Graduation and changes have come for some of the girls at the Lillian Girls Academy and there’s even more in store.
What They Say
The spring term is beginning for the students at Lillian Girls� Academy. Friends are reunited, but for the Yamayuri Council, it�s a bittersweet time. Yoko, Eriko and Sei are busy preparing to depart Lillian, while Sachiko, Rei and Shimako are doing their best to ensure their dear sisters receive a memorable commencement. Soon, Lillian will have new leaders in the Council offices of Rosa Chinensis, Foetida and Gigantea, along with many new faces and budding relationships. Contains the complete 13-episode second season, plus Season 2 �specials� 1-6.
Maria Watches Over Us is presented with just a single audio track, which isn’t a surprise considering the limited appeal of the show to a larger audience. The Japanese stereo mix is encoded at 192kbps which serves the dialogue driven show pretty well. There isn’t even a lot of very noticeable music throughout the show so it‘s not a terribly dynamic piece. That said, the dialogue does come across very well here as it fills the center channel nicely and is problem free throughout. With the dialogue being so important, the clarity is spot on and the warmth of the characters comes through very well.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this thirteen episode TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Like many shows of this nature, Maria Watches Over Us is one that tends to not have a lot of action or movement to it. It’s all about the atmosphere. The authoring for this is pretty good as the background and character animation maintains a solid feel even at lower bitrates simply because of the lack of motion. Colors are rich and vibrant when required and generally solid throughout. The first season had a strong amount of rolling issues to it at times, but this season seems to be rather reduced in this, giving it a much smoother feeling overall, which is certainly a big plus.
Nozomi Entertainment mirrors what they did with the first season to good effect with this set. The series is made up of four thinpak cases inside a heavy chipboard box. The box is particularly good as it captures the feel of the show just right. The front panel features a full length shot of Yumi and Sachiko together in a near embrace while the statue of Maria is watching from being them, all framed in an elegant border. The logo looks great and the inclusion of the Lillian symbol adds to how right it all feels. The back side of the box has a really nice piece of artwork as well as it features the three bouten’s together laying down on the grass looking up with soft smiles to their faces. The next generation indeed.
The thinpak cases inside are designed similarly when it comes to the front covers. Each cover has the framed border that gives it that elegant feel while inside each volume has a different piece of artwork that has different groups and pairings, unlike the first set which had Yumi in all of them. The continuity of it all is quite good and it has much the same pleasant and appealing feeling that the box itself provided. The back cover for each of the volumes has a basic structure across all of them with a few shots from the show down the left while the right has the overall summary of the premise and a listing of the episode numbers and titles along with what features can be found on that disc. The bottom has the basic technical grid which covers everything in good detail along with a few basic copyright listings. The covers are fairly light in general when it comes to how much is on the back but it has a simplicity that is very appealing and fits within the show.
The menu design for Maria Watches Over Us is one that pulls easily from the well designed packaging as it uses the cover art framing on each volume as the centerpiece to each menu. The layout is very easy to navigate with the selections along the right side that load quickly and are laid out smoothly. Submenus load quickly and language selection is a breeze depending on what you want out of it as it offers a subtitle track without honorifics and one with it. This may confuse some people at first, but a series like this is one that is appealing far more to the hardcore fans who will understand it more than the couple of casual buyers who will likely end up with it. And if anything, it may get them to be a bit more interested in the nuances of the show which is a positive.
The extras for this release are fairly standard for the most part but there are some standout pieces as well. The standard material comes in the form of the basic liner notes that are included for each volume. The liner notes are welcome as the series progresses and gets past the honorifics but their. The best extras, which are thankfully spread across each of the volumes, are the bonus stories. These take the cast of the show and show them acting out their scenes in a more amusing design and running through basic bloopers. They’re very amusing and help to balance out the dramatic content of the show beautifully.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Time doesn’t stand still, though the show does move slowly at times, at the Lillian Girls Academy and events are moving forward as the second season gets underway. While much of the first season was the introduction of the school and adjusting us to life there through Yumi’s eyes, the months have moved on as we saw and it’s just about time for graduation for the elder sisters. This changes the dynamic of the series quite strongly in a lot of ways and is something that’s rarely done with a lot of shows and manga as characters are ushered off stage to varying levels and new ones are introduced.
With the way the series jumped about a little bit at times towards the second half with when things take place, this one gets things back on track by running through the New Years material a bit before pushing forward with graduation. With the three seniors ready to graduate and go their separate ways, that puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved since their relationships are changing dramatically. For the Rosa’s, they have all the new things to look forward to, uncertainty and all, as well as realizing what they’re leaving behind. The leaving behind part is what affects each of them the most, though to varying degrees. For Sei, she has to wonder how well Shimako will handle things because of the way events have played out between them but she is also dealing with the way her life has changed since Yumi came into it.
