Religion is a touchy subject in 2021, due to a world that politicizes everything, even belief systems.
“Maria-sama ga Miteru” is a relic of a simpler time, approaching religion from the community aspect. Along the way, it tastefully deals with some of the more adult themes that religious youth might find themselves in as they grow up. All the characters attend Lillian Girls’ Academy, a prestigious Japanese Catholic school. In today’s anime landscape, this show would turn into a bad joke, but “Maria-sama” approaches it with authenticity and respect.
The main group of characters is centered around the Rose Mansion, which houses the equivalent of a school council. The three third-years are given titles akin to various Roses (Gigantea, Chinensis and Foetida). They all have “little sisters” called Souers (that exists for all students in the academy, not just the Roses). The little sisters of the Roses, in particular, are called “Rosa Gigantea en bouton” for example. These second years also have Souers of their own, these being called “Rosa Gigantea en bouton petite Souer”.
The story focuses around Yumi Fukuzawa to start, who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and is chosen to be the Souer of Rose Chinensis en bouton, Sachiko Ogasawara. Sachiko chooses Yumi as her petite Souer to get out of a prior engagement. It was an easy choice for Yumi, who had already admired Sachiko from afar, but she turns it down. The story begins when Sachiko boldly declares that she will make Yumi her Souer without fail. What follows is beyond any expectations of what could happen.
Yumi was already friends with one of the en boutons, Shimako Toudou. Rosa Gigantea Sei Satou did not have a second year to take over for her so Shimako became the lone second-year en bouton. Other characters include Rosa Foetida en bouton, Rei Hasekura, and her Souer, Yoshino Shimazu, who have a sister-like friendship dating back several years. They all have their demons. With each other’s help, they work through personal issues to better understand themselves and each other.
The problems that the girls deal with are all very relatable and have held up remarkably well for an anime airing back in 2004. Allowing the characters specific pairings due to the nature of the show creates relationship dynamics that just make sense. Yoshino and Rei have the closest bond but they still face problems. The two both worry about the other sacrificing too much for them. Yumi is constantly in a state of self-doubt and doesn’t feel worth the time of Sachiko. On the other hand, Sachiko thinks she’s not fulfilling her role as a Souer if Yumi won’t enjoy their time together. Sei has to teach Shimako how to find her own path and make her own choices. Sei on her own has dark secrets that eventually bubble their way to the surface.
That’s right, it’s a coming-of-age story but approached from a truly unique standpoint. They are relatively normal issues for a growing person to deal with, but these problems are instead told from a perspective where religion plays an important role. Religion itself isn’t a hindrance to the characters, but rather a fresh lens through which the characters view their situations.
“Maria-sama” is the most genuine anime out there, never mistreating its characters or making light of the issues they face. It’s about individual and community growth, respectfully dealing with sensitive topics like self-worth and homosexuality in a graceful and delicate manner. It’s sensitive and mellow, but it never needs to be anything more. It’s on Prime Video for anybody who might like to experience it themselves.