Friday, April 3, 2009

Maria-sama ga Miteru Anime Season 4

The fourth season of Maria-sama ga Miteru just ended a week ago, leaving scores of Marimite fans cheering in its wake. This season was everything a fan could have hoped for and then some, ending by bringing the series full circle while still leaving plenty of room for future plot developments.

The much awaited fourth season of Konno Oyuki's beloved Marimite shoujo series primarily follows second-year high school student Yumi Fukuzawa's journey toward choosing and being accepted by her own petite soeur.

To backtrack for anybody who reads this without knowing what Maria-sama ga Miteru is about, the story begins with Yumi as a first-year high school student attending Lillian Girl's Academy, a prestigious private Catholic girl's school that, instead of heavily relying on faculty to enforce discipline, relies on close sempai-kouhai (or respectful junior-respected senior) relationships between the students- the younger kouhai are called "petite soeurs", which means "little sisters" in French, while petite soeurs normally call their older sempai "onee-sama", which means "big sister" in Japanese but serves as a formalized variation of a general term used in Japan for people to refer to refer to an older girl ("onee-chan" is more common, especially among children). But that was a major digression. ^^;;

Anyway, Lillian has a student council called the Yamayurikai that is headed by three members who are named after different species of roses: Rosa Chinensis (red rose), Rosa Gigantea (white rose), and Rosa Foetida (yellow rose). The three Rosas' petite soeurs are called Rosa Chinensis en bouton (red rose bud), Rosa Gigantea en bouton (white rose bud), and Rosa Foetida en Bouton (yellow rose bud). In season 1, Yumi unexpectedly becomes the petite soeur of the Rosa Chinensis en bouton Sachiko Ogasawara, who Yumi had previously idolized from afar.

While the first season serves to establish the setting and relationships among the cast, the second season marks the graduation of the Rosas from the first season and the establishment of the en boutons as the new Rosas as well as the introduction of new first-year students. The third season gives the viewer some breathing room to simply enjoy the characters' interactions after the high drama at the end of season 2, while leading into the plot of season 4. Season 4 is when, as Sachiko and Yumi commemorate their one-year anniversary, Sachiko asks Yumi to choose a petite souer.

For the remainder of the season, Yumi (now herself the Rosa Chinensis en bouton) and Yoshino Shimazu (the Rosa Foetida en bouton) look for their own petite soeurs. Since Rosa Gigantea and Rosa Gigantea en bouton are in their first and second years (looong story) they mostly get to relax on the sidelines. lol From the beginning, Yumi has two strong soeur candidates, Touko Matsudaira and Kanako Hosokawa. Within two episodes, Kanako's out of the running, as her reason for idolizing and following around Yumi has been resolved, and for anybody who couldn't figure it out from the episode content, the series introduction and ending theme make it clear that Yumi will choose Touko. The question is how Yumi will decide and whether Touko will accept- in other words, this season is about the journey, not the destination. While Yoshino has pretty much decided who her petite souer will be halfway through the season, Yumi takes longer to decide that she wants Touko, and then has to figure out how to cut through the layers of issues and misunderstandings that prevent Touko from fully opening up to others.

Arguably, this is the best season so far. It boasts as much plot development as any of the previous seasons, with the extra polish that the third season added. While the third season brought Yumi and Sachiko's relationship to that of equals, the fourth season marks Yumi's maturity into a person who is ready to be Rosa Chinensis and mentor her own petite souer. Seeing the characters come into their own (not only Yumi) as much as they have in this season is a joy, culminating in a beautifully appropriate, poignant ending. Anybody who follows this show couldn't ask for more. (Aside from a fifth OVA or television season to finish adapting the novels that this series is based on. lol)

As for the art, Maria-sama ga Miteru has always boasted beautiful, distinctive character designs and evocative seasonal backgrounds, and this season is no different. While always very emphatically shoujo, the imagery used in this series, if it's possible, felt even more shoujo-esque. (For example: The way that Yumi imagined Touko needing help.) Maybe it's because of Konno Oyuki's supervision of this season (this season is the first time she's directly supervised the Marimite anime), maybe it's a different reason, or maybe I'm imagining it. As as always, the music, voice acting, everything is wonderfully synchronized to create a stellar shoujo slice-of-life drama.

"But wait! This is a yuri blog! What about the yuri?"
It's everywhere. As in previous seasons (save for the Rosa Canina and Forest of Briars arcs in season 1), the yuri isn't overt. Maria-sama ga Miteru is simply dripping in subtext, or text, for those who see it that way. As for me, I don't necessarily think that, say, Sachiko and Yumi or Rei and Yoshino are already couples (although Shimako/Noriko was really pushed hard in this season), but I see attraction (my litmus test: "Would I think/act that way around somebody who I consider a very close friend? Like, say, my best friend since middle school? We're close, but not like that.") that remains a hair's breadth away from crossing into full-blown relationship territory. But that's just my take. ^^ Oh, and the ending theme is chock full of beautifully drawn, blatantly yuri images. Mind you, the author of the Marimite novels, Konno Oyuki, is supervising this series.

Like previous seasons of Maria-sama ga Miteru, season 4 is a must-see that continues to establish this series as a new shoujo classic.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A

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