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Look Up in Anger – The Righteous Indignation of Maria the Virgin Witch

Burning

Maria the Virgin Witch is an angry show. At first it may have looked like just an affable sex comedy about a prudish teenage witch and the horny succubus who wants to get her laid, but the longer it goes on the more its seething anger boils over. Mostly gone are the jokes about awkward teenage horniness and cherry popping, replaced with pointed condemnations of the ugly, tangled mass of religion, blind doctrine, and power dynamics that make up the medieval Church, as well as the ways the people who wield its power use their weight to push people around. It’s a far cry from when the highest stakes conflict was whether or not Maria’s incubus familiar would ever get a schlong of his own.

Thankfully, Maria the Virgin Witch is also an intelligent show. It would be easy for it’s brand of anti-authority, “leave me alone” anger to come off as flailing and immature, especially when directed at a target as big and as tempting as the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages. But Maria‘s anger isn’t the yelling kind that comes from hatred and bile; it’s the kind that comes from bitter disappointment. The show’s villains – the zealot Inquisitors, feudal politicians, and violent thugs who profit from war, promote ignorance, and vilify Maria – aren’t cartoonishly evil mustache twirlers who were born bad and laugh while the world burns. Their evil is the most mundane kind: they’re jealous, small-minded, self-centered, and desperate to maintain their lot in life, naturally afraid of anything that challenges their worldview or takes power out of their hands. It’s the kind of evil that people commit reflexively, without thinking, while still being absolutely sure that they’re in the right. That kind of evil seems small, but it’s the most pervasive kind of all, and often it’s the most destructive and the hardest to combat.

Michael

Which isn’t to say that Maria herself is perfect, or that she doesn’t have many of the same flaws. Maria is pig-headed, naive, quick to anger, and at the start of the show was just as self-centeredly convinced of her own righteousness as Bernard, Galfa, and the other agents of the Church, State, and the Heavens who oppose her. Despite her blessed name and her virginal status, Maria is far from pure. But that doesn’t stop her from trying to improve the lives of the people around her and make the world a better place, whereas her opponents use their energy and influence to wage war and control thought.

Why the difference between them? What separates the flawed, humanized hero from the flawed, humanized villains in the world of Maria the Virgin Witch? A shallow reading would say that the difference is purely a choice of religion – the pagan Maria vs. dumb, violent, witch-burning Christians – but there’s much more to it than that. What director Goro Taniguchi and writer Hideyuki Kurata (who was also the scriptwriter for the thematically similar, but much more hyperbolic Now and Then, Here and There with director Akitaro Daichi) have repeatedly emphasized as the problem is not the spiritual validity of the Christian faith, but the way the people and institutions that claim their power through it use that power. Maria the Virgin Witch isn’t interested in debating whether or not Jesus died on the cross to redeem the world’s sins, or if the old-world pagan spirits are the true religion; it wants to know why the beings vested in the Christian God’s authority can’t seem to live up to their own precepts. If faith in Jesus is the light that shows the truth, why are his followers so set in their obvious ignorance? If God is love, then why does his Church promote intolerance and revel in judgement? If He weeps for people’s suffering, why doesn’t He do something to stop it?

Church of the Earth

Maria the Virgin Witch may not have a good answer for, “Why does God let people suffer?” (who does?), but it definitely has an answer for why His servants have such a big hateboner for Maria herself: they cannot control her. What the Church represents most of all in Maria the Virgin Witch is those who gain power, status, and self-worth through the position of being able to control others (even the soldier Galfa, who is of much lower social status than the rest of the villains, derives his self-worth from being a tool of the system: he lives for the violence, plunder, and glory that being his rulers’ strongman brings him). And to the people in charge of maintaining the current order, someone who refuses to listen to them or to recognize their authority is the ultimate threat to their existence. As functionaries of a misguided and oppressive power structure, Maria’s enemies don’t just hate her; they can’t even comprehend her.

It’s the blinding, morally stultifying effect of being a part of a corrupt authority that Maria is most angry about. The men who abuse and condemn Maria aren’t evil by nature. They do evil things because they can’t see outside their own sheltered prism, because they insist that everyone else see things the same way, and because they use the power they have to force their will on anyone who doesn’t. Maria the Virgin Witch wants you to be angry at these people, not because they are inferior, but because they should know better.

Maria Be Myself