Content Warning: Discussion of sexual assault, victim-blaming
Spoilers for all of Phantom Thief Jeanne
Tanemura Arina’s manga Phantom Thief Jeanne interested me because of its unique premise: using the power of a minor angel named Finn Fish, protagonist Maron Kusakabe transforms into Phantom Thief Jeanne, the reincarnation of 15th French heroine Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc). As Jeanne, Maron steals paintings possessed by demons trying to steal the beauty of human hearts, weaken God, and strengthen the Demon Lord. By doing so, Maron seals the demons away, restores the affected humans to normal, and leaves a new painting of an angel in its place. This premise intrigued me because the magical girl was a phantom thief, rather than the standard “magical warrior” or “witch.”
In anime and manga, “phantom thief” usually refers to a charming thief who steals things for the thrill or to correct a moral wrong. Phantom Thief Jeanne sated my taste for more phantom thief magical girls after I first discovered the character archetype via the character Blue Cat from Star Twinkle Precure. In addition, the first volume of the manga takes place after Maron first becomes Phantom Thief Jeanne, letting the reader skip the magical girl origin story and go right to more insight about Maron herself.
I both adored and related to Kusakabe Maron. Maron is 16 years old, beautiful, athletic, and well-liked by her peers. Despite this, she is incredibly lonely and has trust issues due to her parents leaving when she was ten to work overseas. Few people know about Maron’s loneliness because she hides her sadness behind a smile and constantly tells herself to “be strong.”
As someone who has hidden their troubles behind humor and a smile, I couldn’t help but root for Maron. Given that some of the most popular 90s magical girls like Tsukino Usagi and Kinomoto Sakura tended to be happy-go-lucky, a troubled heroine like Maron is remarkable. By the end of the series, Maron has learned to trust others, to allow herself to be vulnerable, and become more courageous.
Not only does her background make Maron an engaging character, but it also made her relationships with other female characters more poignant. Perhaps the most interesting and complex female relationship in the series is that between Maron and her magical mascot Finn Fish. While Finn and Maron start out as friends, Finn often acts motherly towards Maron by welcoming her home, doing housework, and attempting to protect Maron from boys.
Later, Finn pretends to be loyal to the Demon Lord and betray Maron because it was the only way she could see Access, another minor angel who Finn is in love with. Once Maron and Access reassure Finn that they still care about her, Finn gains the power to become a regular angel again, but later sacrifices herself to save Maron in the series’ final arc. Ultimately, Maron gives up her power to save Finn, who is later reborn as Maron’s daughter Natsuki.
Finn’s and Maron’s relationship was an emotional rollercoaster that kept me enthralled and one of the best takes on the magical girl and magical mascot dynamic. I’ve seen very few magical girl anime and manga where the magical mascot plays multiple roles in the magical girl life, and the ending takes the theme of a mascot partner as family in a new, unique direction.
Another pleasant surprise came in volume 4, when Maron falls unconscious, and her mind and spirit time travel to the 15th century. There, she meets Joan of Arc and people influenced by demons. At this point, Maron can no longer transform into Phantom Thief Jeanne due to the destruction of her transformation item, so she tries to enlist Joan of Arc to use her holy power to help seal away the demons. Joan tells her that only a pure virgin can have the power to seal demons and, since she was raped by a guard, she is impure and powerless.
Maron refutes this by saying that Jeanne isn’t impure because she was raped; it is Jeanne’s noble heart that makes her truly pure. Inspired, Jeanne passes her holy power to Maron, allowing her to transform again. This is a major scene, since many women in the Bible (and in modern times around the globe) are raped, victim-blamed, and labeled sinful. Not to mention that Maron’s new transformation and newfound courage gains her a nice new outfit and a cool sword.
Despite this powerful moment between Jeanne and Maron, this commentary on female purity is undermined by the sexual assault and rape committed by almost every male character in the manga. One of the most frustrating aspects of the manga was Nagoya Chiaki, Maron’s love interest and Jeanne’s rival Phantom Thief Sinbad. Chiaki is presented as the “jerk with the heart of gold,” lying to Maron about being in love with her to manipulate her into abandoning her role as a phantom thief.
Of course, it’s only after he gets to know Maron that he starts to fall in love with her. If Chiaki’s jerkishness had stopped there, I might’ve rooted for him. Unfortunately, he also sexually assaults Maron almost every time they are together. Even though Maron makes it clear she doesn’t want to, even explicitly refusing him, Chiaki repeatedly kisses Maron against her will to display his affection.
On top of that, Maron is sexually assaulted by other male characters such as her classmate Minazuki, and almost raped by Noin Claude, an immortal demon who was once Joan of Arc’s knight and lover. Her best friend Miyako is also subjected to unwanted sexual contact. To make matters worse, this is presented as romantic and sexy, especially since Maron and Miyako end up marrying their assaulters. This is incredibly harmful because it normalizes sexual assault and rape in romantic relationships in a story aimed at young girls.
Not only did Noin Claude’s attempted rape of Maron reduce rape to a plot device to put its heroine in danger, but the aftermath was just as bad. Chiaki seemingly comes to the rescue, but instead just helps Maron cover herself, leaves her alone, and then kisses the hickeys from the rape the next day. While I still like the Phantom Thief Jeanne manga series, I wish its male characters had been better written. The only exceptions to this trend of normalized assault are the minor angel Access; Chiaki’s assistant Kaguya; and Zen, a young boy who provided a tragic twist as Jeanne’s “monster of the week.” Maron and Miyako deserved so much better than a story that depicts sexual assault and rape as romantic.
Maron and Miyako had a touching female friendship, but it is only explored in a Volume 2 bonus chapter focusing on Miyako and in a Volume 5 subplot. Other than this, Miyako and Maron’s friendship is used for laughs. Miyako is a detective’s daughter who attempts to capture Jeanne while unaware of Maron’s secret identity, and Maron often comically escapes from Miyako. There is also queer subtext that implies that Miyako is romantically attracted to Jeanne and Maron. Instead of being a subplot or running joke, Maron and Miyako’s friendship could’ve had more focus and Maron could’ve learned about love through friendship or a queer romance.
I still reread Phantom Thief Jeanne for its female characters. Maron is one of my favorite magical girls, while Finn Fish is my new favorite magical girl mascot. Furthermore, Tanemura’s interpretation of the legend of Joan of Arc resulted in a refreshingly unique premise that I loved. However, it is a shame that I will have to skip the pages with sexual assault and rape. With more sensitivity given to these issues and better male characters, this manga series would’ve been timeless.