Nozomi 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 TitleMaria-sama ga Miteru (Saint Mary is Watching) 
GenresComedy, Slice of Life, Yuri
LanguagesJapanese with subtitles.
Contents13 Episodes on 4 DVDs (1 box set)
Based onA series of light novels by Oyuki Konno
Original Character DesignReine Hibiki
Character DesignAkira Matsushima
Art DirectorNobuto Sakamoto
Animation StudioStudio DEEN
BroadcastTV Tokyo 2004
Region 1 PublisherNozomi 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 Fans often shorten the title to “Marimite”.
 The Lillian Academy is supposedly based on a Buddhist girls’ school that Oyuki Konno attended when she was a child.
 This is something that most Japanese high-school girls would only do for boys.