One theme of ecchi that has never really appealed to me is traps; young, beautiful boys dressing as girls to deceive those around them and cause some utterly hilarious situations. Personally speaking, I like my girls with no padding in the mammary department or for them to be brandishing a “surprise inside”. And so it was with more than a little trepidation that I embarked on Maria Holic – a show that has long been a favourite with certain members of Club ISSUP (The International Study of Something Umm Perverted) because of what has been described as a “delicious trap”.
Telling the story of Kanako, Maria Holic’s delicate setting of a Catholic school for girls instantly put me in mind of Maria-sama ga Miteru. Thankfully, Holic instead quickly cements its name in perverted comedy as the hapless protagonist reveals her true nature via a somewhat unique reaction to a jaw droppingly stunning shoujo. As frequently occurs in ecchi anime, this leads to an unexpected twist that sets this show apart from others in the genre. Instead of the overly done harem or tiresomely vapid heroine, the writers instead choose to make the most desirable female a cross dressing megalomaniac. Cross the fact that poor Kanako is wrestling against her overtly yuri feelings against an allergy to males, and you quickly realise that the blend of dark humour works wonders.
In an effort to keep this joke from becoming tired, Kanako’s over the top nose bleed reactions are compounded by a classroom packed by a bevy of stereotypical typecasts; the bespectacled bookworm, little miss "ditzy but kind" and the skilful sports star all tickle our heroines fancy on regular occasions. Sadly, it is these once comical immense exsanguinations that are killed by the aggressive repetition. In my mind, the rapid expulsion of blood from a male character is representative of a sudden surge of blood to the head (if you know what I mean). As Kanako is lacking a one-eyed trouser snake, this initially funny joke results in questioning whether the writers have tried to be a little too clever with this little quip and resulted in completely missing the net.
Disregarding this one lack of judgement, the show's primarily episodic approach works well. The storyline easily flits between perverted swimsuit antics at the swimming pool and adventures of the adorably sinister dorm mistress named God. As time progresses, the flow of dark humour permeates every pore of this surprisingly amusing show but sadly seems to lack drive as it loses all momentum by the time it reaches a pointless cliff-hanger ending. At its best, Maria Holic is extremely reminiscent of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei: the non-stop flow of inner monologues and angst-ridden teen years flow by effortlessly with much mirth from the viewer. Lacking the same exclusive Japanese driven humour of the latter, Maria Holic is an easy going flirtation with a titillating blend of comedy and ecchi that will definitely tickle the fancy of many an otaku.
Once again, parallels can be drawn with Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei in the art department; boldly drawn cartoonish characters are lovingly rendered with garishly complex patterns and designs. Although not quite as deliciously obnoxious as futuristic Gankutsuou, the crazy palette composition strangely works for the modern day Maria Holic; girls sparkle and glow as they become the latest object of Kanako’s affections, occasionally being turned into a shimmering stained glass piece of artwork in homage to the show's Catholic setting. The sparing use of CG finds its way into some unusual scenes, such as the fantastically crazy opening credits – I have to say, the sight of a maid’s ample bosom being freed from her apron never looked so good!
Initially breaking out with an upbeat and funky opening track, the musical score throughout Maria Holic is catchy and boogie-liciously addictive. The closing track is an electro-beat ditty that is impossible to get out of your head once it works its way in there, and the ambient background tunes are pleasant on the ear.
Thankfully, the voice acting is also up to par, with each of the seiyuu turning out a stellar performance. From the lovelorn Kanako to the creepy yet innocent dorm mistress, it seems that the casting department were on a roll the day of the auditions. Worthy of a mention is Yu Kobayashi, whose vocal talents bring the gender confused Mariya to life; flitting between her girlishness when public facing, the change to a gruff male is seamless and only goes to enhance the curiously mischievous side of our beloved cross dresser.
Starting with the best of the bunch, the troublesome pairing of Mariya and Matsurika is an absolute pleasure to watch. Their relentless bullying and manipulation of weaker personalities that surround them is both genius and cringe worthy at the same time. Mariya’s gender deception sees his inspired plotting at its best: playing both a delicate flower carefully picking her way through life and an insensitive despot who lives to prove his supremacy over the lesser beings in life, he wears each persona as easily as a mask. On the other hand, Matsurika is happy to play the deadpan sidekick to her master, only getting caught up in the merciless scheming when ordered to. Her cold, almost robotic facade never slips, thus making her intriguing to follow onscreen.
Unfortunately, the main protagonist does not come across quite as well. Kanako starts off as a mildly likable character, but her unwavering attraction to the fairer sex quickly plummets from being amusing and quirky to gut-wrenchingly dull. Setting out with so much promise, she quickly becomes nothing but a two dimensional, stereotypical pervert. Although this does keep the show moving along at times and can be very funny, it just seems a little too over the top to be used and amplified as the episodes roll by.
Overall, Maria Holic is a delightfully different mismatch of genres; from schoolgirl angst to black comedy, yuri fantasy to surprisingly sexy cross dressing, the bizarre combinations work well. Although far from being perfect, the series wields enough charm to keep the viewer entertained for all twelve episodes. If you harbour even a smidgen of curiosity about pretty females packing heat, then this show is less of a guilty pleasure and more of a stupendous introduction to the fascinating world of lady boys. Comparing it to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, it feels like a lighter version that includes a lot more boobies and far fewer in jokes aimed at the native Japanese audience – perfect for those who like a substantial handful of mindless pleasure with their entertainment.
Kanako Miyamae hates boys so much that she breaks out into hives after any physical contact with them. So when she is able to transfer to the Ame no Kisaki Girl’s school, Kanako is overjoyed that she can now search for her fated yuri partner. When she arrives, Kanako meets Shidou Mariya, a beautiful young girl who is exactly her type... except that Mariya is really a sarcastic and sadistic young boy who is masquerading as a girl! With no intention of being expelled from school, Mariya threatens Kanako into keeping his secret, and decides to guard her twenty-four hours a day to ensure that she does. Now Kanako must share a room with Mariya who is gleefully making her life a misery while using his ‘feminine’ charms to stop her protesting. Throw into the mix Ryuuken, the most popular girl in school who has vowed to protect her; and Kiri - who claims they are dating to prevent her from being bullied - and it seems as if Kanako’s dream of all-girl school life will be nothing like she imagined!
As a not-so-closet perv, I love watching anything involving panty-shots, handfuls of cleavage and an innuendo fuelled plot. Although most of my reviews will err on the risque, I also love the obscure, the twisted and things that make you think - drop me a line if you want to discuss any of them!