Content Warning: This piece contains discussion of rape.
Recently, I changed the wallpaper on my phone to Phantom Thief Jeanne, the titular heroine of Arina Tanemura’s ’90s manga series Phantom Thief Jeanne. It was beautiful, but I soon wanted to change it to Maron Kusakabe, Phantom Thief Jeanne’s civilian identity. This was due to the fact that after reading Phantom Thief Jeanne twice, I found Maron Kusakabe a more compelling character.
In Phantom Thief Jeanne, teenager Maron Kusakabe transforms into Phantom Thief Jeanne (aka the reincarnation of French heroine Jeanne De Arc) in order to steal paintings containing demons. These demons try to steal the beauty of people’s hearts and strengthen the power of the Demon Lord. By stealing the paintings and sealing away the demons, Phantom Thief Jeanne can restore corrupted hearts to normal and keep God’s strength from waning. While doing this, Maron also evades capture by her best friend Miyako, a detective’s daughter trying to capture Jeanne while unaware of Maron’s secret identity.
In magical girl manga, the civilian identity and the magical girl alter ego are often juxtaposed. In Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon has the abilities of a sailor soldier and the reincarnation of the Moon Princess, while her civilian identity Usagi Tsukino is often written off as a ditzy crybaby. In fact, it is Usagi’s ability to befriend anyone that makes Sailor Moon’s abilities more powerful. Vice versa occurs as well; being Sailor Moon makes Usagi braver. A similar case occurs in Phantom Thief Jeanne, where being Phantom Thief Jeanne eventually makes Maron strong enough to confront others without transforming.
At the beginning of Phantom Thief Jeanne, Maron hides her loneliness and sadness behind a smile and keeps people at a distance. This is due to the fact that when she was ten, her parents left her to go work abroad on separate jobs. Since her parents fell in love while working on the architecture project, Maron thinks people can fall out of love as easily as they fall in love. She also thinks that by leaving her, her parents fell out of love with her and each other. As a result, Maron has trust issues and feels jaded about romantic love. As Phantom Thief Jeanne, she can temporarily forget about her issues as she steals paintings inhabited by demons and seal them away.
At one point, Maron says that the cross she uses to transform into Jeanne gives her strength and purpose. Being Jeanne not only lets her seal demons, but also allows Maron to utilize her talent as a gymnast to perform big jumps, lift objects and attack with her baton ribbon, and use a fan to ward off attacks with the wind. Since stealing paintings and sealing demons leaves a new painting of an angel in its place, no one reports the thefts and the police halfheartedly try to capture Jeanne for Miyako’s sake. Everyone loves the new beautiful angel paintings, so no one really considers their paintings stolen. As a result of this, Maron initially feels more wanted and needed when she is Jeanne than when she is herself.
Of course, sealing away demons affecting people’s hearts soon forces Maron to confront her own, often without transforming into Jeanne. One of the more emotional moments in the manga is when a demon corrupting a classmate named Minazuki corners Maron in an amusement park’s haunted house. Since the haunted house is dark and the darkness reminds Maron of her loneliness, the demon uses that to scare Maron to the point of tears. After more moments like this and getting some devastating news, Maron finally breaks down later in the series after being told by her love interest Chiaki that it’s okay to cry and reach out to others for comfort.
Yet Maron’s ultimate test comes when a shocking betrayal leaves her unable to transform into Jeanne and a fall renders her unconscious. Her soul and mind time travel to 15th century France, where she meets the real Jeanne De Arc and must figure out a way to seal the demons there. Although Maron thinks she needs Jeanne De Arc’s help, it’s actually Jeanne that needs Maron’s help. As she is about to be burned at the stake, Jeanne De Arc tells Maron that since Jeanne was raped by a guard while imprisoned, she can’t use a holy power meant for a pure person. Maron boldly tells Jeanne that it is Jeanne’s heart and courage that makes her pure rather than her virginity, inspiring Jeanne De Arc to give her holy power to Maron before succumbing to her fate.
The reason this scene with Maron and Jeanne De Arc is so powerful is because it allows Maron to regain the ability to transform through Maron’s own courage. Instead of weeping and giving up on herself, Maron decides to be brave enough to save herself, inspire Jeanne De Arc. and return to her loved ones in the present. Best of all, Maron’s courage manifests in a new outfit for Phantom Thief Jeanne and a cool sword to seal demons in a more assertive way. From then on, Maron and Phantom Thief Jeanne are strong in body and spirit, allowing Maron to later confront her worst enemy (her emotionally fragile self) without being Phantom Thief Jeanne. “I don’t need adornments”, Maron says before she literally hugs herself.
Even though the series is called Phantom Thief Jeanne, it is the heroics of her civilian identity Maron Kuskabe that resonated with me most. Phantom Thief Jeanne is elegant, cute, and resourceful, but sometimes it’s nice to know that you don’t always need a magical transformation to change yourself and others for the better. In the end, I changed my wallpaper to Maron Kuskabe because she is magical in her own right through her kindness, resilience, and courage.