The fictional Catholic school Lillian Girls' Academy instantly mesmerizes viewers with its sœur system of sisters divided into rose families.
By: Nicole S. Castro on April 21, 2022 at 11:59 PHT
We have the recently concluded Akebi's Sailor Uniform (Winter 2022) to thank for reviving our nostalgia of all-girls' school life.
But you know what other winter season anime won our hearts with a romanticized version of all-girls' school life? That's right! It's Maria-sama ga Miteru (English: The Virgin Mary Is Watching) from Winter 2004!
Maria-sama ga Miteru began as a light novel series written by Oyuki Konno and illustrated by Reine Hibiki. It was published by Shueisha on their Cobalt magazine from 1998 to 2012.
While the light novel was ongoing, the series was also adapted into a manga with illustrations by Satoru Nagasawa. It ran from October 2003 to August 2010 and was published in Shueisha's The Margaret magazine.
While both the light novel and manga were ongoing, Studio Deen adapted the series into a TV anime spanning four seasons from 2004 to 2009. Season 1 aired from Jan. 7 to Mar. 31, 2004 with 13 episodes. Season 2 followed in July-September 2004 with another 13 episodes. Season 3 aired as a 5-episode original video animation (OVA) from 2006 to 2007, and Season 4 aired as a TV program once more from Jan. 3 to Mar. 28, 2009 with another 13 episodes.
Alright, before we relive the plot, let's cleanse our maiden souls with the first opening song, Pastel Pure.
Plot and Throwback (anime)
Maria-sama ga Miteru is set in the fictional Catholic school called Lillian Girls' Academy, which presents itself as an elegant, clean, pure, and highly prestigious institution that feels straight out of a fairy tale.
The most memorable element of this series is the fictional sœur system, wherein any second- or third-year student, the grande sœur ("big sister"), might pick a younger girl who will become her "sœur" (sister in French). The grande sœur gives her petite sœur ("little sister") a rosary and promises to look after her and guide her. The basic etiquette demands the petite sœur to call her grande sœur "onee-sama" (older sister in Japanese).
The main characters featured are the members of the Yamayuri Council (student council), who are divided into three rose families: Rosa Chinensis (Red Rose), Rosa Gigantea (White Rose), and Rosa Foetida (Yellow Rose). The rose families are further subdivided into the Rosa (who is called Rosa Chinensis/Gigantea/Foetida), followed by her younger sister who is called the en bouton (e.g. Rosa Chinensis en bouton), and the younger sister of the en bouton is her petite sœur.
And yes, if you've watched this anime, the relationships between the older and younger sisters of the Yamayuri Council come across as romantic friendships. Nothing explicit, but very intimate and heartwarming. We swear you'll be surprised at how invested you'll be in these refined ladies!
So, without further ado, let's review the main characters of the Rose Families and some of their best relationship moments!
Rosa Chinensis Family (Red Rose)
Yumi Fukuzawa (CV: Kana Ueda) is the main character of this series, and the story starts with her as a freshman entering Lillian Girls' Academy. The drama begins when Yumi finds herself with a sudden offer from Sachiko Ogasawara (CV: Miki Itō), the current Rosa Chinensis en bouton, to be her petite sœur, all so she could escape the role of Cinderella for the school festival. However, Yōko Mizuno (CV: Emi Shinohara), the current Rosa Chinensis/Sachiko's onee-sama, doubts the sincerity of this move. This leads to Sachiko and Yumi taking on a bet proposed by Rosa Gigantea for Sachiko to make Yumi her petite sœur before the festival despite Yumi's initial rejection.
Eventually, Sachiko and Yumi form a sincere bond which they solidify with Yumi accepting Sachiko's rosary, no longer because of the bet. The four seasons of the anime show the growth of Yumi and Sachiko's relationship as they help each other overcome their opposing weaknesses. Yumi becomes calmer and more mature, while Sachiko learns to smile more and be less strict on others.
By the end of season four, Sachiko is preparing to graduate from high school and Yumi, already the Rosa Chinensis en bouton, decides to ask freshman Tōko Matsudaira (CV: Rie Kugimiya) to be her petite sœur.
Foetida Family (Yellow Rose)
With Yumi as the main character, the Foetida Family is introduced starting with freshman Yoshino Shimazu (CV: Haruna Ikezawa), the petite sœur of Rei Hasekura (CV: Shizuka Itō), who is the current Rosa Foetida en bouton. Rei's onee-sama is Rosa Foetida Eriko Torii (CV: Hitomi Nabatame), an eccentric but highly intelligent woman who riles up Yoshino. Rei serves as their peacemaker.
The bulk of the Foetida Family's drama is between Rei and Yoshino, with the latter finding the former overly protective. They tend to argue because Yoshino is comfortable revealing her fiery nature to Rei, which stems from Yoshino's desire for Rei to worry about her less. Yoshino used to be sickly prior to her heart surgery a little bit before season 1.
Gigantea Family (White Rose)
Unlike the other two rose families, the Rosa Gigantea en bouton is not a second year, but first year Shimako Tōdō (CV: Mamiko Noto). This is because her onee-sama, Sei Satō (CV: Megumi Toyoguchi), a.k.a. the current Rosa Gigantea, did not choose a petite sœur in her sophomore year. The reason for this is presented in a dramatic flashback in episodes 10-11 of season 1, revealing Sei's past with her ex-lover and best friend Shiori Kubo (CV: Akiko Nakagawa).
But thanks to Sei's past, she has become one of the wisest older sisters, and acts as the source of advice for freshman trio Shimako, Yumi, and Yoshino. As sisters, Sei and Shimako have an independent sort of trust in each other, with Sei easing Shimako into her role as Rosa Gigantea when the latter turns into a sophomore.
The drama of the Rosa Gigantea Family comes in the form of Shizuka Kanina (CV: Rino), who is known as Rosa Canina. Shizuka is the star singer of the school choir and was initially interested in Sei. However, she becomes interested in Shimako as well. Shizuka and Shimako become pen pals after the former leaves at the end of her second year to pursue a singing career in Italy.
After Shimako becomes Rosa Gigantea in her second year, she is the first to find a petite sœur in freshman Noriko Nijō (CV: Kaori Shimizu), who has a fascination with Buddhist statues and art.
We give this series a 4/5 stars because it is surprisingly so good! The setting and the concept of the sœur system will have you hooked from the very beginning. Since this is a school life anime, you won't find major plot twists, but each season has noticeable story progression, conflict, and life changes among all the roses that it never gets boring. All the characters are well-written and have distinct personalities, and while there are arguments here and there between the sisters, they all make up after clarifying any misunderstandings.
Maria-sama ga Miteru is a great way to introduce viewers into the genre of girls' love without the overly sexual themes. We highly recommend this series as a must-watch for something unique in your anime list.
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NICOLE S. CASTRO
Nicole is based in the Philippines and works as a freelance Japanese Translator/Interpreter and copywriter (English). She is a JLPT N2 passer who watches anime to "study" for N1. She has a long career history on LinkedIn (with primary focus on media and translation), but her anime watchlist is much, much longer.