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Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Review: Witch Hat Atelier 1-10

 I picked up Witch Hat Atelier while browsing the kindle unlimited store. As usual, only issue #1 is available, hoping to entice you to buy the remainder of the series. In this particular, it worked --- I liked the series sufficiently to check out the remainder of it from the library.

The first thing you notice is that the art for the series is gorgeous. As with most manga, it's almost entirely in black and white, with only the covers of the book colored in. But the line detail, the intricacies are breath-taking. The writer/artist clearly has the chops to draw. Most manga in Japan is serialized in weekly/monthly magazines, so not only is Shirahama good, he's also fast, able to churn out a chapter a week.

The plot revolves around witches, magic users in the world Coco lives in. At the start of the series the protagonist, Coco, is told that they are born with the power to manipulate magic. However, Coco was given a primer as a child, and one day circumstances cause her to get out the pen and ink and trace the primer she saw, which has dire consequences. It turns out that witchers aren't born with any extra-ordinary power, but indeed create magic by drawing seals, patterns that correspond to a programming language and are activated when the circle around the seal is completed. What witches do to cast spells is to pre-draw the seals, leaving a circle open, and then close the circle when they wish to activate. The conceit of the series is that only special ink can create magic, and witches conceal their drawings from the mundanes in order to maintain the illusion that magic is innate, not learned.

The primer Coco was given turned out to be a tome of forbidden magic, and in her tracing she causes a tragedy. The usual action in these circumstances is to wipe Coco's memory, but instead the witch on location feels sorry for Coco and adopts her into his atelier, or school of magic. Coco is thus inducted into the world of magic along with her new fellow students.

As the series proceeds, we get introduced to the society of witches, the tests they take to certify progression, the world of shops, supplies, and the magic police that keeps everyone honest, as well as the ethics of magic. The world building piece of the story is probably the weakest part --- it strains disbelief that such a large organization wouldn't leak a simple secret as a matter of course. The evil-doers that gave Coco the primer of forbidden magic are also slowly introduced to the reader, and various subplots surrounding each of Coco's fellow students (all of whom are women for some reason) are introduced and partially resolved.

I enjoyed reading each book, mostly because of the art, and will keep picking up new installments as they appear. It's inevitable that a series this pretty will be turned into an animated TV show or movie, though I suspect without the outstanding art that sets it apart it's unlikely that the weak world-building would make a deep impression on modern audiences. 

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