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April 12, 2010

Bento Bako Weekly: Maria Holic vol. 1

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Maria Holic
Author: Minari Endou
Publisher: Tokyopop
Volume: The first volume of an ongoing series, and volume 4 comes out in June.  $10.99.  There are six bound volumes in Japan as of February.
Anime: The series had an anime that ran in the early part of 2009, for twelve episodes, which has been licensed and released by Sentai Filmworks/Section 23 in America this past February.
Vintage: Started in 2006 in Japan, released by Tokyopop in September 2009
Genre: Gender-bender comedy, plus a little romance on the side.  I hesitate to really label it as yuri (girls’ love), because that’s only a small element of the series, but I guess you could tack “shojo-ai” on there if you wanted to.

Don’t be fooled by the cover.  That’s Mariya…and that’s a high school boy.  That cover is what is often referred to as a “trap.”  A seemingly cute looking girl…who happens to be a boy dressed in drag.  But don’t worry, poor towering Kanako was fooled, too.  It’s Kanako’s first day at Ame no Kisaki private high school for girls, and the first person she meets is a very rude maid.  The second person she meets is a beautiful looking student named Mariya, whose family owns the property that the school sits on.  Kanako is out of place, right off the bat.  She’s a transfer student at a school where transfers are extremely rare, is attending an all girls school…and is on the lookout for her soul mate.  Her father and mother met at this school years ago, when her mother was a student and her father a teacher, but Mariya bluntly reminds Kanako that this is an all girls school, and the male teachers are rather too old for student-teacher romance.  Fortunately, Kanako is on the lookout for a girl.  For some reason she has a physical aversion to males, and breaks out in hives when she comes into contact with them.  Imagine her surprise when a sudden kiss on the cheek from the just-met Mariya causes her to break out in a rash.  Undeterred, she immediately falls head over heels in love.  Then she meets her beautiful new roommate Ryuken.  Then she meets a beautiful archery club member named Yuzuru.  Ame no Kisaki is a dream come true!  Then she sees Mariya changing after archery practice…as “her” maid applies fake breasts to “her” chest.  She’s horrified, but is threatened and sworn to secrecy, her only consolation the beautiful roommate waiting back at the dorm.  Unfortunately, that beautiful roommate has been replaced…by Mariya.

It sounds ridiculous, right?  Well, it is. It’s also completely hysterical.  I laughed heartily throughout the entire volume.  Kanako is constantly getting nosebleeds at the site of a new, lovely looking classmate, or Mariya’s sweet (though never innocent) smile…a sure sign of some perverted thoughts floating around in her head.  Mariya goes from angelic to devilish nearly every time you turn the page.  Smart-mouthed maid Matsurika is perfectly deadpan, whether she is insulting Kanako, or mouthing off to Mariya.  Ryuken’s knight-in-shining-armor tendencies drive Kanako insane in every way imaginable.  Socially awkward Kiri has an almost robotic logic regarding the simplest human interactions.  Shy Yuzuru refuses to wear any uniform other than her archery uniform.  The mysterious, diminutive dorm leader walks around with cute cat ears on her head, but somehow frightens everyone into obedience with vague threats.  The book is full of entertaining characters.

In this volume, Kanako arrives at her new school and sets about making friends.  Mariya’s attempts to keep a constant eye on her aren’t exactly helpful, and his bullying of the poor Kanako causes her quite a bit of grief (while being some of the funniest stuff in the book).  We don’t learn much about Mariya here; the reason he’s dressing as a girl to attend a girls’ school is not yet given, though it’s clearly a secret he’s adamant about keeping.  Not much happens other than some character introductions, and a lot of hilarious nonsense (like when Kanako is bullied with processed seafood, and shares some of it with her friends over lunch).

A classic example of Mariya's bullying nature, from volume 1 of Maria Holic.

