WITCH HAT ATELIER, VOL.1
Creator: Kamome Shirahama (@shirahamakamome)
Publisher: Kodansha (@KodanshaManga)
Translation: Stephen Kohler
Lettering: Lys Blakeslee
Editing: Ajani Oloye
WHAT IS IT?
A young girl is introduced to a world of magic after tragedy strikes her household. A charming, magical tale filled with spells, witches, and adventure.
Think Howl’s Moving Castle meets Ni no Kuni meets Breath of the Wild.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Coco is a young girl who became obsessed with magic when she was gifted a pen-tipped wand and a spellbook by a mysterious witch at a young age. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t conjure anything. Though the laws of the world around her dictate that magic cannot be learned, one must be born with it, Coco never gives up hope that one day she’ll be a great witch.
When she witnesses a traveling witch named Qifrey cast a spell, she discovers the component she’s been missing. Excited to utilize this new skill, her childlike wonder and determination cost her dearly, as one of her spells goes terribly awry. Forced to flee her home with the mysterious man who opened her eyes to the truth, Coco must become an apprentice witch and study alongside Qifrey’s headstrong students to find a way to undo the damage she wrought upon her home.
Shirahama’s artwork bursts from the page with a sense of magic as rich as the story she tells. Reminiscent of a Ghibli film with an Art Nouveau flare, she captures a classical storybook feeling with whimsy and fantasy woven into every little detail.
The story is immensely captivating and establishes the world and characters with a wide-eyed wonder and dynamic aura. Magical moments and the overall mystery are balanced with appropriate and charming humor that enhances Coco’s innocence without feeling out of place. It allows her determination and growth to shine.
Blakeslee ensured that even the tiniest of lettering is easily legible and impactful. Every speech bubble and sound effect is clear, stands out against the backgrounds, and portrays the intended emotion appropriately.
The effort Kohler and Oloye put into translation and editorial work to ensure the original story was approachable for Western audiences without losing any of what made it so impactful is commendable. Dealing with a fantasy story with its own rules and lore is no doubt a tricky task to tackle and the manga reads smoothly throughout.
The pacing of the manga is exceptionally well-thought-out from a storytelling perspective. There are several major plot points that happen across this introductory volume and each of them is given enough time to develop without coming across as rushed. The sense of progress in Coco’s journey is both emotional and appropriate for the story Shirahama aims to tell.
The lore and world-building are explained in a manner that feels organic. Coco’s innate curiosity, as well as her introduction to the world of magic, allows for readers to learn alongside her.
The use of magic through an artistic sense with traditional wands being swapped out for pens and ink is a brilliant way to subvert the expectations of classic witch/spell-casting-focused stories.
The amount of detail showcased is commendable. Tiny pieces of jewelry and embroidery are consistent from panel to panel and a variety of textures are used to show movement and enhance both the characters and the world around them (especially with the frequent use of pure white space behind the characters, it makes the minimalistic moments feel vibrant).
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Some scary scenarios, fantasy danger, and one image of nudity (in a non-sexual manner).
The story has some heavy slice-of-life elements (cooking, household chores, etc., it’s akin to Kiki’s Delivery Service in how it balances the ordinary with the extraordinary) so those looking for a pure fantasy series may find some of the narrative a bit slow.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
It’s no wonder that this series is quoted as being “the magical adventure that took Japan by storm” and won an Eisner. From acclaimed DC and Marvel cover artist Kamome Shirahama, Witch Hat Atelier is a stunning and engaging story of curiosity, dreams, and the call of magic. It has everything readers love about fantasy stories while channeling the same "magic in the mundane moments" aesthetic that fans adore in Ghibli films.
With its picturesque artwork, sprawling, enchanted world, and stunning character designs, Coco’s adventure is a page-turner that will hook you immediately and have you rushing off to buy vol.2 the moment you hit the incredible cliffhanger. Whimsical and delightful, Witch Hat Atelier is perfect for fans of low-key fantasy tales that go beyond the action and make the magic matter.
HOW DO I READ IT?
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