With a new season of Maria-Sama ga Miteru (alternately marimite and The Virgin Mary Watches Over Us), it’s on everyone’s minds again. I might have already entered the fracas once, but here we go again, this time not on the new season, or even the OP, but the show as a whole and why we love it so (if we do).
I have this theory about certain entertainments… that they get their strength from weaknesses.
That’s suitably oblique to be quotable when I’m dead and famous, so I’ll explain myself now. Some stories, be they movies, books, or something episodic, have holes in them. These are different from the gaps Wolfgang Iser talks about — which are the same as Scott McCloud’s gutter (you know, the one all the blood runs in). These holes are just spots where there isn’t something that should, by all rights, be there. Sometimes it’s necessary to leave it out. Even after all these years the X-Men comic can’t afford to give us every detail of the characters’ lives, so there are holes. Sometimes it’s down to lack of sense — I hold this is why all the holes are present in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, but even great writers like Arthur Conan Doyle are guilty of it, and for the same reason (specifically, Watson’s old war wound kept moving because Doyle ended up disliking working on the Holmes stories, so he never bothered to look it up and didn’t remember). These holes allow the audience, if they’re willing, to nestle in and build their own little world, like the miles of abandoned subway in some major cities that are inhabited now. There’s a third type, but I’ll get to that in just a bit.
There’s a danger in this kind of enjoyment. I know, you must be crying out at this point: how can you, you, ever claim there’s a danger to enjoyment? Aren’t you the populist? Well yes. But it can lead to perfectly happy people not enjoying themselves when things take a turn. Despite how inadvisable it is (I tell me students generally not to do it unless they have some more evidence), I’ll use a personal example: I have a friend who really liked Psych, the USA network comedy about a Holmesian detective who has to pose as a psychic to get any work. This friend got so used to “fandom” entertainment that she never seemed to enjoy anything that didn’t have the holes required by such things as fanfiction or even simple speculation. So she started writing Psych fanfiction, slashing the main character with his antagonist, a detective on the police force who loathes him. Let’s never mind, for now, this inexplicable tendency to pair characters with people who genuinely hate them, and focus on what happened later. Eventually the show sort-of capitulated the very obvious and very telegraphed interest between the main character and, gasp, a lady. My friend nearly swore off the show because it had violated her speculations. Now, I have all sorts of personal reservations about this sort of thing, but what’s relevent here is that it curtailed her enjoyment of something she could have merrily continued watching (I did, and it continued to be as funny into the next season).
Now I can get to the third type of hole: the kind that’s there deliberately. Marimite has these kinds of holes, it seems to me. The setting is fairly friendly to yuri, as the stuff with Sei and her old flame illustrate. However, it never comes through — and from what scuttlebutt I’ve heard about the latter novels, that’s basically true to the end. It tantalizes the reader with pretty obvious yuri implications. I’ve read (if “read” is the right term for my stumbling, dictionary-referencing actions) the first marimite novel in Japanese, and there’s a moment when Yumi starts breathing heavily and her heart pounds, while she blushes and has nearly all the other trademark signs of arousal, all while thinking of Sachiko. She then wonders why she’s responding that way, doesn’t get it, and wanders off to be a cute raccoon somewhere else. But nothing ever happens. It seems a lot like my aforementioned holes to me, emptied-out spaces in which the audience can fill their own versions of events. And they have. Marimite is one of the few things I still read fanfiction for (by the way, while I still do not “ship” anything, sometimes I do want to read Yumi x Touko stories, and where the fuck can I find more than, like, three of them?); the fanart and doujinshi runs fast and strong, like the Mississippi, from the fandom; communities, strangely well-mannered — like the show itself, I suppose, where walking slowly is preferred — have gathered to simply discuss the characters, their relative pairings, and then link to yummy fanfiction where skirts are raised and characters stutter “onee-sama” a lot, usually breathily).
So. Marimite is, for lack of a better term, a kind of lesbian clit-tease. That’s okay. I enjoy filling in those spaces like everyone else. There is one application of this post to the new season, though, that I’ve thought of. This idea of all the spaces (you’ll notice I abandoned the term “holes.” If you haven’t figured out why, I’ll tell you when you’re older) being filled runs into certain problems, much like Psych did in my above example. People have this picture that, due to the text’s reliance on empty spaces, is very vibrant, basically the entertainment itself. But as I’ve pointed out, the show never quite capitulates on the promises it seems to make. Guys do enter the picture. So the furor about guys showing up to act in the play might be an extension of this. The picture most of us (me included) have doesn’t involve guys; it involves cute ladies having make-outs.