Taking on the role of five drama length episodes, Maria Watches Over Us rises up even further in excellence.
What They Say
Summer has arrived, and the students of Lillian Girls' Academy are on break! Yumi and Sachiko head out to the Ogasawara family's summer home, but what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation takes a turn for the worse when some of Sachiko's old acquaintances drop by for tea. These rich and snobby debutantes don't think Yumi is worthy of Sachiko's affection, and they're out to make this summer one she'll regret. Contains the complete 5-episode third season (OVA), plus "specials" 1-5.
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 released in 2006 and 2007, the transfer for this five episode OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. 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 TV series had a very good look to it, but the OVAs enhance it all the more with more fluid motion and better colors and a large canvas because of it being done in widescreen. The presentation here is excellent and it all shines beautifully.
Nozomi Entertainment mirrors what they did with the first two seasons to good effect with this set. The series is made up of three 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 in light summer clothes set against a wooded background, 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 several members of the core cast of characters in summer outfits with soft but pleasant smiles on their faces.
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.
At first, I was going to be fairly disappointed by the extras on this release as the first two volumes feature only a series of art gallery pieces as their sole extras. The third volume more than makes up for this though as it has five of the specials, the ninety second small sized comedy outtake versions of the series. These continue to be very amusing and this round of five adds a good bit more of the mildly silly comedy for the girls acting within the show. The third volume also features a round of art gallery pieces and a brief section of character biographies as well. The liner notes run through the honorifics for the first part before digging into the episode specific material afterwards.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After two very enjoyable seasons, Maria Watches Over Us takes the unusual track of bringing out a series of OVAs. And not just any kind of OVAs either but rather five full length OVAs. And when you think full length, you think thirty minute OVAs. Not so here as each OVA tends to run around fifty three minutes on average. That changes the dynamic of the show considerably and really gives it a much stronger dramatic feel. Maria Watches Over Us becomes an even more engaging series with these girls as they deal with issues without the twenty minute bell for wrapping up for an episode and carrying into the next. This is far more akin to standard prime time drama material in design and it makes out well by it.
This particular season has a similar feel to what the TV seasons were like in that they deal with the lives of the girls, but it tends to be a little more focused on a few characters and the ones that are ostensibly the leads of it. The smaller nature of the stories, but stories that are given more room to breathe, is very welcome for a series like this. The previous seasons didn’t seem rushed, in fact they were fairly languid in their approach, but with the longer runtime per episode here it encompasses more in the way of the feelings that are expressed. The episode that focuses on a summer vacation trip between Sachiko and Yumi is representative of this as it’s an ideal time for the two to spend together. But while there, they run into problems with some of the other girls who come to visit to curry favor with the Osagawara family since they’re one of the elder families. This puts pressure on both girls and they have to figure out how to deal with it while making sure the other isn’t upset either. It’s a delicate balance but they have the time to explore it and without the rest of the Lillian girls for the most part either.
One of the more interesting changes to the dynamic of this season is that of using her younger brothers school in a stronger way. While we’ve had mentions and interactions with them before, it takes on a greater role in this set of episodes as Yuki has ended up as the student council president there and the two schools have more things going on in general. A meeting between the two councils has Yumi trying to figure out the best way to do it as Sachiko simply doesn’t care for being around men – and Kanako in general is freaking out over any interactions with men since to her all men are despicable – but anything she comes up with involves some kind of deceit. And that’s not something that Yumi can do even if it is in Sachiko’s best interest. The two student councils form a good bond throughout this season though and watching them figure each other out, and seeing how strange the other is, has some amusing moments. But the charm for me was in seeing Yumi having to re-evaluate her brother as well as Yuki really realizing what Yumi has been going through as part of the Lillian student council.
One of the more amusing parts involving the other school is when the student council heads there for their festival to partake in it in various roles. They’ve had little exposure to the boys there overall and seeing such an outlandish and festive place, not like their restrained festivals, is very striking and off-putting to many of the girls. Sachiko in particular struggles with so many males near her and you can see how strained she is when Yumi heads off and ends up disappearing through an awkward kidnapping sequence. Festivals also make up events at the Lillian school as well as the sports festival has the girls trying to compete in teams and there are some amusing rivalries that get brought into it, but with the kind of restraint that’s been present in the series from the start. It’s a nice change of pace in that everyone is more active and outgoing – and there’s cosplay too! – but it’s also a nice change in that they’re wearing different outfits for awhile and they’re actively competitive during it. Everyone tends to get along so well, even when at odds, that this kind of dynamic is a welcome change.
If there’s an episode that didn’t capture me, it’s the last one unfortunately. In a way, it’s one of those episodes that’s good as it excises from the bulk of it the elder sisters and focuses on the younger sisters. The second year students are heading to Italy for a school trip and they get to experience the city and its treasures without their elders there. The separation is definitely welcome considering how much time we see Sachiko and Yumi together in particular, and it was really nice to see Yoshino and Yumi bond better here, especially with her being so sick at first. But something about this episode just didn’t click well and it felt too much like a travelogue as it got underway with lots of stills and location pieces instead of things with the characters. It’s appealing, but it’s the weakest of the five episodes here.
Maria Watches Over Us doesn’t make out hugely by being an OVA but there is some definite differences here, at least to me. The quality of the animation has always been good, making use of the little action that the characters deal in to give it a very polished feel. Here, they take the polish up a few notches with richer looking character animation and more detailed and vivid backgrounds. The change to the widescreen format helps a lot as well as it feels like the world these girls inhabit is opened up before us. This series has always been appealing to me in its visual design since I first saw it, but here it feels like it’s made a solid progression to the next level by taking what made it so engaging and expanding it naturally.
Though the show is entirely predictable in a lot of ways when it comes to how everyone acts and interacts, I’m still very much charmed by Maria Watches Over Us. It’s the kind of show that simply envelops me as it plays out, allows me to enjoy the characters and their complex simplicity and to just let it be itself. It’s not aspiring to greatness but it’s not playing to the lowest common denominator either. No overt sexuality, nor is there anything untoward when it comes to their outfits and relationships. It’s played straight and harmlessly as it allows us to view these girls in this situation and enjoy it. Maria Watches Over Us isn’t a world changing show or anything, but it is a beautiful looking and engaging show that leaves me smiling and enjoying just about every minute of it. This season is done very differently from the first two and all for the better I think. The design of it takes it to the next stage and moves things along just right. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles (Standard), English Subtitles (Honorifics), Season 3 Specials, Liner Notes, Character Bios
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.