Witch Hat Atelier became a big hit when the first volume was released in April earlier this year, and honestly I’m not surprised. It’s art is eye catching and the story is fantastically magical. I’m really surprised we haven’t heard much from this mangaka in the past considering the polished nature of the art and the detail put into the story, but with further digging it looks like I missed quite a few things. Kamome Shirahama is an accomplished artist who has been doing work for Marvel and DC for a while. They worked on various covers for Marvel including Howard the Duck #4 featuring Ms Marvel. It also looks like they are working as a regular cover artist for Batgirl and Birds of Prey. I’m honestly surprised, but looking through their past covers, I’m just really glad they were given the chance to create a full-length manga to show off their awesome art style. It also looks like they had another manga in 2012 called Eniale & Dewiela, but it looks like it may have only been given a French translation and hasn’t made it to the US yet. But if you’re a fan of witches, magical worlds, interesting magical systems, and magic school stories, I would highly suggest picking this volume up for a try.
The manga follows the story of young Coco who has wished she could learn magic from a young age. But everyone knows you have to be born a witch in order to use magic, so Coco spends her days helping her mother at their tailoring shop. Resigned to her un-magical life, she is about to give up on her dream when the witch Qifrey shows up at their shop. After secretly spying on him while he casts magic, Coco learns that her dream of becoming a witch may be closer than she ever thought.
Shirahama is a fantastic artist, and even if the story wasn’t interesting, I might have picked up this manga just for the art. Their style is very unique and almost has a classic fairy tale look to it in the way they do their line-work and shading. I think it might have something to do with the lack of screentone being used in the manga, or at least a lot less than a lot of modern manga I’ve read. I definitely don’t notice the screentone that much if it is used. My eye is more drawn to the delicate cross hatching and ink lines that make up most of the values and shading throughout. Each panel seems to be given a lot of attention with the amount of detail that is used. I almost get the same feeling from this manga as I do from The Girl from the Other Side in just how unique and different the style is in comparison to other manga out there.
Their style is a great asset to the worldbuilding as well. So much care and detail is put into the worlds to make them interesting and blend in well with a world full of magic. Just look at the chapter with Coco’s first test. The testing ground is a field full of floating round islands and stones, suspended above a lake of water. Coco must find her way to the top-most island to pick a special flower in order to pass the test. It really feels like a world that you’d only find somewhere populated by witches and magic. Then there’s Qifrey’s Atelier that really does feel like something a witch recluse would live in, a cute country house covered in vines. The last chapter was the best though. Seeing the shopping district, I think those pages really cement how great Shirahama’s style is. The streets feel lively and the wand shop’s design is fantastic. Just the place I’d want to visit, with its giant tree growing right up the middle and the whole shop organized around it.
I think one of the other strengths of this manga is the character designs. Shirahama does a great job creating characters who feel lively and unique. I love the wand shop owner’s design with his fluffy beard and almost govial grandpa look. Each character looks and feels unique to themselves and their expressions are really entertaining, especially Coco’s. Shirahama gives her a lot of movement and great expressions throughout the manga that make watching her antics really entertaining.
The story itself is pretty classic. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter or other magical school narratives, I think you’ll also find this one interesting for you. It has many of the classic story lines: young student comes into the school with little to no experience, uses her experience from outside of magic to make a place for herself, and is searching for a way to use magic to solve a mistake she caused. Coco is taken to Qifrey’s Atelier after she tries using a forbidden spell and it goes horribly wrong, turning her mother into a pillar of stone. Since she never grew up learning about magic like the other girls in the Atelier, her roommate Agate constantly picks on her for being uneducated or, to use Harry Potter terms, a muggle. But she is absolutely determined to learn as much as she can and fit into the magical world she’s been thrown into. When Agate forces her to take the Apprentice exam before she’s ready, she shows everyone how resourceful she is and how someone with a perspective outside of magic can often think of new and novel ideas. Coco uses her experience in tailoring to aid her in the test, putting her scant knowledge of magic to the ultimate test.
The more we get into the backstory and history of the world, the more it feels like a place and story you can really sink your teeth into. Shirahama put a lot of thought into the magic system and world they built, taking the time to explain how the world works and how magic circles are made, down to the individual sigils used. Magical theory and practice is discussed throughout the volume, creating the backbone of Witch Hat Atelier’s magical system. I love seeing how magical systems are created. Once you know the rules and how it works, it becomes easier to see how the character’s could eventually twist and morph to serve different situations. Knowing these laws of magic is integral to creating a great world and narrative. Once you know the laws, then you can discuss how to break them or stretch them to their limits.
In the background of the volume we see the overarching plot developing that will eventually be the main narrative draw of the series: the traditional magic users vs those who want to go against the system. It’s a simple plot line, but it works well here when you take into account the story of how magic is being controlled and denied to those who aren’t in the know or born into certain families. I’m predicting some very interesting moral questions coming up on whether it was right to deny most of the population the use of magic in order to prevent war. It’ll give a nice meat to the overall narrative.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read this manga and, if you did, what you thought. I’m predicting this will be inching its way onto my top 10 list as more volumes come out.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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