Tuesday, 30 April 2013

まりあ†ほりっく/ Maria†Holic (season 1)

For whatever reason, Catholic girls’ schools in Japan have a reputation for lesbianism. A certain very male-centric form of lesbianism. Nothing to do with Doc Martins, Dykes on Bikes or cute androgynous girls in saggy basketball tops with half their hair shaved off – nor, I suspect, any other stereotype that might come with the word ‘lesbianism’ in a Western mindset. In fact, the style has much more in common with books about English public schools where two boys become very close – a little too close to be good friends, and perhaps fittingly a lot of those books are in fact aimed at middle-aged women. The relationship between the girls at these Catholic schools is presented as utterly devotional, idealised, innocent and elevated. Typical associated clichés involve exchanging rosaries, referring to the older partner highly respectfully as ‘onee-sama’ and the adorably-old-fashioned greeting ‘gokigenyou’. Perhaps the most obvious example of this style is Maria-sama ga Miteru, which if it didn’t establish these tropes (probably found in novels and such before it) certainly brought them to a new audience, started a fashion and spawned unfortunate imitators like the execrable Strawberry Panic.

Maria†Holic, perhaps obviously given that it’s a Shaft anime, sets out to send up all these conventions and make a joke out of them. The creative aspect of this can’t be credited to them, given that this was a manga first and Shaft simply adapted it, but their signature fast-paced reference-filled style is immediately apparent and the artists clearly have a lot of fun taking every chance to mix up the art style, parodying absurd Yuri and Shoujo sparkly-eyed and spindly-limbed art, as well as stained glass windows and other Christian iconography.

Miyamae Kanako is an open lesbian whose aversion to men even has a physical manifestation – she breaks out in hives if a man so much as touches her. She is delighted to be transferring to the Catholic school Ame no Kisaki, where she hopes she will find her true love. Indeed, every girl in the school seems to be beautiful, and being a comic buffoon of a character, she will never be able to act on any of her crushes because when she gets excited, she gets a powerful nosebleed that usually leaves her unconscious – that typical anime sign of arousal that here becomes increasingly exaggerated, until Kanako is turning entire swimming pools red with blood and in the final episode, the planet, then the galaxy, then the universe gets the sanguine touch from her excitement.

Her life gets much more complicated as a result of Shidou Mariya, the grandchild of the school’s chairman, a beautiful angelic blond who also happens to be a boy in disguise. Kanako of course stumbles upon his secret, but this only leads to his true sadistic personality being discovered, and he and his laconic maid Matsurika set out to subjugate Kanako – which is not a particularly difficult feat. 

Add to this a cast of typical anime girls – the childish loli type, the strange and seemingly cold girl who seems to solve most of Kanako’s problems by declaring a love between them, the tall and glamorous archery star who has self-esteem issues…as well as, of course, an identical twin sister for Mariya who usually dresses up as a boy in the neighbouring school, and a truly bizarre ageless woman who looks like a small girl and serves as the terrifying dorm mistress. Oh, and in the last couple of episodes, a very silly male teacher/priest who tries to comfort Kanako in his own very strange but well-intentioned style, led astray by Mariya who makes up a story about a dead older brother he resembles.

Largely, it’s typical Shaft stuff, with typical Shaft shortcomings – the set-up is great, the humour is great, the acting is great (who would have thought Kanako had Dejiko’s seiyuu?), the references are brilliant and the pastiches are spot-on, but ultimately the problem is that…well, nothing really happens. I know it’s an episodic comedy, but after twelve episodes, when the season closes with the story of Kanako getting excited about the school’s swimming pool opening only to not get to partake in any of the lessons there, it feels anticlimactic. Yes, there’s a second season, and yes, this is really how most Shaft anime, from Pani Poni Dash! to Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei have worked, but the fact is that I would like some development to happen, some character arcs and some emotional involvement.  

Well, there’s a second season to come. I liked the scenario enough to be eager to watch. But I hope there’s a bit more to sink my teeth into, and not just the same repetition of lesbian-gets-nosebleed-over-cute-girls jokes.

No comments:

Post a Comment