The Winter 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Maria the Virgin Witch
The Hundred Years' War is not a time period co-opted by anime very often, and it's pretty easy to figure out why. Where anime often thrives on fantasy, spectacle, and impossible wars of scope and scale, The Hundred Years' War was a time period fraught with some of the saddest and dumbest pointless skirmishes between untrained countrymen floundering in the mud, usually over someone else's greed-related problems. The French, the Gauls, the Saxons, the Scots, toiling and scheming and drafting the poor straight to their deaths for decade after decade. I'm by no means a history buff, (so I apologize if any of that was sorta off,) but even I'm familiar with this odd spit of history, infamous for its awkwardness rather than its glory. So how better to depict this story than through the eyes of a pacifistic witch who seeks to quell the conflict? (Even though she has no idea how to do it outside of buttering up nobles just enough to break up some battles without any consequences.)
"Maria the Virgin Witch" is an iffy title, but it seems like it's pertaining to a lot more than just the titular sorceress' literal virginity, and that subdued cleverness boosts the episode's quality from start to finish. Maria is a compelling and likable character from the get-go, attracted to magic for its ability to help humanity in ways only she can accomplish as a woman, but also using her status as a benevolent, pacifistic virgin to gain the grudging acceptance of the Church, which normally condemns all witches for their heretical ways. (It seems most witches work using far more lascivious means, even though they all have succubus familiars to accomplish this kind of negotiation for them.) Maria's not in this war for the money or the approval of noble houses though, so she works entirely to protect the innocent and leaves any underground (or sexual) negotiation to her snarky succubus companion. (Her name is Artemis and she shapeshifts into an owl. Get it?)
This puts her in a unique position of being an ally to everyone, but a friend to no one too, as she lives like a hermit in the forest, giving all she can to help the common man, receiving nothing back, and sleeping alone. Her "virginity" isn't just a biological detail, it's reflective of her position in this world overall and her understanding of it too. She wants to be a long-remembered heroine, mentioning Joan of Arc as a "virgin that the church treated like a witch, but will someday canonize!" It's clear she feels the same way about herself, but is also being dishonest about her true feelings and desire to be remembered and loved in her own time. By the very first episode, she's already fallen hard for a messenger boy who leaves her with kind words and a kiss on the hand before being conscripted into the war. "It's just a kiss on the hand!" her succubus laughs, "Your virginity doesn't give you the right to push your own silly values on others!" It's probably not true love, for the messenger boy or for Maria, but it's indicative of something the Heroine Virgin Witch Maria is sorely neglecting.
I realize this entire writeup basically turned into a short character study, but that's the kind of show this turned out to be, and it was a very pleasant surprise! This is a time period best revisited through reflection and a focus on the motivations and feelings of individuals, rather than any false-ringing "glory of battle" presentation, and this anime is already bringing a smart and engaging maturity to its more fantastical premise. The production design here is solid (though basic and unassuming) and pretty animation and effects aside, this is definitely going to be a character drama first and foremost, using its fantasy-history backdrop to explore different perspectives on pacifism, purity, and all the shades of grey in between. We haven't learned much about its overall cast so far, but they're intriguing folks, with a lovable heroine in Maria already leading the pack. I'm definitely looking forward to more.
Maria the Virgin Witch is available streaming on Funimation.com.
Maria the Virgin Witch takes place in the hills of France at some point during the Hundred Years War. This first episode introduces us to Maria, the titular Virgin Witch, who spends her days making potions for the common people from her forest hideaway. Because she is considered a heretic by the church, her blessings are only talked of in secret, but it seems that in this world, the heretical nature of witches doesn't stop them from being an accepted part of warmaking and daily life. So when conscription drags a new set of former peasants to the front lines, two of them go with Maria's blessing - a pious farmer whose daughter believes in Maria, and a young man named Joseph who is smitten with the beautiful witch. Of course, blessings can take many forms, and in this case, the blessing Maria chooses to bestow is a giant, fire-breathing dragon.
Maria seems to be a lopsided mix of strengths and weaknesses, but it fortunately leans much more heavily towards strengths. On the good side, the writing here is definitely a step above most anime fare - conversations flow naturally, characters possess solidly sketched personalities, and there are even some standout lines that actually possess real subtlety or wit (I particularly liked the mercenary Galfa's “No, more like someone I used to know” response to being asked if he knew Joseph). It also seems like Maria is interested in portraying a grounded, gritty medieval world, in spite of the presence of witches. The preeminence of the church's favor, the depiction of armies as more collections of uprooted farmers and apprentices than dedicated fighting forces, and the way the final battle was portrayed as a messy, protracted affair all point to a story that's committed to depicting some of the unglamorous realities of the dark ages. And the character animation here was also quite nice - though the backgrounds and art direction in general weren't particularly noteworthy, there were many sequences of character movement that contained a great deal of personality, along with the nicely animated and also ridiculous moment when a dragon got pulled out of a cauldron.
On the negative side, “Virgin” in the title seems less reflective of a contrast between the Virgin Mary and the Heretic Maria (though that does come up!) than this show's tendency to indulge in dumb sex jokes. In this world, it seems that all witches are able to summon succubi to do their bidding, and Maria's succubus spent most of her screentime this episode making blowjob jokes and prodding the more uptight Maria. Maybe sexuality will actually end up being a meaningful part of this story, but this first episode offered little indication that this was any more than an otherwise thoughtful writer's much less thoughtful sense of humor. Aside from the dumb humor, this episode also ended on Maria's wincingly simplistic “I hate battles,” and the relative non-depiction of the big battle scene revealed the limitations of this show's resources. But those complaints are small concerns in the face of what was overall a compelling debut, marked by surprisingly thoughtful writing and worldbuilding. I'm definitely on board to see where this one goes.
