Archive for the Maria-sama ga Miteru Category

Light Novel: Oshaka-sama mo Miteru: Hotaru no Hikaru (お釈様もみてる 蛍のヒカル)

December 2nd, 2014

hotaruThe path splits before you. On the right it goes straight up a steep hill, right through the forest in a direct route. On the left, the path is less steep, but it makes a wide detour. A young man stands in front of the split in the road, with a student notebook with a black cover visible in his pocket.

Kashiwagi Suguru is graduating from Hanadera Academy. Annoying as he is (and he is certainly that) Fukuzawa Yuuki has to admit that “Hikaru no Kimi” as his fans in the school style him, is leaving and Yuuki hasn’t had a chance to say “thank you.” Arisu is knitting goodbye sweaters, and everyone else seems content to let him leave the Student Council without any special  event – in fact, Andre-sempai has arranged a rock-scissor-papers tournament to give Kashiwagi’s stuff away – but he has nothing to give his important and influential sempai. This is the plot of Oshaka-sama mo Miteru: Hotaru no Hikaru. (お釈様もみてる 蛍のヒカル)

As incoming Student Council President, Yuuki is responsible for the farewell message on behalf of the student body at graduation. He’s warned that the Genji (athletic clubs) and the Heishi (culture clubs) are planning to prank him. As he writes the farewell message, a pressure builds within him to say goodbye to Kashiwagi. He runs around the school, looking for his mentor, at last finding him where they first met. He finally has his chance to say thank you. And to ask Kashiwagi who, exactly, gave him his nickname? Kashiwagi’s response is surprising – he had 4 eboshi oya – the Hanadera version of a sempai. (Just as Arisu has two – both the Yakushiji twins.) It was a former Vice President of the student council who gave him his nickname. As they part, Kashiwagi almost kisses Yuuki, but Yuuki stops him.

The graduation ceremony begins. As it progresses, Yuuki begins to get nervous. When he finally stands up on the dais, he notices that the room has become darker. And, suddenly, the nature of the “joke” the clubs were playing on him is made plain. Everyone has removed the red or white cover of their student notebooks that denote whether they are Heishi or Genji, so they, like him, are bearing a black notebook. Yuuki is moved deeply by this show of support for him. He realizes that this was the student body’s way of letting them know they are 100% behind him. He finishes his farewell and sit, dazed.

As he leaves the school that day, he runs into Kashiwagi once again. Standing just where the road splits, not thinking that he’s be seen by other students, Yuuki gives Kashiwagi the one farewell gift he has to give him – he kisses Kashiwagi. And immediately thinks that was his first and last kiss with a guy. ^_^

A chapter of his life is over, but as the book closes, Yuuki feels like something new has begun.

48 books – novels, short story collections, guides to the series, 8 volumes of manga, 4 seasons of anime and a live-action movie – later, the Maria-sama ga Miteru/Oshaku-sama mo Miteru has finally come to an end. Or has it? In the afterword, Konno-sensei says she’s not sayin’. The story as we know it is over. As Yumi’s story ended with Sachiko’s graduation, it fits that Yuuki’s ended with Kashiwagi’s. But she made no promise that she wouldn’t revisit Lillian or Hanadera in the future.

I had been reading this final chunk of the series a bit out of obligation, a bit because I wanted some connection, no matter how tenuous, but at the very end, Konno-sensei was still able to surprise and move me. In the end, it was worth every minute spent reading this book.

Thank you Konno-sensei, it was a blast. I look forward to your next series. ^_^

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Light Novel: Oshaka-sama mo Miteru ~ Kyoki Ippou (お釈迦様もみてる 潔き一票)

June 9th, 2013

It’s been pretty obvious that the Oshaka-sama  series has been echoing the Maria-sama series. Every glimpse we had of Yuuki in Marimite has been explicated through the shadow series. It was, therefore, quite obvious to me at the end of the last novel in the series, what the next novel would entail. In Maria-sama ga Miteru ~Manatsu no Ichi Page (マリア様がみてる 真夏の一ページ) Yumi learned  – to her shock – that Yuuki is the Hanadera Student Council President.* He says, rather deprecatingly, that Kashiwagi was playing a joke on him when he nominated him. In Oshaka-sama mo Miteru ~ Kyoki Ippou  (お釈迦様もみてる 潔き一票), we learn the truth.

We learn a number of truths, in fact.

Elections are on everyone’s mind – except for Yuuki’s. Since Kashiwagi is graduating, he’s really not thinking about next year at all. But when two of his classmates corner him and make some demands he not run with their fists, his reaction is not what they expect.  He runs into Kashiwagi who apologizes to him, then kisses him – Yuuki is not pleased, but he can’t get back what’s been taken. The next day, vexed and confused, he learns he’s been nominated by Kashiwagi for the position of President. Yuuki is deeply concerned about his friends’ reactions, but can’t yet bring it up to them.

