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Maria+Holic Post-viewing Notes

Well, 12 episodes done and I did enjoy the series quite a bit. It stopped before the joke (there’s really only one) got old, and served up enough variations to keep it entertaining throughout. Full of non-sequiturs uniformly, and nearly every episode (including the last) ends on a random cliffhanger that’s never followed up on, but generally satisfying.

The crazy, near-abstract art didn’t turn out to be a liability (no Soul Taker, that’s for sure), though at times I felt like it would have been funnier, or at least more engaging, if the continuity had felt a little more coherent. This may be because I usually prefer more solid worlds and sense of space (both literally and metaphorically) in my comedies, including the wacky ones.

Then again, maybe not—the one episode that did try to do a relatively normal, not-particularly-funny schoolgirl plot was probably the weakest of the series. It was incredibly generic, though; seems like the series could have managed somewhere in-between, with some actual substance to the characters in addition to the humor. They sort of forgot several characters who could have had a bit more to them as soon as they were introduced, for example, and the setup (despite frequent 4th-wall-breaks) was solid enough to support actual character development were it so inclined.

Strong point is the nosebleed-prone protagonist—she remains, from first scene to last, brick-stupid, lust-blinded by anything female (looking), and violently allergic to anything male. A solid half the humor in the series consists entirely of her rather incoherent brain trying to process things around her, usually breaking thoroughly in the process or getting distracted by fanservice before she comes to a conclusion. Certainly, her usually-futile preparation to prevent terminal anemia from nosebleed blood loss through various means of increased iron intake are good stuff, as much as anything because she’s still desperate to get into situations that will result in said nosebleeds despite risk to health and consciousness. Leaving aside the implication that she doesn’t have many brain cells left to kill.

The last episode and one a couple earlier also feature an exact male parallel of her, a priest-teacher who replaces irreperable perviness with burning desire to be a good teacher and being dumber than a box of rocks with being far too well-read. When the two are in the same room her incoherent babbling and his attempts to make sense of it in encyclopedic internal monologue result in a sort of black hole of random free-associatitive logic. Which is amusing for how extreme it is but also just plain weird. He does push it a little too close to Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei territory, I think, for my taste (not that that series didn’t have its strong points). Speaking of which, there are a couple of those patented “Zetsubo Sensei Dramatic Triple-takes”, an amusing nod to this series’ spiritual predecessor.

In all it didn’t seem to quite live up to its potential, but it also doesn’t fall apart and manages a lot of very, very funny stuff right up to the ende.  Also too random to be predictable.

And I still think that the character designs, despite the almost complete lack of noses, are some of the most attractive I’ve ever seen.

First-episode Survey of Apparent-Fanservice Central

Tried an episode each of three different series, all of which looked silly and fanservice-y based on the box. Two of three didn’t end up being what I expected.

School Rumble: Drastically less fanservice-y than it looks, and also less Rumble-y so far. I do like the idea—dumb girl is smitten by clueless, apathetic guy that she can’t work up the guts to talk to, and raging punk delinquent is smitten by the girl and tires to go straight for her. Touch of the goofier bits of GTO, some generic schoolyard comedy, and at least passably amusing. Also a secondary character who looks and is like what Maria of Maria+Holic is pretending to be. Not lighting my fire, but enough amusing potential to watch some more of at some point.

Hanaukyo Maid Team: Every bit as fanservice-y as it looks—Emma, this is not. Basically 25 minutes straight of leering, drooling maid fanservice (maidservice?) with some violins at the end. Concept is that random orphaned nice kid gets taken in by his (apparently) insane and insanely wealthy grandfather, who skips town and leaves everything to the kid before the opening credits. Kid ends up living in a giant house stuffed wall-to-wall with maids, ranging from the demure, completely-clothed Belldandy clone he likes to the team of bathers and the three bed-warmers, who are every bit as sleazy as they sound. All the subtlety of a jackhammer, and already got to the random weapon that strips maids in the first episode, among other things. Huge variety of pretty character designs, at least, and there is a pretty funny mad scientist-maid. The slight hints of grandpa being some sort of evil mastermind (not to mention a massive perv based on his employees) means it’s probably going somewhere weird eventually, but it’d have to do something pretty spectacular to warrant wasting any more time on.

