theology4

Well, at least she didn't say she was atheist...

Episode 8 of Maria†Holic turned out to be particularly intriguing – although for most, I am sure that the highlight was Kanako’s enthusiastic performance of “Cosplay Angel”. Some have even gone so far as to make it out to be the redeeming facet of her character. While entertaining, that wasn’t what most piqued my interest.


What’s more striking in this episode in particular, and moreso overall about Maria†Holic, is that there seems to be actually attention paid to the fact that all the characters are, at the end of the day, attending a religious school.

I'm fairly sure this is common with many Catholic schools - here in Vancouver we have several, and student enrollment in them is more about educational prestige than religion.

I'm fairly sure this is common with many Catholic schools - here in Vancouver we have several, and student enrollment in them is more about educational prestige than religion.

Given the nature of the intended audience, though, the explanation is probably very necessary – Christianity in Japan is 1% of the total population, and of that maybe half (0.5% of the total population) are Catholic. Compare this to the United States, where almost 80% of the population identifies as Christian, of which about 24% are Catholic. Canada has similar numbers – almost 80% of the population, although we have a higher proportion of Catholics at around 44%. And that’s just for people who identify as a particular religion – the actual number who participate in the institutional activities (going to church, receiving communion, getting baptized, etc.) is likely much lower.

theology5

Quite possibly the first Catholic I’ve seen in an anime that wasn’t on a demon/vampire/monster-hunting mission from the Vatican…

What’s really fascinating about Maria†Holic, though, is that it bothers to handle the religious aspect at all. Quite often it seems in anime Christianity feels somewhat exoticized, used as a pretty backdrop to invoke a European aesthetic. I haven’t watched many other Catholic all-girls school type shows, but from what I’ve seen of series direct talk about religion tends to be avoided. In Marimite, for example, the role of the rosary in prayer takes a backseat to its usage as a sign of favour or a gift, with the religious trappings more of a form of exotic window dressing. Even when Christianity shows up in other shows, it often does so as a monolithic and secretive institution, usually wielding an array of supernatural powers or at the very least esoteric knowledge. Take, for example, Hellsing, Trinity Blood, or the more recent Majutsu no Index. This may also explain why the Catholic Church is more often portrayed than other major branches – Catholicism involves a lot of symbolism and ceremony, and is very heavily associated with western European history in a way that Protestantism and Eastern Orthodox denominations are not.

theology1

Getting her hair into that shape must be a minor miracle in itself…

Okay, so enough on background, on with what’s actually presented. In contrast to the often-parodic nature of the show, the assertions made here too seem actually very sincere and are an insight into what I think could potentially be a theme for Maria†Holic – namely, the willingness to act and consider others in good faith. It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it’s something we’ve been seeing a lot of: the previous episodes revolving around various characters have all dealt with the idea of misunderstanding in some way. Perhaps the theme is best embodied by the titular character of Mariya himself; we’re never quite sure if he’s really a total jerk or if he’s actually just a big softie on the inside.

theology6

You know, I don't think we've even been given the Vice-President's name...

Secondly it’s clear too that the show is trying to articulate that the message isn’t exclusively a religious one, at least in the sense of religious institutions, although it certainly is quite compatible. Characters like Mariya, the vice-president, and the president all possess trappings of western Christianity, while Kanako has a few more folk Buddhist/Shinto affectations (such as prayers addressed to “her Dear Mother in Heaven”, although it might be a stretch to call it ancestor worship). Essentially, the message being presented in Maria†Holic is on the commonality of faith. It’s a theme that definitely seems to take a backseat to the comedy at times, especially with SHAFT’s direction, but I don’t think it’s a pure satire in the same sense that Sayonara-Zetsubou-Sensei was.

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