Notes from the 9th Maria-sama ga Miteru Novel – Cherry Blossom
Seventeen pages of notes this time. We lost quite a bit of Noriko’s internal monologue in the anime, which is a shame, since she’s the most normal brain we’ve encountered so far. She’s refreshingly free of strangeness (sort of the healthy mutt among the highstrung purebreds…)
In comparison with the last novel, which took me almost two months to read, this one took about two weeks – a new record for me. This is partially because, post-Onna! I was free to sit and do nothing at night (and unwilling to do much, to be honest) but also because this book in general, and especially the first half, was a fun read. ^_^
The uniforms were a real problem. Everyone looked the same – at least in part because no one even attempted to individualize the uniforms…and no one seemed to object, which drove Noriko nuts.
Three girls approach Noriko: Atsuko, Kazuko and Touko. They know her – they are in her homeroom. She has no idea who they are. Even though they are friendly, she can’t keep them sorted in her mind.
They ask which club she’s interested in – what accomplishments she has. None.
Atsuko (maybe) says that the culture club invites famous lecturers. Noriko thinks that that is to be expected from an ojou-sama school. Atsuko (maybe) then goes on to say that Touko is in theater club and she and another girl are in Bible Study club – won’t you join us? This surprise attack leaves Noriko speechless. Oh sorry, she manages finally, today’s not good. She berates herself for ending it that, way – they might try again tomorrow, but luckily, Atsuko back off pleasantly. Noriko thinks that the idea of reading Bible scriptures doesn’t thrill.
She bails and tries to find somewhere to go where no one else is, to fill her time. She thinks of herself as a “secret Christian” like the Christians of Edo period who had to hide their religion. Everywhere is very crowded with people recruiting for clubs and joining them. As she walks, she thinks that she has no intention of joining anything. She’s doing her three years, and then she’s out. All she needs to do is do her work, get herself to a university and her life back on track.
She can see the sakura from a distance and is drawn to it. When she finds it among the gingko, she thinks of it as a “shrine among churches”.
“Underneath it, stood Maria-sama.”
She had heard a story that a corpse was buried under the tree (a fairly common folklore thing in Japan…my guess is that it’s supposed to be the reason for the pink flowers)- but not that a Mary stood there. She thinks it’s an optical illusion, that she’s standing at the crossroads in front of the statue of Mary.
With her wavy hair, fair and pale face, Noriko thinks that the school uniform suits her – like a blue-eyed antique doll’s dress.
Shimako says that the sakura calls out to her – she says that she thinks it does for Noriko, too. Her guess is right.
As she’s pulling the petals from Shimako’s soft hair, Noriko’s heart skips a beat at the sight of the pale neck visible in the open sailor collar of the uniform. She thinks it “captivating.”
Noriko at home, pulls off her socks and tosses them, then sprawls on the sofa. She lives with her great aunt on her father’s side, Sumireko, who calls her “Riko.”
When faced with a decision to live in a dorm or with a distant relative, Noriko chose the latter and is glad she did. She feels very comfortable with Sumireko.
Noriko sends letters home saying how normal school is and how healthy she is. ^_^
She turns on the computer and prints out an email from another Buddha image enthusiast. He wishes her well at her new school. She responds to the email – Thanks. It’s thrilling living like an opposite of a “secret Christian.” She doesn’t regret missing the entrance exam to see the Kannon (a goddess also known as Guan Yin or Avalokiteshvara) statue, but she has decided to get into a top-class university to regain her honor.
Sumireko comes into her room, sees Noriko reading the letter and makes fun of her – if that was a love letter, you wouldn’t go around visiting temples, you’d be out on a date.
Noriko responds, “Sorry, but any person I’d like goes around visiting temples too” and sticks her tongue out at the older woman.
Touko decides to take Noriko under her wing – to tell her about the Maria-sai. Noriko really wants to be left alone, but Touko surprises her by beginning to cry, so she feigns interest in the festival. After hearing what the Maria-sai entails, Noriko accidentally muses out loud that class would be better, Touko protests that she’ll be cursed. Touko describes the ceremony as being crucial for all devout Christians.
