By Nomad (Needs more Bookshelves) Otto
So, I’ve been rather busy with Grad School recently, blah blah. I’ll save you the Fred-isms, and start moving towards the point. Anyway, Shinbo makes a lot of crazy stuff, most of which I really like. Recently, he’s just been the director on MariaHolic, another moe-focused comedy-romance set at a school. But there’s always the twist, and, in this case, it’s that it’s set in an all-girls catholic school, and the main character is female, as are all of the potential love interests. Obviously, it’s intended to appeal to people with a certain purient interest. You could probably make a show off of less of the humor, less of the weird Shinbo-ism, and well, less plot (zing, Marmite!). The question is if there’s anything to be gained from Maria Holic other than the indulgence of that particular interest and a couple of cheap laughs?
Well, this goes back to a very, very old problem, how much fluff you can add to something before the fluff is all there is? By fluff, I mean things that are completely tangential to the point of the work, but help to work as a draw. Fluff isn’t an issue about style or substance (though works that focus heavily on style do tend to include more fluff), because the essence of fluff is that it’s completely inessential to the work, whereas style permeates the entirety of the work, and shapes the substance of the matter.
I don’t want to demonize fluff. Fluff isn’t bad. Fluff just…. isn’t good. It exists to take up space, and to make the material more palatable. It’s like coffee and milk, some people find a little milk helps to make coffee go down easier, and other people occasionally have their milk coffee-flavored (and some people drink their coffee black, and have a tendency to scowl at people who add milk or sugar to an otherwise perfect beverage, thank you very much, and not yuppie coffee either, cheap, strong, dark stuff that will likely lead to horrible ulcers by the time I’m thirty, but where was I?). But milk and coffee are two different things, and the more milk you add, the less likely the resultant beverage is to keep you awake through a dull lecture.
Right, fluff. To answer the question about MariaHolic, we need to proceed by first, figuring out what what is fluff, what isn’t fluff, and, then figuring out if that much fluff is too much. Finding the fluff is a lot harder than finding the fun, a specialty of another fictitious maid, because there’s not a good brightline we can draw between essential and unessential. On the one hand, it’s obvious that most stories, if you strip them down far enough, are the same, and, therefore, differ only by fluff. For instance, consider Don Quixote and The Odyssey. They’re both about a man who goes on a journey and encounters a bunch of fantastical monsters before returning home; obviously, the same thing. On the other hand, we can compare things like, say, Love Hina and whatever the other Ken Akamatsu thing with the AI was called, to each other. They’re obviously different, I mean, the characters look remarkably similar, and they behave more or less the same, and it’s a love comedy centered around a spineless, vaugely creepy main character, who is the frequent target of physical violence, but, come on, one has AIs and the other doesn’t!
So, if there’s not a brightline, what can be done in order to distinguish between fluff and non-fluff? In cases like these, it’s best to rely on that only chestnut, the reasonable person standard, which allows me to wave my hands and declare things fluff, and you are free to say rude things about me behind my back. What I’ll do is to compare MariaHolic to another, similar, show, and look at the essential differences, as well as the unessential differences, i.e. fluff. To minimize the number of possible differences, I’ll pick a comparison show that is remarkably similar. It needs to be, ideally, a wacky love comedy featuring non-standard relationships, set at a school, with a huge dose of weirdness. In other words, Negima!? (gotta love the interrobang).
So, what major elements distinguish Negima!? from MariaHolic? For starters, Negima!? (I’m starting to love the interrobang less) tries very hard to add action elements to the story, sometthing that MariaHolic is lacking completely. Next, MariaHolic’s heroine is diametrically opposed to the sort of wholesomeness that one finds in Negi, or, for that matter, the ambiguously gay duo. Finally, MariaHolic is remarkably lacking in villians, even for an action-deprived comedy of errors. These are the big ones, at least as far as I can see. So, let’s get down to business and see if there’s something that makes MariaHolic different from similar stuff, or if it’s all fluff.
Unfortunately, the first difference doesn’t look like it’ll help the case at all. Sure, Negima?! has a good wack of action while MariaHolic… doesn’t, but, nearly every other love comedy lacks action. The fact that Negima!? has it but MariaHolic doesn’t isn’t a point in favor of MariaHolic, instead, it’s a point in favor of Negima!? (man, the interrobang is really starting to grate). Therefore, we’re going to need to look elsewhere for our unique, non-fluff features.
However, the second two features are actually something. After all, in the vast majority of shows, we’re supposed to like, or at least sympathize with the protagonist. For instance, Negi is kind, brave, etc. Even in cases where the protagonist is sort of a worthless lump, there’s usually a best friend character who helps to show the waste of space how to behave. Also, in general, there is a rival or opposing force, someone who exists to retard the protagonist’s progress or at least provide a foil. In MariaHolic, Maria sort of performs that role for Kanako, but, although she works against Kanako, (s)he’s in some ways more interesting than the erstwhile heroine. That said, she’s not a nice character, and she’s not someone that I would like to have over for tea. At the same time, Kanako isn’t really the sort of person you’d want over for tea either.
They’re both funny character to watch, but a lot of that humor comes from the fact that they’re awful human beings. It is this point that is vital to understanding what separates MariaHolic from the rest. The one element of the show that isn’t either a copy of other stuff or fluff. MariaHolic is taking a couple of awkward steps towards the comedy genre that’s currently in vogue: comedies of the unfortunate. Perhaps the best and most familiar example of this form of comedy is The Office, in which we’re presented with a set of character, the vast majority of whom are funny, but not because they’re good people to which bad things happen, and not becase they’re “wacky,” but, instead, because they’re worthless, and everything that they do ends in a pile of hideous failure.
Of course, MariaHoic isn’t willing enough to abase the characters to reach the heights of awkward comedy, but, it’s at least moving that direction, which is interesting. Moreover, there’s another show this season, Hetalia, which does a much better job of that sort of humor. On the other hand, it’s superlowbudget, short webcast episodes, isn’t directed by Shaft, is extremely obnoxious to my personal sensibilities in premise, etc. However, that’s a story for another day. Until that time, oh heroes, I bid you adieu.