Until today, I wondered to myself "why hasn't anyone made a yuri harem series? It could be fun, or at least a different take on a very tired genre."
Then I read today's offering, and it not only manage to spoil that scenario, but managed to piss me off in the process.
MARIA HOLIC (Maria Horikku), by Minari Endou. First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2009.
Kanako couldn't be happier to be attending an all-girls' high school. Kanako is not only a lesbian, but she fears men to the point where she gets hives if a man touches her. Thus, she's all too ready to take in all the beauties around her, even if means constant nosebleeds. Then she stumbles upon a terrible secret. It seems that Mariya, the school beauty, is secretly a boy, and he will resort to all sorts of dirty tactics to keep his secret. Things only get more complicated when Kanako's attempts at making friends end up turning into an impromptu harem of girls, all of whom want to protect her, date her, or befriend her.
I knew that Maria Holic was a series that supposedly poked fun at yuri through the filter of black comedy. If that's so, then it's got a really bizarre definition of 'black comedy' because what I found here was a dreadfully unfunny, even hateful series.
Maria Holic only has one joke, and that joke is "let's all laugh at the dumb, desperate lesbian." Poor Kanako only exists to be the butt of everyone's jokes, be it purposefully at Mariya's hands or accidentally through the misunderstandings of the girls around her. Every time it seems like she might get some degree of relief or dignity, the metaphorical rug is pulled out from under her as her nose bleeds in joy. Don't try to figure out how this works considering that the nosebleed gag is meant to be a reference to erections. This alone would make the entire story very mean-spirited, but the fact that it's a man in disguise shaming a woman for being a lesbian makes it outright homophobic. Just because the guy is doing it while disguised as a woman doesn't make it any better or more subversive. It just makes him an even bigger hypocrite. The only thing that makes it worse is the occasional moment that hints that Kanako will somehow end up falling for Mariya in the end.
If you can somehow look past this element, you're not going to find much more to it beyond the makings of a wacky yuri harem. Like any proper manga harem, the girls involve tend to be simple, silly sorts that hew closely to stock anime and/or yuri character types. None of them are terribly interesting in their own right, and by volume's end it's clear they are there more for comedy purposes than anything else. That could be fun if the jokes were any good, but as we've already discussed the humor on display here is lame at best and offensive at worst. These aren't even failed jokes; these are anti-gags. Combined with everything else I've mentioned, it adds up to a book that is positively uncomfortable to read.
What's truly sad is that Minari Endou doesn't slack off when it comes to the art. I really like the character designs here. The girls are all visually distinct and incredibly cute to boot. I suspect Endou is aware of this because they pack the pages full of those pretty girls. Sadly, they haven't got much in the way of elegant composition since the pages are kind of messy and the panels are locked in an endless battle between fitting in more speech bubbles and fitting in more closeups of cute girls. The backgrounds suffer for this, as they are featured very infrequently and frequently make way for screentones. So if you can take anything away from the art here, it's that Endou is a good character designer but a rather poor comic artist.
Maria Holic is just hateful. It's not a dark comedy, it's not a proper yuri series, it's just a pile of hate dressed up with some cute girls and a lot of nosebleed gags.
This series is published by One Peace Books, and formerly by Tokyopop. This series is complete in Japan with 14 volumes available. Tokyopop released 6 single volumes, which are all out of print. One Piece released all 14 as both 3-in-1 omnibuses and as single volumes for Volume 7 onward, and all are currently in print. This series is also available digitally through Bookwalker.