During the 2015 Winter Anime Season, An interesting title by the name of Maria the Virgin Witch premiered. There’s a lot to be said about a name like that, but the word and buzz about it was pretty good from what I heard. I didn’t watch the show, but I may not need to. The manga it was based off of has arrived here in America, so let’s take a look.
Maria the Virgin Witch Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and drawn by: Masayuki Ishikawa
Translation by: Stephen Paul
Set in the Middle Ages in France during the Hundred Years’ War as the French and English fight one another, someone is working to undermine both sides and put an end to this conflict: Maria, a powerful witch who uses a series of illusions, magic, and her familiars (one succubus and one incubus) to find nonviolent ways to end the bloodshed. Her interference gets attention from people far and wide. Some see her as a hero for ending potentially devastating fights and to others, they see her as a heretic (mostly the Church of the time). However, her meddling in human affairs seems to have gotten the attention from a much higher power than her own and it may not be a good thing for this young lady.
The first volume of this series is an interesting one, I must say. It’s got a story with plenty of potential and a really good female lead that I like so far. However, it suffers from problems that hurt and cut into its true potential (at least in its manga form, since I can’t compare it to the anime) in various ways disappointingly. Let’s start from the top here and go over this book.
Sorry, you are too adorable to be feared.
The story is good, but flawed. It’s good in the sense that story itself is intriguing and has a pretty neat setting. The Hundred Years’ War is something I haven’t seen explored much in fiction, and it plays heavily into the story in multiple ways. The manga looks at the culture and society of the times, what people were like then, and the war itself is the major motivator that moves Maria into action. It can be interesting seeing how Maria and her familiars try and solve the conflicts going on in the war in their own various ways. It leads to some pretty good and funny moments.
Unfortauntely, you can put most everything else in the “flawed” column. The manga feels like it has difficulty telling its own story or even knowing what to do with itself. Given the title, you can expect a lot of sexual, adult jokes going on here that give this book more an adult comedy feel. However, given the subject matter and more serious moments in the book (this is war after all), the book seems to be more of a partially serious historical fantasy with the corruption of the Church and the politics at play with the more supernatural characters. It doesn’t always balance these two different sides well and it can be a bit hard to know how to feel towards the series.
It also doesn’t help that the storytelling is pretty bad at points—it just immediately drops you into the middle of the conflict and Maria’s attempts at trying to stop the needless bloodshed. There’s no buildup or real explanation to why she does it until later; it’s just how it is. There’s really no explanation for how the magic works, what these rules about the Natural Order are, how all of these mythologies and religions co-exist (I mean, we got Valkyries and Heaven at the same time here), and more. It does feel like the manga jumps around a lot to the point where we’re missing some important exposition or pages somewhere. Hopefully this improves in future volumes because while the story is interesting, it feels like it is lacking in areas.
Our title character, Maria, is probably the most developed of the cast, though she doesn’t have much of a backstory so far. She has a pretty strong and noble goal (wanting to end this war), as hopeless as it may look and no matter what others think of her. She’s stubborn and a bit arrogant in some ways, but she does want to help make things better (even as it is pointed out that she can’t do everything) and help protect the innocent. She’s imperfect and childish in some ways, but still strong and wise some others. I would say Maria is probably one of the more interesting female characters I’ve seen in a fantasy in a while.
The other important characters are Artemis, Priapus, and Archangel Michael (there’s some more besides them, but they don’t have much purpose until the final chapter). Artemis and Priapus are owls who act as Maria’s familiars (Artemis is a succubus and Priapus is an incubus). Artemis teases Maria a lot for being very inexperienced with adult matters and for being a virgin (such witty humor), but is also very loyal to her and is willing to stand by her side even in tough situations. Priapus is similar to Maria in the sense that he is just as inexperienced as she is with adult matters, but still is determined to become a great incubus despite awful luck and a lack of a penis (extremely ironic, considering his name). Of the two, he’s probably the most likeable and interesting, since he feels like he is still developing and growing as a character. As for Michael, he doesn’t really appear until the halfway point of the book. He’s very loyal to God and following the Natural Order of things, very confident and undeterred by most things in his way. He comes across as cold and harsh, but does seem to understand what Maria is doing and that what she is doing isn’t really enough. It’ll be interesting see more from him in the future.
The writing is probably the weakest part of the book. Like I implied, the story structure is pretty weak here in points. Poor transitions between scenes, awkward endings to chapters, abrupt cuts in dialogue all make for a frustrating experience at points. The pacing is a tad uneven as well, sometimes speeding through scenes and sometimes letting others play out. The sense of humor the manga has it good moments to it (like Priapus, who is trying to scare some armies while looking like a dragon, making a hooting sound instead of a roar), but again has its problems due how it doesn’t always mix well with the situation and backdrop of the manga. Also, the virginity jokes and some of the sexual humor that had bit of rapey implication to it were either awkward or just unpleasant. The dialogue isn’t bad though, with some pretty good lines and exchanges between characters. Plus, once the story actually gets going when it gets to the middle it really does start picking up I found. Again, these are areas that I really hope get worked out as time goes on because I see some good potential here.
The artwork, on the other hand, is a bright spot of this comic. While some of the faces look similar (though in some cases that is perfectly fine due to story reasons), the characters are pretty well designed and drawn. They show a nice range of emotions, a decent variety of body types, and some good body language. The layouts are decent, if a bit forgettable at points. The action, imagery, and creativity are nice (I like the designs of the illusions Maria uses here, like with the golem for instance). The level of detail is pretty good as well, providing some really nice shots of the battlefields and war happening. It’s a fine looking book; its style reminds me of Vinland Saga at points, and I look forward to the artwork in future volumes.
The last thing to note is actual physical book itself. It could be just my copy, but there are two problems/oddities I found. The back of the book, like so many series, has a nice summary and premise of what to expect from this series. The problem is though that summary pretty much spoils everything in this first volume so you end up with a book that has no real surprises. The other thing I noticed is the rating on the back that lists that this is T for Ages 13+. I don’t know exactly if this a printing error or something, but having read this book… there is no way this is for people as young as thirteen. All of the sex jokes and innuendo, partial nudity and sex acts (nothing too graphic mind you), and heavy swearing really make me question the rating. I mean, this isn’t really all that heavy on the violence or anything, but Kodansha should probably take another look at the rating.
Maria the Virgin Witch Vol. 1 is a good, but flawed start to this series. While it has an interesting story and lead, plus some nice looking artwork, the storytelling and writing feel weak. There is plenty of work to be done here and I hope it’s done by the next volume. I see plenty of potential and can give this a recommendation for fans of the anime or of manga i general as long as they are aware of these problems.
Maria the Virgin Witch is available from Kodansha Comics. The series has wrapped up in Japan with only three volumes, plus a single volume spin-off called Exhibition. The anime adaption had just finished wrapping up this past March and is currently being dubbed by Funimation.