Nerima Daikon Brothers: Holy crap, what is with this series?! Not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t Excel Saga and Weird Al get together to do a much dirtier, much gayer, musical take on the Blues Brothers. Seriously—it’s a musical, it’s a giant Blues Brothers reference, and the title of the opener looks like one of those sounds-like-dirty-innuendo-but-is-actually-innocent titles but turns out to be the exact opposite. Should have known when I saw Nabeshin’s name on it (you know, the Excel Saga ‘fro guy) it would be way, way crazier than it looks, which is already pretty crazy. He and his J-fro also make an in-series appearance as the shadowy dispenser of rocket launchers (and friend of Blues Penguins—he’s obvious got a thing for cute mascots that at least some of the main characters want to eat, though this penguin seems in a lot less danger than Menchi). The show’s technically about some poor radish farmers who have a fanless blues band and are trying (unsuccessfully, of course) to use their heroic, heavy-weapon-equipped alter-egos to come up with the money to become famous. I think. Regardless, the combination of cracked musical numbers, way cracked humor, and “Why are you not cutting away?!” horrors (the image of an alien violating the villain in the background of the preview is burned into my mind) is… well, kind of spectacular. And dumbfounding.

No idea where it’s going, but if it can keep me laughing even a quarter as hard as I was during the first episode it’s guaranteed itself a place on anime night.

In other news, very much enjoying Maria+Holic as of the halfway point. I’m pretty sure some of the more subtle jokes would work better if it didn’t have the… malleable visual reality of Zetsubo Sensei, but they’re still funny and a lot of the more random stuff is hilarious. Also love the character designs—beautiful, even through the crazy visuals. Some of the best little bits recently are a malaprop of copy-writer as copy-rider (leading to a quick shot of the protagonist speeding along on a copy machine), and the admonition that “All video game systems are prohibited. (Except the Virtual Boy.)” …because it’s tragic. As a geek and product of the ’80s, that had me laughing very hard, anyway. The music-video-style intro (and the intro theme itself) is also spectacular. The wacky 8-bit outro is nice, too—has adjusted visuals to match the content of every episode. The post-logues after the credits are funny, and the post-post-logue after that is random goodness akin to the 2nd season of Zetsubo Sensei.

Here’s that opening, courtesy Media Factory (the animation studio) getting their YouTube on:

First impressions of five random shows

A quick rundown on a selection of first episodes I checked out recently:

Welcome to the NHK:  This series sounded interesting to me, and while I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect it certainly wasn’t what I got.  Sorta like halfway between Genshiken and Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, it appears to be about a college-age hikikomori guy (recluse who never leaves his apartment) who has gone at least mildly insane due in part to the anime music his neighbor plays loudly and is drawn out of seclusion by the daughter of an evangelical Christian. I have no idea whatsoever where it’s going, but the mix of surrealist cracked fantasy in the guy’s head (his appliances start talking to him and he has… interesting ideas about what the girl must do in her free time) and low-key slice-of-lifeishness (of weird people) is intriguing.

Godannar: Like the sequel to a classic giant robot anime that never was, it is about the heroic pilot of a giant mecha and the young girl he’s marrying. The big war has been over for a while, but there’s still mopping up of giant monsters to do, and in a presumably-comic take on Myra and Max from Robotech the possibly-not-so-happy couple end up piloting mecha together fighting evil. The first episode features a variety of old-school, appropriately cheesy, over-the-top classic mecha action and large amounts of wedding-day innuendo/symbolism involving merging mecha (flashbacks of Vandread). The main question appears to be how seriously it’s going to take itself; so far pretty over the top, but if it starts being more mecha series and less comedy it won’t bode well.

