There’s a lot more to this one than just cute owls and sex jokes.
In stark contrast to the girls that roll, Maria the Virgin Witch (henceforth just known as Maria) is proving itself to have a solid storyteller at the wheel, and it’s made this series the happiest surprise of the winter season. We’re only three episodes into the series, but already I feel like I have a good grasp on the central characters and their relationships with one another, as well as an understanding of the general mythology and political dynamics of this fantastical reimagining of medieval Europe. It’s not simple by any means, but its presented in a clear fashion and with a steady, methodical hand, which gives the story weight and depth even this early in the proceedings.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t perfect. I had some real concerns in the middle of the second episode—there’s mild homophobia (I’m not even sure if it’s phobia as it is just tasteless representation—homoinsensitivity, maybe?), and some rapey undertones in a lot of the scenes with the succubus/incubus (and while I know that’s kind of the bread-and-butter of the mythology, the way it’s played comically didn’t sit well with me). But the third episode dropped most of that in favor of focusing on heavenly and earthly politics, which is where this series is really beginning to shine.
If I had to name Maria’s greatest strength (so far, anyway) in a single word, then I think it would be “nuance.” Maria is a sympathetic but by no means perfect protagonist, and with the possible exception of her two human friends, Anna and Joseph—two genuinely nice people struggling to reconcile what they’ve been told with what they’ve experienced—there are really no “black” or “white” figures here, at least not yet.
The angelic forces are cold but not outright cruel, and there are some genuine arguments to be made regarding the merits of their “no supernatural interference” stance. Honestly, one of my favorite elements of the series so far is how much it’s forced me to consider the validity of everyone’s arguments, particularly in terms of the power/self-denial question at the heart of Maria’s own struggle, and I’ve come to realize that I simultaneously understand where everyone is coming from without wholly agreeing with any of them. And that’s the mark of a strongly written series, right there.
The church, too, is proving to be a complicated body full of complicated figures. And this is really important, not just for the story itself, but for my interest in the story. (I’m a practicing Catholic, by the way, albeit one with heavy Buddhist/Taoist leanings and a huge swath of heretical beliefs. Haven’t been excommunicated yet, though, so, huzzah!)
It’s easy (and I think tempting) in this day and age to paint the church of the middle ages as an across-the-board evil force, but this really wasn’t the case—there was rampant corruption and plenty of selfish, greedy people who took advantage of their positions of power, absolutely, but there were plenty of genuinely good people in the church who sought to make people’s lives better, too, and they were one of the very few sources of education and medical aid in a lot of places. One of the reasons The Canterbury Tales is such a fantastic satire of the medieval church is because it acknowledges both the good and bad of the organization, critiquing while also pointing out what’s working. And so far, Maria seems to understand these complications as well.
Simply put, this is a series with a lot of competing forces, and just about all of them are colored in various shades of gray, which makes it a genuinely compelling series with a lot of potential for future plot and character growth. And while, much like Yurikuma Arashi, it’s balancing on a tightrope and could slip and fall to its death at any moment, so far it’s managing its high-wire act with surprising grace. So much for being a “bubble” series—Maria is solidly on my watch list.