I'm in love. Foul-mouthed, ill-tempered and incredibly powerful, Maria is from the rock'n'roll school of characters who just hates everything about the time she lives in. She's a far cry from the dewey-eyed damsels in distress or heavily-endowed ninja stereotypes the genre is littered with.
This is made all the more impressive given the historical context. Set during the Hundred Years' War between France and England, a medievil period rife with religious bigotry, endless fighting and commonplace atrocities, this was an extremely unpleasant time to exist, moreso for women.
Much like Blackadder, Maria is a character with modern-day sensibilities born into the wrong era, and she's not about to sit around and let chaos reign. Contemptuous of the religious ideology fuelling the slaughter, she'll interfere according to her own whims, whether it requires conjuring mythical beasts or simply using her familiars to seduce and pacify the generals, it's her way or no way!
Or at least, it is until Heaven gets involved.
Maria's antics have not gone unnoticed by the almighty and his chorus, and it's only the intervention of a messenger and a local village girl who change Heaven's deadly verdict. Maria may continue to fight against the bloodthirsty tide, but must remain a virgin to do so. As a woman coming-of-age, surrounded by lustful creatures, this is an especially gruelling punishment, and forms the basis of the story going forward. What's stronger, Maria's thirst for justice, or her libido?
The artwork throughout this first volume is among the best I've ever seen in a manga. There are shades of Berserk in the character designs, setting and even horrors unleashed, but tempered with a sense of humour and rebel spirit that Kentaro Miura's grim opus lacks. Maria's outraged description of Jeanne D'Arc's treatment by the French is a short and glorious tirade of whch the translation team should be justly proud.
Characterisation is deftly handled too. Maria's familiars, Artemis (a sex-fuelled succubus) and Priapus (an Incubus lacking genitals since Maria has never seen them for reference) act as her agents of chaos, and are genuinely likeable for different reasons. Artemis enjoys her job perhaps a little too much, and Priapus would just love the chance to at least give it a go, but is such a sweetheart he'd likely get eaten alive by any victim he tried to seduce. Between the pair they enrich the manga's worldview, with Artemis providing a cynical, exploitative personality and Priapus lending his eyes as an innocent in all things. The banter between the three is a highlight of the book and worth the price of entry alone.
It really is hard not to take Maria's side against the heavenly host when they seem so ready to turn a blind eye and spout pious nonsense while the innocent suffer. For this alone the manga deserves a thorough reading, and if like me you admire a woman with passion, fire and a f**k you attitude, you'll fall in love with her too.