Some of the elder sisters have their own way of passing on what they want to see the next generation accomplish in the form of a verbal “will” that comes up. Some like Sei don’t really proscribe to this, but there’s a certain current of it among some of them as the elder sisters talk about things with their younger ones. Yumi does become the focus of this a bit because she is in her way the glue that is keeping everything together. Her outlook on life and the way she’s breathed a certain air into the Rose Mansion has many of them pinning their subconscious hopes on her. The graduation aspect really drives this home as the emotions run high and low throughout right up through the actual ceremony. And what’s really surprising is that for a show that’s run maybe sixteen or so episodes at this point from the first season, the graduation ceremony and the meetings afterwards really generate some honest and true deep emotions.
The shift of three of the elder sisters out of the show to their various colleges and lives doesn’t mean they’re out of the show completely, but they have been taken out from the day to day existence. This is difficult if you’ve come to like them more than some of the others, but the change can be positive. The danger is in that since they’ve graduated, there’s a new class of first years coming in as well that have to be dealt with. And as they come in, some must become part of the program so to speak and the new Elder Sisters have to deal with this. Bringing in new blood to a show in progress can work against the viewership since it changes the dynamic completely. And Maria Watches Over Us plays in this dangerous area rather too freely at times.
The danger comes in the form of two new characters, Noriko and Toko. Noriko’s story comes up first as it’s tied to Shimako. Shimako’s story is a bit difficult since she’s sort of leapfrogged to being a Lady Rose because of the issues that Sei had. And Shimako is carrying a secret that’s very difficult for her to bear and is causing her some internal anguish, but it’s something she can’t reveal. With Noriko, the two are instantly drawn to each other in a way that parallels how things were between Shimako and Sei early on, something we get during some nicely done flashbacks that help to keep Sei in the picture a bit longer. As the story develops, we don’t really get a sense of who Noriko is as she gets closer to Shimako, but we do get a good idea of what defines her. It’s not her background or why she’s at this school, but it’s how she interacts with Shimako and the others when the Lady Roses begin to implement their plan to help Shimako overcome her problem.
More difficult to deal with is the introduction of Toko, a relative cousin of Sachiko’s. Toko is overly familiar with Sachiko because of their relationship and this sets off instant panic for Yumi. The familiarity is enough of an alarm for her, especially since Sachiko nearly dotes on her, but when others talk about past issues that they’ve seen among others who landed in similar situations, Yumi takes it to a natural conclusion and almost starts to shut down. Of course, Sachiko is largely to blame for this as well as she’s become distracted and uncommunicative with Yumi, but she has her reasons as well. The last disc focuses heavily on the relationship between the two girls with Toko as a catalyst but much of it is mired in that lack of straightforward communication. So much could be resolved by a simple call or a minute of actual dialogue. But that would remove all the tension.
Because of how the first quarter of the series plays out by dealing with the graduation, it’s filled with a lot of emotion and uncertainty about how things will progress. This is also brought about in the last story arc around Yumi and Sachiko, though you know things will be resolved because the two are central to things. The first season of Maria Watches Over Us was a bit overly dramatic at times, but it also had to deal with some strong personalities being introduced. With them being familiar now in this season, they feel more comfortable to be around and the way they act comes across as more honest and real. I’m still rather surprised with how well the graduation ceremony connected with me with its emotions, particularly in the photograph moments towards the end of it. But this kind of emotional honesty is what is making this such an engaging series and a surprising one.
After the first season of Maria Watches Over Us, I wasn’t sure how well the second would play out. How far would they go in the progression of time? Would we be stuck with them telling the stories of just a particular year with little in the way of real change? Would it center on silly character drama material from here on out? To my surprise, Maria Watches Over Us went for real drama, real change and real character growth and discovery. Some of it is contrived by the lack of communication, but these are admittedly understandable instances and we are dealing with high school girls. This season is very tight overall considering what it’s trying to convey and how much it wants to cover. The changes to the cast have me wondering how it will go from here, but with what they’ve done with this season, I’m now completely trusting of them creative team in regards to this. I was surprised by the first season and the second season topped that easily and with enthusiasm. This still isn’t a show for everyone, but it’s a perfect title in the mix for me and I can’t recommend it enough if you want great characters and emotion.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Season 2 �Specials� 1-6, Liner Notes
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.