From creator Kamome Shirahama, best known in the west for her cover art of DC and Marvel Comics series, comes a magical, coming-of-age fantasy series. This is Witch Hat Atelier and let us ask the always relevant question: Is it good?
According to the official description from Kodansha Comics:
In a world where everyone takes wonders like magic spells and dragons for granted, Coco is a girl with a simple dream: she wants to be a witch. But everybody knows magicians are born, not made, and Coco was not born with a gift for magic. Resigned to her un-magical life, Coco is about to give up on her dream to become a witch … until the day she meets Qifrey, a mysterious, traveling magician. After secretly seeing Qifrey perform magic in a way she’s never seen before, Coco soon learns what everybody “knows” might not be the truth, and discovers that her magical dream may not be as far away as it may seem…
The Initial Reaction
I knew next to nothing about this manga when coming in, initially getting it as reading material for a trip I was taking. Once I cracked into it, I couldn’t put it down right away. The story and its gorgeous artwork had sunk its teeth into me, and it had me right there and then.
If not for my busy vacation, I would have finished the book almost right away with how good it was. The next time I had free time, I read it all in one go. Witch Hat Atelier had me hooked with its wonderful, sympathetic main character, its intriguing world, and the hints of something more brewing beneath. While not flawless, this had easily turned into a series I knew I had to keep going with.
The first volume of Witch Hat Atelier is a great, meaty start for the series. It introduces the main character of Coco, the personal stakes in the matter that will drive her forward, a cast of supporting characters, potential allies and enemies alike with hints of their own unique agendas at play, and an interesting take on magic that I haven’t seen before. It is presented and explained in a way that lets you understand how it works, why it’s guarded so closely, and the wonders and dangers it holds. The story also hints at enough things to imply that not everything is as straightforward as it may seem, like the final words of the book or the legend of why not everyone uses magic. There’re plenty of great things established and presented here to hook you in if you want to dive into a new magical series.
The only downside I could see with the plot so far would probably be the pacing. This series comes across as a tad unbalanced early on, blazing through some parts while hitting the brakes other times, like how affected by her loss Coco is or how everyone seems to already know about what happened with her after like less than a day it feels. The story does come across as revealing its hand too early with some plot points as well, like the hints at there being something else going on with Qifrey or that the villain may be up to something unexpected. I feel if this was introduced in, perhaps, the second volume, the reveals or hints might have landed stronger since the audience would’ve had more time getting to know this universe.
Switching gears, let’s talk about the characters. Coco is the most well-defined of the cast at this point. A girl who always had an interest in magic from a young age, she’s wanted nothing but to be a witch. She wanted to cast spells, perform miracles, or do wondrous things. After finally learning the true nature of magic, using it ended up backfiring and hurting her in a way she never could have seen. Thus, she vows to figure out how to fix what she has hurt. It’s kind of a familiar character arc, but one that works very well for her. It’s easy to feel both her pain and wonder at the life she has been sucked into while also liking her. She’s very friendly, constantly tries her hardest, and can think on her feet when she needs to. Hopefully her character growth continues well, especially with the new challenges that lay before her and the pressure placed upon her.
The rest of the cast, unfortunately, is not as fleshed out. There’s Tetia and Richeh, both apprentices of Qifrey, who’re just kind of there at this point. They’re friendly enough with Coco but don’t really interact with her much. Qifrey is a man with a goal of stopping the witch that gave Coco that magic book in the first place and he acts as everyone’s teacher. He’s pleasant and clearly has some other intentions in mind, but not much else. There’s hinting at Tartah, the grandson of the wandmaker, being a recurring character with how the layouts frame him, but he’s only in three panels in the whole book.
Lastly there’s Agott, who’s probably the most developed of the supporting characters. A reserved, harsh girl who’s Coco’s roommate, she has a strong, immediate distaste for our protagonist. However, it comes from a place where you do understand why even if it’s not nice. She’s been an apprentice witch for all her life, working herself hard to reach the level she’s at. Then here comes Coco, an outsider with no experience in magic at all, who royally screwed up so badly that the whole magic world knows, and now is just given an apprenticeship just like that. It is obvious to see why it grinds Agott’s gears so much.
Writing-wise, I would say the manga is fairly decent. The exposition is handled fairly well and integrated into the story naturally. Coco doesn’t really know much about the world of magic, so we learn as she learns, being educated by another character or having her trying to recite or remember different aspects of magic. The book has a decent sense of humor, providing plenty of smile or chuckle moments. The drama and intrigue are handled decently, but like I mentioned it feels like Coco should have been more devastated by what happened. The dialogue is fine and the tone of the book never feels off, juggling many different moods throughout. The weakest aspect would be that the manga feels fairly familiar in some plot lines or ideas, but not so much so that it hurts the experience.
Now the artwork is a visual treat for the eyes. Every character looks unique and stands out; no one looks the same at all. The mangaka is fantastic at capturing emotional tone and energy of the scenes and characters with how things are laid out and how people react, with some of my favorite scenes being Coco and Agott interacting with one another. You can just feel the intensity and frustration in the air. The level of detail and designs are wonderful, really making for a beautiful world. The layout work has perfectly smooth panel flow, excellently crafted and framed scenes, and stunning spreads. The final chapter in the book feel feels like the perfect blend of all the strengths in the art itself. The only nitpick I could make is that some of the panels feel empty due to how much white is in them.
Is It Good?
Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 1 is a marvelous, truly wonderful start to a new fantasy series. It doesn’t set the world on fire with new ideas admittedly, but it does everything it sets out to do so well that its flaws are hardly an issue. It has all the potential in the world to keep growing stronger and better as more is unveiled and learned. If you’re looking to try a new series or get a fantasy series for a younger friend or family member, Witch Hat Atelier is a must.