Hello and welcome back to Manga Talk!
Today we are going to be taking a look at a manga that grabbed my attention because of its unique art style.
We are going to be taking a look at the first volume of Witch Hat Atelier, and as usual MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead!
Let’s get started!
The story follow a girl named Coco, who is absolutely enamored with magic, but is sad that she is unable to use magic because you have to be born a Witch, a magic user.
As she goes about her days living with her mother as a tailor and seamstress, a man by the name of Qifrey, who asks why she loves magic so much.
She tells a story of when she was younger when her mother took her to a festival at a castle where she bought a slim book from a Witch, and it came with a free pen as well.
As Qifrey is about to question her more, a sky carriage breaks down and Qifrey offers his skills as a Witch to fix it, if he had a secret space to work in.
Coco convinces her mother to let him use their workspace, and Qifrey assigns Coco to keep watch, because no one can see the magic that he is going to use.
After chasing away some snooping boys, she convinces herself to sneak in to see Qifrey using his magic, and she learns that he draws a massive sigil to fix the carriage.
When Qifrey leaves, Coco’s mother is relieved that Coco didn’t ask to go with the man. Coco says that she can’t leave her mother alone, especially after her father died from sickness.
That evening, Coco starts to mess around with the book and pen that she got, experimenting with drawing sigils.
As Coco continues experimenting, she realizes that she can trace over the sigils of the book to make a perfect one, and just as she finishes drawing one, Qifrey swoops her away, asking what spells she has drawn.
Coco doesn’t know and the two look down in horror to see Coco’s mother being encased in a crystal or stone.
Qifrey says that anyone can use magic if they can draw the sigils, that’s why Witches have kept it secret for so long, and for those who just happen to find out, they must have their memories erased.
Coco and Qifrey are put into a bind because Coco wants to save her mother and she figures that she could recognize the sigil she drew if she saw it, and Qifrey knows that Coco is the only one who could help capture the one who sold her the book of sigils.
Left with no other choice, Qifrey decides to take Coco as an apprentice.
They take a sky carriage to Qifrey’s atelier and we are introduced to more of Qifrey’s apprentices, Tetia and Richeh, who already know that Coco is an outsider who had cast forbidden magic.
Qifrey explains to Coco that magic used to be extremely commonplace, but humans being humans decided to use magic for all out war and destruction. The few Witches who had any decency used their power of magic to erase the memories of magic from the populace, and spread the rumor that one had to be born a Witch to cast spells.
Witches don’t want another war to happen, which is why they are very particular in how the information of magic spread, which is why Coco’s case is a cause for gossip.
We also learn that the type of spells that are forbidden are ones that affect the human body or mind such as transformation spell, certain teleportation spells, mind control spells, harming spells and even healing spells, with the one exception to this rule being the mind wipe spell.
Qifrey shows Coco the Tower of Tomes, which is a repository of all knowledge for Witches, and if any book of magic is written, then it is instantaneously copied into the tower.
However, the only way into the tower is to pass the librarian’s trial, which is Coco’s goal.
Qifrey then shows Coco the room that she will be staying in, as well as saying that she will have a roommate with a girl named Agott.
When Agott is introduced, she immediately has a chip on her shoulder and does not take a liking to Coco, calling her an outsider who was able to immediately join the magical world while she worked herself to the bone to get where she is.
The next day, after an explanation on the magic system the story uses, Qifrey has some business to deal with somewhere for a couple days, and leaves Agott to take care of Coco.
Agott, deciding that Coco needs to prove herself, tells Coco that she needs to pass a test in order to become an apprentice.
Qifrey talks to another Witch by the name of Alaira, who gives us a little hint of a group known as The Brimmed Caps. Qifrey brushes it off and mentions that he isn’t planning to let Coco take the test yet because the season would make the testing ground very dangerous.
So Agott tells Coco that the test is to reach the highest peak of the Dadah Range and pick up a plant called a Diadem Herb with only her magical components and three Contraptions, which are items that have magical abilities.
With a Guidance Orb to tell her were to go, a Vapor Orb to drink water, and Agott’s flying shoes, she is sent to take the test, with Agott saying that she only has one chance to pass the test, with failure meaning she has to leave.
Coco finds that the test will be a bit more difficult, because the Diadem Herb is on top of a floating sphere. Coco learns how the flying shoes work, and just as she is getting the hang of it, she gets spooked by a creature called a brushbuddy, that she falls in the water below the floating spheres.
This ruins the sigils on the shoes and her supplies, leaving Coco in a bit of a sticky situation. Qifrey, meanwhile, is told by Alaira that he could bring his students to this tower to learn magic, but he does not want to be in that tower any longer than he needs to.
