Monday, May 16, 2011

Maria Watches Over Us, Season Two (anime TV series)

Synopsis:

You should definitely watch the first season before watching this - it explains the setup (the soeur system, the Lady Roses, etc.).

In this season, the Lady Roses of the previous season are all graduating. One episode focuses on Rosa Foetida and rumors that she is going on dates with older guys, but, other than that, the season quickly moves into graduation preparations and, finally, graduation. It's a sad time in general for the students who will be left behind, particularly for those who looked up to the Lady Roses.

After the Lady Roses have graduated, Shimako, Rei, and Sachiko become the new Lady Roses and must get used to their roles. The two petite soeurs, Yumi and Yoshino, are now Rosa Chinesis en bouton and Rosa Foetida en bouton, respectively. The group will not truly be complete until Shimako has chosen her petite soeur, but she was so wrapped up in the previous Rosa Gigantea that it doesn't look like she really wants anyone as her petite soeur. The others worry that, without Rosa Gigantea, she is slowly withdrawing from all of them. Eventually, however, Shimako meets someone she bonds with and decides to have as her petite soeur.

After Shimako's problems in this season are dealt with, the show moves on to Rei and Yoshino, who are again butting heads over Rei's protectiveness. Yoshino wants to join the kendo club, which upsets Rei, who can't concentrate for worry that Yoshino, who was physically fragile prior to her surgery in the previous season, will overdo things or otherwise get hurt.

After Rei and Yoshino comes the season's big emotional blowup: Yumi and Sachiko's relationship appears to be falling apart. From Yumi's perspective, it looks like Sachiko may be cheating on her and might be thinking of choosing a new girl, a relative of hers, as her new petite soeur. Sachiko, as coolly uncommunicative as ever, doesn't volunteer information about what's going on and keeps brushing Yumi off. Yumi doesn't want to be a bother, but she doesn't stand a chance of fixing things if she can't even find out why Sachiko is drifting away from her. Unable to figure out what's gone wrong between her and Sachiko, Yumi falls apart, thinking she has lost her soeur. The whole situation is explained and resolved in the end, but the journey to that ending is a real emotional wringer.

Commentary:

If you liked the melodrama of the first season, this season offers more of the same - I think it might be even more intense in this second season, because there is no longer any need to make room for explanations about the soeur system and what the school and its students are like. I settled in pretty comfortably during the pre-graduation and graduation parts, enjoying all the emotional intensity. I don't think I've ever been part of a graduation quite as emotional as the graduation of the Lady Roses - it was like watching someone's parents leave, possibly for good. Rosa Chinesis, in particular, seemed to take graduation particularly hard, and when Sachiko dissolved into tears and Rosa Chinesis tried to hold herself back from going to comfort her, I started to tear up, too.

After graduation, however, the series got a little tougher for me to watch. I enjoyed finally getting to see how Shimako and Rosa Gigantea met, but I really couldn't identify with either Shimako or her new petite soeur. I did find it surprising that Shimako is the daughter of a Buddhist monk, but I found her belief that Catholicism and Buddhism had to be mutually exclusive puzzling - from what I understand, quite a few Japanese people identify with more than one religion, so I would think that it would be natural not to see any one religion as mutually exclusive. Anyway, I hope I'll start to like Shimako's petite soeur more as I see more of her in future seasons.

Rei and Yoshino's part wasn't so much hard to watch as it was deja vu. They had already had a big falling out in the first season, so their second falling out in this season didn't feel like much of a threat to their relationship.

Yumi and Sachiko's falling out, on the other hand, was incredibly difficult to watch. Yumi couldn't read Sachiko, and neither could I. I suspected that Sachiko wasn't really cheating on Yumi, but I wasn't entirely sure, and I, like Yumi, couldn't see a way for Yumi to repair their relationship - true, Yumi could have tried flat out asking Sachiko what was going on, but I thought that the explanation for why she didn't was perfectly plausible. Aside from that, I also thought it was unfair that Touko seemed to expect Yumi to bear the full burden of fixing things, even though no one had told Yumi anything, and even though Touko was one of the people responsible for causing the strain in the first place.

