Kanako Miyamae is a sophomore high school student who has recently arrived at Ame no Kisaki, a girls school she’s always wanted to go to. Why? To find her one true love female love. This dream comes to a halt when she meets freshman Mariya Shidou and finds out “her” secret. Despite looking very much like a girl, Mariya is actually a boy who attends the girls’ only school to fulfill a challenge from his dead grandmother. That is, if he can pose as a girl all throughout high school without his true gender being revealed, he will become chairman of both the boys and girls schools. Needless to say, Mariya is unhappy when Kanako finds out his secret the day before classes start, forcing her to live in the same dorm as him to keep it a secret, where Kanako eventually learns is that Mariya is not as nice a person as he seems. Although he acts like a nice, sweet girl in school, in reality he’s a cold, cruel, hateful person who treats nearly everyone like dirt, especially Kanako. The only exception is his maid Matsurika, who follows him around nearly everywhere he goes, even posing as a student.
I like SHAFT, or at least the Akiyuki Shinbo side of it. They have produced some of the weirdest, most brilliantly designed/colored anime of the past few years, and I respect them for it. In an era of anime where everything looks good on promo stills but tends to look/animated badly when the show actually premieres, SHAFT is one of the few studios whose promo art actually resembles the series’ art itself.
I also happen to enjoy the comedy anime Shinbo himself has personally been involved with. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Pani Poni Dash are among my favorite comedy anime made in the last 5 years. They’re funny, odd, and brilliantly colored and designed, and I like the grand majority of the characters in both shows. I even listened to both series’ opening and ending themes nearly every episode, something I almost never do with most anime.
With such a pedigree of brilliant shows with fantastic designs under his belt, you probably wonder what I think of Shinbo's (then) most recent comedy, Maria†Holic. The short answer: I don’t like it. The long answer: well..
Let’s start with the “heroine”, Kanako. Kanako likes girls. A lot. In fact, just thinking about them causes her to gush blood from her nose like they were twin geysers, whether it’s from fantasizing her classmates or even the various staff of the school. And I’m not talking about a few drops of blood; I’m talking levels like that of Karin, enough at times to fill up a gallon bottle. These jokes wouldn’t be too bad if they were sparingly used, but they’re not - very rarely does more 3 minutes go by without her getting a nosebleed. Hell, twice in the series she taints an entire pool in blood from bleeding so much, and another has her covering an entire statue in blood! We get it, SHAFT; Kanako is horny.
The only other joke Kanako has pretty much is that she hates guys. In fact, touching one causes her to break out in hives. And why does she hate guys? Because they happened to pick on her, steal pieces of her recorder, make fun of her tall height, and hide her gym uniform when she was younger, driving her to becoming a lesbian. Not only does this logic make absolutely no damn sense, but it’s also incredibly offensive. And Kanako’s obsession with girls is so out of control that even Trekkie Monster from Avenue Q would be disgusted. And aside from him, I can’t name a single character in fiction off the top of my head as consistently lewd as Kanako. (And even if there were any I could name, they sure didn’t nosebleed as much.)
Then there’s Mariya. A cross-dresser who lives in the same dorm as Kanako, his personality can be summed up in one word: bastard. When he's not threatening to rape Kanako if she tells the school he’s a boy or pouring gas on her and threatening to set her on fire if she doesn’t shut up, he's making fun of every trait of hers from her looks to her hobbies. He doesn’t see people as “friends” or “classmates”, but as pawns he can use to raise his own status. He even treats his own cousin and twin sister like dirt. And with the exceptions of Kanako, his twin sister, and his maid Matsurika, everyone is privy to his being a girl, where he puts on a spectacular two-face performance as a nice, kind girl in front of everyone else, talking in the cutsiest voice he can muster. It’s less funny than it is creepy. His maid, Matsurika, is a cold, monotone speaking maid who does little in the show other than insult Kanako, like calling her a pig or making fun of her height.
The other characters can be grouped into typical generic stereotypes. You have the plucky best friends for Kanako, as well as the stern, quiet girl with glasses, the blonde-haired student council president, the tall girl who promises to “protect” Kanako, the sexy school nurse, etc. They're not great characters, but it doesn't really matter anyway; Maria†Holic doesn't treat its side characters like human beings, but as fuel for more of Kanoko's perverted fantasies.
There is, however, one exception I found to the bland side characters: the dorm manager. Commonly referred to as “God”, she is a girl with cat ears and looks no more than 10 or so years old. She has fairly strict rules regarding what can or cannot stay in the dorm, which is most anything not involving education. (One of the few exceptions is the Virtual Boy. When a student later asks in the series why that’s allowed in the dorm, the manager replies, “God has pity on failures”, resulting in one of the very few laughs I got out of the series.) A funny bit of a later episode actually revolves this concept, where she puts on display all the things she confiscated from the dorm rooms, grading them based on how well they were hidden. She grades them on a scale of 1 to 100 (100 being the best), and if they get at least a 60 she’ll allow the repossessed item in question to stay in the dorm room. Another thing about the dorm managers is that she doesn’t like the students who stay at her dorm to fail in school, which Kanoko ends up doing. We never see what happened to her that night, but she mentions the next day that it wasn’t exactly pleasant.
Am I the only one who thinks it’s depressing that the best character in Maria†Holic is a cat girl?
Although the art, like other SHAFT shows, is quite good and has flashes of brilliantly laid out angles and designs every now and again, it still isn’t as inventive as other SHAFT shows. And forget about the fun, colorful, or interesting backgrounds of Pani Poni Dash or Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei: Maria†Holic’s backgrounds are mostly drab and dark. The only consistent attempt at parodying other art styles is an obnoxiously used 1970’s shoujo look that comes up when Kanako fantasizes over girls for the 1,000th time. The animation itself is horrible, about on par with bad Flash animation. The character designs are okay, but they're not particularly memorable or exciting.
On the audio side, the background music is dull and forgettable, with only the opening/closing themes worthy of noting. The voice acting is pretty bad, with Yuu Kobayashi putting on an obnoxious performance as Mariya, rivaling that of her role as Lala Gonzales from School Rumble. (And her "cute" voice as the fake, kind Mariya is cringe-worthy.) Marina Inoue is utterly wasted as Matsurika, performing a by-the-numbers, unmoving voice as the cold maid. The nadir, though, is Ryoko Shintani as Sachi, whose voice is so shrill and irritating I muted my computer when she appeared on screen after about 5 episodes. I also found it depressing that the typically versatile Miyuki Sawashiro is forced to use her “cute” voice as the dorm manager.
If Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is among SHAFT’s best series, then Maria†Holic ranks as one of their worst. With the exception of Negima!?'s Summer and Spring specials, I can’t name a single other product I’ve disliked so much from the company. Although funny once in a while, the shallow, repulsive Kanako, as well as the dull side characters, ruin an otherwise enjoyable show. Unless you think a girl getting a nosebleed every 5 minutes while a cross-dressing boy treats her like garbage is a winning formula for an anime, pass on Maria†Holic.
Good art and the cat-girl dorm manager alone save this series from being a complete disaster. Add a star or two if yuri undertones are your thing. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Older teenagers and up, due to Kanako’s perverted fantasies and constant nose bleeding. Also, the series doesn’t even try to hide the fact that she’s a lesbian. There’s also plenty of fan service, since this show takes place in a girls' school and all (plus, again, Kanako's perverted fantasies).
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-license fansub
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Maria Holic © 2009 Media Factory / Minari Endou / Maria†Holic Production Committee
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