Maria the Virgin Witch
by Gabriella Ekens,
Okay. Got that out of my system. Onto the episode.
It's nice to see an anime that's intentionally uncomfortable in its portrayal of sexual violence. Whether a rape scene “works” or not is always a matter of the viewer's personal boundaries, but in all of my years of watching anime, I've rarely seen a show handle the issue as tastefully as Maria the Virgin Witch does. Maria's assault is brutal, fully playing to the audience's terror and indignation. The sound design carries the scene – rather than show our heroine beaten and chained, they cut to shots of her home as it creaks under the pressure of her fading magic. The tight framing never gives us a good shot of Maria's body. A lot of rape scenes shoot themselves in the foot by giving the viewer salacious access to the victim's form. The closest the episode got to making me uncomfortable were those shots of Maria prone in the wagon, but even then they're meant to be indicative of the damage inflicted on her. This rape (like many) is fundamentally an act of anger and violence, not sexual attraction or misplaced affection. The violating act isn't penetration (which thankfully never occurs – Priapus arrives just in time.) Galfa silences Maria with a gag he retrieves from his crotch area. This conflation of the gag with the phallus is important. The Church, a patriarchal authority, tries to defeat Maria by silencing her. It uses its privileged speaking role to control her reputation and coerce people into denouncing her. Women aren't supposed to have a voice in this society, and when Maria tries, she is punished, vilified, and held as an example for the rest. Maria ends the episode in a dungeon beneath the church, awaiting trial and execution. Many women still face similar fates for speaking out today.
Thankfully for both the audience and Maria, Galfa doesn't go through with it. The situation's trauma has blocked Maria's magic all by itself, and he runs off when that becomes apparent. For as much as Galfa has proven himself to be a bad dude at this point, at least he opts out of becoming a rapist. The same can't be said for Bernard, judging by the ending to this episode. He and Maria have their long-awaited ideological confrontation, and when Maria points out that God's omnipotent control is indistinguishable from his inaction, the priest goes nutso, muttering philosophy to himself for several minutes. This climaxes in what can only be described as a “theology-gasm.” It's become apparent that Bernard channels his libido into theoretical finagling and manipulation. When Maria points out that he's engaging in casuistry, he starts getting physical with her. Overall, this scene could operate as Maria the Virgin Witch's thesis: religion, an institution charged with helping people, is often used as a tool to empower individuals and oppress the masses. If it's within your power to help a person, you should. Rape is a tool used by a patriarchal authority to force women into compliance. Hopefully Priapus or Gilbert will be able to stop Bernard. Maybe this will also disillusion Gilbert – who seems like he could be a decent guy – against the priest? Control boner indeed.
I think I know how the series will end. Maria's repeated interference can't overcome humanity's essential drive towards conflict and predation. However, she could get people to live following her example. Instead of saving everyone herself, she'd teach them to save each other. This would probably occur through some sort of transcendent sacrificial act. Maria will give up everything (her life, her virginity, her powers – who knows?) in order to save something, this fact will become apparent en masse, and people will rally behind her. The opening does frame her as a folk hero who's celebrated long after the Hundred Years' War. The irony here is that she's becoming a Christ figure while combating people who claim to be acting in his name. Bernard and his ilk are so far removed from the spirit of the gospels that they don't recognize that they're recreating the conditions that led to him being necessary in the first place.
(Also, if you're Christian, keep in mind that this show isn't talking about your personal relationship to god. It's condemning the Church as an institution that often goes against its intended purpose. It's undeniable that Christianity, both present and historical, has been used to justify exclusion and exploitation. This is contrary to the circumstances of its foundation as a religion for the poor and the persecuted. While Maria the Virgin Witch specifically targets the Catholic Church, it's criticisms can be applied to any institution – particularly patriarchal ones – that are founded for the common good but co-opted for those in power. It's not anti-Jesus, but anti-people-who-take-advantage-of-Jesus.)
I doubt that Joseph and Galfa's friendship will survive this. Joseph's faith in the system is rapidly being shattered, (his appeal to his boss, Count Guillaume, reveals that the man is invested in Maria's elimination) but he's taking it like a champ. Maria is fortunate to have some great friends. Ezekiel continues to be the sweetest, expressing guilt at having been the one to tell Galfa about Maria's “condition.” The kindhearted owls don't hold Ezekiel accountable for a second. Viv, however, is the episode's superstar. She goes one-on-one against the Archangel Michael for Maria's sake! The two witches got off to a rough start, but they're actually quite similar. Both will help other people when necessary, even at risk to themselves. Viv is just better at reading how and when she can be helpful.
I almost feel bad about giving a series straight As, but Maria the Virgin Witch hasn't given me a reason to seriously criticize it yet. It's a good problem to have.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
Maria the Virgin Witch is currently streaming on Funimation.
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