Alaira also warns Qifrey to keep an eye on his apprentices, which proves to be true because the other apprentices ask Agott where Coco is.
Agott tells them that she is taking the test, and explains that if Coco can’t pass an easy test then she is not fit for the world of magic, but also set Coco up for failure by forcing Coco to take the exam in the worst weather of the year, saying that an outsider has no place in their world.
Coco, having had no success using magic in a conventional way, uses her skills as a tailor to creatively use what she has to make a temporary glider to launch her up high and make it to the top.
Qifrey comes back and immediately is concerned with Coco taking the test at her skill level and as he opens the teleporter to get Coco, she is standing there with the Diadem Herb that she needs.
Qifrey scolds her a bit, but still accepts her as an apprentice, with the promise that she will never use magic for vile purposes and gives her a robe and pointed hat. Meanwhile, the Witch that gave Coco the book says that “the seed has sprouted.”
Later Coco seems to be having issues drawing consistent lines, so Qifrey suggest that they get her a proper want and they all go on a shopping trip.
Qifrey explains that the town they are going to, Kalhn, is the largest settlement of Witches. Agott goes off on her own while everyone else goes to a shop called The Starry Sword, with Coco getting the occasional glimpse of someone.
At the shop we meet an old man named Mister Nolnoa and his grandson Tartah, who are in the business of magic magical components from the magical ink that they use and the pens that write that ink.
Just as they are getting ready to get Coco her pen, she sees the man that sold her the book outside the shop and she immediately gives chase to the man, with the other apprentices including Agott running after her.
When the apprentices catch up to Coco, she explains that she saw the man that sold her the book, but she had been too slow to catch up. As they get their bearings, they realize that they are no longer in Kalhn.
They had been teleported by forbidden magic and what’s more, they have attracted the attention of a dragon.
The mysterious man says that he doesn’t care for the other three, but eagerly welcomes Coco to the world of magic, ending the volume.
The art in this manga is fantastic.
There is so much beautiful detail in the character designs and the backgrounds that even the parts that are exaggerated for humor are done very well.
This is main glue holding up this story, but there are some other great parts as well.
Coco, as the protagonist, is very much the usual regular person whisked into the world of magic because of extenuating circumstances, but she has a charm about it.
She very much has a love and appreciation for magic that it makes her a very endearing character, especially with her determination to save her mother.
Qifrey, as a mentor character, is interesting because, being an adult, he has a very levelheaded outlook on the situation.
Clearly the man that sold Coco the book is bad news, and whatever spell that Coco accidentally cast was not done out of malice or evil, just a child’s curiosity.
He doesn’t blame Coco for what she did, and wants to ease her into the world of magic because she is so far behind and is already seen as an outcast by some others in the magical world.
Qifrey also seems to be an outcast, but more so out of choice when compared to Coco. He has an interest in capturing the mysterious man, and he sees Coco as a way to get to him.
Agott is a frustratingly interesting character. She’s frustrating because she embodies the trope of someone who is skilled in the magical world having to deal with an outsider, but she is interesting because of how she goes about what she does.
She very clearly has a reason to be like this, and that is being set up with what she says and how she acts with Coco. She is skilled, but not out of natural skills as these types of characters would be, but out of hard work.
Agott has a major chip on her shoulder, and the fewer outsider she has to deal with the better.
The magic system, while not being completely unique, is interesting from the standpoint that anyone could do the magic if they knew how, but because humans are going to human, Witches have decided that only a select few can learn magic.
It brings up some interesting points of discussion that can provide interesting debates.
What sort of drives the story down for me is how generic the plot is.
A nobody is brought into a magical world is not a unique story. There are certain beats that the story follows that you can see coming from a mile away.
Coco being the cause of her mother being trapped and having to learn magic to set her free.
Coco isn’t good at using magic the traditional way, so she has to get creative to pass a test that no one would have expected her to pass without a lot of formal training.
A mysterious villain that has a mysterious reason for bringing Coco into the world of magic.
An antagonistic force in Agott wanting to have Coco fail for some backstory reason.
Qifrey having a mysterious reason for want to get the mystery man.
There are a lot of plot points that, as far as I can tell, have a predictable pathway. Now this can be that I have seen this type of story or similar stories before (Harry Potter, Little Witch Academia, Naruto to some extent) that I have become jaded to it, and I hope I am wrong about that.
I would recommend this story to anyone wanting a fantasy story with some interesting characters, a fun magic system, and gorgeous art.
While I have some issues with the story, I will probably continue this story, at the very least get the second volume to see what it offers.
Unfortunately, I will not have a Saturday Special tomorrow, so I will tell you all that on Wednesday next week we will be taking a look at the villain’s side of the story.
The game is afoot as we look at the first volume of Moriarty the Patriot!
So until then,
Heiwa to sayonara!