Junketsu no Maria – 12 (Fin)

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Junketsu no Maria closes with a story book ending. Maria and Joseph literally ‘live happily ever after,’ according to the narrator, all of the villains are punished and everyone who was nice along the way escapes without a scratch.

Maybe it was a little long winded and maybe it was a bit silly on the philosophy front but, over all, I found it satisfying and a thorough farewell to the cast.

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To sum up: Michael and Maria have their final show down but the action doesn’t last long. Even with the witches, the old gods, and Joseph all supporting her, Michael  is untouchable.

However, instead of killing team Maria, Michael psychically interviews all of the show’s side characters and ascertains that Maria is ultimately a good neighbor. Her opposition to conflict is so basic that he could even say she is part of the natural order now, which makes her out of his realm of responsibility.

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However, he can’t let Ezekiel’s regular opposition go unpunished and so he banishes her from heaven… to be reborn as Maria’s child. Similarly, Le Comte eventually accepts Joseph’s love for Maria, and accepts Maria herself I guess because he’s not a totally bad bad.

Meanwhile, Bernard loses his mind and tries to start a new religion … but explodes into a pile of sand when he freaks out at Michael during their psychic interview. Gilbert is emotionally scared by all of this but, as he’s not really been a figure for evil during the story, his punishment is limited to witnessing the explosion and having to burn Bernard’s documents after the fact.

Oh and Garfa gets nothing for his greed, other than some coins and to live.

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What didn’t work? Well… most of the dialog is gibberish. Not that a show of this complexity should be expected to weave a coherent philosophical explanation for itself but Maria dug its mumbo-jumbo hole pretty deep.

That said, presenting Maria’s narrative out as God accepting her as a ‘good neighbor’ was perfectly fine. It also gave a continued connection between Maria and Ann’s grandmother, and the village by extension.

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Maria was a very fun show to follow. Strangely, none of the grounded, historical tech and technique made it into the final episode but that’s besides the point. The finale was all about the characters and for us to see them off — and see them off happy.

And for all the darkness those characters endured along the way, thats the best, most cathartic way to leave them.

7_ogk

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Junketsu no Maria – 11

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Picking up hot on last week’s tale, Edwina takes Maria to the battlefield and reveals that she was the source of paralysis gas (and Garfa’s arm). But the little details aren’t the point of this episode, even though there are a ton of gems sprinkled throughout.

No, the point of this episode is making sense of everyone’s feelings and bringing a close to the hostilities between France and England. At least, within geographic reach of Maria.

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ignoring why Joseph is there in the first place, he makes a good point about Garfa: He’s the same as Maria. They are both strong, strong willed to the point of being stubborn, and use their strength to pursue the purpose they have assigned to their lives.

This does not go well and at last lends some coherent emotion to the nicely animated fight. (which, in the tradition of the show, is the opposite of over-the-top in rendering and style)

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Meanwhile Gilbert confronts Bernard about the witches medicine, which Bernard admits he knew he was using to help the people. Rules be damned, anything in the world can make the world a better place. (and to better the church’s position)

This declaration also doesn’t go well. However, unlike Garfa, Gilbert doesn’t try to run anyone through in a haze of frustration. That said, I get the feeling Bernard is about to get an unexpected smack down from the inquisition…

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Continuing to tie in all the loose threads, the Old God tries to make Ann forget Maria, possibly to force Maria onto his side, but it doesn’t work. Ann’s support is iron clad, much as the Church fears it to be, and when Joseph finally defeats Garfa, Maria’s tree house (and powers) are quickly restored.

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As to Joseph’s victory… let’s just look above at the hilarious take down assist brought to him by Maria. She’s so unabashedly hard core about it that I can hardly fault Joseph for his lengthy banter and refusal to accept his worth in her eyes.

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The resolve, starting with their exchanged vows and ending with the tree-ification of the castle, was all quite nice. As with everything this episode, the visual details were all unique and really lent to the wonder and excitement of their coupling.

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And then the couple is summoned by Arch Angel Michael and who knows where the series is headed for its final episode? Honestly? I don’t care at all — it’s been a lovely ride all along and, typically sluggish middle or note, it was well worth all of our attention.

9_ogk

Junketsu no Maria – 10

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Episode 10 asks a leading question: is human emotion better or worse than God’s lack of emotion… or is there any distinction between the two in the first place?