Noriko’s interest in Buddha statues really is a fetish. She’s as excited to see this particular statue as if she’s about to meet a favorite idol.
Noriko’s friend, Takuya-kun, not only shares her enthusiasm, he helps her out with information and on occasion by obtaining permission for her to see a specific image.
As Noriko eats lunch at a fast food place outside the station, she sees a familiar figure, but she can’t be sure. She can tell the person is wearing a plain kimono, but then thinks she must be imagining things. Of course, she was not…she did see Shimako.
When Noriko and Shimako actually meet at the temple, their meeting is likened to an omiai (marriage meeting) – the first words they trade will color their relationship forever. Unfortunately, Noriko had only seen an omiai once, on a TV drama. lol But – Shimako was not really an omiai partner and Noriko was not about to spout cliche’d lines like, “shall we go for a walk?”
While Shimako talks about the statue, Noriko is watching her fingers, her arm, watching the way they move – she’s much more interested in Shimako than the statue, and she comments on that to herself.
As they walk to the bus stop, Shimako asks Noriko what she wanted to be when she grew up, when she was a kid. Noriko replies, A Buddhist image artisan. Shimako thinks that’s rather unusual, but then says that she wanted to go to a cloister. At 12, when she told her parents that she wanted to become a nun, she asked that they disinherit her.
(And to answer the obvious question – no, we never learn whether Shimako *still* wants to become a nun.)
Sitting at the bus stop bench, there is no shower of sakura petals, as there is in the anime. When the bus comes, Shimako gets up and Noriko somehow feels that she might be leaving the school….
Next morning Noriko goes to the sakura tree, just on the off chance that Shimako will be there. She isn’t. Noriko reflects that, it’s not like they had made any promises to each other. As she asks herself, “what if she was there?” Shimako shows up. Shimako asks why she’s there, and Noriko replies that she wanted to see Shimako again. Shimako says that that was why she came too.
Noriko tells Shimako that she’d been thinking about her, about her concerns, and she (Noriko) thinks that Shimako is not committing a sin by not telling anyone that she’s from a Buddhist household. Not saying is *not* lying.
Shimako meets her eyes as she says the above, and Noriko looks away. When it’s a statue, she can look directly at it, no matter how holy it is, because the gaze is one way. With this “peerless beauty”, it was simply too much like “onna doushi”.
Noriko explains how she ended up at Lillian, Shimako puts her arms around Noriko’s neck. She assures Noriko that she’s not planning on leaving – “yet,” and that she came to tell Noriko the same thing, to ask her to not leave the school.
Noriko feels weak at this…she didn’t need to say all that pompous crap, but then she thinks about that “yet”. Because Noriko believes that Shimako can follow Christ’s teaching anywhere, and the thought of her leaving school is upsetting. Noriko almost tells Shimako that she doesn’t have to be alone in her worries, but doesn’t say it.
Sumireko asks Noriko about school – she complains that the girl never really tells her anything.
Noriko notes to herself that she seems to get along best with older people: Shimako, Sumireko, Takuya-kun. She wonders to herself what, exactly, her and Shimako’s relationship is – sympathy, compassion – neither of those things.
She settles on shinyuu, but doesn’t think that that words has the proper nuance. Because she likes Shimako, wants to be next to her, to comfort her…
Sumireko teases her about worrying about trivial things. Noriko asks, quite suddenly, “How would you help a Christian who felt that they were betraying their god?” Sumireko asks if Noriko’s worried about herself, but Noriko bluntly denies being Christian.
(And it begs the question – Shimako is betraying her god how? By being part of a Buddhist family, or by not being open about her family at her Catholic school?)
Noriko sees Shimako in the hallway – Shimako calls her “Noriko” with no honorific, then apologizes for not being around much. Noriko tells her that she understands, Shimako is busy. They part with reassurances. Noriko turns to see Touko and the other’s peeping around the corner at them.
