Maria Holic Volume 2

4.0 out of 5 stars Don’t judge this manga by its cover

I think one of the problems with “Maria Holic” is that it is hard to determine what genre the book is in. The title and covers make it look like some sort of gothic story, maybe even related to Clamp series xxxHOLiC (It’s not. The only slightly gothic character is the sarcastic maid Matsurika who appears here on the cover.), the premise makes it sound like some sort of sexy all-girl nunsploitation comic (It’s not. There is no fan service to speak of, actually.). Screwball comedy? Serious drama? Romance?

Maybe it is this refusal to commit to a particular genre that keeps the series from reaching its potential. It is like a dish where the flavors don’t blend just right, or a pizza with too many disparate toppings. You might still enjoy it but something just isn’t right.

There are elements of “Maria Holic” that I absolutely love. The initial premise, of a lesbian who decides to attend an all-girls Catholic high school in order to find her true love, is packed with potential. The discovery that her first potential love-interest is actually a boy masquerading as a girl in the school has even more potential. But the author seems stuck with which direction to take the story in.

This second volume in the four-volume series fixes some issues from the first volume. Mariya Shido, the cross-dressing roommate, loses a little bit of that malevolent edge in this issue when it is revealed exactly why he is at the school. Mariya gets a bit of a heart in this volume, although he still behaves in a bizarre manner such as dousing Kanako with gasoline in the morning, then following her around with a lighter threatening to light her on fire if she doesn’t do what he says. That goes a bit above-and-beyond the usual wacky hijinks one sees in a comedy manga and ventures into true cruelty.

Kanako, on the other hands, gets a chance to shine as a true comedy foil when it is announced that she will help out with the girl’s health checks this year. A chance to see every student in their bra and underpants gets Kanako so excited she is a veritable geyser of nosebleeds. These scenes had me cracking up.

Some of the other scenarios worked for me as well, such as when Kanako is asked to help out with the Virgin Mary parade, and while her mind is filled with visions of cosplaying angels the school’s student council leader, who is also Mariya’s cousin, gets serious talking about the lack of belief in Christianity even though it is a Catholic school, and what goes on in all the girl’s heads during mandatory prayer. This was a good bit of dramatic relief after all the wackiness that went on before.

I like “Maria Holic” in spite of its faults. In some ways, it reminds me of School Rumble, which is one of my all-time favorite mangas. Author Minari Endou doesn’t quite have the same flair for surrealistic comedy, but there are moments in “Maria Holic” that approach the same heights.

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