Certainly Michael’s violence isn’t as base as Garfa’s but it’s easy to argue that Michael’s mixture of intervention and indifference put Garfa (and his many victims) in the situation in the first place. If humans only exist to suffer before death and transition to the afterlife, and that no amount of prayer will change the degree of their suffering nor bring about otherworldly protection (except from Maria), the shows depictions of greed and violence become an understandable offshoot of survival of the fittest.

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And that’s saying nothing of Michael’s direct acts of violence. First with Maria and now, nearly killing Viv for calling him out on being an empty automaton.

While I suppose this is all rather heavy handed, I appreciate that JnM is subtle enough to leave the question unanswered. Ezekiel is emotionally broken (though it’s not clear why she has emotions in the first place) and humans are particularly violent for much of the episode.

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Bernard’s total lack of attention even mirror’s Ezekiel’s. He’s said his piece, feels the rules are being followed, and moves on content to let the masses do whatever they want.

In a pleasing twist of events, Edwina shows up and saves Maria from burning at the stake and Gilbert, Bernard’s underling, recognizes Edwina’s cat/girl familiar as the source of the church’s medicine… which causes his own internal conflict.

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Unfortunately, the episode suffers from Joseph having garbled reasons for being away at war and Garfa being pure evil. I just don’t get how we’re supposed to buy into Joseph going to war for glory to… use his glory to save Maria? It doesn’t make any sense.

Similarly, Garfa has gone from being an interestingly gray character to some smirking, knife handed, “gonna kill you in the church” jackal. I suppose I ‘buy’ that he could turn out this way but I don’t find it very interesting…

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It’s worth noting that despite all the animation in this episode — and there was a lot with wonderful technical detail — it was not animated very well. Scenes jerk together with no transition sequence, walk cycles are choppy, and many of the characters look… off.

8_ogk

Junketsu no Maria – 09

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It was clear that Junketsu no Maria was going to sexually dark place for some several episodes but, given the show’s lite sense of humor, it was never clear how far into the dark it would go.

this week’s episode answers that question and the answer is: pretty dark, but maybe not as dark as you’d think. If you couldn’t sit through the opening, I urge you to go back. It’s a solid episode, surprisingly nuanced, and wonderfully played with expectations.

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Starting Dark: Garfa uses paralysis smoke to disable Maria while she sleeps, ties her up and has his way with her. It’s a brutal scene, complete with a savage beating and Garfa’s “a witch should shut up and take it” rant, which he gives why unbuttoning his pants, is only evil-topped by his happy laughter as he leaves Maria’s cabin.

But, despite all this, and despite his flippancy to Joseph and Joseph’s lord, Bernard hasn’t actually raped Maria. “I was sent to take away her magic not to have sex with her”

So, while it’s little comfort to Maria, by the show’s definition she’s “remained pure.” (no doubt to facilitate her magical revenge at a later point)

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Nuanced Darkness: Ann’s father testifies to the village priest that he’s witnessed Maria summoning demons and Ann’s grandmother Martha is forced by Bernard to stone Maria. Neither of them want to do this and, while Martha at least has Maria’s consent (via a nod only Bernard sees), both adults are doing this to protect their family, and Ann most of all.

It’s a procedurally evil scene. There’s no screaming and no violence beyond the stone-toss, just people doing a job. Bernard requiring the stone toss is even dispassionate– he needs it to make a statement about belief and loyalty, not to cause Maria physical harm.

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And, just as quickly, we see this cold minded system swing back in Maria’s favor: Bernard’s underling won’t accelerate Maria’s trial because official procedure must be followed. Testimony must be recorded and verified, and the village priest and the magistrate must draft a document.

Like Martha and Ann’s father, the junior priest’s evil is limited to his place in the machine. The system. From what we’ve seen, that the junior priest actually uses medicine made by witches and condones the use of magic for the war, he bares no personal malice to Maria, let alone visible anger.

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Which brings us to Bernard himself… In a nutshell, Maria values life on earth and places agency in human hands and Bernard values salvation after life and places agency in the hand of God… to be carried out by humans. They both believe in free will, and they both want people to be happy during life.

Unfortunately, Maria asserts that if God is universal, but actionless, then universality is as good as nothingness, which breaks Bernard’s mind trying to counter. In many ways, he agrees with her, but the system is the system — and it’s his system — so they are at an impasse.

Then he thanks her, wipes off her dirty feet, and kisses her leg.

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What makes this all so interesting is not just that the junior monk and Priapos both witnessed the scene in secret (and thus both know Bernard’s faith can waiver for future plot points)  but that Bernard greatly appreciated the challenge to his faith and the conversation in general.

