Junketsu no Maria’s many factions kept conflict relatively light this week. Moreover, while we learned more about their agendas and motivations, a great deal was implied but left unspoken. (or unknown to all the parties)
It was a remarkably good episode, with at least one life/death scene as emotionally resonant as last week’s A/Z. If you were expecting a simple ecchi thrill and some neat period action, you could be excused for being disappointed: episode four layers on some legitimately complex sociopolitical drama with a healthy side of metaphysical discussion.
On the surface: events were densely packed but straight forward. Villandrando’s morally deficient mercenaries attempt to plunder a town again, even going so far as to have their way with its younger women, but are thwarted by Maria and Vivi.
Bernardo the monk gauges Maria’s area of control and plots his counter moves, which appears to involve starting up a fresh war.
Viv the English witch visits Maria, introduces us to the idea that the Witches profit from war in the same way as the mercenaries, that they oppose Maria’s meddling, and gives us a few naughty/no-weenier jokes.
And Ezekiel evolves from a yelly child with a black and white view of Maria’s actions, to a philosophically conflicted neutral, after meeting Ann’s grandmother and learning some (but not all) of what Maria did to help the people during the Plague.
…So a lot happened and that’s not even addressing Joseph’s evening with Galfa, where he appears to be working as an unspoken intermediary between the mercs and the lord and the exchange of money-owed and the natural reduction of marauding that being payed brings.
Scratching below the surface: several elements elude to Maria’s god-like-ness, and the unintentional consequences such comparisons can bring. It can’t be a coincidence that (Arch Angel Michael’s envoy) Ezekiel is so much like Maria’s familiars nor the fact that Ann and other’s pray to Maria for safety AND pray for Maria’s safety.
After learning that Maria saved Ann’s town from the plague, and that the kind and devout Ann would never have been born otherwise, even Ezekiel admits the people obviously need Maria. She even wonders aloud if Maria could be a god to the people before banishing the thought in terror.
What Ezekiel does not learn, is that the town that was destroyed by plague wasn’t ‘ignored’ by Maria, but rather cast her out in the name of God. That the entire town died for their faith and yet, Maria still visits their graves to this day and spreads violet flowers in their memory.
All the better, Maria herself is quiet on these matters. We see her flash backs, we see her facial expressions and we understand a sliver of her emotions, but we are spared narration or monologue that would spell it all out.
Treating us like adult viewers aside, the whole conflict between Maria, the church and… possibly even God, is fantastically constructed so not even Maria entirely realizes why it’s all happening. She has no interest in followers, nor power, and the church is not against the peasants being left in peace and people not dying in anguish.
However, when God doesn’t save them and Maria does, the people’s faith in her rises — they even pray to her. Whether this actually matters to God or Michael is besides the point: it matters to the church because it deflates their deity’s value.
What earned it a 9: If not obvious above, I found the “we will show you the evidence but not tell you exactly what it means” approach to JnM’s storytelling very satisfying.
Additionally, we learned about more factions and their agendas and see the rise of technology (the gun), which can be interpreted as yet another faction in itself. Think of it as the democratization of destructive power, accessible even to the peasants.
…and using it can even shut up a messenger of God…
Why it didn’t get a 10: while harmless, and maybe even charming, Viv’s lets deal with your virginity scene was mostly throw away. Similarly, until mid episode, Ezekiel’s over the top rage is played for laughs, which weren’t that laugh worthy.
It’s a minor grievance and I appreciate that the creators are putting it in here to throw casual viewers a genre-bone, but it lacked any comedic punch needed to counter balance the serious tones of the rest of the episode.
Also, it was somewhat lite on action and Viv and the Dragon in the opening battle have some… wonky… moments in their rendering.
Don’t misunderstand — the designs are fun and JnM actually takes risks occasionally in the angles it renders them from. There was just some frump here and there.
Deep thoughts behind us, Joseph and Maria’s coupling is obviously the long term goal. Joseph is also a virgin, also unhurried to lose it, and also working towards a more peaceful world. Also, Mary and Joseph from the bible anyone? (duh)
It will be interesting to see where Galfa the mercenary ends up in all of this. Unlike Joseph, who implies he has a life goal but says nothing of it, Galfa is straight up front: he will climb his way up the pile of corpses to wealth, power, and freedom. That doesn’t sound likely but we’ll have to wait and see what alliances he forms (Viv?) or what his selfishness will bring.
Like Death Parade’s fourth outing, Junkestu no Maria very nearly landed a perfect score, which has got to be completely insane when you consider how ‘unlikely’ this kind of show is to be any good at all.
Something refreshing lurks here for everyone to enjoy, albeit leaning more on the thoughtful side of things than action. Regardless, you deserve more anime this good, and anime this good deserves more than a low 7 average on MAL ;)