Maria the Virgin Witch
by Gabriella Ekens,
Last week's battle brought Maria fame across the French countryside, and not in a good way. The people have turned against her. The Church has successfully cemented the idea that her good deeds were covertly harmful, that even her medicines were disguised poisons, and after seeing the damage caused by her interference in the latest battle, people believe it. Even Grandma Martha renounces her association with Maria, albeit to protect Ann. While Maria struggles with her newfound infamy, Galfa is promoted to the head of the mercenary troupe, and Bernard finally persuades him to rid Maria of her powers. The episode ends with Galfa making his way over to Maria's place, with a new metal arm and accompanied by a small army. Next week, things will start serious.
I'm impressed by Galfa's characterization. This show faced a quandary going in – how do we humanize the heroine's intended rapist? Maria the Virgin Witch's thematic success hinges on every character having an understandable interiority. When a person has committed rape, however, the first thing we do is shut down our ability to empathize with them. They become inhumanly evil, so their crime can be isolated rather than addressed. This tendency is antithetic to Maria's goals of showing how war arises naturally from understandable human responses to conflicts of interest.
Note that I am not trivializing the act of rape. It is an extreme and horrible crime that society overlooks far too often. I'm just looking at how media tends to approach rapists; that designation is mostly used to signify that a character is subhuman. Kill La Kill and Sword Art Online are both shows that made their villains rapists for an easy way of enhancing their threat. They were also both mustache-twirling caricatures. (Even the phrase “mustache-twirling” recalls the image of Snidely Whiplash, a cartoon villain famous for abducting women.) Maria the Virgin Witch presents the act not as a breach of humanity committed by monsters, but a crime that a privileged class of individuals use to achieve and maintain power.
Anyway, back to Galfa. Maria the Virgin Witch dodges this potential pratfall in his characterization by letting us get to know him for a while before his role as a sexual threat to Maria becomes prominent. We see how society victimizes him as a nomadic mercenary and racial minority. (Last episode revealed that he's of Moorish descent, meaning that his ancestors were Muslims from Northern Africa.) He's a good friend to Joseph and generous to his comrades. He has the ambition to advance in a social order that rejects him. The person in charge, Bernard, capitalizes on this to put down another party who resists subjugation, Maria. Now we're left to see if Galfa will go through with Bernard's horrible plan.
If it wasn't apparent already, Bernard is totally a hypocrite. He uses Christian doctrine to flex his control boner and further his family's interests. He's not in the top tier of Evil Anime Priests due to his realistic motivations, (even if they're inappropriate for the man of the cloth), but he's certainly subscribing to the letter rather than the spirit of God's law. No matter how nicely you phrase it, you're still orchestrating a woman's rape, dude. Can you confess that away?
Ezekiel continues to be the cutest. The angel is a member of Maria's family now, but still insists that conforming to Church doctrine is the only way for Maria to make it out of this alive. The Owls are staunchly loyal to her wishes, but they're also in a weak position to protect her. Artemis is correct when she reflects on how the sudden influx of people has expanded Maria's world. It's hard to imagine that it was ever just her and Maria working together.
The black miasma that's been speaking to Maria turns out to be not the Christian God, but rather Cernunnos. Cernunnos is an extremely vague figure in Celtic mythology that's usually depicted as a horned, cross-legged humanoid. Maria's conversation with it indicates that it was once quite powerful, but its influence has faded. It also reveals that magical figures (which include everything from witches to gods) are dependent on human belief for their power. This implies that the Christian god currently reigns because he's the most widespread, not because he's some sort of “true” god, and that other figures have previously reigned supreme. This solves Maria the Virgin Witch's biggest thematic issue up to this point: it was arguing in favor of moral relativity in a world where an absolute authority exists to impose his morality. It gets out of this by flipping the equation. It's the Gods who are rooted in humanity, not the other way around, so our subjective perspectives extend to them. It's just the Christian God's flavor to present himself as an absolute authority, and the people empowered by his patriarchal dogma latch onto this.
This episode was remarkably well-animated despite the lack of action. Just look at how Artemis comes down from the hammock or Galfa wields his new arm, with motions subtly appropriate to their characters. Maria the Virgin Witch isn't a showy production, but there's a lot of give-a-damn behind it. This show has blossomed into a personal favorite, standing strong against thematic juggernauts like Yurikuma Arashi thanks to its strong narrative, cogent feminist criticism of zealotry, and well-realized visuals. Maria hasn't made a misstep yet, and I trust it to stick the landing.
Maria the Virgin Witch is currently streaming on Funimation.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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