Also that Bernard’s conflict has brewed since he learned that Maria was a virgin and, like his faith’s Virgin Marry, is a symbol for healing and protection. (at least to the local villagers) Outside of her lack of support for God, they would get along and because of that, tiny cracks in his faith in the system have formed. It’s all very well played and inconclusive.

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Also Viv gets pwn’d by Michael before she can rescue Maria from the dungeon.

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Verdict: 2 good action sequences, some horrifying violence (but not too much) and some deeply troubled people struggling to reconcile philosophical differences made for a serious attention getter this week. I won’t kid you: I had trouble sitting through the opening assault but the over-all pay off made up for my initial misgivings.

And man, that gag face-clamp Maria is forced to wear was simple but creepy awesome.

8_ogk

p.s. Apparently the character I’ve been calling Galif is actually Garfa and my subs are just wrong. Garfa sounds more like what they call him in the show so I’m switching to that.

Junketsu no Maria – 08

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Junketsu no Maria delivered a functional ‘stuff happened’ episode this week. It set up a number of character positions, and Maria’s general vilification by everyone in the world, but nothing was that exciting.

Nothing was wrong or bad exactly. Rather, we got no real action and Bernard’s “anti-Maria” campaign (and the villagers’ buy into it) was dull and predictable.

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Action that wasn’t: after healing, Galif has been put in charge of the mercenaries and the camp-wench has thrown in with him, even though she saw him murder the previous boss. I suppose this isn’t surprising, as I’m not sure what she would be able to do about it, but I’m not clear on why the JnK includes her as a detail in the first place.

Meanwhile, another merc suspects Galif of killing the previous boss (for reasons that are not explained) and eventually challenges him to a duel. Unfortunately, that duel happens off camera and, because I don’t remember seeing this merc before, and there was no way Galif was going to die at this point, the whole conflict double-lacked emotional impact.

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Mustache twirling: Bernard has gone from an interesting, nuanced villain of circumstance to an outright pure-evil villain. Telling Galif to rape the magic out of Maria aside, he’s most likely using witch magic to heal the people he claims were ‘poisoned’ by using Maria’s medicine in the first place.

I get the duplicity, and the conflict of needing to ‘win’ for his side, but his long-term agenda is so unclear, that he’s starting to come off as a pointless anti-Maria force for narrative sake.

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Nuts and bolts: Bernard leaves the junior monk in charge of an inquisition force that will start in Maria’s formerly friendly village, Ann is emotionally broken by the conflicting words of the priest about Maria, The Old God warns Maria everything is about to hit the fan, and Joseph swears to never leave here.

Oh and there were Trolls or something who needed help at the beginning of the episode. And Valkiries, who don’t think highly of the church. They don’t do anything though so lets file them under ‘stuff.’

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All in all, it was a heavy handed “world falling apart” set up for what will most likely be a pretty grim couple of episodes. Ho-hum but effective.

If there’s anything positive to say about it, it’s that I’m morbidly curious how down-note the show will go. In the first two episodes, I would have assumed it would end on a happy note but now? No way to tell.

7_ogk

Junketsu no Maria – 07

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Junketsu no Maria delivered a brutal, exciting, and character building episode this week. Philosophically speaking, It may’ve be about people paying for their sins but the structural ramifications for each character are so immediate, it hardly seems worth digging for deeper meaning.

Still, the sin/payment structure is as good a hook as any to frame a synopsis so bear with me…

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Sin & punish: Carrying over from last week, the French have relied on their (partial) control of Maria to shape this week’s battle in their favor. It goes well until Maria shows up off-script and, even though they have the English on the run (and Maria is blown out of the sky), the battle goes to crap and they are forced to retreat.

Their sin is arrogance in assuming they had control and their punishment is death and defeat.

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Similarly, the mercenaries move out of position because their greed isn’t being sated by the grunts they are fighting but, when the English counter attack (after Maria is blown out of the sky) their employer ends up losing.

Their sin is greed, and their punishment is death and not getting payed because they lost the battle.

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…which brings us to Galif, who proposed leaving their assigned position in the first place, and who’s boss holds financially responsible for the loss. As a micro-aside, the merc boss calls him a Moor, which may just be an insult but would be hella interesting as a side detail for his character.

Context aside, Galif then slits his boss’ throat, in front of the merc-camp-hoochie, and gets his arm blown off by a cannon ball before any resolution can come of it. The scene is exquisitely violent and matter of fact.

His sin is wrath and his punishment is brutal pain and near death.

