Maria Watches Over Us, Season 1–Anime Review

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3 Stars
oni light novelNozomi Entertainment seems to have adopted a unique but sensible business model for importing anime. They look for a series of decent quality that has gone for several years without being licensed. Generally this will be a series with specialized appeal, not a blockbuster hit, but with a devoted following. Having licensed it (presumably at a bargain price) they release the entire season at once as an inexpensive thinpak box set. Generally they do this with subtitles only, since an English dub is by far the greatest expense in preparing an anime for U.S. distribution.

This is one of their latest offerings: a well-known series, beloved by some, snickered at by others, even the inspiration of a notorious parody. Naturally I couldn’t resist checking it out. I found it weirdly entertaining. I suppose the same could be said of many anime series, but this one is weirdly entertaining in its own very special way.

  • Original Title
    Maria-sama ga Miteru (Saint Mary is Watching) [1]
  • Genres
    Comedy, Slice of Life, Yuri
  • Languages
    Japanese with subtitles.
  • Demographic
  • Contents
    13 Episodes on 4 DVDs (1 box set)
  • Based on
    A series of light novels by Oyuki Konno
  • Director
    Yukihiro Matsushita
  • Original Character Design
    Reine Hibiki
  • Character Design
    Akira Matsushima
  • Art Director
    Nobuto Sakamoto
  • Music
    Mikiya Katakura
  • Animation Studio
    Studio DEEN
  • Broadcast
    TV Tokyo 2004
  • Region 1 Publisher
    Nozomi Entertainment

This series is considered a revival of “Class S” fiction, a literary genre that was popular with Japanese girls in the early 20th century until it was banned by the government during World War II. It generally involved intense friendships between schoolgirls and was influenced by Western classics such as Little Women and A Little Princess (though as best as I can recall the Western originals did not include suggestions of lesbianism).

Maria Watches Over Us strikes me as social satire. We have here a story about privileged young ladies who spend their time worrying themselves sick over problems that could not be more inconsequential. Furthermore they all act sort of gay. This is about a girl’s high school in which every single student appears to be an unconscious lesbian. It’s definitely funny, but quite weird. Yet it is also curiously engaging. It is difficult not to care about these girls, even if they are silly.

I may get some angry responses from fans who insist that I am being dirty-minded, that this is actually an innocent story about deep and beautiful Platonic friendships. It is certainly possible to view the series that way. It’s just that the closer you look at it, the more effort it takes.

The Parody

This series was popular enough to become a cultural icon, one of those anime series that everyone knows and to which other series make references.

In particular it inspired a shounen parody called Strawberry Panic. While the yuri references in Maria Watches Over Us are subtle and understated, Strawberry Panic takes a different approach. Within the limits of Japanese broadcast standards it does its best to suggest that the girls are going to start ripping each other’s clothes off as soon as they are out of camera range.

I don’t know what it says about the American anime market that the parody was licensed long before the original.

Parental Advisory

At one level this material could not be more innocuous: a gentle, nonviolent story about sincere, innocent maidens who would not so much as entertain an impure thought.

On the other hand there are the yuri undertones which will surely bother some parents. However these are subtle enough that most children probably won’t notice that they are there. There is nothing here likely to upset a child, and I can’t imagine that any child would be harmed by it. Younger viewers may be confused about what the characters are getting so excited about–but so may be adults.

Premise and Characters

The maidens who flock to Maria-sama’s garden pass through the tall gates again with innocent, angelic smiles. Their pure hearts and bodies are clad in deep-colored uniforms. So that the pleats on their skirts are not disturbed, and so that their white sailor collars are not set aflutter, it is customary to walk slowly and with decorum.