Totally cut scene:
In sewing class, Kyouko compliments Noriko on her sewing, and Touko gets pissy, because she’s doing nice work too. Kyouko defends herself by saying that Noriko is close to Rosa Gigantea, so she wants to be nice to her. Everyone asks what Noriko and Shimako talked about – as Noriko replies, she calls Shimako “Shimako-san” which causes an absolute uproar in the class. Noriko is immediately aware that the environment has changed – she is absolutely *grilled*. She is on the verge of drowning in a sea of humanity, as Kyouko explains that the Rosas are so popular, so of course if someone is favored by one of them, everyone wants to know…. The rumors begin to fly, then, that she and Shimako must have known each other, or that they are soeur – Noriko has no clue at all what the girls are talking about. Her classmates explain about the Rosas and the soeur tradition, which gives Noriko a raging headache and another reason to get out of this creepy school. She thinks Lillian is a horrible place. Touko loses it and tells everyone to return to their seats, and they scatter.
Someone steals Noriko’s shoes from the shoe box. She finds them, hidden.
She tells Shimako about the episode, musing out loud that it should have been tacks in the shoes. Shimako doesn’t understand what she means, so Noriko asks her if she’s ever read any shoujo manga. Noriko herself had a cousin who collected manga and one summer she read the entire collection, which concluded with her going off shoujo manga forever.
When she returns to her desk, Noriko finds that someone has drawn a Doraemon on it, in chalk. She doesn’t want to erase it, because it’s quite good. She does, however, fear that these pranks will escalate.
The Maria-sai Inquisition
We see the scene with Rei and Sachiko inspecting her from Noriko’s point of view. Sachiko, especially, seems haughty, Rei seems to be laughing at her.
When she returns to her chair and finds the juzu (the Buddhist rosary Shimako lent her) gone, she thinks it’s more teasing/bullying.
For the Maria-sai, the kindergarten children all dress as angels and all the statues of Mary are decorated with chrysanthemums (in a stunning combination of Pagan and Christian symbolism, IMHO, since chrysanthemums are the Imperial flower, because they represent the sun, and therefore the Imperial descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu. But I digress…)
There are roughly 200 first-years students (so about 600 or so in the Lillian HS).
Noriko is bored and irritated through the entire ritual. She’s understandably upset about the juzu, she feels oppressed and doesn’t give a damn about the medal. (They don’t get rosaries for this ritual, like they showed in the anime – just a medal, presumably of Mary.)
Because we’ve only seen all the events prior to it from Noriko’s point of view, the “outing” scene is much more emotional and difficult than it was in the anime, where we knew something was being planned.
As Touko holds the juzu up, light streams through the stained glass and lights up the juzu in a million ways.
When Noriko puts Shimako behind her, to protect her, Sachiko comments that she has a good heart. Noriko looks over at Sachiko and suddenly realizes how exceptionally beautiful she is.
Noriko, when confronted by the question of the juzu’s ownership, would have been perfectly fine with lying in front of – or even swearing by – Mary, if it was to protect Shimako.
Shimako’s confession, when it comes, is much more powerful than in the anime, where it seemed a bit anticlimactic (because we knew that the rest of the Yamayurkai knew….)
When Shimako confesses to being the owner of the juzu, Noriko throws herself on Shimako and starts to cry like a child.
Sachiko rebukes Shimako gently – did you *really* think we would think less of you? and smiling, accuses Shimako of being stubborn.
And here’s the one *real* surprise:
Rei tells Shimako that her grandfather is a patron of your parent’s temple, did you think we didn’t know? She informs Shimako that quite a lot of the parishioners know that she’s going to Lillian – we kept waiting for you to mention that your family runs a temple. In fact, Rei’s grandfather and Shimako’s father have a running bet as to when Shimako would confess.
Sachiko declares that Noriko’s and Shimako’s “punishment” is to clean the church after the festival.
When it’s all over, Noriko thinks that the Buddha is nice, but that Mary is beautiful too. As she thinks that, the Mary she wants to be next to – the one in the uniform – turns and smiles at her and says, “Next time, let’s go look at the Buddha together.