Maria the Virgin Witch
by Gabriella Ekens,
In this alternate version of the Hundred Years' War – a medieval conflict between various forces over the right to govern France – witches control the battlefield. Most are war profiteers, using their magic and feminine wiles to aid whichever side pays most, but one young witch, Maria, has loftier aspirations. You see, she hates war, and her unique (amongst witches) status as a virgin gives her enough clout with the Catholic Church to watch over her local village unimpeded. However, when villagers start getting drafted, she begins interfering with battles, forcing both sides to disperse unharmed as she summons legendary creatures. This gets her into some hot water with both earthly and heavenly arbiters, which challenges her naiveté and forces her to reassess the values she holds dear.
So I'm now covering two 14th/15th century historical low fantasy series where the main character's virginity is a plot point, and I'm happy to say that Maria the Virgin Witch's first outing exceeds GARO THE ANIMATION's shaky start. This show is well-written right out the gate, has nice (if modest) design sensibilities, and is a ton of fun to boot. I consider this the dark horse of Winter 2015, and I'm glad to be writing about another show that plays to my interests (mature fantasy, female protagonist, jokes about anal sex) while being impressive in quality.
First off, I'm impressed by how this show manages to be sexual without being sexy. Not that sexy is bad, it's just that Maria and Artemis' revealing character designs easily could have been exploited in service of cheesecake, and yet such shots are surprisingly absent. There are a couple of nude scenes with Maria (bathing and in bed), but they emphasize her loneliness and innocence over her figure. There's very little male gaze here, so it's more tasteful and restrained than I expect from anime. Sexuality is hugely important to this show's themes and characters, but this seems like a mature take on what it means to be “pure.”
The show's sense of humor is also raunchy. About half of the second episode's runtime consists of sex jokes, centered around Maria's new familiar, Priapus the penis-less incubus with an ironic name. (Look up “priapism” if you don't get it.) Her other familiar, a succubus named Artemis, also has an ironic name. Artemis was the Greek Goddess of the Hunt, an eternal virgin who turned men who lusted after her into animals. I like the owls-as-familiars. They're cute and funny and it's neat how much counter-insurgency they accomplish through sexual suggestion. Artemis doesn't even seem that into it – she seduces generals with workmanlike efficiency and gets annoyed when Maria and Priapus can't do the same. It makes sense that they don't have human desires and shames since they're transfigured owls, and their eagerness to help out their mistress witch is charming. (The one point where this show's sexual humor might be iffy is when Priapus is sent off to seduce a man. It's a funny scene – the poor incubus is NOT able to handle what he wants to on his first mission – but the guy in question is a potentially offensive gay stereotype. I'll give it a pass, but I realize that I can move forward largely due to my privilege as a straight woman and will be on the lookout to see if this intensifies in the future.)
Maria's virginity is a metaphor for her righteousness and self-denial. She's a good person, but her inability to accept compromise might eventually doom her and the people she cares about. She values the idea of herself as a savior, as a “benevolent witch,” and neglects her personal life in order to maintain it. While she's okay now, this'll cripple her in the long run, rendering her people without a guardian and her ambitions fruitless. The Archangel Michael, while an impotent fence-sitter whose own self-righteousness will also need to be addressed, still has a point that it's selfish of Maria to avoid staining her own hands with blood. It's impossible to protect everyone, and if she wants to protect the people she cares about effectively, she'll need to hurt the people who threaten them. Ideological purity is unsustainable for someone in her position, and she'll need to grow up to do her job well.
Good animation can't redeem a show with bad design, but good design can make a show without much animation (see also: Yurikuma Arashi). Fortunately, Maria the Virgin Witch lands on the latter side of this equation. Like GARO THE ANIMATION, it's not a showy production, but it does a great job of making the world more vivid and colorful than it could have been in lesser hands. The Hundred Years' War is a dour subject, filled with muck and death, but this show makes it nice to look at without sacrificing the setting's roughness. The character designs are cute and expressive. Maria herself draws a fine line between bubbly and intimidating, and I like how she uses her staff for both combat and transportation. The muggle characters are simple yet distinctive, and betray a lot of personality even in the sparse details they're given. The standout human character is Joseph, the town messenger and Maria's crush. He's a thin but attractive redhead around her age, and they seem compatible. Despite some wonky animation involving cavalry, the battle scenes have a nice weight to them. It really feels like the soldiers are tossing around hunks of metal, contrasting Maria's floatiness.
Overall, Maria the Virgin Witch just has a lot of give-a-damn behind it. It's creative that she fights by summoning legendary monsters and not the typical (and less interesting) magical beam spam. It's an appreciated risk that they don't sexualize her that much. It's nice that they seem to have researched the Hundred Years' War and incorporated a lot of its details (the fact that armies were made up mostly of conscripted peasants, the presence of pillaging mercenaries, and even detailing battle tactics) into the story. It's a show made out of small touches that comes together into something not only solid but exceptional, one of the strongest starts of the season, and I'm excited to see if it continues as well as it begins. Next episode we're promised some intrigue involving angels, Valkyries, and the other more liberal witches. It'll be interesting to see how Maria reacts to their challenge.
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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