Graduation and changes have come for some of the girls at the Lillian Girls Academy and there’s even more in store.
What They Say:
The spring term is beginning for the students at Lillian Girls’ Academy. Friends are reunited, but for the Yamayuri Council, it’s a bittersweet time. Yoko, Eriko, and Sei are busy preparing to depart Lillian while Sachiko, Rei, and Shimako are doing their best to ensure that their dear sisters receive a memorable commencement.
Sei’s departure will leave a sizable hole in the White Roses, and filling it won’t be easy. But is there anyone who could appeal to Shimako enough to become the next Rosa Gigantea en bouton?
Contains all 13 episodes of the second season plus season 2 specials 1-6.
The audio presentation for this series is that it contains the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 192kbps. The mix for this serves the show well overall as the whole thing is a dialogue driven work without really anything in the form of action or big moments. 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 2004, the transfer for this thirteen episode TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The release contains the same four discs as seen in the previous edition with no changes to them. 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. Colors are rich and vibrant when required and generally solid throughout. The main problem that shows up in the series is one that deals with the various panning motions that occur. During many of these, there is a noticeable amount of rolling line noise in the characters themselves, almost like cross coloration ready to bleed out. It’s distracting enough at times but is simply something that is likely a part of the source material itself and certainly not an authoring issue. It’s unfortunate that such an appealing show visually is like this however.
The packaging for this release is definitely quite different from the previous box set edition as we get a solid litebox edition here. Contained within a single sized keepcase, The discs are all contained inside along the interior walls overlapping each other as we see with other litebox releases. The front cover artwork is standard but well done as it gives us full length shots of Yumi and Sachiko together as they walk down the leaf covered path of the school while wearing their appropriately long dresses. The logo is kept simple and the overall approach is a solid one that fits the show very well. The back cover gives us a few shots of some of the main characters along the left that looks good and highlights the designs well. The right is very simple overall with its premise, but the premise isn’t exactly a difficult one here to explain. The discs extras are clearly listed and the technical grid covers everything cleanly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover. f
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.
The extras for this release are fairly standard for the most part but there are some standout pieces as well. The standard material comes in the form of the basic liner notes that are included for each volume. The liner notes are welcome as the series progresses and gets past the honorifics but their. The best extras, which are thankfully spread across each of the volumes, are the bonus stories. These take the cast of the show and show them acting out their scenes in a more amusing design and running through basic bloopers. They’re very amusing and help to balance out the dramatic content of the show beautifully.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Time doesn’t stand still, though the show does move slowly at times, at the Lillian Girls Academy and events are moving forward as the second season gets underway. While much of the first season was the introduction of the school and adjusting us to life there through Yumi’s eyes, the months have moved on as we saw and it’s just about time for graduation for the elder sisters. This changes the dynamic of the series quite strongly in a lot of ways and is something that’s rarely done with a lot of shows and manga as characters are ushered off stage to varying levels and new ones are introduced.
With the way the series jumped about a little bit at times towards the second half with when things take place, this one gets things back on track by running through the New Years material a bit before pushing forward with graduation. With the three seniors ready to graduate and go their separate ways, that puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved since their relationships are changing dramatically. For the Rosa’s, they have all the new things to look forward to, uncertainty and all, as well as realizing what they’re leaving behind. The leaving behind part is what affects each of them the most, though to varying degrees. For Sei, she has to wonder how well Shimako will handle things because of the way events have played out between them but she is also dealing with the way her life has changed since Yumi came into it.
Some of the elder sisters have their own way of passing on what they want to see the next generation accomplish in the form of a verbal “will” that comes up. Some like Sei don’t really proscribe to this, but there’s a certain current of it among some of them as the elder sisters talk about things with their younger ones. Yumi does become the focus of this a bit because she is in her way the glue that is keeping everything together. Her outlook on life and the way she’s breathed a certain air into the Rose Mansion has many of them pinning their subconscious hopes on her. The graduation aspect really drives this home as the emotions run high and low throughout right up through the actual ceremony. And what’s really surprising is that for a show that’s run maybe sixteen or so episodes at this point from the first season, the graduation ceremony and the meetings afterwards really generate some honest and true deep emotions.