The only thing that bothers me about Maria Holic, is that I’m unsure how I’m supposed to properly read the character of Mariya (or just who exactly the series is supposed to be targeting for readers).  Am I supposed to see Mariya as a girl?  Or should I always be fully aware that Mariya is actually a boy?  Mariya acts like a boy.  In front of the other students, he’s polite and smart, kind and popular, girlish and cute.  But when Mariya and Kanako are alone, he’s arrogant, often molesting, kind of a jerk, and every bit a bratty young boy.  That awkward confusion seems to be part of the story’s charm, however.  Kanako certainly finds herself confused at every turn (she likes girls, but she likes Mariya, and Mariya is a boy), so why shouldn’t the reader experience the same?

Tokyopop seems to have done a good job with the book, except for some rare off-center text.  I’m still curious as to why Tokyopop doesn’t see the need to ever translate sound effects in their books…especially when just about everyone else does.  It’s a little annoying, honestly.  There’s nothing particularly exceptional about the art in the book.  It’s good, certainly, and Endou is fantastic when drawing the comedic elements, but I don’t think I could say it stands out over similar titles.

Many thanks to Katherine at The Manga Critic, who sent this book my way.  I was curious, because I had seen people talking about it, but the premise just sounded so absurd and rather stupid to me.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the book, and have plans to explore the series further.

On Wednesday I’ll be looking at more Harlequin titles from eManga, so be sure to wander back here for that!

Click here to check out previous installments of Bento Bako Weekly!




  1. Wait a sec…that’s a BOY on the cover!? JeeeEeEeEeeez…

    Here’s what I want to know: how the heck did Mariya get into this school in the first place? …and are his parents aware that he’s ducking out of St. Joe’s all boy’s school every morning and making the trip to Kanako’s place of learning instead? How the heck is he able to keep up the charade!?!?!?

  2. Kristin

    Oh, sorry, yeah…. His grandmother is the former headmistress of the school. And the property is own by his family (which I mentioned already). So it’s easy for him to get in.
    Otherwise, it’s unclear (it’ll be revealed in a later volume). I don’t want to talk about it, because it gives away too much.

  3. You’re welcome, Kris! I’m glad to see you enjoyed it a lot more than I did.

  4. Tokyopop’s policy is to not translate many sound effects so as not to touch the original art as much as possible. They only translate them when they need to be translated.

  5. @Katherine: If I’m being honest, my low expectations may have made it better in my head. 🙂 But I laughed out loud quite a bit as I was reading. And I still giggled now and then when I re-read it for the review.

    Thanks for the insight. That makes total sense, but isn’t any less annoying. Tokyopop’s idea of when they’re “needed” and a reader’s (who can’t read the symbols) idea of what’s “needed” are pretty different. Some publishers write over them in English, but other publishers put it in tiny print right underneath the sound effect (and some of these only do it the first time it appears in the volume). That’s probably the most ideal for not screwing with the original art. I’ve seen other instances where some of the meanings were given in the back of the book. It’s more than just flavor text; I think it’s part of the experience of the medium, so it bothers me when it’s largely ignored.

  6. Billy

    Sounds pretty funny. Maybe in the next volume Wesley Snipes will show up in drag. lol

  7. Kristin

    Well, someone else does show up in drag soon…. But I’m not telling. 🙂

  8. […] Tail (ANN) Sean Gaffney on vol. 7 of The Magic Touch (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Kristin on vol. 1 of Maria Holic (Comic Attack) Tangognat on Mugen Spiral (Tangognat) Connie on vol. 6 of You’re So Cool […]

  9. […] Tail (ANN) Sean Gaffney on vol. 7 of The Magic Touch (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Kristin on vol. 1 of Maria Holic (Comic Attack) Tangognat on Mugen Spiral (Tangognat) Connie on vol. 6 of You’re So Cool […]

  10. […] Maria Holic volume 6, by Minari Endou. “It’s Sachi’s birthday, and everyone has a thoughtful present for her…except Kanako. At the last minute, Mariya swaps out Kanako’s lame gift with a book of photos from Kanako’s personal collection. And family secrets are revealed when Kanako’s sister pays a visit to the school.” February 2011, $10.99. […]

  11. […] one is pretty funny, but it has a lot in common with Maria Holic, so if you weren’t a fan of that, you likely won’t like this, either. Like Maria Holic, […]

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