I ended up getting so tense for Yumi's sake that I had to stop watching the show for a while, just to de-stress. I'm glad I continued watching, however, because this part of the season made it clear what the overall theme of the season was: the soeurs needed to learn to be stronger, the sort of people who could be counted on, now that the Lady Roses were gone, and the petite soeurs needed to become more independent and broaden their worlds to include more than just their soeurs. Shimako almost drifted away, emotionally, after Rosa Gigantea graduated, but she found her anchor in her petite soeur. Yoshino was more than ready to expand her world, so Rei had to learn how to let go and not stifle her by worrying about her too much. Sachiko needed to learn not to hold everything in, to rely on and communicate with Yumi a little more. Although Yumi's falling out with Sachiko was tough, it provided Yumi with the necessary incentive to focus on more than just Sachiko (although, admittedly, she used Sei, the former Rosa Gigantea, as a crutch at first).

Visually, this is still a lovely, quiet series, although I thought the artwork was a tad rough at times, particularly in the episode where Shimako is forced to reveal her Buddhist roots. Also, occasionally some details caught my eye and struck me as being a little odd. Considering Kashiwagi's terrifying driving, shouldn't Yumi have been wearing a seatbelt?

Speaking of Kashiwagi, he shows up several times in this season and actually seems kind of nice. He is the only male member of Sachiko's family who sticks around for the family's celebrations at the beginning of the season (New Year's celebrations, I think) - everyone else is off with their mistresses. In addition to Kashiwagi, Yumi's brother also shows up in this season, as do several male members of Rosa Foetida's family. There weren't a lot of males in this season, but there were still quite a few more than in the previous season.

Random thought, inspired by thinking about Kashiwagi and the situation with males in Sachiko's family: I know that Sachiko's grandmother, at least, went to Lillian. Considering the prevalence of cheating men in Sachiko's family, I wonder if the soeur system provides/provided the only happy relationships that the women in Sachiko's family could have? I do hope, for Sachiko's sake, that she and Yumi can somehow continue to stay close as adults.

Overall, I liked the first season better, but I still enjoyed this season when all the drama wasn't making me cringe in sympathetic pain. I look forward to watching the next season.

Extras:

Whoops, it's been so long since I've written about anime I didn't watch on Hulu that I almost forgot to write about the extras. The selection of extras is exactly the same as it was for the first season: liner notes (which I appreciated), funny chibified re-dos of certain scenes (which I enjoyed), and trailers. Like the first season, this season offers two subtitle tracks, one with honorifics and one without. The one without bothered me when I tried it out in the first season. I didn't even bother trying it with the second season.

I'm lazy (and also desperately trying to deal with my backlog of posts) - the list below is almost entirely a copy and paste from what I wrote for season one. I did cut a couple of my season 1 watch-alike/read-alike suggestions out, because the focus of season 2 was different enough that some of the suggestions no longer fit quite as well. I'm sure I must have read several romance novels that dealt with the kind of emotional anguish found in this second season of the series, but I can't remember them at the moment.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - This series is actually pretty different from Maria Watches Over Us, but I'd suggest it to those looking for another engrossing school relationship drama with lots of interesting and complex characters - in addition, this series, like Maria Watches Over Us, recognizes that relationships aren't static. The main focus of the series is a couple of students, both of whom are the best students at their school. What no one knows is that they are both wearing masks. Yukino pretends to be perfect in every way because she is addicted to receiving others' admiration. Arima's mask hides a painful past. Yukino sees Arima as her rival at school, but, as she gets to know him, she begins to fall in love with him. In addition to Yukino and Arima's romance, the series also looks at the lives and relationships of several of their friends. The anime is tons of fun, but it doesn't really have an ending. For those who'd like the complete story, I'd recommend reading the manga.
  • Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori; Emma (anime TV series) - This historical romance focuses on the romance between Emma, a maid, and William, a member of the gentry. I'd suggest this to those looking for another lovely, fairly slow-paced relationship-focused series that, like Maria Watches Over Us, takes itself seriously. The anime, particularly the second season, is a bit different from the manga, but both are good.
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Tohru Honda, whose mother died a while back, somehow ends up living with Yuki Sohma, the most popular boy at her school, and Shigure Sohma, one of his relatives. She soon learns the Sohma family secret: when certain members of the family become weak or are hugged by someone of the opposite sex, they transform into a member of the Chinese zodiac. Tohru gradually gets to know and love more members of the Sohma family, but the family's deeper secrets may spell the end of her new friendships and budding romance. I'd suggest this to those who'd like another school series with romance and a main character who is a lot like Yumi.

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