Maria Watches Over Us
It's customary at Lillian Academy for older girls to adopt an underclassmen as a "younger sister". Even though she's been under pressure, the most popular girl at the school, Sachiko; has yet to pick one. On a spur of the moment decision, she chooses a quiet unknown girl named Yumi. Yumi finds it difficult to adjust to the student council she now belongs to, but her adoration for Sachiko makes it worth while. From outward appearances Sachiko scolds her junior often, but those who pay attention can see it's Sachiko's way of fawning over her younger sister. Through the years the two will go through tough times, but their bond always strengthen in the end.
Maria Watches Over Us doesn't have the right mix to be shoujo, and it's too ambiguous to be yuri. It certainly doesn't involve girls in revealing underwear having extended slow motion pillow fights like Catholic school girls do in my imagination. So what exactly is Maria Watches Over Us? I'm not sure. The show looks unremarkable, but still has an understated charm making it very much worth watching.
Character depth takes on a whole new meaning in Maria Watches Over Us. No one can be judged on appearance alone. Even after a full season there is more left to be discovered in their complex personalities. The cast isn't static either, as some girls graduate, new girls appear as underclassmen - a shuffle which keeps the show fairly fresh. Roles of the girls changing adds another dynamic. In the beginning, Yumi is the younger sister, but the time comes where she has to choose one herself. The role shifts from being looked after, to being a steward and it captures a lot of the uncertainty in growing up.
Occasionally it gets mildly dramatic, but it's never mean spirited. That's unexpected considering a setup lends itself to brutal cat fights. However in a school where fair maidens don't run because it would ruffle their pleated skirts, this is really the way it should be. I consider that a plus, however it puts huge limitations on drama potential (although Shachiko's knack for random hysteria kind of makes up for that). I wouldn't recommend this show specifically for comedy, but the extra DVD shorts: "Don't tell Maria" are pretty funny. These are "outtakes" from a given episode, and usually consist of a single punchline which were good for a laugh or two.
Nozomi licenced this for America, and have done an outstanding job with the release. Despite that, I can see how they struggled with subtitles in this show due to culture issues. What little formality English had in the first place has been forgotten almost entirely in America. Characters in this anime use exceptionally formal language, especially for school girls talking to each other - an atmosphere normally fairly relaxed. Subtitles struggle to get this across, but I guess just making things more wordy is about the best they could do. Counter to this, Sachiko orders Yumi around in a tone more common to addressing a pet.
Don't be too intimidated by the amount of French thrown around in the first episode. Only a few terms resurface there after.
I rate Maria Watches Over Us as excellent due to one unusual feature rarely done so well in anime: elegance. I know that's an ambiguous description, but it's the best I can describe the feature which makes this one stand above so many others. It's not just the setup, the characters, or the music; there is a refined charm this anime captures exceptionally well. The show is unrelentingly idealized in all respects, which can be little eye rolling at times. It moves slowly, and doesn't have anything too dramatic. But if looking for those qualities, the show has a great level of focus in living up to these ideals. It's not for everyone, but well worth checking into for anime fans (shoujo especially).
Yumi: I call it: "Operation Suddenly Throwing Her Into An All-Boys' School Will Be Too Great A Shock, So We Will Have to Get Her Used to It Gradually And Overcome Her Dislike of Men"
Noriko: Isn't that kind of long for an "operation name"?
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