Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Maria the Virgin Witch
During the Hundred Years' War between England and France, a supernatural element has been playing a role. Witches on both sides of the battle use succubi to help turn the tides while Valkyries and angels alike look on. Maria is a French witch living in the forest outside a small village. She detests war, and is not only using her succubus Artemis to influence things, but is also directly appearing on the field herself with dragons and golems. But when her meddling attracts the ire of Archangel Michael, she finds that she may have to make a choice between saving people and her own happiness.
Archangels. Valkyries. A succubus named after a virgin goddess and a witch named after the Virgin Mary. Welcome to the mythologically confused world of Masayuki Ishikawa's Maria the Virgin Witch, one of two manga set during Medieval European wars to come out in English in the early spring of 2015. (The other, for the curious, is Aya Kanno's Requiem of the Rose King.) Ishikawa's story takes place during the Hundred Years' War between England and France and adds a supernatural element to the battles – there are witches who can influence the events of each skirmish. Typically they do this by sending their succubus minions to seduce one side or the other, but our heroine Maria is different: she hates war so much and worries about the people she lives near to the point where any war is unacceptable. So she summons a dragon or a golem and goes onto the field of battle herself to scare the crap out of the soldiers and make them stop fighting. Regretfully this counts as “interfering” from the point of view of the Christian god, who sends Archangel Michael to tell her to cut it out. He ends up giving her an ultimatum: she can use her powers to try and change things for the better (no war) unless she loses her virginity – that act will take away all of her magical abilities. Since Maria is sensitive about the subject of never having had sex, she feels that this is a conundrum, and thus the plot is set up.
Of course, it takes the entirety of the first book to get to that point. It feels as though Ishikawa wasn't quite sure what he was doing when he began the series, and the entire volume consistently feels as if it is missing pages or panels explaining things more fully. (In fact, I kept flipping back and rubbing pages to make sure that I wasn't missing something.) The story appears torn between being a sexy comedy and a much darker story, and many of the sex jokes don't work particularly well, coming off as cruder than they need to. Mind you, as a reader I am leery of stories which place too much emphasis on the importance of losing virginity, so those jokes will doubtless be funnier to people for whom this is not a pet peeve. And some of them are entertaining regardless – when Artemis, Maria's succubus, complains that there are too many pederasts and sodomites among the priesthood for her to do her job, Maria creates an incubus to help out, naming him Priapus, after the Roman god of gardens who is typically shown with an enormous red erection...and then not giving him a penis, because she doesn't know what one looks like.
As you may have noticed, there are a fair amount of Classical references in the story, along with Christian and other mythologies, notably Norse, with some Valkyries randomly showing up. While it may very well turn out that all of these gods do, in fact, coexist and their powers are contingent upon how much people believe in them, which has become a fairly standard trope in fantasy and is my current theory for this story, there are also some issues with the set-up. The most glaring is the fact that Artemis, the succubus, is named for the Greek goddess of the hunt...who is a virgin. While it is likely that the “hunt” part is what Ishikawa was interested in, and she does hunt down a variety of men for Maria, making her a succubus may be problematic for fans of Greco-Roman mythology, compounded by the fact that she and Priapus turn into owls, which are sacred to a different Greek goddess, Athena. It also seems odd that the main character is “Maria” rather than “Marie,” when Ishikawa otherwise seems very invested in his French setting.
All of that may seem needlessly nit-picky, but with the clunky pacing of this first volume it stands out more than it needed to, and this may be that rare case where the anime version improved upon the early parts of the story. Fortunately the artwork is pleasant and interesting to look at, with a variety of both male and female body types, clear layout, and a general feeling of solidity. Background characters all have the look of the Medieval world to them, with scars, missing teeth, and other signs of poor hygiene and hard living, making parts of the book look a bit like Vinland Saga. The witches all dress in bondage-esque outfits, which is odd, but the shining armor the archangel wears seems to fit, even if his halo looks more like a hula-hoop. Kodansha USA's translation is an interesting mix of antiquated words and contemporary sex humor, but it largely works. There are, unusually, no liner notes at all for the volume, which is a shame, since some history would have been a nice touch. There is a little Jewish mythology in the back of the book, however, with Maria's instructions on how to build a golem, which includes “ask the rabbi” if you're ever in Prague, which is pretty funny.
On the whole, the first volume of Maria the Virgin Witch is a bit shaky, with some tortured mythology, jumpy storytelling, and a thin plot when looked at chapter-by-chapter. The sex humor won't work for everyone, but it feels as if by the end of the book Ishikawa is getting his feet under him and that things will shape up for volume two. Put simply, this series has potential, but as of this first book, it isn't really living up to it...yet.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Gets better as it goes on, nice sense of Medieval world. Translation reads well, can be very funny.
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