Catharsis is best defined as the satisfaction one feels when emotional tensions are finally given a proper closure. Often employed as a means of justifying a character’s longstanding turmoil, catharsis serves as the vital thematic element in many acclaimed works. A story which can invoke strong cathartic feelings is one which shall resonate inside the reader’s mind for years to come. It synergizes with them and helps to influence their own convictions in life.
Absolutely none of that matters if the audience fails to arrive at the finale of a work. Whatever memories or mantras you hope to instill upon your viewers will fall on deaf ears the moment they close the cover or change the channel. So, let’s talk about a series which nearly made me do just that. “Maria the Virgin Witch” was a cute little series that showed up on Funimation recently (in both English and Japanese, though I chose the former), thus I decided to give it a watch. I’ll be relaying my thoughts on the series as a whole, so this piece will contain major spoilers.
The story takes place during the Hundred Years War, our witchy heroine residing on the French side of the conflict. However, she personally abhors the act of bloodshed and uses her powers to break up any battles she learns about. Her actions upset the world balance and invoke the wrath of Archangel Michael, who presents Maria with two punitive conditions. First: should Maria be caught directly interfering with the human conflict, she will lose her magic or be killed outright. Michael sends down the angel Ezekiel to enforce this rule. Second: Maria’s powers will also be forfeit if she ever loses her virginity.
On paper, the story progression appears rather straightforward. People naturally attempt to take her virginity (sometimes by force), while internally, she struggles to come to grips with the reality that controlling peoples’ lives doesn’t necessarily better them. It may be a simplistic plot (one very likely taken from the Bible itself), yet that natural cohesion is what makes it such a good story to tell. I genuinely had high hopes for the series after streaming the first few episodes of it.
Then, roughly two thirds into the story, everything began to fall apart. Archetypes shuffled around at random and without any rationale, making it seem as if the whole cast (save for Michael, oddly enough) had somehow forgotten their motivations up to that point. Take Bernard for instance; as a member of the Catholic Church, everything hinted at him being the series antagonist, the one who would go toe to toe with Maria during the climax. Instead, he immediately derails his character, disappears for three episodes, and returns to worship the very ground Maria walks on.
So who, then, was the villain? When Bernard leaves, suspicion quickly falls upon the French mercenary Garfa. He was introduced early on as the mentor figure to Joseph, a younger soldier who Maria has serious feelings for. When it’s implied that Garfa may or may not have sexually assaulted Maria (seriously, this is never fully explained in series), Joseph’s anger compels him to wager his very life against Garfa’s own. Garfa responds by frankly not giving a damn.
At no point did Garfa even attempt to justify his corruption. He even went as far as to encourage Joseph during the duel. Originally meant as a foil for Joseph, this sudden recast as surrogate antagonist made absolutely zero sense. The confusion doesn’t seem to end there, either.
In the final two episodes, Maria’s fellow witches team up to fight Archangel Michael. After all, he’s the one who’s been threatening Maria this whole time, right? There’s only one small issue that the series fails to explain. At what point from start to finish had the archangel been wrong about, well, anything?
He was most certainly right all along about how Maria’s actions were upsetting the balance. Every battle the virgin witch interfered with was soon followed by those soldiers committing violence in other ways. Michael was also justified in telling Ezekiel to do her job or quit being an angel. In the end, he alone finds a way to tie up all loose ends, and it is his approach that triggers the cathartic elements so yearned for by the audience.
Archangel Michael decides to poll every human who has ever come into contact with Maria. Their testimony leads him to conclude that her presence has now become a part of the natural balance; ergo, she has every right to live among the humans in spite of her longstanding heresy. Furthermore, if Ezekiel wishes to stop being an angel, then the best way to make that happen is to make her Maria’s child. Yes, Archangel Michael actually impregnates Maria, eliminating her powers as was intended from the start. You cannot make this stuff up.
Is it a good ending? To be honest, I do happen to be on the side leaning in favor of how it was executed. Every character who mattered was able to earn their happy ending (except Bernard because fuck that guy). Unfortunately, there is still the part of me who was ready to discontinue the series right before the final episode. Those feelings of disdain brought on by poor writing cannot be excused so easily.
What the series truly lacked was consistency. It attempted to tell four stories: Maria and Joseph, Joseph and Garfa, Maria versus the Church, and Maria versus the Archangel. The series had twelve episodes in which to do this. That in itself was a mistake. When the motifs of the Church conflict were merged with the story of Joseph and Garfa, those prior events were rendered meaningless. Perhaps if there had been more time to properly convey those shifts in character, then things would have turned out much better. At the very least, the outcome would have actually made sense.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert on what catharsis is or what it is meant to be; that said, I do want to at least give some thoughts on how the story should have played out in order to maintain that connection to the viewer from start to finish. Just a reminder, all of this gets into spoiler territory.
Bernard’s character was quite intriguing from the get-go. He wished to use Maria’s antics to influence the war in France’s favor. His rationale was that once the war had ended, the people would promptly forget about Maria and return their attention to the Church. Of course, there were a few doubts pertaining to his degree of faith; one of his lackeys was buying medicines from a witch on the sly, and Bernard was seen using these at times, up until his character derailment.
Here lies another glaring issue with the series – said lackey quickly took Bernard’s place in terms of Church-related actions during the series climax. For some reason, the man had no idea these medicines were coming from a witch, even though the viewer would have long since figured it out. The lackey decides to confront Bernard, but at that point, why bother? It doesn’t do anything to influence the story since Bernard no longer has any value in the story. Again, things would have been a lot different had he remained the true villain.
Garfa, meanwhile, did surprisingly well to keep his ambivalence toward Joseph even after attacking Maria. The fault lies within the writers for not expanding on the conflict’s potential themes. Garfa encouraged Joseph to think for himself, and the duel between them very well could have symbolized a rite of passage. Instead, it was dumbed down to, “If you kill him, you will be just like him” in order to maintain the illusion of villainy in Garfa. This completely ruined the moment and the series was made all the worse by it.
When I look at everything in context, I can only assume that the ending of the anime was conceptualized long before the paths leading up to it. Regardless of whether that’s accurate, the result is a lackluster series that becomes a chore to slog through. The emotional release felt in the final episode may be incredibly satisfying, but attempting to reach that pinnacle is an exercise in frustration. At the end of the day, it just isn’t worth it.