What They Say:
It’s not easy to find the perfect girl, even when you’re the same sex! Kanako thought attending an all-girls school would be the perfect way to meet the girl of her dreams, but after her hot new roommate turns out to be a guy in drag and catching the eye of the most popular girl in school only brings down the wrath of all the other similarly obsessed girls, she’s not so sure!
Complicate things with a cat-eared dorm leader, her roommate’s rude-mannered maid and identical twin sister (who attends an all-boys school, of course,) and way too many attractive girls of questionable persuasions and the question becomes whether Kanako can die from frustrated nosebleeds! (Life would be SO much easier if guys didn’t literally give her the hives!) Will Kanako ever find a non-polar opposite of a compatible non-opposing polarity?
While the original DVD release was a monolingual one, this new version brings us the original Japanese language track as well as the new English language dub in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is not one that really goes big or wild, but it has its key moments along the way that makes the use of the mix important, both with the louder moments but also some of the incidental sounds to make the humor work or the dialogue come across right. Both mixes handle things well and the music is the area that tends to be the most noticeable element overall, which works well since it has the widest and warmest usage. The series may not be hugely memorable in terms of its design, but it fits the show well and the encoding here is clean and clear throughout as we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this twelve episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second, which is also where all the extras are. The series is one that looked good on DVD outside of a bit of banding, but it comes to life even more here with the what Shaft animated it. The colors have a richer and deeper feeling to them, a warmer approach for much of it, and the details are all the more visible and clean. It’s the kind of show where, especially on a larger screen, you can really savor it when you pause on various situations and just enjoy the attention to detail that they put into it. Colors are solid throughout, the gradients are significantly minimized though they’re still part of the actual source material and the overall presentation definitely brings out the quality of the show.
The packaging for this release is pretty nice as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds both discs against the interior walls. The artwork is new for this incarnation of the show as we get an exterior shot of the school while lining up multiple characters from it in their uniforms which looks cute and works. Even more so since there’s a cutout just under the logo that has Kanako bursting in as she wants to get closer to all the girls. The colors are light here and while there’s a bit of red framing, it helps to push the focus on the characters nicely. The addition of the “New English Dub” text is kind of annoying as I wish they’d just go back to using burst stickers for these upgrades instead of having it on the show itself. The back cover is heavier on the red background but has some nice framing inside of it with the off-white background pieces which is where we get the shots from the show and the premise for the season. The disc and episode count is clearly listed and we get a good breakdown of all the extras included in the release as well. Production credits round out the bottom as well as a clean and accurate technical grid that’s easy to read. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works the simple aspect with some nicely done static menus. The background goes with the red style with some nice elegant designs woven into it while the foreground provides for some good character artwork, though they’re simple but nicely detailed pieces with them standing about. The navigation along the right uses the off-white from the back cover with a standard vertical breakdown of episodes by number and title, but it’s a bit smaller than usual and a little harder to read even on larger screens at a distance. The layout is fairly standard for Sentai Filmworks but it works well during regular usage as well as during playback through the pop-up menus.
There’s a good selection of extras on this set with both discs featuring things. The release has a twenty-minute feature with the three primary characters voice actresses, Mariya, Kanako and Matsurika, talking about the show in a fairly informal and silly manner. Additionally, there’s the Christmas night special which runs for twenty two minutes where people watched the first episodes on Christmas night together in a church and then had a Q&A session with the voice actresses afterward. They do have some cosplay in it which is cute. Also included is a TV commercial collection which runs a couple of minutes and shows it from before it aired and after it started which is good to see. The original promotional video is also included which runs just over two minutes and sells the show in a rather stylish fashion that’s very appealing. And last but certainly not least are the clean versions of all twelve episodes which runs over eighteen minutes. Each of these is filled with so much detail that it really does help to have them in this form.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Minari Endo which is eleven volumes strong and still ongoing as of this writing, Maria Holic is a twelve episode series that brings animation studio SHAFT together with Akikyuki Shinbo who has a solid collection of series under his belt. Like a lot of SHAFT series, there’s a very certain kind of style applied here but it’s similar to Hidamari Sketch more than Pani Poni Dash in that it’s fairly restrained with the background gags and strange visuals that creep into it. But the distinct SHAFT style works well here because of their use of detail and layout design that helps to make this look unique and intriguing and far more polished and professional than it would be under most anyone elses hands.
