Not a Review: Maria†Holic

Studio SHAFT along with visionary director Shinbo Akiyuki are often known for producing shows with rather cliché concepts while dressing them up in unique aesthetics that set them apart from the rest of the pack. Usually with each progressive work SHAFTXSHINBO create new styles, improve upon old tricks and generally try to make the most of their medium with the often times low budget provided to them. However, there are times when SHAFT’s work feels phoned in. That being said, phoned in SHAFT work is still a rung above everything else, but the effort still can’t help but feel half-hearted. This is more or less what Maria†Holic is–a phoned in SHAFT work.

The first thing I noticed in Maria†Holic was that it brought nothing new to the SHAFTXSHINBO table. All of the tricks, gags and techniques had all been used previously. The show mostly draws upon one of the studio’s more recent outings, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and throws in a hint of Pani Poni Dash for good measure. I guess what the show has going for it is a rather flowery and ornate shoujo-esque (but still rather shounen) look to it, but that’s used mostly for parody more than anything else, and is probably lifted from the source material. The single unique part about the show is probably some of the background art, but that’s neither here nor there.

With the visuals the way they are, the show actually has to depend on its writing. This usually isn’t a problem with SHAFT, since they generally choose compelling source material. In cases where the source material is slightly below par, they just make things up, as seen in Pani Poni Dash, which is about ten times better than its manga counterpart. However, Maria†Holic’s writing is terribly uneven. While it eventually develops into a relatively entertaining comedy, it takes a while to get there. And even when the show becomes decent, you just begin to wonder why you’re not watching some other better SHAFT show like Tsukuyomi -MOON PHASE- or Pani Poni Dash. I guess Maria†Holic does have Ryouchou Sensei going for it, but that’s about it. I mean, Kanako’s lesbian fantasies along with Mariya and Matsurika’s dickery is fun, but it’s nothing compared to Itoshiki’s rants in Zetsubou Sensei, or Hazuki and Kouhei’s quarrels in Tsukuyomi.

Maria†Holic does however boast some of the best SHAFT openings and endings. The opening animation plays out similarly to a proper music video, and makes good use of 3D animation to create a convincing sense of real 3D space being filmed. However, at the same time, it has the typical Shaft colour palette, along with typically SHAFT non-sequitur thematic elements, which makes for a very visually stimulating 90 seconds. The ending sequence by Gekidan Inu Curry (or that circle that did the Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei openings) takes on the look of a retro video game, which is fitting considering the accompanying song is an 8-Bit cover of Japanese ’80s classic, Kimi Ni, Mune Kyun. The ending animation changes slightly between episodes, and by the end becomes positively haunting.

When all is said and done, Maria†Holic is a decent. I’d recommend to people who are fans of such stories, but as a SHAFT work it’s quite disappointing.