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Meanwhile, Joseph chooses not to kill a lowly english footman only to have that man instantly butchered in front of him. Joseph’s sin is a minor defiance against God through his assumption that saving a man is better than God’s salvation, and his punishment is minor in that he just has to see the man murdered in front of him — to see how powerless he is before ‘God’s will’ …or the people who act in his name.

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That leaves Ezekiel and Maria,who are both prideful and not obedient. For this Ezekiel is forced to become Michael’s spear and slash Maria from the sky. Fortunately, Ezekiel retains enough self-will not to kill Maria in the process.

Like Joseph, Maria is also forced to see her efforts amount to nothing. Even before her spearing, the English use the truce time to retaliate against the French — even though Maria was providing them safe cover to retreat. Though I suppose they chose correctly’ish, in that they won the day and chased the French from the field…

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The ramifications are pretty obvious: lot of people died, Galif shows a total lack of morality that I didn’t suspect and Joseph/Maria/Ezekiel become closer when they realize each other’s feelings. Even the Witches become closer to Maria, as they help her off the field and to recover at Edmura’s house.

Oh and Ann’s Grandmother dies off camera.

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Blood and guts and a solid medieval battle, followed by the wounded hanging around and gabbing while they recover (or don’t). It was a good rise and fall for an episode, visually gripping, and maybe meant something symbolically too.

Scrape that all into a bucket and I call it a 9. How about you?

9_ogk

Junketsu no Maria – 06

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Like last week, Junketsu no Maria felt like two acts that didn’t effectively connect at the middle. In the first, Ezekiel remains a blustery joke and everyone else is too busy hanging around doing nothing, introducing themselves to characters they haven’t met yet, or buying a hat.

Stuff just sort of happens and, while it needs to happen for logistical reasons, it doesn’t project an emotional center or make character agendas that much clearer.

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The second half features a large scale battle, and a large scale battle inside Maria’s heart. She’s been asked not to intercede by Joseph (and pretty much everyone else) and Galif has told her that he has been tasked with killing her if she does get involved.

Maria doesn’t know yet, but Ezekiel has been told to kill her too by the ever simple minded Michael. However, Ann’s father has been conscripted again — as has Joseph — so she’s deeply torn.

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The best moment: is when Galif reports back to Bernard that Ezekiel says Maria is a virgin and that she will lose her powers if she ever is not. Sure, this is ‘crazy face’ they way I normally hate-on, but Bernard really pulls it off. He isn’t some over the top villain. He’s devout and the coincidences of Maria and the Virgin Marry are deeply unsettling to him.

He cries. He dances. He completely freaks out his assistant. This was the best, possibly only good use of crazy face in anime that I’ve ever seen.

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So why an 8, again? Like last week, the two arcs just don’t gel. I was actually not enjoying the show’s offhanded baka-baka-baka cliche routine with Ezekiel at all and almost took a break until the half rolled around. It was just auto-piloty and conventional.

Related, Ezekiel herself remains a weird and confusing character. Why, the hell, did she spur Maria to go into battle? Ezekiel doesn’t want her to do it, doesn’t want to stop her either, and knows the consequences. It just didn’t make sense to me.

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The only other note this week was Edwine’s introduction. It was a tiny one but, since it expands on Viv’s reasons for being there (and implies that Viv is in contact with Bernard because she has the apple cider) it’s worth keeping an eye on.

That said, it really was micro short and… I don’t even know what gender Edwine is supposed to be due to the character design? The answer to that will have obvious implications.

8_ogk

Junketsu no Maria – 05

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Galif single handedly derailed Junketsu no Maria this week. The result is an episode that felt like it was split in half, suddenly and out of left field. Plans were put on hold and several characters were pushed into the background.

Still, as random as Galif’s seduction of Sir Jean’s lady friend was, and as insignificant as Galif has been to the story so far, this development seems to have pushed Bernard in a new direction and given Maria a minor revolution: not all conflicts need to be disrupted.

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And we got two nicely animated fight sequences too.

Make that well animated, brightly colored, with detailed period costumes and authentic-feeling tactics. Definitely win-win.

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The good: Galif gets a little character development — he’s still a power mad mercenary but he understands social consequences. He must fight the knight and the local lord must sanction the fight to ensure both the mercenaries and the cavalry can maintain honor. (and be ready to defeat the English like he and Bernard have planned)

We also see Galif looking past expectations. He wins his fight because he hides a weapon in his cast and plays defeated, trapping the knight with his own expectations of weakness in a wounded mercenary.

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He may well have anticipated the entire scenario from the beginning — seducing the knight’s woman because he could see she didn’t belong on the road and wanted to be seduced, and ultimately that he could long-shot win against a knight who would demand a duel and make a tidy profit for his troubles.

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The fact the Joseph is deeply worried about his safety but doesn’t ask Maria to stop the duel outright AND that Maria doesn’t stop the fight even though she’s there and watching it were interesting moments too.

When you add in Bernard, who’s also observing the fight and adding Galif to his list of plot elements, and Viv, who’s floating next to Maria and leading her to question the impact of stopping all conflict, we really did have all the main characters there. Just not on the central stage.

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So why an 8? Well… the seduction and subsequent duel really did come out of no where. The show eve bounces back and forth between Bernard explaining what actually happened and why it’s important around the midpoint because it doesn’t seem confident we as viewers know what to make of it.

Worse, the second half is much louder than the first, which makes the subtle machinations lost in the shuffle. Worse still, I’m not even sure the first half was all that interesting to begin with, which begs the question why the episode included it at all.

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Another, much smaller criticism is the total lack of Maria’s familiars or Ezekiel playing a roll this week. They were around, but didn’t interact with anyone else, which made them feel superfluous… which is sad since Ezekiel started to develop last week.

So it was a good episode. Really good from a production stand point but whatever they were trying to do with a two-step story didn’t connect with me.

8_ogk

Junketsu no Maria – 04

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ;)

9_ogk

Oigakkosan’s Winter 2015 Bracket (Third Round)

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The current crop is pretty good and, despite rough patches, actually turning into something memorable. That may not sound like much but, as my fellow reviewers will testify, memorable is a high bar to reach in my book.

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Binan Koukou (8+7+8/10) vs Yatterman Nights (8+6+8/10)

By far the hardest pair to resolve, Yatterman’s stronger third episode and greater potential for an interesting story ultimately won out. I know! I know! This isn’t super surprising in the grand scheme of things. Binan is just a gender-swap twist on the Sailor Scouts genre but it delivers really really really good dialog each week.

Add Yatterman’s difficult-to-understand-without-significant-background second episode, drab color pallete, and slow pace and I truly considered siding with the simpler of the two shows.

If you enjoyed Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun and other tightly written school comedies, you owe it to yourself to give Binan at least three episodes. So far it’s shown no intention of becoming a BL show, nor has it stuck strictly to the safety of it’s formula.

Still, there’s a formula at its core and there’s not much at stake. Certainly, not much that I can see writing about each week?

Oigakkosan’s Winter 2015 Bracket (Second Round)

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Winter’s second week was obviously less busy than the first. However, due to World Break – 02’s late arrival in my stream, the decision took longer to make than anticipated.

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Seiken World Break (6+6/10) vs Junketsu no Maria (7+8/10)

Junketsu no Maria is a deeply sincere show, with rich characters and setting, and a quality art style. So it’s hardly a surprise that World Break won a lot less of my interest with it’s typical super protagonist enters magic school and wins all the harems formula.

That said, you may still enjoy World Break because it takes its deeply flawed scenario to heart. The magic system, which sometimes involves lengthy poetry narration and in-air finger writing is so dumb and impractical you just have to laugh at it all.

If nothing else, it’s well meaning but dumb characters are likable and, even though it’s only used to justify “protagonist wins” and the ecchi love triangle, the concept that students have multiple lives with multiple family and romantic partners around and knowing each other even though they’ve never met has tons of potential.

Sadly, just not enough for me to write about each week.

Junketsu no Maria – 03

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Junketsu no Maria continues to entertain with its unique blend of grounded medieval conflict, diverse multi-faith pantheon of deities weighing in on the state of the earthly plain, and a soft-touch ecchi vibe.

Even though the blushing, teen-angst lovey-dovey plot for Maria’s loins is never far from the front, the depth and complexity of the world around her, and the sincerity of the people who populate it, really elevates JnK to an unusually high level.

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To sum up the story: Joseph puts ethics before faith and actually wins his argument with Arch Angel Michael. It’s a wonderful scene because, to me, it’s so open to interpretation. Was Joseph’s “faith” that doing the right thing must be godly, therefore Maria must be godly, enough to sway God and get Michael to stand down?

Whatever the reason, Michael beams down Ezekiel to follow Maria and ensure that she behaves. If not, or if she loses her virginity, she will lose her powers.

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Ezekiel is immediately outclassed by Maria’s familiars, who find ‘her’ pompous and easy to provoke into revealing too much information. On this last point, Maria learns that Michael is too busy to pay attention to her at all times, and thus is largely able to continue her work to thwart battles.

As an adorable side note, Ezekiel is like the other familiars, in that she is often in bird form. While she is also white, it’s easy to identify her from the Artemis and Priapus by her slim profile and giant cross on her chest. Not subtle but it works.

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Rounding out the new characters this week is Bernard, who’s an interestingly pragmatic monk and beekeeper. While he initially offers Maria salvation and is disappointed that she won’t take it, he’s not especially surprised nor over-the-top outraged by it.

Rather, he sees her defense of urban areas and the peasants as useful and not worth pursuit. Not unless she truly gets in the churches way directly.

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Above all, Bernard has the same authentic vibe going for him that much of JnK does and I greatly appreciate his addition. He’ll be an enemy, sure, but there’s nothing pure evil or laughing-madman about him.

He’s just a guy, a deeply devout guy, who has several objectives that must be accomplished any way he can. In many ways, he’s exactly what A/Z’s Slaine seems to have become, but without all the red herrings along the way.

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The episode ends with yet another deity showing up to talk with Maria and, like all the rest, this one is pretty sure Maria’s goals are impossible to achieve. People suck and kill each other. They always have and always will.

Again, like the Valkaries last week, JnK greatly benefits by showing that more than Christianity is going on. What makes it even more interesting, though, is that the Non-Christians don’t disagree with the Christians about Maria. She’s no herald for another side. She truly is her own side, her own person, and that freedom is what sets her apart from the setting and the time.

I really look forward to how this develops. Even with the eye-rolling ecchi asides, I don’t remember the last show that had this much nuance and precision, within pseudo-history, without feeling agenda-ized or gross. Good job, JnK. Good job!

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Junketsu no Maria – 02

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Junketsu no Maria threw some interesting punches this week. The most important of which was establishing that Maria is now in over her head with Archangel Michael via her ‘disruption of the natural order,’ which appears to be ‘people are murderous jerks.’

Some ho-hum ecchi jokes aside, it was actually a solid bit of fantasy / magical / medieval story telling and well worth your time to view.

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From last week, Maria continues to use Artemis’ seductive powers to coerce the various lords and military commanders to avoid direct conflict. This round spares the French, who are marginally thankful albeit chalking Maria’s impact on the war as a conduit of God but still deserving her a place on a burning stake.

Tragically, Artemis encounters a homosexual commander (and his young male lover) and is unable to fully control the front…which leads to a slightly cringey sequence of events that result in the creation of an incubus (male naughty demon) from another owl of the forest.

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Why cringey? Well… anime does not always handle male homosexuality with the most tasteful of touches and, while Priapus’ first encounter with it (via a raucous beef-pile who’s only concern is if Priapus has a ‘hole’) is short and PG, it is still played for laughs in the ‘haha that man likes boy-butts’ way.

Not that I should expect nuance from JnM in general, nor really from the time period it is set in. It just feels like a missed opportunity, since the show is already taking an interesting anti-period stance on conflict, and giving a rather detailed and authentic treatment to its combat and religious political factions.

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At least the exit joke is that Maria blows up the BL scenes by creating a wide-headed serpent and shooting straight up into the air. Visually smirk-worthy and, better, leads to the heavens slashing the serpent through the clouds and leading everyone but Maria to realize her freedom to influence the world is about up.

Then Maria has to save Ann’s town from mercenaries and Michael shows up and outclasses her in every way…except compassion.

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The Good: Another week, another good-looking, authentic-feeling episode. Seeing Valkyries, Maria confirming the 6-day creation story as a curse, and the various signs from heaven all round out the metaphysics nicely.

And Joseph…just…Wow? For a guy who was understandably nervous about getting killed on the battlefield last week, he’s got quite the pair of stones to fire an arrow into Archangel Michael’s back!

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The Not As Good: Honestly? JnM had no major shortcomings this week. I don’t think that much of the humor, and Maria herself can be a bit pedantic, and we didn’t get to see the other witches, but the story flowed well and advanced the plot effectively.

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Verdict: I’m not claiming Junkestu no Maria is the best thing ever, or even especially remarkable, but it’s a decent show that feels like it took some risks. Above all, I find its treatment of the period refreshing and the animation less rigid than most.

There’s a sincerity to the story, which seems contradictory to an ecchi power fantasy action romp, but the characters could just as easily have a steampunk or over-the-top design like Chiaka, and it would not work as well. So give it a watch. You should know if you want more, once you finish the first two episodes.

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