When Seagulls Cry:  Intriguing, confusing. Watched this with someone who’d read the visual novel, but I’m not sure how much I’d be following without someone there to fill in the gaps glossed over in the animated version. Focused on a very rich, rather dysfunctional family at their annual get-together where they verbally joust and try to wring an inheritance out of the ailing (maybe) patriarch, the first episode introduces a cast of at least a dozen when you count the help. I assume there won’t be many more added, but the character overload was tough to keep up with and the involved infighting hits the ground running. On the stronger side, the three kids in the group aren’t part of the posturing and seem to provide a little levity—particularly the late-teen male lead (at least, I’m guessing he is), who does a few rather goofy grope attempts (which I’m told are more of a coping mechanism than straight comedy). Another strong point is a preteen girl with an annoying way of talking—it was getting on my nerves a little until her mother flew into a screaming rage about it, quickly shifting the tone from “annoying anime thing” to “it’s apparently a symptom of psychological issues, and people around her are very much not ignoring it.”  Relatively powerful drama for so early on, as well, and there are creepy hints galore about “the witch” who presumably is doing unpleasant things to/with the patriarch. Bonus points for several brief flashes of “cute little girl suddenly going way creepy.”

Maria+Holic:  A hard-edged parody of Maria Watches Over Us (et al) with shades of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei (I said this based off style and noticing Maria’s voice actor, but now that I look it up it’s no coincidence—both the director and series director worked on Zetsubo Sensei and sequel, as did the majority of the main cast). The plot isn’t wildly original; apparently normal girl transfers into an elite all-girls Christian boarding school, meets elegant, beautiful, powerful, rich girl as soon as she sets foot on campus, ambiguous relationships ensue. The standard comedy twist is that the girl she meets is actually a guy in disguise, the lead breaks out in hives when she touches men, and of course they hate each other and end up in the same dorm room. The interesting twist comes from the extreme characters; the lead is a drooling, nosebleed-prone lesbian—no yuri or euphemisms here—the guy is vicious and hammer-blunt when he’s not being a perfect, refined lady, and his deadpan maid is impressively foul-mouthed. The humor appears to be as much from the lead’s completely loony internal monologue and fantasy images (part of what brought Zetsubo Sensei to mind). How far it goes with that, and whether it ends up annoying or hilarious, the jury is out on, but so far I very much like what I see.  Might even be lesbians without the tragic, though I’m expecting a predicable turn straight when she eventually goes for the guy. On the other hand, it looks cracked enough that maybe it won’t take the obvious path.

UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie:  Ouch.  The first episode takes place somewhere well into the series, apparently to hook you by showing you where the stupidity is eventually heading before going back to the beginning. All this did for me was show that it’s not going anywhere interesting, at all. Painfully lame drama, generic characters, lots and lots of fanservice—in a near-trifecta there is a literal platoon of catgirl maids (with a bonus dash of assault squad). About the only plus is that the thing that had me cringing before even starting—the aggregation on the RightStuf product page of the words “bathhouse” “8-year old body” and “Rating: 17+”—didn’t turn out quite as horrifying as I feared.  The roughly-adult main love interest transforms into a little kid after crashing on earth and nearly killing the generic niceguy protagonist then pulling a Birdy (or somesuch) to keep him alive. Instead of horrifying “she only looks eight” fanservice, the tack appears to be that she mentally reverts, too, so really she’s just an annoying kid and the main character is wondering where the hot, mature love-interest went and how long he’s going to have to play babysitter until she comes back. Doesn’t matter, though—it’s still wildly unoriginal, hugely predictable, seems to have an overload of cringeworthy drama, and just plain not funny or fun.  Also, the modern-day-like future in which aliens are everywhere has some potential, but the show just doesn’t seem to do anything with it.  Usually I’ll reserve judgement, but this one only took a couple episodes (one, really) to put it in the masochistic, “only if I’m heckling” bin.