Quick Takes from Maria the Virgin Witch

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.

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-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.

Manga's probably the only format you'll see a byrnie in.

Manga’s probably the only format you’ll see a byrnie in. From Vinland Saga.

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.

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-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.

What kind of parry is that?  With a longsword, it might be acceptable.  Sword and buckler, no!

What kind of parry is that? With a longsword, it might be acceptable. Sword and buckler, no!

-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.

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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!

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-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!

Seppuku

-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.

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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!

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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!

By the way, that's absolutely impossible right there.

By the way, that’s absolutely impossible right there.

-VI: Cider-

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.

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-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?

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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.

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15 comments on “Quick Takes from Maria the Virgin Witch

  1. David A says:

    Having more research in some points can make the show worse in its influence/etc.

    The witch trials were more common of Protestant inquisitions, no?

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    • In terms of producing mass hysteria and many innocent victims, the Protestant witch hunts were much worse than Catholic trials of witches. In any case, one doesn’t hear about mass trials of witches until after the reformation, which means that more discrimination was used before that time. We actually have many confessions of witches from the medieval period of the sorts of things I alluded to.

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  2. rebiawatkins says:

    Very interesting article! I always love reading your posts as you are so knowledgeable on many spiritual and historical matters. I’m wondering if the medieval view on suicide has influenced modern Christian conscience. As a protestant the sentiment that suicide = eternal damnation has been alluded to/said if not directly taught as a doctrine throughout my life. I always believed that until I matured and learned more about the faith and the fact that no one sin leads straight to hell. Now I see it as a gray area. It seems to me that the eastern attitude towards suicide is different from that of westerners in general. If that assumption is true, I wonder how much of a role Christianity plays. Look forward to reading more from you!

    P.s. This is my first time commenting. I’ve been lurking on your blog for the past several weeks. Nice to meet you!

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    • I’m glad that you’re enjoying my blog! Nice to meet you also.

      In a certain sense, no single sin damns hell, because the sorts of sins which count as a rejection of God are difficult for a person to commit without having their heart hardened by other sins. But, if one looks at sinful acts, some are certainly of the sort which warrant damnation in themselves. The Church traditionally calls these mortal sins.

      For a sin to be mortal, it must be a grave matter, the sinner must know it to be a grave matter, and then perform the act with full consent of the will. Sometimes the force of temptation impairs either the knowledge or freedom of the sinner, which can make what would be a generally mortal sin venial. Suicide may be considered a perfect example of this, and the modern Church has recognized that a terrible physical or mental illness or the threat of grave harm can diminish the culpability of the suicide. Also, the mercy of God is so great that it is possible for the suicide to repent of his deed in the midst of killing himself and thus be saved. There is a famous story along these lines featuring St. John Vianney telling the wife of a suicide that her husband was saved because he repented during his jump from the bridge.

      But, yes, the understanding of suicide is different in Eastern cultures–even the pagan West had a different understanding of suicide until the advent of Christianity. The word suicide derives from Latin, but this word actually originates in the Latin of the Empire period–not before. Like the Japanese, Romans thought of suicide as a way to preserve one’s honor in certain circumstances or even a valid form of capital punishment. This makes it seem less sinful to Easterners and pagans in general! I myself did not think that it was a sin for a person to execute himself on the orders of the state until I read a Catholic article on it.

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    • David A says:

      Non confessed/unrepented mortal sin is enough to condemn someone, so a single sin could lead to hell.

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  3. TheOgreof1945 says:

    Very interesting comments. I’ve saved this post for later reference. That said, there appear to be a small number of statements which strike me as assuming that standard patterns of behavior and formal rules had absolutely no exceptions even in the medieval era. Which the full range of human experience suggests is actually far, far from the case in practice.

    In other words, history is flexible enough to accomodate situations where, pragmatically speaking, something could have largerly deviated from the norm. For instance, the knight who killed himself. It was probably very rare to see that, but I wouldn’t doubt at least a handful of similar cases could have taken place over the centuries. The admitted influenced ofJapanese culture on the creators of the manga/anime is always a factor, of course, but I don’t think such an outcome would only ever be possible under said influence (just like how, say, Japanese history probably has a few examples of individuals who did not resort to suicide even when it was expected of them to do so).

    At the same time, I will point out that Gilbert, the junior monk, did repeatedly inquire about whether or not Maria was baptized during the process against her. Her answer was ,merely “who knows?” and thus not exactly a strong denial of it. Which, given the politically charged situation, might have been enough to provide a favorable legal interpretation. It wasn’t exactly an impartial procedure. Therefore, I think the point of that scene was to stress that her status as a heretic did in fact need to be established, at least formally.

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    • It does seem like cases of suicide went from practically non-existent to very rare after 1200. Still, the show Maria the Virgin Witch almost makes his suicide seem like the natural thing to do following such disgrace–especially as it happens on the same day. Instead, the knight would have to wrestle with the fact that he was accepting eternal damnation and causing further harm to his family’s good name. So, is it easier to live in shame among one’s peers with the hope of regaining one’s good name (which might be made easier since some of the blame for his misfortune would be cast on his adulterous wife), enter a life of exile, leave the world through entering a monastery, or choose hell? Even if the knight was not particularly religious, he’s certain to have entertained thoughts about eschatology so near his own demise! So, you might say that my main problem with the suicide is how unrealistically it’s presented than that it could never enter the mind of a medieval man to commit suicide.

      You’re right about the inquisition. With judges as biased as that, proper evidence is not required. (I also did like how Maria’s “Who knows?” is rather reminiscent of Christ’s “You say that I am.”) But, confessions obtained under torture were part of the legal procedure back then. Without any confession or evidence of Maria having received the sacraments, the judges might be subject to the censure of other clergy, which should have prevented them from sentencing her so soon. As Joseph said, he thought that he had more time.

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      • And it wasn’t as if Jews and pagans were unknown in medieval Europe.

        No matter how corrupt a local area was and no matter how well-connected the judges, you could be pretty sure that a case that went against canon law so blatantly, on charges so spectacular (and so seldom punished, and punished only by civil authority) as heresy, would get the attention of the Church hierarchy, powerful nobles, powerful bureaucracy, etc. The greater leniency and higher standard of evidence in canon law courts gave people a lot of incentive to keep church courts clean and uncorrupt, and theologians were always interested in new examples of heresy.

        If you wanted to frame somebody and get them executed, it’d make much more sense just to say the girl stole something.

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      • Those are excellent points, especially that point about how theologians studied cases of heresy. That would make the judges meticulous about all the proceedings.

        In the case of St. Joan of Arc, I remember reading that an ecclesiastical review of her trial was made which essentially declared her innocent of the charges which had been levied against her. I’m not sure what happened to the ecclesiastics involved in the original trial after that.

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  4. rjamesd9 says:

    Very interesting read thanks.

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  5. […] feedback on “Quick Takes from Maria the Virgin Witch” was a joy to read.  As promised, an article on the themes posed by the […]

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  6. […] Medieval Otaku dives into the medievalness of Maria the Virgin Witch, discussing how accurate the series was to that historic time, including how the show portrayed “heretics.” [Medieval Otaku] […]

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  7. […] my last Quick Takes article, I noted how realistic Maria the Virgin Witch’s presentation of combat, weapons, and armor […]

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