Sunday, March 29, 2015

Anime Review No. 98 (Maria Holic)

Maria Holic (Winter 2009) and Maria Holic Alive (Spring 2011)
Directors-Akiyuki Shinbou (with Yukihiro Miyamoto and Tomokazu Tokoro)
Writers: Masahiro Yokotani and Miku Ooshima

Well, here we are, something that I am sure most people would not expect me to cover. I was not entirely sure that I would get around to covering this show, but circumstances brought it back to my attention and so here it is. This is Maria Holic.

Maria Holic the anime is based off a manga series written by Minari Endo between 2006 and 2014. It is about Kanako Miyamae, a new transfer student to a private all-girls school. She is secretly a closeted lesbian hoping to find her first true love and a bit of a misandrist, well more in that respect due to her condition where she breaks out in hives when men touch her. She gains a new roommate in Mariya Shidou a nice and gentle ojou-sama but turns out to be a male sadist who is forced to crossdress due to the wishes of his dead grandmother who was also a former headmistress of the school. Thus Kanako is blackmailed into keeping Mariya’s secret. In the process she ends up in a series of unfortunate but comical misadventures at school.

What I like about Maria Holic is how twisted the whole thing is. The whole breadth of creative decisions for this story are made in the opposite way that they would normally trend. Be it Kanako who is basically a girl with a male pervert mindset, Mariya the sadist disguised as the nice and kind ojou-sama and her maid Matsurika who turns out to be a deadpan snarker. The rest of the supporting cast are like that and all fit a basic stereotype (tomboy, megane babe, genki girl, etc) and then taking them to a rather unexpected places.

This is quite fitting as Maria Holic is a rather black comedy at its core. The humor is prevalently dark and its funny mainly due to that. Granted there are some laugh out loud hard moments, but most of the time the comedy is met with a nice dry chuckle from yours truly..There is the semblance of a story/plot but Maria Holic relies a lot on gags and sketch comedy segments. What story is there is an interesting parody. This is very related to my previous review, OtoBoku. Whereas that was a gentle soothing parody, Maria Holic is a bitterly tinged parody and a satire of not only yuri but school slice of life and otokonoko sub-genres as well. Of course, at times it openly embraces the conventions it is joking about. The second season is more of the same, except it seems to double down on everything from the first season and it is even more strange and ridiculous.
The animation production certainly helps this out in spades. If you can’t tell from the first episode alone, this is a pure Studio Shaft/Shinbou directed show. All his trademarks are here and in spades, and it is oddly fitting for such a surreal and dark satire show. This includes the various off-point references, use of text in scene, head tilt, art shift (this show has 3 main art styles). The 2 non-consecutive seasons came out during what I consider the peak of Studio Shaft/Shinbou productions (same era as the Zetsubou Sensei, Hidamari and Arakawa series). There are the seeds of other Shaft productions lashed in the people involved in the production of this series: Yukihiro Miyamoto, future co-director for Madoka and ED for Season 1 done by the future production designer for Madoka and the OP was done by the guy who helmed the Bakemonogatari series. The main thing to take away is that it suits the story and characters, supplementing it as opposed to recent Studio Shaft productions where those same tricks are employed only the story and characters aren’t as engaging-cough cough Monogatari, Sasami-san, Meh-kaku cough cough, but moving on.
S1 OP S2 OP2
S1 ED             S2 ED

Now, onto the english dub, which is a treat especially for those of us waiting for it. The series had its 2 seasons released by Sentai Filmworks (S1 in 2010, S2 in 2012) but sub-only bare-bones releases. But then in late 2013, they announced that they were doing dub re-releases of some of the shows they had done sub-only treatment earlier. I was a bit concerned but then the dub cast came out and I did a sigh of relief. I bought both seasons with the dub in early 2014 and it was worth it. Thankfully Christopher Ayres helms the dub and as usual he doesn’t disappoint. He assembles a great cast with some of his regulars sure but he topped it out with 2 great if not perfect casting choices: Jessica Calvello and Monica Rial. I feel that Jessica Calvello’s career doing more dubs again has its origin point with this dub. She is in true comedic form asa Kanako and I have to say this is her funniest performance since Excel Saga and I can’t imagine anyone else in that role now. Of course she is complemented by Monica Rial who plays Mariya and its the surprise in the dub, always fantastic. The rest of the cast is very spot-on if littered with Ayres’ regulars (Carli Mosier, Brittney Karbowski, Meg McDonald, Shannon Emerick, etc). Another honorable mention has to go to George Manley who does the narration (old ADV fans might know him as the narrator for the ADV redub of Gatchaman a decade prior). The dub script, written by Clint Bickham (who plays a minor role in S2), is nicely done adding in some stuff to punch the already comedic material. Overall a great dub that is highly recommended by yours truly.

Overall, Maria Holic is an interesting high concept comedy show that excels in being fun and entertaining. Granted the flavor of comedy might not suit everyone’s taste but that’s ok. I like it quite a lot and its certainly up there on my list of funniest anime I have ever seen.

So that closes out March 2015 aka Guilty Pleasures Month 2.0. Will I do another series of review like this? Hmm maybe next year, but it will be under a different title for sure. April 2015 marks the release of my 99th and 100th reviews. I am keeping the subject of those 2 reviews a secret but in due time you will all find out. Review No. 99 due out on April 12th.

Til next time dear readers…..

No comments: