The Hundred Years War continues on the fields of France. A time where victory can be won, political gains can be made, and riches taken, but also a time where families are torn apart, and the innocent are taken advantage of. In the middle of all this, is one solitary figure, a witch who would see the end of all the violence, even if that puts her against the People, the State, the Church and even Heaven itself.
This is the world of Maria the Virgin Witch, a Winter 2015 show by Production I.G. A fantastical take on 14th century Europe, that combines love, political intrigue, magic, war, and religion. But does it reach the heights of Heaven, or shall this heathen blight be cast to hell for its sins?
Production I.G. certainly know what they are doing, for Maria is a beautiful show to look at. The show has a clean beautiful style that is more reminiscent of some Ghibli works than other standard Anime series. The renditions of the more medieval European subject matter is great, and aside from some questionable design decisions, (in particular Maria’s and her familiars human outfits) the show had a wonderfully refreshing animation and aesthetic.
The historical setting of Hundred Years War France, like the show’s art style, is a nice change of pace from the typical Japanese high school, or random fantasy setting. And for the most part their commitment to realism is exemplary, aside from the titular magic and a couple small inaccuracies. The world however is cohesive and enjoyable to watch, including the magic system which utilized ancient Greek and Norse monsters for some fun flashy moments.
All Have Sinned:
Another excellent piece of the show was that a the morally grey line many of the characters walked. This world is a messy place and many of the main side characters are all shown to have varying motivations and goals, from the Mercenaries, to the Lords, to the Church of the Earth, they all interesting perspectives, and were given time to more fully develop their positions and not just be evil jerks. It also helped that many of the difficult topics raised by the show such as war and faith, were not glossed over but handled with some genuine nuance.
I really enjoyed pretty much all the characters of the show… especially the supporting cast. The antagonists as I said above were great, but also the townsfolk, and even the witches were also really enjoyable. I especially call out Martha, the elderly woman as a great character, whose predicament was genuinely heartbreaking, Father Bernard, whose motivations and character arc was a fascinating watch, and Galfa for being an entertaining bastard.
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
Ahh Maria. The real issue that I have with Maria is that she seems to be a modern girl, in a not modern time. And what I mean by that vast generalization is that she has a very innocent, almost binary morality that says all fighting is bad. However, the show itself goes out of it’s way to prove that that is a completely untenable position to hold, and completely impractical. Maria can’t just stop any violence she sees, it doesn’t help long term, nor does it fix the problem, yet she still stubbornly does so. It seems almost too simple a worldview, and it actually had me worried that the show, in justifying our Heroine in the finale, would hand wave away all of the interesting moral dilemmas the show had previously laid out. Thankfully my fears were misguided, and they ended the series with a lot more tact than I had feared.
Sex and Fanservice:
Sadly this show has one major drawback, which is its use of sex and fanservice within the show. (To be clear, the reviewer’s opinions on fanservice in general tend to range from pointless to tasteless). Now this show includes a lot of of sexual references (maybe not ecchi levels but still a fair amount), most of which are actually frontloaded to the first half of the season. The problem occurs in the fact that this content I found to be completely tonally dissonant from the rest of the show, and from the character of Maria herself.
As for the show, most of the sexual content comes in the form of juvenile shounen-esque humor. It seemed very out of place, especially when the same show tackled themes of war and religion with a lot more nuance. In contrast most of the sexual content here had all the subtlety of a blow to the face with a frying pan. So while some of the jokes might have worked, the shift in subtlety and tone just never sat well with me, and more often than not was a distraction to my enjoyment/immersion.
As for the character of Maria, I found it equally weird that Maria seemed innocent enough to not know how the male sexual organs worked, yet was self conscious enough to get embarrassed as soon as anyone referenced any sexual act. Either make her innocent and oblivious or make her knowledgeable enough that she can be self conscious… but trying both at once just didn’t work in this instance, and confused me more than it made me laugh.
Maria was a fun and interesting series. By no means my favorite, but I thought it tackled some serious topics, and had a lovely art style and a compelling world. It sadly though had one major flaw, its sexual content, which tarnished its overall reputation for me. If you are a person who can look past the fanservice, I have no qualms in giving you a “Go For It”, as I believe it is a show worth watching. Those who may have more issues with the fanservice, I would still recommend trying the show as it has many other good points, but you may want to be a bit more cautious when trying out Maria.
Maria the Virgin Witch was produced by Production I.G. and Directed by Goro Taniguchi of Code Geass fame. It is based of the works of Masayuki Ishikawa and aired during the 2015 winter season. It is available to stream in North America via Funimation in both English Sub and Dub.