The Private Lillian Girls’ Academy is a Catholic high school that specializes in training the daughters of some of the nation’s most wealthy and influential families. The associated convent runs an “elevator system” of schools extending from kindergarten to college. The Academy has numerous ancient traditions and strict standards of behavior. [2]
Each second-year student is encouraged to choose a first-year student to serve as her “petite soeur” (little sister). (You can tell that this is a high-class institution, what with the constant dropping of French phrases.) The grande soeur is supposed to act as a mentor and guide for the petite soeur. This serves to maintain discipline and inculcate the school’s traditions. It also serves as an excellent excuse for girls to go around calling each other “onee-sama”.
The student council is called the Yamayuri (“mountain lily”) Council. It’s three senior members are called “roses”: the Rosa Chinensis, the Rosa Gigantea and the Rosa Foetida. They and their petite soeurs, who are referred to as “en boutons” occupy a position of great prestige and responsibility. The other students treat them like celebrities. They want to know everything about them; they want to hang out with them; they want to give them chocolates on Valentine’s Day [3].
Yumi Fukuzawa is a shy and awkward first year student. She comes from an ordinary middle-class family and doesn’t consider herself in the same league as the school’s elite.
One day, while praying in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary that forms the focal point of the campus, she is accosted by Sachiko Ogasawara , the Rosa Chinensis en bouton, who rebukes her for wearing her neckerchief out of place and adjusts it for her.
Sachiko is a tall, beautiful girl from a very wealthy family. She seems cool, elegant and self-assured.
The awestruck Yumi is thrilled to have such a close encounter with her.
Yumi is approached by Tsutako Takeshima, an inquisitive member of the Photography Club. She has taken a picture of the neckerchief incident and she offers to give Yumi a copy if Yumi will get Sachiko to give permission to exhibit it. The two of them go to the Rose Mansion, headquarters of the Yamayuri Council, to look for Sachiko.
Meanwhile Sachiko has been upbraided by the other Council members because she has failed to choose a petite soeur. Sachiko’s problem is that she is very reserved, doesn’t make friends easily, and doesn’t know any first year students well enough.
When Yumi appears, Sachiko impulsively offers her the position of petite soeur. Though she is awed by Sachiko, Yumi feels hurt that Sachiko would select her at random, without really knowing her. Tearfully she refuses, creating a minor scandal among the student body. The ramifications of this incident form most of the plot of the first season–such as it is.
Even though Youko Mizuno, the Rosa Chinensis (and Sachiko’s grande soeur) had sternly admonished Sachiko not to toy with Yumi’s feelings, the other council members begin to plot to bring Sachiko and Yumi together.
Sei Satou the Rosa Gigantea is loud and boisterous. She makes Yumi uncomfortable by hugging her at every opportunity. Due to this and some other incidents there is a theory that Sei is a real lesbian, and thus, by extension, the other characters are probably just good friends. This does nothing to explain why none of the characters seem interested in boys.
Shimako Toudou is Sei’s petite soeur, even though she is two years younger. As a first year student she feels unsure of her ability to handle the responsibilities of the Rosa Gigantea en bouton.
Eriko Torii the Rosa Foetida is calm, gentle and self-possessed.
Rei Hasekura the Rosa Foetida en bouton is tall and boyish-looking and practices kendo. Those who are close to her know that her tastes are actually very feminine.
Rei’s petite soeur is her cousin Yoshino Shimazu, a frail girl with a heart condition. She is the opposite or Rei: she looks delicate and feminine but has a tomboyish personality.
Sachiko’s arrogant cousin Suguru Kashiwagi attends an affiliated Catholic boys school. Her family expects her to marry him for dynastic reasons, and she intends to do so, but she treats him coldly.
Mifuyu Uzawa is a transfer student who seems to be stalking Sachiko.

DVD Notes

Though there is no English dub, the DVD offers a choice of subtitle tracks: “English subtitles” and “English subtitles with honorifics”. I recommend the latter. Attempts to find English equivalents for Japanese honorifics invariably sound stupid. If you find Japanese honorifics intimidating, read my notes on the subject.

Later Seasons

A second 13-episode season called Maria-sama ga Miteru–Haru (“Spring”) aired in 2004. A 5-episode OVA was released in 2006. Nozomi plans to release both of these shortly as box sets.

A fourth TV season has been announced for 2009.


Wikipedia entry (spoilers).
ANN Encyclopedia entry.


[1] Fans often shorten the title to “Marimite”.

[2] The Lillian Academy is supposedly based on a Buddhist girls’ school that Oyuki Konno attended when she was a child.

[3] This is something that most Japanese high-school girls would only do for boys.