titles) and overall, just plain slow. However, after Yumi and Sachiko solidify their soeur bonds (and characters are properly defined), the series turns into quite the captivating and mildly engrossing watch as it unearths the various relationships of the Rose Mansion family dynamics; writhe with drama, touching exchanges, and the bonds that bind specific characters together. With that said, Maria-sama ga Miteru is an extremely character-driven series that well emphasizes the aforementioned in various capacities such as the: Yamayuri Council and soeur system itself, but also found in the spoken dialogue and unspoken gestures that the characters present. Everything that can not be expressed by the characters in words appears one way or another with subtly yet to great effective.
While Maria-sama ga Miteru is spot on with its solid characterization and execution of it, Studio Deen’s animation is a rather unjust compliment to it all: pitched together with lackluster backgrounds and shallow in detail to say the least. However, despite the neglectful quality in a few areas, it does not affect the series austere yet appealing aura and works very well in various others. This can further be attributed to its wonderful soundtrack selection aiding the mood (silence included) and voice acting cast linked to their respective characters. Fittingly, looking at it from this viewpoint, the aesthetic productions do seem to match up to the atmosphere series just fine and help justly define the series as whole than they do independently.
Personally, I found Maria-sama ga Miteru exactly as aforementioned: refined and charming. It is exactly as it seems and nothing less. While it might not contain comedy (the specials a nice job of poking fun of the series) or any serious drama, it does represent itself well in the character and relationship drama arena. The cast of characters are fairly likeable (my favorite being Yoshino Shimazu of the Rosa Foetida family, petitte soeur to Rei Hasekura), well-written in dialogue (as overbearing as it maybe), and takes a very laid back approach to tie these elements and more together. To me, combing everything together in synchronicity like it does and making it stick, is what made the series a pleasure for me to watch.
By no means is Maria-sama ga Miteru perfect, but it is a breath of fresh air compared to other titles in its class. It carries itself with style and grace, puts it melodrama to good use (too well in various cases), and does it self a service of how it does things rather what it does. At any rate, their is more to commend the series on rather than condemn. This is especially true if you fancy a nice drama filled shoujou-ai series; minus all the baggage it usually comes with. After all, Class S relationships and pure shōjo-ai drama are basic staples of Maria-sama ga Miteru. Staples that are sublimely handled and well-integrated into such a pleasant title.
Pros: Highly character driven story with interesting characters, nice control over its melodrama, subtly in execution, nice soundtrack.
Cons: Sluggish start (combined with jargon used), weak quality control in animation, use of melodrama (not for those that cannot stand it).