At this point, we get a turn with each of Yuuki’s friends on the council. Andre-sempai and Rampo-sempai have no interest in running – they were there for Kashiwagi. Rampo tells Tetsu (Takada) to run, Of course the Yakushiji twins insist Arisu run – they adore their underclassman and want Arisu to shine. But the chapter that really, honestly, blew me away was Kobayashi’s.

Kobayashi Masamune, known to his friends as “Shounen”. He sees Kashiwagi alone and asks him if he can have a word. Alone on the grounds with Kashiwagi, Kobayashi asks a question that has been bothering him for ages… “Why not me?” Kobayashi points out that he had passed through the gates moments before Yuuki, was also undeclared as Heishi or Genji. So…why not him?

What passes is not possible to synopsize. Kashiwagi’s answer is gentle, apologetic, cold, a little cruel and when they are done speaking, Kobayashi feels that he has seen a little glimpse of Kashiwagi’s true nature…and he’s terrified at what he’s seen. The word “monster” comes to mind.

The four first-years finally speak of their desire to run for Student Council together, support Yuuki as President and they’ll be like the 3, erm, 4 Musketeers (Arisu assures them that 4 is acceptable.)

And so, when they run, there is one candidate each for each of the positions: President – Fukuzawa Yuuki, Vice President – Takada Magane, Treasurer – Kobayashi Masamune, Secretary- Arisugawa Kintarou.

Yuuki wins unanimously.

We learn that it might have been a prank on Kashiwagi’s part, but a well-played one. We learn that the Council next year is going to be load of fun (as we knew). We learn that Yuuki is incredibly well-respected by nearly all the other students, including many of the upper classmen and we learn, at last, the answer to the question “is Kashiwagi gay?” He may be bisexual, but he’s definitely “interested” in Yuuki.

Since elections are over, I’ll presume the next book is graduation and one last fresh hell for Yuuki and the gang before Kashiwagi takes himself offstage for a bit. Andre-sempai will be gone, as well. Yuuki will no doubt be relieved – and I admit, so will I.  I hope we can quickly move to the late summer when Yuuki and Yumi team up to trick Sachiko. Operation OK ahoy!


Overall – 7

* I don’t have a review of the Marimite novels from 12-21, because originally I was translating them. When I changed my stance on fan-produced translations, I pulled these from Okazu. I apologize for the inconvenience. I did review the story for my look at Maria-sama ga Miteru Anime Season 3, Disk 1.

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Light Novel: Oshaka-sama mo Miteru: Cho Nankai Mondaishuu (お釈迦様もみてる 超難解問題集)

January 6th, 2013

Reading O-Shaka-sama mo Miteru: Cho Nankai Mondaishuu (お釈迦様もみてる超難解問題集) it suddenly dawned on me why I simply do not enjoy this series as much as I might. And with that, I formulated a new rule of writing for myself:

If you create a really great ensemble of characters and then spend a lot of time with a really irritating character instead, people will not like your story.

In the Oshaka series we have Yuuki, Arisu, Kobayashi and Takada all of whom are fun to follow. And no matter how many of these books there are, Andre-sempai will never, ever be a fun character. He’s a self-important jerk at the best of times. So when you keep taking the focus off your fun characters to spend time with the jerk, it’s going to make readers grumpy.

This book deals with the end-of-term exams and the four first-years’ issues with them. Yuuki is, predictably, a good if not outstanding student. Arisu is in the top ten of their year. Takada barely passed last semester and Kobayashi failed just about everything that wasn’t math. Andre-sempai spends much of the first two thirds of the book importuning the younger students to “Study, already” to the point of obsession. He’s not wrong – members of the Student Council do need to keep their grades up, but his constant nagging was merely that – nagging.

In the end, everyone’s grades jumped but Arisu, who remained #7. So yay, but what an annoying story.

The final third of the book is what happened on the day after New Year’s Day and why Yuuki was at Sachiko’s house when Yumi arrived. Once again I adore Sayoko, Sachiko’s mother more than anyone. And once again we spend a few moments in Yuuki’s head wondering if Kashiwagi is gay…or, not really wondering, just sort of mentioning it, just in case we forgot that he might be. The more Yuuki wonders about it, the less I’m convinced. It seems too much like service.

I don’t hate these novels – and we know that Andre-sempai isn’t in the Hanadera Council next year – so I’m sticking with the series to see what happens. I expect the next one deals with the Student Council elections and, maybe, Valentine’s Day.


