Maria the Virgin Witch
純潔のマリア (Junketsu no Maria)
Seinen – Fantasy, historical, comedy
3 Volumes (complete)
Kodansha Comics USA
While the Hundred Years’ War rages on, Maria the witch and her familiars try to stop the fighting. But not all the people want her help, and Heaven does not approve of Maria’s meddling. Will Maria keep using her powers to prevent battles, or will she just give up and have a carefree romp in the hay?
Despite its hentai-sounding title, Maria the Virgin Witch is quite good, but it is not for all audiences.
Maria the Virgin Witch starts off as basically a sex comedy, with Maria’s owl familiars whining about Maria’s sexual innocence while their master tries to hide her embarrassment. Even though the war is raging and Maria (or her familiars) have the power to reduce bloodshed, it is Maria’s love life (or lack thereof) that is more the focus in the first volume. The downside of this presentation is that the “ha ha, Maria knows nothing about men” jokes take away from some of the world-building. We as readers meet Joseph, but the manga doesn’t explain how long he and Maria have known each other. There’s Valkyries, but what do they do? Are witches born or raised? It’s not that the humor is poor; it is quite funny to see an incubus who is missing a key piece of equipment. But Ishikawa just doesn’t blend the humor with the manga’s philosophical look at salvation and sacrifice, and that’s a problem in a three-volume series. Fortunately, the second volume weaves the two halves much more efficiently, and the manga becomes stronger as a whole.
The actual bulk of story is more-or-less a snippet of Maria’s life. It actually feels like a mature version of a Disney movie, one that is a spin on a well-known legend or story. (It is impossible not to compare Maria to Jeanne d’Arc.) Animal sidekicks? Check. Love interest who is not as interesting? Check. Feisty yet kind protagonist? Check. Allies who join up for little reason? Check check. Like in a film, the manga has to skip a lot of character backstory and can’t dwell on any scene for too long. Early battle scenes are short, and the last volume has to cover three struggles at once. It’s a bit unfortunate the series wasn’t expanded, as a few more volumes could have allowed Ishikawa to blend the sex comedy with the philosophical arguments as well as explain all the fantasy and historical elements.
However, the overall story is so engaging and rather fresh it’s easy to overlook its weaker parts. Maria the Virgin Witch, despite being a historical manga, addresses many issues still being addressed today. While many people may feel like Maria (and the author himself) has a negative view of religion, I do feel that no matter what deity you believe in — or don’t believe in — I think it’s human nature to have questioned at least once about why there’s so much suffering in the world. Why doesn’t God (or other divine being) stop the fighting, help the weak, etc.? With the advent of video recording, I doubt anybody has not seen a clip and wondered why others watching the scene just stand by. The conflict between Maria and Michael just happens to be a historical, religious version of this debate. I am reminded of a real-life example of a lifeguard who saved a man from drowning. However, the drowning man technically was swimming outside of the lifeguard’s territory, so the lifeguard was fired for violating company policy. (His employer eventually offered him his job back, but he did not go back.) What is right and wrong is not always black and white, and it’s hard for many people to understand why, if someone — divine being or otherwise — can offer assistance but won’t.
The religious debate in this series, however, is not the only aspect that might make some readers uncomfortable. This manga is a seinen series, and all the sexual references — not to mention violence — is not appropriate for younger readers. I was shocked to find the first volume get a T rating. While I do think many 13-year-olds could handle Maria the Virgin Witch, it’s the fact this seinen manga was given the same rating as Nakayoshi titles like Kitchen Princess or, more recently, Let’s Dance a Waltz. Kodansha USA really thinks all these manga should be read by children 13+?! Come on, the first line here is about making a guy cry out like a whore, and there is even visuals showing male intercourse. What’s the most objectionable in Let’s Dance a Waltz? Calling a girl ugly. Huh? Kodansha USA changed the rating in volume two, but it’s just bizarre the company would rate it T in the first place.
But I hope many readers do give this series a chance. A lot of what makes Maria the Virgin Witch so good is the characters. When I first read this series, I couldn’t help but compare Maria to Edward from Fullmetal Alchemist. The two are both similar in both appearance (hair, height) as well as personalities (short tempers, act indifferent but do care, easily embarrassed). They both also reject the church’s teachings. I also loved Maria’s owl familiars Artemis and Priapus, Artemis especially. While Artemis may harass her master, there is something wonderful about a character who straightforwardly says, “I love her”. Artemis doesn’t preface it with insults or stutters in embarrassment; Maria is just that important to her. Both owls gladly peck at the dove insulting Maria. Again, this shows how Maria’s familiars truly care for her, and I love these scenes.
While Maria is the protagonist, it is another character who develops the most. Without spoiling too much, we get to see her change from someone who follows the rules without questioning her role to someone who makes her own decisions. Maria is also supported by a couple of humans who don’t have nearly as much presence, and then one is basically replaced with a witch who suddenly becomes BFFs with Maria. I wish Viv had appeared earlier. Of course, not everyone in the story is on Maria’s side. We get to see Heaven’s angels who view the world as something to watch, not interfere with. Other beings are motivated by money. Ishikawa also shows off some of the soldiers’ motivations — whether good or bad — but no one outside of Michael really sticks around for long. Again, this manga is more or less like an adaptation of Maria’s story, not a lifelong journey. The journey does leave open a few minor doors, but perhaps the follow-up volume of Exhibition will answer my questions.
The art is definitely not the series’ strongest point. Characters in the first volume look oddly proportioned, and I couldn’t help being reminded of Smurfs for some reason. The art quickly gets better in the second volume, but the chapters are oddly paced throughout the series. If it weren’t for the chapter titles being written in small print at the bottom of the page, I almost wouldn’t be able to tell this was a serialized work. The manga definitely leaves a lot to the imagination. In one chapter, there is a big explosion, taking Maria and her familiars off-guard. Then everyone is at home wondering what that was, Priapus apologizing for peeing on Maria’s coat while she sleeps. Did the group talk about it? Who, if anybody, was injured? Did they figure it out?
No honorifics are used. This makes sense because the manga is set in historical France. I wish Kodansha USA had kept the series’ French subtitle on the covers. The first volume includes no translation notes. It’s not really translation notes the volume needed as much as editor’s notes. Most of the French terms are easily deduced by context clues, but some of the setting (specifically why England and France were at war, who was leading, etc.) could have used some additional information. Fortunately, notes are added in the second and third volumes. There were a few times I wish other words were chosen. I know it would be almost impossible to write this manga in 15th century speak and have it be legible to most readers, but somehow words like “plucky” just seems completely out of place in historical France. (I did look up the entomology, and it originated in the 1800s.) The original didn’t use a lot of French words, but I’m sure other translators or adaptors would have put more French in, like “maman” or “ma mère” for “mom”. Yet put in too much French and English speakers might be confused. It’s just difficult when the story is in one language (Japanese) but characters are actually speaking another language (French), and yet the readers are reading a third language (English).
At only three volumes, Maria the Virgin Witch includes a very good story, but not all readers will enjoy the sex jokes or the series’ religious influences.
The series has a one-volume sequel entitled Maria the Virgin Witch: Exhibition, also available from Kodansha Comics USA. I’m hoping my few questions about the ending will be answered.
Kodansha USA also used different covers than the Japanese release. I like the images they chose, but I wish we could have seen more of Maria on the third volume. In addition, the image gallery is missing. At least we got the colored pages in volume one.
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