I’m going to make a prediction: When you hear the phrase “Catholic all-girls school” in a conversation geared towards anime and manga, your mind will inevitably turn to yuri. There’s no getting around it: in the otaku culture, “Catholic all-girls school” and “yuri” are as synonymous with each other as bread and butter.
If you’ve ever wondered why that is, wonder no further, because Maria-sama ga Miteru, a.k.a. “Marimite” may not have started the whole Catholic schoolgirl yuri theme, but definitely popularized it. Funnily enough, though, the series contains none of the sardonic roasting of religion nor any of the debauchery or fanservice that we’ve come to expect from the genre. And how refreshing it is.
Marimite started off its life as a 1997 short story written by Oyuki Konno and has since ballooned into a bestselling 38-volume+ light novel series that is still ongoing, and has spawned several spinoffs and four anime adaptations. I had always heard the name “Marimite” being tossed around whenever the topic was yuri, and after I found out it wasn’t related to Marmite, in my mind it became a flagship series that I, as a fan of the genre, had to check out.
Marimite begins simply enough: Yumi, an impressionable freshman with no self-confidence, has just arrived at the Lillian Girls’ Academy. She immediately becomes infatuated with an upperclassman named Sachiko, who, unbeknownst to her, is a member of the Yamayuri Council, a group of elite upperclassmen who have all the responsibilities of a typical student council, but live in a separate mansion called the Rose Mansion. Even more unusual is the hierarchy: these girls operate on a system called the “soeur” (sister) system, in which an upper Rose is allowed to offer a rosary to an underclassman and, if she accepts, make her her “sister” and effectively take her under her wing (to be the next Rose, generally). Normally this honor is reserved for one who has a special place in the Rose’s heart. But in a sudden twist of fate, the very first person Sachiko offers her rosary to is a complete stranger—Yumi! It’s a dream come true for Yumi—or is it?
“Or is it” is right, because as you might suspect, the series didn’t get to be 38+ volumes from a fluff romance with no conflict. In actuality, this is a very dramatic series with tons of tension, amplified even more when everyone always smiles and only speaks politely because, as the title translates to, “Mother Mary is watching over them”. In some of the more emotional episodes, you can tell that brewing beneath the forced smiles and the tea-drinking and the polite gestures and the dignified French lies a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, bloody, violent, WWE-approved catfight. However, you won’t see any chairs thrown or knives being brandished in this series, and really, it doesn’t need any of that. It works so well on its own, that it is to the director’s credit that he never lets the series become another School Days, while still retaining all of the emotion. It is this sense of balance between the typical high-school girl disputes that come with any cohabitation and the proper demeanor that a Catholic woman should adopt that makes this one of the most enjoyable series I’ve seen in a while. The best part of all this is that it doesn’t tell you any of it. Like the old days of 1990’s anime, you must infer characters’ emotions from their expressions and behavior, rather than from dialogue and exposition.
However, the series definitely has its light-hearted moments, and happy moments as well. As you go through Yumi’s first semester at the Academy, you’ll find friends that stick with her through thick and thin, ones that she can count on, and you’ll find her lovelife comes with many happy, cute, touching moments. Many of the characters are sweet and caring at heart, despite outward appearances. And whether it’s the (absolutely amazing) Rosa Gigantea “threatening” to steal her away from Sachiko, or her best (platonic) friend and confidant Yoshino lamenting her obsessive relationship with her grande soeur Rei, or like a hundred other scenes I can’t even post here due to spoilers, there are plenty of moments to laugh about.
As for the animation and music, everything about it just screams (or should I say, quietly whispers) “dignified”. The animation’s dull colors and the characters’ stark movements do not detract from the show by any means; rather, they add to it, focusing on character interactions rather than exaggerated action setpieces. The music: well, there aren’t even any lyrics for the OP and ED, and the music is all classical, as you might expect. So we’re talking like, the crux of formality and etiquette here. However, I would like to add this: during some humorous scenes, the art does change drastically to represent a more cuter, chibi side of all the characters, and mostly to show all of Yumi’s “funny faces”, which are indeed funny and amazing. The first time this happened, it was such a jarring change that I laughed about ten times as hard as I would have if the chibi style had been more frequent, so this too is a style decision that I give big props to the director for.
Oh yeah, I keep saying “the director”, but I guess I should tell you who he is: Yukihiro Matsushita. If you know of him and what he made, then you should know why you should watch this. (HINT: HTNS)
Catholicism, and especially the concept of yuri which could potentially besmirch the Catholic name, is a combination that is very controversial and flameworthy. After all, we’ve seen it happen–people have criticized key Catholic yuri titles like Strawberry Panic and Maria+Holic for being sacrilegious and inaccurate. However, Maria-sama ga Miteru handles the topic with such grace and dignity, while at the same time being so entertaining and interesting. And in this day and age where even the least bit of immorality can hurt anime’s reputation even further, that, certainly, is something to thank a diety for.
*Note: this review is based only on the first season.