By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThe manga this week
Tongari Boshi no Atelier (Atelier of Witch Hat)
By Kamome Shirahama (Kodansha)
I’ve recently learned that I’m quite demanding when it comes to evaluating so-called Western-style fantasy manga. Wondering why, I realized that this may be a reaction to the days around the 1990s when I was engrossed in games for “famicon,” a home video game console, such as “Dragon Warrior” and “Final Fantasy.” I’ve already been saturated with the classical world vision of seemingly medieval kingdoms with wizards and witches that cast spells, and elves, dragons and fairies, so they are no longer as attractive to me as they are. I do wish they’d show me more originality and twists in the setting and story, please!
This is why I had initially distanced myself from this week’s manga, titled “Tongari Boshi no Atelier” (Atelier of Witch Hat), although this work has four volumes so far and has sold more than 1 million copies in total. I’m aware it’s not good to reject something without trying it, so I read it all in one go.
This work depicts a world where magic is part of people’s daily lives, much like advanced technology is in this modern world. But only those who were born to be wizards and witches are believed to have the ability to cast spells. Coco, the protagonist, adores magicians and wants to become a witch. One day, a young wizard visits her village. Coco secretly watches the moment he casts a magic spell, and finds that what is considered to be magical power gifted only to those chosen is actually a skill that anyone can perform, with just a pen and magic ink, by accurately tracing magic circles. This is indeed the secret that the wizards and witches are trying so hard to hide.
Magic resulting from replicating something with pen and ink — when I read that part, I could not help smiling to myself. That’s exactly the same as what children who want to become mangaka artists do: replicate the drawings of their favorite masters. In other words, “magic” must be an allegory for “manga” in this work. If so, Coco, who trains with the young wizard to become a magician, is like an aspiring mangaka.
Kamome Shirahama, the creator of “Atelier of Witch Hat,” was able to devise a really interesting setting. I feel that was possible because the artist has a marvelous drawing skill and the talent to effectively turn that into manga. The artist even reminds me of the famous Sir Arthur Rackham, who is known for his illustrations of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Shirahama also drew the front cover illustrations of American “Star Wars” comics, and so is already a world-class illustrator.
When evaluating this work from the viewpoint of the contemporary manga reader, however, I can’t help wishing each character was given a bit more of a distinctive personality. In the end, here I go again with my demanding comments.