The shift of three of the elder sisters out of the show to their various colleges and lives doesn’t mean they’re out of the show completely, but they have been taken out from the day to day existence. This is difficult if you’ve come to like them more than some of the others, but the change can be positive. The danger is in that since they’ve graduated, there’s a new class of first years coming in as well that have to be dealt with. And as they come in, some must become part of the program so to speak and the new Elder Sisters have to deal with this. Bringing in new blood to a show in progress can work against the viewership since it changes the dynamic completely. And Maria Watches Over Us plays in this dangerous area rather too freely at times.
The danger comes in the form of two new characters, Noriko and Toko. Noriko’s story comes up first as it’s tied to Shimako. Shimako’s story is a bit difficult since she’s sort of leapfrogged to being a Lady Rose because of the issues that Sei had. And Shimako is carrying a secret that’s very difficult for her to bear and is causing her some internal anguish, but it’s something she can’t reveal. With Noriko, the two are instantly drawn to each other in a way that parallels how things were between Shimako and Sei early on, something we get during some nicely done flashbacks that help to keep Sei in the picture a bit longer. As the story develops, we don’t really get a sense of who Noriko is as she gets closer to Shimako, but we do get a good idea of what defines her. It’s not her background or why she’s at this school, but it’s how she interacts with Shimako and the others when the Lady Roses begin to implement their plan to help Shimako overcome her problem.
More difficult to deal with is the introduction of Toko, a relative cousin of Sachiko’s. Toko is overly familiar with Sachiko because of their relationship and this sets off instant panic for Yumi. The familiarity is enough of an alarm for her, especially since Sachiko nearly dotes on her, but when others talk about past issues that they’ve seen among others who landed in similar situations, Yumi takes it to a natural conclusion and almost starts to shut down. Of course, Sachiko is largely to blame for this as well as she’s become distracted and uncommunicative with Yumi, but she has her reasons as well. The last disc focuses heavily on the relationship between the two girls with Toko as a catalyst but much of it is mired in that lack of straightforward communication. So much could be resolved by a simple call or a minute of actual dialogue. But that would remove all the tension.
Because of how the first quarter of the series plays out by dealing with the graduation, it’s filled with a lot of emotion and uncertainty about how things will progress. This is also brought about in the last story arc around Yumi and Sachiko, though you know things will be resolved because the two are central to things. The first season of Maria Watches Over Us was a bit overly dramatic at times, but it also had to deal with some strong personalities being introduced. With them being familiar now in this season, they feel more comfortable to be around and the way they act comes across as more honest and real. I’m still rather surprised with how well the graduation ceremony connected with me with its emotions, particularly in the photograph moments towards the end of it. But this kind of emotional honesty is what is making this such an engaging series and a surprising one.
After the first season of Maria Watches Over Us, I wasn’t sure how well the second would play out. How far would they go in the progression of time? Would we be stuck with them telling the stories of just a particular year with little in the way of real change? Would it center on silly character drama material from here on out? To my surprise, Maria Watches Over Us went for real drama, real change and real character growth and discovery. Some of it is contrived by the lack of communication, but these are admittedly understandable instances and we are dealing with high school girls. This season is very tight overall considering what it’s trying to convey and how much it wants to cover. The changes to the cast have me wondering how it will go from here, but with what they’ve done with this season, I’m now completely trusting of them creative team in regards to this. I was surprised by the first season and the second season topped that easily and with enthusiasm. This still isn’t a show for everyone, but it’s a perfect title in the mix for me and I can’t recommend it enough if you want great characters and emotion.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Liner Notes
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: November 6th, 2012
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
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.