Initially, I was not too keen on watching Maria the Virgin Witch (aka Junketsu no Maria); but many posts on the show inflamed my desire to do so, and Kaze’s comments in the 8th podcast of Beneath the Tangles proved to be the final impetus. In any event, I gobbled up these twelve episodes in three days. The show obviously derives from a liberal mindset, but it’s not as unfair to the Church as many other liberal takes on the Middle Ages. The reason for this lies in the author having a decided interest in the Middle Ages and Church history; though, one wishes that he had added a double dose of Catholic theology to his studies. But, in this post–presented in the Quick Takes format, I wish to write about how well the show represented the Middle Ages. I’ll talk about its philosophy another time.
-I: Weapons, Armor, and Battles-
The armor, weapons, and battlefield tactics employed at this period in history are all very well researched by the author. Not a single piece of armor or weapon is anachronistic or incorrect. There are problems with the sword and buckler fights and with how well two-handed weapons are sometimes wielded in just one hand. Also, there is an obvious absence of chainmail, but that can be explained by the difficulty of animating a coat of rings.
I like how the anime features primitive examples of the firearms which were first coming into use. The depiction of Britain’s standard defensive tactic relying upon longbow archers protected by men-at-arms was perfect. I also can’t remember the last time in an anime medieval soldiers wore gambesons, the padded coat which most soldiers could afford as armor.
-II: Judicial Duels-
Conversely, the anime’s presentation of the judicial duel suffers from a major flaw. Galfa’s introduction of a secret piece of armor would likely have been grounds for his disqualification and loss of the case. Judicial duels were highly regulated affairs, and there is no way that he would have been allowed to win through such a ruse–unless the judges were corrupt–as might have been the case. It is certain that Galfa was actually innocent of rape, but he did not rely solely upon God to defend his innocence of that charge.
-III: Points about Sword and Buckler Combat-
From a tactical point of view, Galfa’s decision to start the judicial duel with a buckler should have been the end of him. Unassisted by a sword, it can actually be rather difficult to parry with a buckler. Just consider the fact that it’s very easy for the blade to glance off the buckler–as we see happen in the fight. These deflections could easily have turned into an attack on another part of Galfa’s person. Also, the legs are rather difficult to protect with a buckler. The knight should have created openings low by attacking or feinting high before striking at the leg. Another problem with the buckler alone is that it does not defend as well against thrusts as a blade does (part of the reason people began to prefer having a dagger instead of a buckler in one hand upon the advent of the rapier), so Galfa was particularly vulnerable to the point of his enemy’s sword.
Speaking of thrusts, choosing to finish Galfa off with a cut was a terrible mistake on the knight’s part. Just like in samurai films, you finish off a downed opponent with a thrust unless he’s in the midst of trying to get off the ground. Two reasons to prefer the thrust come to mind: 1) it’s awkward to cut something near to the ground with a sword (take it from someone who’s cut the heads off of weeds with his blades); and 2) one might easily cut too far into the dirt in order to make sure one slices with the point of percussion or too shallowly to prevent cutting into the dirt. Much easier to run the enemy through–and thrusts are often more fatal than cuts simply because it’s easier to thrust than cut. Hence, HEMA practitioners always practice the cut more than the thrust.
As a final point about Galfa’s judicial duel, a war hat is a terrible choice in a melee combat. Think about the war hat’s design: its primary purpose is to defend against projectiles. If one’s marching into combat against ranks of longbow men and one doesn’t have much armor besides, it’s great. But, how well do you think that it would defend against sword blows? It’s lack of sharp angles for a blade to glance off of means that the whole force of a blow delivered to the helm would transfer to one’s head! Ouch!
-IV: Mordschlag or Murder-stroke-
I have not seen anyone talk about the curious fact of Galfa using the mordschlag/ mordhau/ murder-stroke in order to defeat his opponent. All my dear readers know that you can grip a sharp sword, but does the general anime watching public? I don’t remember seeing any articles which commented on this odd move. Anyway, the strike is historically accurate. What’s not accurate is the benign level of damage it dealt the knight. Turning one’s sword around gives it about as much percussive force as a mace, and it can crush armor almost as easily. One or two strokes might easily crack the opponent’s head open–ensconced in a helm or not. There’s a reason why HEMA competitions forbid the murder-stroke!
-V: Occasionally Too Japanese-
Certain characters’ attitudes toward homosexuality and suicide were far too much like the samurai. Homosexuality indeed popped up more frequently toward the end of the Middle Ages, but it was still condemned as unnatural. It was not considered more manly or better than heterosexuality. No monk would praise homosexuality as such, but a samurai certainly would. Don’t believe me? Read Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunemoto.
Also, the show never convinced me that the knight was so horribly wicked and perverse as to be the sort of villain to commit suicide. Remember that I’m not speaking about a modern man, but a medieval man. Unlike now, suicide was viewed as a one-way ticket to hell, so cases of suicide were incredibly rare in Medieval Christendom. A suicide would even be denied a Christian funeral and burial in a Church yard. That’s how strongly they felt about the sin!
On the other hand, Catholicism offers another way to leave the world: entering the cloister. The knight could simply separate from his adulterous wife, whom he could also have enclosed as part of her punishment, and live among the hermits in the Chartreuse Mountains happily eschewing the censure of the world. That is what a medieval knight too ashamed to live in the world would do!
Cider was the most popular alcoholic beverage in Northern France, particularly in Normandy. Kudos to the creator of this show for not just assuming that all French favored wine. My opinion of Maria sank when she declared that she hated cider–it’s good stuff! Though, I will admit one needs to acquire a taste for it.
-VII: Who is a Heretic?-
Let’s get this clear: a heretic is member of the Church who knowingly cleaves to an unorthodox opinion in defiance of Church authority. Someone who has never been a member of the Catholic Church cannot be tried by the Church as a heretic. As it has never even been proved that Maria was baptized, the trial of Maria for heresy is utterly illegal. It would be like trying Saladin or Buddha for heresy!
On the other hand, they could try her for being a witch, but they would have to prove her a witch in the sense that is condemned. The Church of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church afterwards, and Protestants tried and killed witches because they were thought to have made a deal or sold their souls to the devil in exchange for magical powers. It is obvious from Martha’s flashbacks that Maria is one of the Longaevi, so her powers have no diabolical author. Who would execute a fairy for having magic powers?
That completes my discussion of some points in Maria the Virgin Witch. Hopefully, you found some of the above points interesting and will find the following articles as enjoyable to read.