Maria, the Virgin Witch Vol. 1 (Kodansha)

Maria

CREDIT: Kodansha

Rating: 4/5 – What Would You Sacrifice to Keep the Peace?
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

Maria has a problem. She wants to keep her small village protected from the war between the English and French armies during the Hundred Years’ War. This is no easy task, as both armies have amassed around said village, killing in the name of God, the King, and valor. Fortunately, Maria has the ability to enforce her wishes…she’s a witch, and a fairly powerful one for her young age. Unfortunately, the Kingdom of Heaven actually wants this war to continue – that whole Glory to God thing I mentioned earlier – and when Maria gets a little too good at her job, the archangel Michael steps in and hits her below the belt. Literally and figuratively. He puts a curse on Maria, forcing her to remain chaste or lose her magical powers forever. This would be a bad enough curse for anyone to endure, but Maria is coming of age and discovering feelings for someone close to her. Will she be able to act on her desires, and sacrifice the safety of her village in the process, or can she save her village by keeping her passion – and her maidenhood – inside her?

The above paragraph sums up nicely what I love about manga. I’m imagining at least three different people have read it, and each of them have come away with three different ideas about what Maria, the Virgin Witch might be about. One person might imagine a fanservice-laden sex romp with never-ending gratuitous images of poor Maria in various compromising positions. Another might picture a historical tale covering the impact of the Hundred Years’ War, and its effect on politics, religion, and the common man caught in the midst of it. And yet another person might sense it’s a dark comedy bringing a lighter tone to a very serious subject. So, which is it?

I came into this book as all three of these readers – expecting the heavy fanservice, hoping for the dark comedy, and wondering if any of the actual history was going to show up. What I got was a little of all those things, but in enough proportion to each other that the whole story became a beautiful complex beast I was sorry to see end. Yes, Maria’s outfit is one longcoat shy of fetishwear, but beyond one gratuitous nude scene there wasn’t much fanservice going on. The comedy was certainly dark and had its share of laugh-out-loud moments, but the overall tone of the book manages to remain both serious and sincere. And while the historical setting remains intact, it knows enough to get out of the way when the larger story comes into play.

That larger story? Man vs. God. Not in a creation challenging its creator, but definitely a creation questioning the motives of the being who created it. Why would a benevolent God pursue war as a positive thing? Why would God try to prevent someone – even someone who doesn’t serve him – from ending needless suffering? And of course, why would God allow such a sadistic curse to be placed on such a person, as in Maria’s case? This first book only sets up these questions, as well as Maria’s plight, but future volumes should make for a very interesting read.  Don’t deceive yourself, though. This book’s titular character is very preoccupied with sex. Mainly because she’s never had it and isn’t quite sure yet what the big deal is. What’s refreshing is the book not allowing itself to fall into page after page of sexual humor and gratuitous nudity. If anything, creator Masayuki Ishikawa seems to know exactly when to pull on the reins and let other parts of the story take center stage. The book isn’t easy to pigeonhole, and that’s really a refreshing thing to see in manga.

Maria, the Virgin Witch walks a fine line between what it doesn’t want to be and what I perceive it’s trying to become. It does an excellent job of providing just enough titillation to live up to what the title suggests, without going overboard and becoming a complete farce. It seasons itself so well that the reader is never completely aware of what aspect might be coming in the next few pages, and it’s that off-balance that makes the book a welcome entry to this year’s new manga releases. If you’re looking for something different, this might be worth seeking out.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
(al@comicspectrum.com
)
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