Time marches forward and after a year has passed since becoming Sachiko’s little sister, Yumi has new challenges to face.
What They Say Yumi and the Yamayuri Council have found two new helpers in Kanako and Toko. Unfortunately, their assistance comes with a certain tension, as neither girl is particularly fond of the other and both seem likely candidates to be Yumi's petite soeur. But will either one be a good fit for Yumi? As the school year marches on, the work for the Yamayuri Council piles up, and pressure begins to mount for Yumi to make her final decision. Contains the complete 13-episode fourth season (TV), plus "specials" 1-11.
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 2009, the transfer for this thirteen episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is spread across four discs with three episodes per disc and with the last one having four. 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 has a very good look to it and these episodes are similar to the OVAs with 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 previous seasons 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 Toko almost back to back in front of their main building which draws in some yellow to offset the dark uniform colors. All of it is framed in an elegant border that is the same as previous seasons which gives the entire run a great deal of continuity. 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 their uniforms walking together as the sun sets 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.
This season has a nice collection of extras that are similar to what the previous TV seasons had. We get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as a new round of liner notes across all the discs that detail episode specific items that come up. The big extra is again the special episodes of which there are eleven here. They rarely run more than a minute long but they’re absolutely lovely little outtakes that treat the characters as if they’re acting in a drama and we see the silly moments that make up certain scenes. I loved this in the previous release and I’m very excited to see more of them here again.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After two successful seasons and a brief but very enjoyable OVA series, Maria Watches Over Us brings out thirteen more episodes to tell us more stories of the girls of Lillian Academy as they continue to grow up. The original material for this is still going strong, some thirty plus light novels to date in Japan, so there’s obviously plenty of places for the show to go and numerous characters to explore. This season takes us through more of Yumi’s story, but it doesn’t focus so directly on her exactly and it shuffles Sachiko off to the background a fair bit which was a surprise. With it now being just about a year since Sachiko gave Yumi her rosary beads, events are moving forward that will have the senior girls preparing for their own journeys forward.
The fourth season plays with some familiar material to the world of high school by having the student festival kick things off, which means the boys are back in town for a little bit. The whole thing gets rather convoluted in its own way as they have the boys and girls working together and then decide that, while dealing with a gender swapping story, to double swap genders to make it all the more confusing. It’s not a bad little piece but I found the little chibi version in the extras to be more enjoyable as they blended various stories together into one for good comedic effect. The area where the story spends a fair bit of it focus is on Toko as she’s having some conflicts in being involved in the Rose’s play while also dealing with the drama club.
And it’s from there that we can quickly surmise that this season is going to focus heavily on Toko. Toko’s certainly gotten close to the girls and Yumi has taken a strong liking to her, though she’s distracted at first because it is the anniversary of when Sachiko gave Yumi her rosary beads. That memory has brought up an interesting reaction from both as Yumi wants to know what she and Sachiko may do while Sachiko realizes that contrary to her own usual ways, she must do something for Yumi because things will be changing. In reality, it won’t be long until Sachiko moves on to the Lillian Women’s College and is away more, even if just across campus. And that has Sachiko realizing that just like how she was pushed, she has to give Yumi the right push so she can get her own little sister.
It’s certainly not what Yumi was expecting to happen anytime soon, though she was just in a state of denial about it. But once it’s in her head, she’s all about making the girl she cares the most about outside of her immediate sisters her little sister. And that focus falls pretty easily on Toko, but it’s not something that comes with ease. Yumi’s become rather popular since becoming Sachiko’s soeur and the biggest problems she had as that came, perceived by others at least, when Toko become involved with Yumi in the past year. So other members of the student body have an issue with Toko and Toko herself has quite a few issues that are weighing her down. Enough so that she doesn’t want to become Yumi’s little sister and drag her into it. The two end up in a rather slow series of complications, misunderstandings and issues along the way that makes their journey together very difficult. Particularly so because Yumi wears her emotions on her sleeve while Toko plays the actress and hides everything under a mask.
There’s a huge focus on these two characters and plenty of support material with those who want to see them succeed along the way. Unfortunately, a lot of the other cast members get a much smaller role this time around and it feels a bit lighter in general since we’ve had the graduating class going off previously as well. Shimao and Noriko have some nice moments and there are some amusing bits to be had with Kanako as she towers over everyone while trying not to be seen. Time is given over again to the search for a little sister among all the students, though the majority of that small arc is used to get Yumi thinking about who she’d want as hers. The lack of focus on some of the others, especially Sachiko, gives this season a very different flavor. But it’s a welcome one as it’s forcing Yumi to grow up a bit more and to take on more adult responsibilities and views of things, something that’s definitely been needed after a year of being like a puppy and racing after Sachiko.
This season definitely feels a bit off in comparison to the first three, especially with the severely reduced amount of time spent between Sachiko and Yumi together, but it works out realistically as time is moving forward. With one year having already graduated and moved on, only to appear here and there afterward, it’s little surprise that we’re seeing that forward motion again when we’d rather revel and enjoy the time we have with the cast as they are now. I liked this season a lot overall, though it took too long to get to Toko’s real issues with Yumi and there wasn’t enough of an epilogue to make it all feel really complete. It’s a lot of fun and seeing the cast again is great, but it falls just a touch short of how enjoyable the previous seasons were.
Features Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Season 4 specials 1-11, clean opening, clean closing, 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.
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