This Week: Maria Watches Over Us [Season 1] and Angel’s Egg
After watching as many horror anime as I have been over the last month, I figured some genre switches were in order for these posts.
I also honestly did not even mentally register that the two anime I settled on both had religious overtones and were each by Studio DEEN until I started writing this entry.
Maria Watches Over Us (Maria-sama ga Miteru) [Season 1]
I have had a bit of a hankering for something lighter and perhaps more shoujo oriented. In that respect I actually went off the rails entirely and jumped straight into the Class S genre express train.
Productions like this are interesting to me in the very particular line they walk in attempting to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a childhood past one could never have had. Certainly that is not the primary goal of the series, but between the more storybook qualities to the background sets of the Lillian Academy, the sheer variety of facilities ranging from a dojo to the greenhouse to the private little Rose Mansion clubhouse, and even the whole sœur system the series revolves around, one would be hard pressed to not have even a passing thought of “Well, that would have been a really swell place to go growing up.”
To come back around to the art though, I do find that to be a bit of a sticking point. This series very much is in the early-mid 2000’s digipaint style, which might be my least favorite era of animation. Due to the elegant design work of the characters and this being Studio DEEN, quality in fluidity bounces around more than a fair bit and sometimes quite jarringly. Settings that are not at the school (Yumi’s room at home, for instance) may as well have been colored by the Powerpoint slideshow gradient fill tool given how plain and barebones the work is. To their credit, this does emphasize the appearance of the school more, and the production folks clearly did a lot of work prioritizing what they knew a limited budget needed to go towards.
But speaking honestly, while the art may rattle about, we are here for characters. It is the entire reason Maria Watches Over Us took off as a book franchise, and they are what carries the show.
The lynchpin of so much of the character drama comes from the sœur system of “Big Sister – Little Sister” mentor and guidance relationships; who is and is not selected, who one has as their sister, how ones actions may rub off on another, and so on. There are a fair bunch of characters, as even the most side ones are given screentime (even a full episode), so the school does have the more genuine feel of being a larger community. Yumi’s friend Tsutako the photographer is a wellspring even in her limited lines, while my favorite likely goes to Sei Satou / Rosa Gigantea, who functions a lot like the “Cool Aunt” of the group (despite being in the group). She is just delightful to see in every scene she is a part of, be it more lighthearted or a serious development.
All things being equal, I actually find Sachiko to be among the least interesting characters in this show, despite her having central cover billing with our “lead” girl Yumi. She is clinically elegant to such a surgical point where she often feels very sterile. She eclipses the design goal of “sweepingly graceful” and gets dangerously close to “mannequin” territory. Given, she may just be an incredibly slow burn, as so much of the proceedings involve granting so many other characters the spotlight (who have snappier and more relatable characterization) that she merely needs more time to really come into her own in my mind. There were hints of this by the last episode of the season, and there are three more to go, so I certainly have not written her off yet.
As this series has a forward momentum of calendar time, and the headnods the narrative already makes to it here, graduation will also definitely be a thing to contend with sometime in a future season. So that will prove really interesting to see, as characters transition out of the school and new ones will need to enter the system. I am looking forward to that more than I would have expected, even if it means losing some folks, as it really is a pretty novel thing to see danced around as a production once one gets into the swing of things.
Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no Tamago)
You know, it’s not every Sunday where I wake up in the morning, prepare some tea and coffee, and sit down for Angel’s Egg.
That’s a rather particular way to start the day.
More than any other production, I feel this does the very best job at taking Yoshitaka Amano‘s illustrative design works and turning them into something with animation motion and sound. With so much of the visual experience here being wispy, vinelike, or otherwise quite fragile in appearance, it fits incredibly well with the themes, ideas, and symbolism being dealt with here.
And boy howdy are there a lot of those.
Given that Mamoru Oshii himself tends to take the personal liberty of choosing to avoid explaining what he directed here, such a particular time in his life as it was (there was a point where he was seriously considering seminary school), my saying that the interpretations are left up to the viewer almost seems like an easy way out. At the same time though, such is what is recommended by the director himself, that what he thinks the film is about is less important compared to what someone else may walk away from it with. The majority of it being devoid of dialogue, with the entire script being able to fit on a single page, Angel’s Egg is really an experience of interpreting symbols. This is the kind of movie one can write a whole graduate school essay on were they so inclined.
While likely one of the “easier” interpretations, I personally most enjoy viewing it as the ideas of the girl and the solider representing youthful hopes and fantasies versus more “adult” or cynical outlooks after such things have lost their way.
She takes such care of the fanciful egg, nurturing and keeping it with her wherever she goes, while the solider is for much the proceedings this more distant and confusingly alien figure to her. Over time, they come closer (to the point of him even following her when she proclaims for him to stop), their ideas more shared, and for at least a little while they are on seemingly similar footing. The fishermen, meanwhile, chase shadows representations of something they can never capture. Or, perhaps, recapture. Then we transition into the solider destroying the experience she had built up so much of her personal world around, and try as she might to catch up with him as he did her, she can not. Such exchanges ever only really go one way. She is gone.
Someone else could do an entirely different take and view the whole piece as one large sexual metaphor though, and that would be just as valid. Or any number of other things. And I think that is part of why I appreciate watching this film so much, because I feel it is so competently made and designed that I do not feel as though I am merely grasping at straws and just ascribing random meanings when I say such things. It is a well produced, interpretative piece of surrealist art. And I think that is a grand thing to see and take in, because it is such a hard sell (and part of why the film bombed so hard originally).
Heck, given how much the times have changed, I’m honestly shocked this is a production Studio DEEN can put its name on, such is the raw amount of care, detail, attention, and budget on display. It is “haunting” in the very methodical, otherworldly beautiful sense of the term, where all that it has to show is does careful and in a way that sells it as a well managed part of its overall world.
One of the closest other anime I would liken Angel’s Egg to as an experience off hand would be, of all things, Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. While that has a more direct and simpler narrative, and Angel’s Egg has more dialogue (that’s a rare thing to say), certainly, but in both cases the audio and visual experiences are so synergistic in their links to one another and mutually reinforce the narrative to such a large extent. You watch and you listen, in almost the most direct meanings of each of those terms.
I’m not be entirely sure if Angel’s Egg makes for a good movie to pop in with other people in the same room, but I think it makes for swell cinema. At least that much, certainly, makes perfect sense.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.