What They Say:
Don’t miss this intriguing tale of magic, war, and sexual politics from Production I.G, the studio that brought you Eden of the East, FLCL, and Ghost in the Shell.
In the time of the Hundred Years’ War, a young and powerful witch known as Maria leads a reclusive existence. Shunned by the church but beloved by a few locals, Maria endeavors to use her magic to bring an end to the warfare she so despises. Using her magical ability, she aids humanity alongside her two familiars: a seductive succubus and an incubus who’s… a little incomplete. Though she seeks only peace, the archangel Michael despises the way she uses magic to interfere with human affairs and decrees that should she ever manage to lose her virginity, her powers will vanish! To ensure that Maria no longer mixes magic with warfare, Michael sends the angel Exekiel to keep a watchful eye on the virgin witch. In theory, his plan is sound. But keeping a fiery young woman bound by the rules of a higher power might prove too daunting even for an ever-vigilant angel.
With Funimation’s latest “Best of” line of releases (now called “Essentials”), there are some clear corners being cut, though to little difference from the buyer’s perspective. This particular release of Maria the Virgin Witch does not include an O-card sleeve (ultimately negligible considering most O-cards copy the inner cover’s art), and replaces what is usually a DVD copy of the series with a digital code to be redeemed and watched on Funimation’s website/app.
The front cover features the titular main character, with supporting cast in the background, giving a rather retro anime vibe, especially with the framing limiting the front cover space. The background is this interesting faux-Bible texture, accenting the Biblical theming of the series and stretching onto the back cover. The back cover gives off more character as the majority of space is made to look like aged parchment, with series description and screenshots printed on it.
Blu Ray menus for both discs are straightforward, with options aligned along the bottom of the screen. The only oddball portion of the menu is the language option, which has a very light “X” mark over the English and “subtitles on” options. The “X” marks are different from your remote control’s cursor, making for some confusing signage.
I’ve never been too big on Funimation’s episode commentaries as they seem to serve less as a means to provide series-specific factoids and more as a means to pad out the home release. Usually, the commentaries are inoffensively droll, with the cast using it as an opportunity to try out their failed standup bits via a podcasting format, but the commentary for episode 1 was particularly awkward. Hosted by ADR Director Sonny Strait and featuring the dub voices of Maria (Alexis Tipton) and Joseph (Austen Tindle), Strait takes an awkward stab in the dark with his voice actor guests as he jokingly takes stabs at the two possibly dating only to find that they actually have dated if only shortly. The rest of the episode’s commentary feels like an awkward means to bounce back from that unintentional misstep, only to go further down the cringe rabbit hole as Strait and Tindle make sophomoric gaffs about the title of the series, which Tipton clearly takes issue with, but is forced to awkwardly sit in on for the remainder of the recording.
Commentary for episode 12 fares slightly better, as Strait makes more of a point to stay within his lane as a commentary host, speaking with Vas for Galfa (Chris Rager) and Ezekiel (Leah Clark) solely about their career trajectory as voice actors– it comes off as a generic interview for the two actors, but fares far better than episode 1’s commentary for sure.
Textless opening and closing animations round out the special features. Though what’s odd here is that while the credits text is removed from both, the subtitle track for both track’s musical lyrics remains with no clear option to have them removed.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Maria the Virgin Witch is able to take the historical fiction genre and tell it in a way that comes off as oddly unorthodox in comparison to other anime. What’s truly fascinating about the series is that it’s willing to take its time with the characters before actually entering the premise or any signs of the story itself. You’re able to follow the titular Maria through her daily life and see exactly how she interacts with the different humans around her, both on the battlefield and among villagers. She comes off as a very bright-eyed youth that wishes to change the world, and yet unlike most others that share said personality, she’s actually able to do so.
With the Hundred Years’ War still ongoing, Maria doesn’t care about the societal implication or the general niceties involved between witches and mortal. Rather, she spits in the face of all societal norms and does literally everything in her witchly power to stop any fighting she spots, conjuring up fantastical dragons and the like to detract any humans that wish to fight. It’s in this way that the drama slowly begins to unfold and we start to see just how Maria’s intervening affects those around her. Between fellow witches, civilians, and even holy men, it becomes clear that Maria’s brash actions have their consequences. We’re slowly able to see each character thread unfold without the context of any real story trajectory, and it’s in this uniquely intriguing manner that we’re able to have zero filter or bias for the cast (at least at the beginning).
Of course, such pacing can’t sustain itself forever, and the real “story” of the series must rear its head eventually. After about 5-ish episodes, it’s clear that Maria is going against the word of God, who sends the holy deity Michael to give some warning shots to her (both literally and figuratively). Michael himself comes off as this uncaring being, who speaks in an authoritative, yet monotone voice (which is made even creepier in the dub version, which adds some reverb to good effect). As more characters are added and conflicts increase, we’re able to see how the varied cast reacts to the general concept of war: the spoils of victory, the drawbacks of defeat, the mob mentality behind blind belief as well as hate… a lot of hard-hitting topics are touched on in the series. And while the final few episodes really rush things for the sake of putting a box on everyone’s story, it’s still a worthwhile series to visit.
Maria the Virgin Witch stands out from your typical run-of-the-mill anime with a storytelling style that it both benefits and suffers from. Between its intentionally lumbering beginning, and a very rushed finale, it’s difficult to recommend at face value. And yet, the series itself is able to take the historical fiction genre and mix it with equal parts whimsy and equal parts almost uncomfortably real. Among fantasy anime, it’s unique in the punches it’s willing to take, even if it’s at the cost of the story’s own pacing.
Episode 1 Commentary, Episode 12 Commentary, Textless Songs, U.S. Trailer, and Trailers
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 23, 2019
Running Time: 305 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1920x1080p High Definition (HD Native)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 HD Widescreen
Samsung UHD 6700 64” Curved Smart TV, Sony Blu-ray player BDP-S6500 via HDMI set to 1080p