Overall – 7

It was nice to see Sei again…. ^_^

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Light Novel: Maria-sama ga Miteru ~ Farewell Bouquet (マリア様がみてる フェアウェル ブーケ)

August 24th, 2012

The number one question in every fan’s mind as we read each successive Maria-sama ga Miteru novel is…is this the last one? This can’t go on forever, can it? Well, no, it can’t go on forever, as much as we might wish it could. But as for the first question, I have no answer. As with the last several of the books in the series, the ending is written so that if we never got another one, this would be a fine place to end the series. However…however… Maria-sama ga Miteru ~ Farewell Bouquet (マリア様がみてる フェアウェル ブーケ) ends at the end of July of Yumi’s third year at Lillian Jogakuen High School. I just cannot believe that Konno-sensei will just end it here. She could, definitely. But there’s the Sports Festival, and the Culture Festival and Christmas, and New Year’s…and Valentine’s Day (and the half-day date contest)…and the chance/need for the 2nd-years to find souer and the elections…and then there’s graduation.  I cannot imagine that we won’t be given the opportunity to end our time with Yumi and her friends with great wopping tears at graduation. I will not believe it.


We might, and I can’t promise we won’t. Japanese fans are asking the same question, mind you, and we won’t know until we see more chapters appear in Cobalt Shueisha. (Btw, according to the Cobalt website, the upcoming November issue, will include a Marimite section on the enclosed Drama CD.)

In the meantime, Konno-sensei is being mean and teasing us unmercifully, with novel titles like Hello Goodbye and Farewell Bouquet. I mean, really.

So the book begins with a teacher meeting up with a student on the school grounds and being taken to the Rose Mansion for some herb tea and a long chat. The teacher, Katori Maki-sensei, has been around for quite a few of the novels, and we’ve come to like her quite a bit.

The stories that fill the spaces between Maki-sensei’s time at the Rose Mansion are a pile of some really odd stories. In one, a student wants a teacher to be her onee-sama, and finds that she’s her big sister for real. In another a female art teacher is abruptly asked to make cookies by a male teacher who finds himself presented with cookies that look like, well, breasts.  My favorite story includes a radically intelligent way to teach history to bored teen girls – imagine the clans and houses as a bunch of boy bands! Seriously, I thought that was genius.

But the real story, although it takes up the least space, is the story of why Maki-sensei is taking a leave of absence from school. And, ultimately, it’s Yumi that arranges for an impromptu, beautiful and topical herb bouquet from the Yamayurikai to Maki-sensei. This ribbon story includes cameos from all our principles.

I want to make sure I mention this: Maki-sensei has a whole scene in which she absolutely assures herself (and us) that she will not be quitting teaching, that she will be returning. I’m very glad that she was made to make that point. I’m really tired of anime/manga/games/novels clinging to the outdated and tired quitting work after getting married or pregnant thing. This is as 20th century in Japan as much as it is in the US.)

And last, the final chapter is a lovely interlude with Sachiko and Yumi enjoying tea together and a gentle admonishment that this moment in time is to be enjoyed for itself.

Another delightful book. If it is the last – and it could be – it was wonderful. Time to have a cup of herb tea and think about the best moments we’ve shared with the lovely ladies of Lillian. ^_^


Overall – 9

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It’s A Woman’s World: Bodacious Space Pirates, Maria-sama ga Miteru and The Bechdel-Wallace Test

July 10th, 2012

Bodacious Space Pirates came to an end and I thought it delightful in every possible way. As I (over)thought how I’d approach a final season review, I started to think about the qualities that made the series stand out for me – and what, specifically, that meant in terms of storytelling. And, ultimately, I started thinking about how the series portrayed women.

Courtney Duckworth on Broad Recognition has a really excellent review of Pixar’s Brave, in which she discusses something that any woman in the corporate world knows…to be a successful woman, you have to be a man. I remember a conversation I had with a young executive who was being groomed for a CEO position in the company I worked for at the time. He was having a little crisis because, in order to be the man they wanted him to be, he had to give up his family life. It was expected, respected and demanded that he not be there to see his kids play in their first ball game, not attend recitals, because his company needed him. I watched him as he talked his way through this, as he justified letting his family drop off in importance and the company become the thing he would care about. In the end, he became a very successful CEO, and I remember this conversation as the saddest one I have ever had with another human being. For women, who are presumed to be primary caregivers, the stress of letting go of family in order to be successful as a CEO is almost insurmountable. Let someone else raise your kids? (Doesn’t matter if it’s your husband…it’s NOT YOU.) You’re heartless. Focused and driven? You’re a bitch. Want to take time off to see your kid’s recital? You’re not dedicated. There is no way to win, because you are not a man with a wife who will watch the kids in the background.

