A while ago, somebody asked me on Formspring: “Do you REALLY like Marimite?” A few years back I did a popular gag review of the anime, so the reader supposed that my appreciation for this Japanese Jane Austen cartoon for 13-year-old girls might be somewhat ironic. It’s not. I think Maria Watches Over Us (Maria-sama ga Miteru, abbreviated Marimite) is a great damn show, and I don’t care who knows it.
You can find this show on the ”Anime About Worrying” shelf at your local retailer: it’s a very (very) slow-paced drama about the daily lives of girls in an elite Catholic high school in Japan. The characters spend most of their time fretting to each other about some very minor dilemma (“I’m a Catholic schoolgirl — but I love Buddhist statues!”) whose consequences will not be nearly as dire as they imagine. As adult viewers (maybe you’re one of them!), we understand that and chuckle, but the original books were written for young adolescents. For them, perhaps, the quality of one’s homemade chocolates for Dear Sister is of unfathomable importance.
But behold the transformative power of the otaku: this tween novel series became so immensely popular with dorky 20-something Japanese guys that it had to be made into anime, the medium operated by and for them. What was special about it? Two points:
- the girls, whose school is billed as a “garden for maidens,” are impossibly ladylike, innocent, and chaste.
- the girls are clearly gay, a near certainty to which all but one are blissfully oblivious.
I didn’t even get to the Dear Sister business, after all. Lilian School for Girls traditionally operates on a mentorship system in which an older girl takes a younger student under her wing as a “little sister.” Much fretting and pining takes place, of course, as would-be little sisters jockey for position and other sisters have rocky relationships.
The “they’re special friends” subtext is loud and clear here: there’s a sort of proposal ritual where the older sister presents the younger with her rosary, and the first season culminates in Average Shoujo Heroine Yumi going on a (gulp) d-d-d-date with her classically aloof and aristocratic big sister Sachiko. Another major subplot — it’s where the show’s title comes from — concerns the tragic consequences of the only two sisters in the history of Lilian to ever leave the closet.
The TV series gives the impression that it plays up the homoeroticism a tiny bit, but with the setup being what it is — with the little sisters’ intense admiration for and devotion to “Dear Sister!” (likely the most uttered phrase in the show) in everything they do — Studio Deen probably didn’t have to stretch the material too far. Marimite makes significantly less sense if you try to assume they’re not lesbians.
It wouldn’t be possible to sit through something like this if the characters weren’t likable: even very stock character types like Yumi and Sachiko have real growth — though it happens so slowly that you may not notice they changed at all. They’re a genuine pleasure to watch fret, because hey, it’s hardly ever a big deal.
It’s no surprise that Marimite is so frequently parodied, but it doesn’t really make sense that people bother. Parodying Marimite is like teaching Sexy Commando to someone who’s already sexy: the show is so sincere, sweet-natured and straight-faced that it is its own parody. Indeed, the DVD release comes with its own “Don’t Tell Maria!” shorts, in which the show very gently mocks itself.
As I’ve made abundantly clear by now, Marimite is not a show for everybody. It’s neither a show for the average anime fan, nor is it a show for the average Colony Drop reader. You’re going to need a long attention span, a leisurely demeanor, and a soft spot for a little silly melodrama. This is healing anime, and it’s on sale at RightStuf right now, so go grab it.