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Review: Witch Hat Atelier is a masterpiece in art and world-building, but the story has only begun [MUSE]

Review: Witch Hat Atelier is a masterpiece in art and world-building, but the story has only begun [MUSE]

Just four years after its release, Kamome Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier became a standout in its genre. In 2020, the manga won an Eisner Award and Harvey Award, making it one of few translated works to do so. Since then, the series has found international acclaim and sold 4.5 million copies worldwide. The rapid rise in popularity was astonishing and intrigued me to the point of picking it up. Needless to say, my high expectations were not disappointed.

The series follows a young girl named Coco, who dreams of being a witch, but is unfortunately born magicless. One day, a witch named Qifrey visits her village, and upon witnessing him to produce magic, she performs a spell of her own. The tragedy that follows forces her to leave her home and search for a cure to undo her wrongdoings.

As Coco begins her training in Qifrey’s atelier, she learns certain rules of magic: anyone is capable of it, but to avoid misuse, only witches know the secret of how it is done. Additionally, magic performed on people is forbidden, meaning healing and cursing others are both illegal. As Coco realizes these rules may be the one thing obstructing her goal, another society of witches, that believes in free use of magic, begins to take interest in her. 

The first thing that caught my interest wasn’t the story, though-it was the art. Shirahama’s illustrations are absolutely astonishing. Inspiration is taken from the likes of Peter Rabbit and Alice in Wonderland and blended with Shirahama’s own style. Paneling is inspired by Renaissance-era designs, overlapping and juxtaposed with main characters in a way that animates the page. The obvious care put in the manga’s design stage results in immersive artwork that could simultaneously be from a nostalgic children’s book or a religious painting, and either way, is fantastic. Although, this series may not be appropriate for all children, or those who are easily triggered by darker topics.

This series is unafraid to tackle tough themes, such as sexual assault, which can be disregarded and even normalized in many shonen series. Witch Hat Atelier makes the point to handle it in the opposite manner, addressing an issue and losing no immersion from the fantasy setting. Instead, it highlights a universal experience for women, and for that, it earns a special place in my heart.

The story is typical of a hero’s journey; the main character learns they have a talent, and trains under a mentor. It’s too early to say whether or not the plot will diverge from there, though given Shirahama’s history of subverting tropes, I suspect it will. The world-building leaves readers in suspense; and I found myself dying to know about the backstories of certain characters. The details of Agott’s, in particular, have yet to be revealed, and is my biggest stake in the series. I for one, wouldn’t really mind putting the main storyline of the Brimhats on hold for a moment to learn more about the characters.

Witch Hat Atelier is queer, cozy, gripping, and emotional. If you’re looking for a perfect read, and can withstand the pain of an ongoing release, then I don’t think I can recommend this enough.

On this blog, members of the Carmel High School chapter of the Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society for High School Journalists (and the occasional guest writer) produce curations of all facets of popular culture, from TV shows to music to novels to technology. We hope our readers always leave with something new to muse over. Click here to read more from MUSE.

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