Thoughts – About Maria the Virgin Witch
[Spoilers ahead for Maria the Virgin Witch]
Disclaimer, disclaimer – this is not a review of Maria TVW. As such, it is not an indication of what I genuinely feel about the show as a pure work of fiction, nor are my opinions meant to serve as a recommendation as to whether or not you should watch this show. Instead, I’m simply offering my views as someone who feels adequately knowledgeable about the subject matter which Maria broaches, and my opinion is simply that Maria TVW, as a work of fiction, is very much a work of fiction, and should not be regarded as an authoritative reflection of its settings and cultural background. In the course of writing this, I’ll probably be accused of not popping my chill pills or getting too easily offended because IT’S JUST A STORY (and shouldn’t be taken too seriously), to which I say – shake my hand, I completely agree that it’s “just a story” too.
Before getting into the topic proper, let’s talk about the plot of the show itself. Maria TVW takes place during the Hundred Years War between England and France, and chronicles the conflict between the efforts of the Catholic church (as it is portrayed in the story) to maintain its power over the populace, and the witch Maria, who has decided that the best way to achieve her ideals of peace and non-violence is through witchcraft, rather than submission to a deity. The angel Michael (as he is portrayed in the story) decides that Maria is interfering excessively with the natural laws of the world using her powers, and decrees that Maria will only be able to keep her powers for as long as she remains celibate (as you might guess from the title of the show). But Maria is a strong, feisty young woman who is far too rebellious to buckle under authority, and so she sets out to do what she’s always been doing all along…interfering with battles, running mundane magical errands through her fluffy owl servants, giving medicine to the sick, and getting courted by the local mercenary’s messenger boy Joseph.
By way of illustration, have a look at some possible reactions one might have after watching anime.
“Job Trunicht you evil, slimy…”
“See, this is why I don’t believe in democracy. It always gives rise to corruption. The only way to rule a country is to instate a benevolent dictator, like his highness Reinhard von Lohengramm.”
“See, this is why we need to get rid of student councils in schools. We’re inviting nothing but elitism through having a specialised body of student leaders.”
“See, this is why you shouldn’t go to law school [note: too late for yours truly]. It instils in you a perverted sense of justice.”
“See, this is why you shouldn’t watch anime. It’s filled with nothing but dirty stuff that panders to dirty people.”
(Thanks a lot, Fine Bros.)
Clever fiction often parodies real historical events, cultures and people; clever viewers know when to critique the accuracy and merit of those parodies, and to discern what’s real and what’s not. I say this because Maria TVW is about as accurate a portrayal of the Catholic church as a whole, in the same way that Me!Me!Me! is as accurate a representation of anime content as a whole. Sure, no church is perfect, but having seen one too many “see, this is why I cannot accept organised religion and its hypocrisy” – type comments in the wake of Maria TVW, I thought it best to remind everyone who considers themselves rational, intellectual beings…please be careful before deciding that an anime like Maria, as a standalone work, is capable of teaching any conclusive truths about religion and hypocrisy.
Truthfully, my biggest issue with the show’s depiction of events lies in the fact that it sets up a conflict that is both biased and artificial. On one hand, you have the pious, serious clergymen who are secret closet creeps and expert emotional manipulators; on the other, a coven of sassy and powerful witches whose creatively revealing outfits win full points in a medium like anime. The titular witch is being persecuted for trying to bring peace to the world, with her main flaw being that she’s not submitting to the church. To a target audience of young people who are brimming with convictions about change and activism, defying unreasonable and oppressive authority is like a badge of honour. Right from the get go, it is incredibly easy to align oneself with Camp Maria – Camp Maria is both visually and ideologically appealing.
Now, to be fair, if you consider what happened to people like Joan of Arc, I’ll admit that I personally think the church does have a shameful history; full of baseless trials without due procedure, an abundance of sadism in the guise of self-prescribed righteousness, and so on. The thing is, none of those valid criticisms are what Maria TVW is actually addressing, though they are slipped in so as to buffer the strength of its “main” message. Maria TVW seems to portray the idea that so long as one’s goals are noble, the means taken to pursue them are secondary. So it doesn’t matter what kind of power and magic you use, so long as you intend it for everyone’s good, right? If you ask me, this sounds all too reminiscent of Death Note, albeit with a twist – unlike the Death Note’s two faces, the true perceived evils of practicing witchcraft are never addressed. Witchcraft in Maria’s world is like that in Harry Potter’s universe; powerful, exciting and effective. Never mind that in real history (and even today), performing witchcraft was commonly associated with despicable practices such as sacrificing children, a possible reason as to why scripture speaks against it. The end result is that you have a show which gives a deeply flawed portrayal of what is seen as good/bad about witchcraft, as well as giving an equally flawed portrayal of what is seen as good/bad about Christianity.
Ultimately, I’m assuming that the writer built his story upon a very creative reimagining of the conflict between the church and the occult. Well, then again, creative reimagining is a pretty staple hallmark of most anime shows anyway; why else are warships depicted as schoolgirls and why else are ninjas allowed to wear bright orange jumpsuits that scream “shoot me in broad daylight”? So labelling Maria as a “witch” and the monks as part of the “church” would have been far less misleading than calling Maria a magical girl or Brother Bernard a product of 511 Kinderheim.
(On a side note, though, what is it with anime and its love for corrupt priests? I know characters like Kotomine Kirei are meant to play out the contrast between an evil heart and a righteous appearance, but with the frequency at which these sedentary goody-two-shoed clergymen characters are being churned out, the trend is getting tiresomely lame and cliché. Nowadays, you don’t look for the dude in the glasses to figure out who the real villain is, instead you look for his crucifix necklace. Before this gets too predictable, someone, please…anyone, make it stop!)
Ahem, so. In short, this little ramble remains uncommitted to any view as to the strengths and weaknesses of Maria TVW the show, and is merely a recommendation that viewers who go into Maria TVW think twice before using the show as a reason to conclude that “religious leaders must be hypocrites because they often blind themselves to the suffering that their actions cause other people”, or worse, that “religion teaches that we shouldn’t lift a finger to help others”. As much as I used Maria TVW as a case study to make this point about being critical, I think it’s fair to say that I’m also reminded to be conscious about how seriously I take shows that address subject matters I’m not so familiar with. At the end of the day, nobody wants to allow themselves to be unintentionally fooled by fiction, right?