Maria the Virgin Witch is available streaming on Funimation.com.
It's France v. England in the Hundred Years War, with a supernatural twist: in addition to your bog-standard feudal armies stabbing eachother with polearms at the behest of distant aristocrats, we've got a race of honest-to-god witches in the world, complicating things with their magical presence. The witches influence the war for cash, using their wiles - and their succubus familiars - to pay favors to whichever side is paying them. Maria - who's a virgin and thus valued by the Catholic church she's hell-bent on defying - is one such witch, complete with sassy, lusty Succubus familiar, who appears to have higher standards than your average mercenary sorceress. She's granting favors in the woods to people who really do need her help just to survive this thing, and is on a mission to put a stop to the fighting once and for all.
Maria the Virgin Witch is a Production I.G joint directed by Goro Taniguchi (who you may remember from stuff like Planetes and Code Geass), based on a manga by Masayuki Ishikawa, otherwise known as "the Moyashimon guy". To that end it's a very different product than what you might expect from that pairing, although the adorable character designs, kinda stuck somewhere between retro cute and modern sexy, immediately speak to Ishikawa's illustrative style. There's a lot going on here right up front; there are a bunch of story elements, most of which are kinda half-teased and hinted at rather than fully explained. It's preferable to a giant infodump, but given the way this show is structured, important story elements are presented scattershot, to the point where I found myself having to go back and make sure I caught the sprinkled snippets of exposition that happen while the show is establishing the characters. There's enough foreshadowing of Maria's ultimate impact on the war to choke a light infantry horse, so I assume this is all going toward Big Important Places. Maria summons a dragon near the end of the episode to put a stop to a nasty ground skirmish, so I assume we're far enough away from actual history to where the events of the Hundred Years War will be referenced in broad strokes only. Production-wise, it's pretty workmanlike animation from I.G - there's flash and verve in the combat sequences (aside from some not-particularly-great-looking stuff involving mounted cavalry) but the design style is simple, soft at the edges and intentionally plain aside from the witches (who are all dolled up in anachronistic lingere to contrast their magical presence from the common middle ages soldiers and peasantry they're influencing) and thus doesn't require much more than standard, competent TV animation.
This is light entertainment that likely won't blow your hair back but could be a pleasant distraction for a lazy Sunday afternoon. The kind of mildly-interested shrug this material elicits is of the 'hey, seems alright, I might watch it once it wraps up' variety. The manga is finished, so presumably this will come to whatever conclusion the source material came to. At least you won't be stuck with a cliffhanger. Right?
Maria the Virgin Witch is available streaming at Funimation.com.
Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
Review: Of the newly-premiering titles this season, this manga adaptation was the one that I was most anticipating, partly because it is set in the late stages of the Hundred Years' War (a period I have previously studied extensively) and partly because I liked the concept and character designs. Its first episode fully meets my expectations and then some.
The basic premise is that a witch named Maria, who puts on airs of being an old crone but is actually quite youthful in appearance, lives in the forests of northern France. She is adored by some local villagers, even though the Church has branded her as a heretic, because she helps them with medicine and looks out for them. (A handsome messenger named Joseph also seems to adore her, although likely for romantic reasons.) She absolutely hates war, though, to the point of using her magic to interfere in battles, a behavior that is pooh-poohed by her fellow witches, who apparently like to watch battles and more subtly interfere with them through the use of their servant succubi. Maria also has her own succubus, Artemis, who can freely change between buxom woman and owl form and who delights in teasing Maria over the fact that Maria is not only a virgin but also remarkably innocent in that regard. Advertising materials indicate that Maria retaining her magic either is or will be conditional on her retaining her virginity, though that detail has not come up yet.
Production I.G.’s artistic effort is a sharp one, full of vibrant colors, good animation, and appealing character designs, with an artistic style that more resembles American animation than anime norms. Though her clothing style is decidedly anachronistic, Maria strikes a pleasing balance between being cute and sexy, and viewers do get a couple of good opportunities to see that she has quite the figure for her petite build. The prurient content isn't just the visual fan service, either; the dialogue is also surprisingly frank in its sexual references. (Artemis makes a comment at one point, after a night out gathering information, about how her jaws hurt, and what she is referring to is pretty clear.) Maria also comes through as a clearly-defined and eminently likable character, but just about everyone who is characterized at all gets clearly-defined quickly and efficiently, whether it's Joseph, the father of the little girl who visits Maria, some mercenaries the two of them meet, an English witch observing the battle, or especially Artemis. That this was directed by the same person who helmed bombastic action franchises like Code Geass and S-CRY-ed is a little surprising, as none of that style is present here, but Goro Taniguchi did show his range with titles like Planetes and Infinite Ryvius, so the project seems to be in good hands.
Strong production values, an immediately likable cast, a mix of cute and saucy, and a very different storyline all add up to a show with a lot of promise. My score may reflect a bit of bias here, and this certainly doesn't show any signs of being particularly deep, but Virgin Witch still looks like it's going to be a good one.
Maria the Virgin Witch is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
discuss this in the forum (570 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history