I always feel like I’m stepping into gangster territory whenever I bring up my opinions on fictional products about soldiers and anti-war themes. Yeah I know that not even the fans like everything about Full Metal Jacket, but that doesn’t change the feeling that if I ever admitted that it was the film that cemented my hatred for the genre in public, I’ll have more holes put into me than Sergeant Hartman did after he realized that being an asshole can backfire on you massively. Not to mention, what can one possibly say about the products from that genre even if you are a fan? It has tanks? It has blood? War is rough? This actor captures the grittiness so well? I mean I like my share of martial arts movies, but trying to say something new amongst every single Jackie Chan film just isn’t worth it.
Anyways, the point is that I can enjoy anti-war stuff if they do something differently other than saying how awful it is – which is a theme I’m very against because not only is that message filled with so much “duh” you can run around with a giant bag of it and be mistaken for a bank robber, it’s completely pointless to say something like that. War ain’t going to change just because of a movie, let alone an anime, you know. And it also doesn’t help that I find soldiers to be some of the most annoying characters in existence what with their irritating jargon and hardcore behavior that comes off like a little kid thinking that cursing makes you more mature. So I wasn’t exactly hyped when I found out the director of Planetes combined with the writer of Moyashimon was bringing out a story set in the Hundred Years’ War and that the main character is basically a lewd version of Nausicaa. But hey, maybe just like Nausicaa, this anime will do enough with the formula that it’ll actually click with me?
Well after finishing the anime, you’ll be pleased to know that Maria the Virgin Witch does some things differently with the anti-war formula. It just doesn’t do enough things differently with the formula, and a bunch of the differences aren’t even for the better – mostly due to the fact that its lead character is pretty much a female version of Vash the Stampede from Trigun. Because, y’know, the original Vash wasn’t stupid enough.
The story is centered on a witch named Maria (of course) who lives in small hut on the outskirts of the Hundred Years’ War – which I’m not really familiar with beyond the fact that it lasted 106 years, so I’m not going to go into the specifics of it and I don’t think it really affects the anime too much anyways. As expected from a female Vash – if Vash used witchcraft rather than guns – she hates violence and whenever battles happen around her area, she jumps on her broom, flies off to the carnage, and sics giant monsters on the armies in order to scare them away without actually killing them. During her exploits, she falls in love with a soldier named Joseph, befriends a small group of villagers who think she’s cool because of what she’s doing, and incites the wrath of a church who wants to see her hanged for her transgressions. Oh, and she also calls upon the judgment of the heavens in the form of Lord Michael and an Ezekiel who obviously has no relation to the original prophet because this anime portrays said figure as a whiny little girl who conforms towards Maria’s way of thinking really easily. It’s like discovering that the scary Oyashiro-sama is actually an annoying moeblob who goes hauu~ all the time.
Whilst it is obviously not stating that war is a good thing, a good chunk of what Maria the Virgin Witch is about are the compromises between the different factions and what they stand to gain or lose from the conflict – and there you have my reason for paying attention to the show. Because it wants to be a modern-day Nausicaa/Princess Mononoke, and I’ll gladly support an anime that flies that same flag as some of my favorite anime films if it can pull it off well. Which would have helped if Maria, y’know, actually had the ability to pull it off well and not sabotage that message by making “Maria-Sue” out to be more of a Jesus-Dalai Lama-Christ than Nausicaa can only dream of being. And it doesn’t exactly help that she turns into a lame blushing school girl whenever someone so much as mentions the idea of sex to her. There’s being naive and then there’s being someone I can’t take seriously.
I obviously have no problems with pacifism and wanting to avoid war altogether, but I really can’t stand it when it’s portrayed so one-sidedly by fiction in general, let alone these types of stories. And it doesn’t exactly help that whilst she’s not as obnoxious as Vash in terms of personality, Maria lacks the compelling reasons and supporting cast that at least tried to make his adherence to that pacifistic philosophy tragic, even if it ended up failing kinda horribly because his way of thinking ultimately won out in the end. There are only three important characters who oppose her, and they’re portrayed as the villains, so it’s hard to really say they lend much weight to the discussion. Everyone else supports her thoroughly, and even Ezekiel ends up conforming to the Church of Maria after a single episode of getting to know her. The show just gets ridiculously one-sided with what should be a multi-faceted issue that it felt less like I was watching a narrative and more like I was watching author propaganda disguised as shitty fanfiction.
To be fair, the show does try to make Maria face up to her own philosophies. I say “try”, not “do”, because it doesn’t succeed very well. Around the halfway point, without getting to spoiler-y, Maria pulls off a lighter-version of the turning point in Spec Ops: The Line by pulling out the big guns during a major battle in order to save her love, and not only do the heavens punish her for it, but her actions end up making the war worse and causing a bunch of dicks to go after her in the process. But whilst I’m not asking Maria to go the same path as Spec Ops: The Line given how even the most adult of anime wouldn’t dare follow that route since there still has to be enough that’s “fun” to watch, the show doesn’t punish her enough for my taste. She goes through a lot of physical punishment sure, but there’s not much in the way of inner turmoil – even if you compare it to something more kid-friendly like Kiki’s Delivery Service – and it doesn’t help that a lot of her friends still think that what she did was right after all that. Not to mention, the show pulls a Little Mermaid (the Disney film) at the end, which I found insulting in that movie and I find kinda more insulting in this show due to the heavy subject matter of the material along with it f*cking up worse than Trigun did with its final episode.
I’m not going to spoil the details of what actually happened, but after being subjected to its teeth-grinding awfulness, I hunted around for people who liked said ending in the hopes of finding a good justification for why the show went that route, and none of them were able to give me a satisfying answer. The biggest thing people seem to agree on is the fact that Maria’s viewpoint won out in the end with the only thing that changed about her being how she went about it, which might have worked if said change was major and there were some interesting characters to counterbalance her views. Unfortunately, she just traded in one form of happiness for a “different but equal” form of happiness, the people who opposed her lose out in the end, and the reasoning was more stupid than a mime trying to fit in with the Crips. But who cares about ambiguity? Who cares if she ends up solving the final conflict with the same logic that got her in trouble in the first place? Who cares if that ending is the equivalent of celebrating the lowering of your high blood sugar by eating a whole strawberry cheesecake? She’s cute, and that’s good enough for us.
Maria the Virgin Witch is good on an aesthetic level considering it’s Goro Taniguchi working with Production IG, and a lot of effort has been putting into capturing the feel of the time period this show takes place in along with portraying the religious aspects accurately if you ignore the fact that they’ve been “anime-upped” a little (although a certain religious colleague of mine would say otherwise). But even that doesn’t pay off as well as it should. The battles are mostly boring to look at, the animation takes a huge dip during the penultimate episode, and the final climax is just a bunch of talking heads. All in all, Maria not only does not come close to the level of Nausicaa, but it goes so far in the opposite direction that it caused me to get annoyed with it at the end. It’s not unpleasant on the surface, and I guess if you don’t think too hard about the show it’s not a bad watch. Just don’t expect me to be on your side, because as much as I like the dude, I am physically incapable of enjoying the kind of stories that would make Winnie the Pooh happy.
PS: I know Maria’s philosophy didn’t actually “end” the Hundred Years’ War, but said setting never felt all that important as a plot point and the fact that it just ended without much fuss didn’t sit well for me, real-life or not.
PPS: Also aware that Pooh would not like the blood, sex, and stuff shown in this show if he could be bothered to understand it.