The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Maria-sama ga Miteru 4th Season

Title: Maria-sama ga Miteru 4th Season
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio DEEN
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 3 Jan 2009 – 28 Mar 2009

Synopsis: The school festival is coming and Rosa Chinensis, Ogasawara Sachiko suggests the Yamayurikai puts on a play, performing Torikaebaya Monogatari, a story about a brother and sister who swap genders. Although it takes a moment for the penny to drop, Sachiko’s soeur, Fukuzawa Yumi realizes that Sachiko wants Yumi and her brother to play the lead roles. The school festival is a very important date in Yumi and Sachiko’s relationship, but before that, Yumi is concerned about whether Matsudaira Touko’s involvement in the Yamayurikai’s play at Yumi’s request has cost her the lead role in the drama club’s play, and whether she should interfere in Touko’s problem.

The Highlights
Story: Tighter and more focused than any other Marimite season; the best Marimite script yet.
Characters: Constantly comes up with new angles to flesh out the characters and their relationships.
Pacing: Deceptively fast; gets even quicker towards the end.
Symbolism: Elegant and meaningful.
Art and animation: Disappointing compared with previous seasons.
Ending: A tad rushed, but dramatic and satisfying.

“Walking slowly is preferred here” is something of a catchcry for Marimite, but there’s no walking slowly in this series; it’s pacing is deceptively quick, and marginally accelerates towards the end of the series. It’s a minor flaw, but when we’re this far into a story that’s been built on character and relationship development since episode one, it’s better for a series to go too fast than too slow, or worse yet, stall or constantly restart the plot. There’s no danger of that in this season; in the loosest definition of the word, there’s only two filler episodes, and even these are chock filled with character and relationship analyses which add something new. While there are a few things which are subtly different compared with previous Marimite series, such as the quicker pacing and a much stronger sense of focus, if you’re already a fan of the girls of the Yamayurikai, all the things you’ve come to love are still here.

The script in this series is better than that of previous Marimite seasons, if barely. The relationship between Yumi and Touko makes for a definitive primary focus, with a few subplots here and there involving Yoshino’s burgeoning relationship with a potential soeur and her (sometimes rocky) relationship with Rei, as well as the continual growth of Yumi and Sachiko’s endearing bond. What Marimite continues to do well is to take every opportunity to say something new about the various relationships and how they’ve subtly changed throughout the journey; Yumi’s jealousy in one episode is answered succinctly where lesser series have fumbled with a similar conundrum, while her difficulty in connecting with Touko in another is expressed with a very elegant, multi-layered metaphor. Touko herself isn’t the most naturally sympathetic character in this cast, but her actions are eventually justified and put into context with a highly dramatic and rather satisfying (though slightly rushed) ending.

Unfortunately, of all the Marimite seasons to date, this one is by far the least attractive, aesthetically. The art and animation simply isn’t up to scratch, particularly for a series which is all about an elegant atmosphere. There are also some strange decisions with the directing later in the series: the characters start acting more blatantly moe, some of the camera and split screen choices don’t feel appropriate, while in one episode they let slip a spoiler in the next episode preview… admittedly, it’s probably milder than some I’ve let slip in this review, but it was strange and unnecessary nonetheless. The OP and ED themes are odd choices as well… they’re good J-pop songs, but they feel more suited to a seinen anime and they don’t feel right for Marimite, where the combination of strings, piano and choral singing has served the series’ unique sense of identity well previously.

For the most part, not much has changed as far as Marimite’s sense of melodrama is concerned: this is still a story about a group of reasonably sheltered girls making big deals out of relatively small things, which means this show is lost on an overly cynical attitude. What makes this such quality melodrama, though, is the depth of the character and relationship development. If I were forced to pick my favourite Marimite season to date, it would still be the first one, barely, but I have little doubt that this season has the better script. What prevents me from saying that this is the best season of Marimite to date is the subpar visuals, especially when compared to the soft artistic beauty of the first season.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

NHRV Editor’s Choice – April 2009: awarded by Sorrow-kun

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