Merida, like Ermina (Paros no Ken), Safire (Princess Knight) and Lady Oscar (Rose of Versailles), excels at men’s skills, in a world that pretty much has one path to excellence – being as brave and competent as a man.

Let’s stop here and take a look at the Bechdel_Wallace Test for a second. As a reminder, the test goes like this.

1. [The media in question] has to have at least two [named] women in it.
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

In a recent email exchange with Alison Bechdel, she and I discussed the idea of “would Mo watch it?” as an unwritten, extra factor to measure if a media property follows the letter, but not the spirit of the Test (that is, it fits the criteria strictly, but it’s still not the kind of thing that Mo is looking for in entertainment). ^_^

So what does this have to do with Bodacious Space Pirates and Maria-sama ga Miteru? Everything.

Let’s start with Maria-sama ga Miteru. In the rarified and protected world of Lillian Girls’ School there are no “men’s jobs.” The leaders of the student body are women, the Principal and many of the teachers are women. The presumption with which the entire series is presented to us is that Youko or Sachiko or any of the other members of the Student Council  will move into positions with decision-making power when they graduate – if not effortlessly, then they will certainly be capable of standing up for themselves, because they have been trained to be leaders. No one ever comments that they are as good as men, or that they run the student body with masculine focus. Lillian is a woman’s world and within it, women do jobs women can do, if they are give the opportunity to do them. (This is something that research bears out – given equal opportunity to excel, women will excel equally.)

In Bodacious Space Pirates, Marika is going to school in a woman’s world, but she isn’t thinking about it that way, any more than Yumi was. It’s just…school. Then something changes and Marika is indeed sent into a world that is traditionally inhabited by men – piracy. And here, at last, we get to the point. It’s true that Marika faces some trials based on the fact that she’s y’know, a high school girl, but her gender alone is less of a problem than one might have expected in a series like this. Being a woman doing “man’s work” is pretty much never an issue, except in one or two totally valid scenes. (Two young women trawling the back alleys of a pirate hangout is a completely reasonable use of that kind of tension.)

Both these series star female characters in a relatively female-heavy cast, and so they both fly through the letter of the Bechdel-Wallace Test easily. But…there’s more to them. In neither series is there a focus on turning a sexualized male gaze on the characters. It really doesn’t matter how “strong” a female character is – when we are forced to stare continually at their crotch or chest, there’s a different story being told – “Yes, she could kick your ass, but it’s okay, you could still have sex on her, so you’re still superior to her..”

Let’s think, for a second about the inevitable “beach episode” in Bodacious Space Pirates. In any other series, if I ask you, “What was the beach episode about?” the only real answer you’d have is “It was about reducing the female characters to a series of sexualized visual images.” Now think about the beach episode of BSP. What was it about? The plot was the trial run for the dinghy race, but it was *about* Ai-chan. In any other series, would there have been an entire episode about a relatively unimportant character like Ai-chan? Would there have been a follow-up episode about her? Would she have been developed as more than a name at all?  There was no attempt to turn Marika or any of the characters into a pair of jiggling boobs.  Yes, we absolutely saw the female characters in bathing suits…but we also saw Kane in a bathing suit. He was not ripped, but he was fit. We saw his ass as many times as we saw the girls’. I don’t care about *either* the girls or Kane in a bathing suit, but the service was pleasantly even-handed and blessedly low-key. It would have been hideously easy (and hideous) to simply stare up the Yacht Club members’ skirts all the time, as anime as a genre slides into a low place in which a majority of viewers seem content to huddle – but that does not happen here.

Both these series have female-heavy casts, but not female-exclusive casts. These are not reverse harems, not reverse shounen series. There are brothers, fathers, uncles, male teachers, colleagues and crew in these worlds, just as there are in the real world. A woman’s world in these series does not mean “the exclusion of all men,” as it might in a male gaze fantasy like Strawberry Panic!  These women have society, which is, in my reading of it, the meaning of the third and final criteria of the Bechdel-Wallace Test.

Maria-sama ga Miteru and Bodacious Space Pirates are about strong women as *I* understand the concept. Women who are perfectly capable living in a world populated by men and women; women who can take command of both men and women and be respected as leaders – and who are not judged by a set of standards that are skewed so they can only ever fail. Women who can find their own solutions to issues, not to have to excel at men’s thinking or men’s skills to be considered a success.

In these series, women are shown as being as brave and competent…as a woman.

Would Mo watch these? I think she might.

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