The story of Maria Holic is a very simple one that we’ve seen numerous times before, albeit with a very mild but specific twist that really works well in its favor. It revolves around a second year high school student named Kanako who has come to a private Christian school. Her life has been decent overall but she’s not found what she’s looking for, which is really true love. Transfers into this elevator school are rare but her parents met here so she had a bit of an in there. Amusingly, her parents were a student-teacher relationship since it’s an all girls school. That Kanako is looking for the same is different, but it turns even more when we find out that she’s looking for her true love among the student population as she swings that way and prefers the term yuri instead of lesbian.
All of this gets revealed very early on when she meets a first year student named Mariya whose residence is actually on the school grounds as her grandmother was the former chairwoman. Mariya makes friends with her easily and the two seem to get along, but when Kanako goes to meet up with her for a tour later the first day they met, it all turns to the worse when she discovers that Mariya is actually a man dressing up as a woman. What’s good about this particular aspect of the show is that we don’t spend a huge amount of time on it. Mariya uses the fact that Kanako knows as blackmail against her and she binds herself to her by rooming with her as well. And even better is that it’s not a regular plot point where Mariya is trying to avoid getting caught in each episode. It’s there and it’s an element that gets to Kanako since she doesn’t like men and gets hives from being touched by them, but it’s played up that way rather than a secret to be exposed regularly.
With that as the basics to the series, it’s easy to see how it’ll play out as fairly standard Christian school material as Kanako tries to fit in. With her rooming with Mariya, who is the big popular new girl that was the student council president in middle school she elevated from, there’s a lot of derison cast her way so she doesn’t fit in well a lot of the time. She tries to make friends but it’s difficult because of that and the way certain other popular girls end up befriending her. What makes life really difficult for Kanako though is that she’s essentially a guy trapped in a woman’s body. Kanako is the real rarity of a lustful, desirous young woman in a sea of beautiful girls that she wants to experience. She has nosebleeds so massive it turns a swimming pool red and various other moments get turned into a Seven Wonders of the school routine.
Watching Kanako act out like a boy in a lot of scenes is simply a whole lot of fun, especially since it often turns to nosebleeds. She’s very much wanting to be intimate with most of them, to find a potential true love, but all of it builds toward the goal of the week where they have swimming lessons before summer break and she gets to see everyone in swimsuits – teachers included. In most shows, we do often see a character like this in male form. Sometimes as the leads, more often as a secondary best friend character, but it’s always common. It’s very rare to see a female character like this and they play her well here. She’s trying to keep it a secret but she also wants to savor everything about the girls she makes friends with, the one she wants to know more intimately. Kanako’s really a fun character to watch here, especially as she runs the gamut of emotions and expressions like most male characters do.
While the high definition upgrade is a big draw for me, for a lot of people the inclusion of a new English language dub is more important. Having watched the show a couple of times previous in its original Japanese, I spent a good bit of time going back and forth with this release to check out the new dub. While the cast in general is done in a fairly straightforward way for a lot of it as they deliver their lines well and hit their comedic marks just right, a good bit of it is playing the straight man character. The key character here is being able to pull off Kanako since she is so all over the map, sometimes within the space of a minute, that it requires a certain amount of skill and charm to pull off. Jessica Calvello definitely did that in spades and made Kanako a really fun character to listen to in this form, even if I’m still strongly connected to the original Japanese actress since that was my first introduction to it. It’s one of those tough roles to step into and fill, but Calvello definitely did it and has me looking forward to Maria Holic Alive to see if she can breathe new life into that series.
My experiences with Maria Holic have been interesting as I first was exposed to it through the subtitled DVD and enjoyed it. I then did the simulcasts of the sequel series but that proved to be a rougher show, which made me wonder if it would color my impressions here. What I found in revisiting this, and sampling the dub, is that it definitely is a very good season that has a lot to offer and certainly holds up in the replay value as the gags can change in perception from time to time. Though the show works in familiar territory, it does it smartly even if it feels a little overbearing at times when going through it in marathon form. It’s definitely a show to space a bit more to enjoy. This new release definitely capitalizes on all that it offers with a great looking show, a whole lot of neat details, some solid performances on both tracks and plenty of extras to make it all the more fun. A very easy recommendation.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Club At-X Interview, Special X-Mas Night – Amenokisaki Holy Night Festival, Japanese Commercial Collection, Japanese Promotional Video, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.