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Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 2)

Coco and her cohort discover that the portal they fell through at the end of the last volume led to a magic maze, which is guarded fiercely by the dragon that’s hounding them. Agott, Tetia, and Richeh think it’s Coco’s fault they’re trapped. When they bed down in a safe place for the night, Tetia conjures a soft, warm cloud (a spell of her own creation!) for them to sleep in. That gives Coco an idea. What if they used Tetia’s spell to lull the dragon to sleep and sneak past it towards the way out? It will take many spells drawn in tandem for it to work. Can the girls get out?

Meanwhile, Master Qifrey has made a discovery while looking for the girls. Both the Brimmed Caps (evil witches who shield their faces) and the Knights Moralis (kind of a police force for magic users) could be after Coco – for the same reason. How can he keep her safe so she can learn magic and free her mother?

This manga likes to leave off on middle-of-the-story cliffhangers between volumes. It took me a minute to remember what happened at the end of the last volume and thus make sense of the beginning of this one. It ended much the same way as the first: that is, we wrapped up the arc started in Vol. 1 in the middle of Vol. 2; the middle of Vol. 2 started a new arc, ended in the middle of that arc, and will conclude at the beginning of Vol. 3. This is unlike other manga I’ve tried which wraps up each arc neatly within the volume. I hope I don’t have such a long stretch between this volume and the next!

We continue the world-building here with a society of both evil witches and the knights who keep magic users in line. It will be interesting to see how they operate and what their interest is in Coco. There is also some character development and backstory, regarding Agott in particular, that will make for a fascinating foil to Coco.

I said in my review of Vol. 1 that I liked the classical attention to detail to everyday items and chores. That is shaping up to be a common theme in this manga. One of the “lessons” Qifrey teaches Coco is to use magic for everyday applications so it “sticks.” As a result, he asks her to be in charge of a meal, which means practice for her, and gives us an idea of how magic is used for cooking in this world – and what kind of food they eat!

To me, this is a fantasy manga reminiscent of both Harry Potter and The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson), with the slice of life elements of A Bride’s Story, which I’ve grown to love. Looking forward to the next volume!

-Kathleen

Shirahama, Kamome. Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 2). 2019.

Magus of the Library (Vol. 4)

Theo returns to Aftzaak after passing his kafna exam for his training! Not only did he pass, but so did everyone he met on the road and in the exam: Ohgga, Natica, Sala, Peperino, Mihona, and Alv. As he meets the rest of his cohort, he begins to wonder anew how he fits in among them. As their entire first year is spent in training, he has some time to get to know them. Their class is led by Professor Xtoh, a hard and firm woman who does not tolerate softness. It’s during the Matriculation Ceremony that Theo sees Sedona again – as the head of the Protection’s Office. He meets her afterward and offers to return the book she gave him, but she encourages him to keep it. He vows to meet her again after he becomes a kafna. Will he be able to keep his promise?

I wasn’t expecting this series to have this big an ensemble cast of characters. It was a little overwhelming for me. The chapter breaks each had a few characters and bios on them, which did help, but I feel that a “cast of characters” page in volumes going forward would be very beneficial.

The most fun thing for me in this volume were the flipped gender roles. Theo is assigned a room with the only two other boys who passed the kafna exam: Alv and newcomer Sumomo. While very smart, he is intimidated by women as he comes from a family almost exclusively of kafna! At one point he explains how the women in his family had to become almost aggressively assertive so they would be taken seriously. The context of this passage is comical, but it was funny in part because it’s true!

Other than that, the poetic prose and rich lore and artwork keep me coming back. Looking forward to more!

– Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 4). 2020.

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 10)

Karluk and Amir make a visit to her clan, but Karluk is staying for a while. He wants to learn the bow, how to hunt, and generally how his in-laws live. He’s even given a golden eagle to teach how to hunt. He starts to distance himself from Amir to try to show his growth and independence. He doubts himself… is he really manly enough for her? Meanwhile, Mr. Smith and Ali have finally made it to Ankara and met his friend, Hawkins. Though Mr. Smith wants to retrace his steps and photograph his findings, the war with Russia is getting very bad. Is it enough for him to prematurely go home to England?

I was so glad to see Karluk in the spotlight in this volume. Though Amir is the main character, we haven’t gotten a very clear picture of him until now. He went through some much-needed character development, and though he went through a lot of it in this volume, it didn’t feel rushed at all. It still moved at a leisurely pace, and there was a chapter dedicated solely to golden eagles and how they were used for hawking to break up the emotional content. His conversation with Amir – where they confess their feelings for one another – felt earned and well deserved. (Also made me tear up)

Upon finishing this volume, it occurred to me that I’ve never made it this far in a manga before! This one really speaks to me. The historical setting lines up with my interests. Though romance is a huge part of the story, it’s not cheesy, over the top, or melodramatic, and progresses organically. It’s a slice of life story, which is slow moving and focused on showing everyday things, not necessarily grand adventures or deep philosophical questions. This, coupled with the fact that it’s a manga, is definitely outside of my normal reading zone, but I am so happy I gave it a chance. I hope one day to find more manga like it!

Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 10). 2018.

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 2)

Akiko Higashimura continues her manga memoir immediately after Volume 1 ends. She is in her last exam to try and get into one last art school. Afterwards, she is so sure she failed since she was so distracted by Sensei’s last phone call. However, she gets an acceptance letter from the last school: she got into Kanazawa! Once she’s all moved and settled in, she goofs off like a typical college student would. She feels like she can’t create like she could in Sensei’s classroom. On her trip home for summer break, he sets her straight, and she manages to create all three paintings for her joint review. It’s a very important presentation and critique of your work by your professors in front of your peers. Can she pass the joint review and continue art school? If she does, can she get her act together for the next year?
 
Not gonna lie, I spent most of this book wanting to smack some sense into Akiko. It felt like we went through the first volume, but in reverse. We see how hard she worked to get into art school, only to see her revert back to her old ways and goof off again in college. We get more insight into her and Sensei’s relationship, and while it’s clear that at the time of writing she regrets her actions… it was just cringey to read. I really hope some situations and feelings were exaggerated for dramatic effect.
 
At the same time, I was having hardcore flashbacks of my undergrad college days in the art program, and of my senior thesis in particular. The meticulously detailed environments of the art school and studios made me smell the clay, the paint, the turpentine, the gesso, fresh dust off the sandpaper. It’s very nostalgic and incredibly sad for me. Those halcyon days are long gone for me.
 
The main draw continues to be Akiko and Sensei’s relationship, as well as (for me at least) the reminder of living as an artist. Looking forward to the next volume.
 
– Kathleen
 
Higasimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 2). 2019.

Venus in the Blind Spot

Having recently read Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, a classic in manga body horror, I was impressed by the author and illustrator Junji Ito. When I heard that a collection of his short stories was being released, I was anxious to read more of Ito’s macabre stories.  His ten stories include three written by others, but all have his distinctive art style and otherwordly terror. The book also includes some full-color artwork in the beginning, which is a treat because most of the stories are in black and white only. Get ready for a grotesque set of stories! 

Billions Alone

Michio is a teen who has isolated himself from the world for seven years, but is coaxed out by former classmates who wish him to join them in their graduation ceremony. But the town has had some gruesome murders, with people being discovered sewn together. It seems groups meeting together are being targeted, with mass murders and elaborately staged kill sites. People are scared and begin to isolate themselves, but paradoxically Michio is lured out more and more by his love for a classmate who has shown him kindness. 

The Human Chair (Edogawa Ranpo)

Adapted from a 1925 story, this tale is of obsession but was more ridiculous than scary. A young wife discovers that a man who is in love with her has hollowed out her favorite chair and lives in it, so he can always be with her. Defying credibility, he kills her husband and the wife falls in love with him and joins him in the chair. The ending has a modern-day chairmaker explain that he is descended from them, as they had children together. In a chair???

An Unearthly Love (Edogawa Ranpo)

A new wife discovers her husband is unnaturally attached to a life-size doll. When she destroys it so his affections will return to her, he can’t bear it. 

Venus in the Blind Spot

A group of UFO enthusiasts fall in love with the club president’s daughter Mariko, but all begin to have vision problems that they are unable to see her if she is directly in front of them. It turns out the girl’s scientist father has done something to the men, but the plan backfires spectacularly when the men turn on Mariko. 

The Licking Woman

This story was WEIRD. A mysterious woman accosts people on dark streets and licks them with her poisonous tongue. Then the tongue takes on a life of its own. 

Master Umezz and Me

Autobiographic in nature, Ito shares how his love of manga began as a child. He especially idolizes manga artist Kazuo Umezz. 

How Love Came to Professor Kirida (Robert Hichens)

A misanthrope professor has a woman’s spirit attach to him, as she is obsessed with him. Disgusted by her desire, he shares his haunting with a friend who is a priest. These two men have unhealthy boundaries and I wondered why women would want to be with either of them.

The Engima of Amigara Fault

An earthquake reveals a fault line in which silhouettes of people’s bodies are revealed. People begin to flock to the area to see this phenomenon, and some people discover the holes are a perfect fit for them. The people fit through the holes and disappear into the mountain never to be seen again. But where are they going? Months later when explorers find the other side of the fault, a creepy visual shows what happened to them. 

The Sad Tale of the Principal Post

The shortest of all the stories, a man gets caught under the supporting post of his new house and his family lets him die there instead of damaging the house. Ok, sure. 

Keepsake

This unnatural tale was an excellent way to end the collection. A baby is discovered in the grave of a woman who died nine months before. Her husband, who quickly remarried, takes the baby to his new wife who has a child of her own, as they had been having an affair before the first wife’s death. We learn that they poisoned the wife, but while the husband was holding vigil over her body before she was buried, had sex with her body. The second wife is horrified, and the conclusion has a similar circumstance, and you find out the husband is now married to a third wife…

As I said in my Uzumaki review- the creatures are macabre and Lovecraftian in nature, so even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted- and this collection follows suit. This was an interesting collection, and many of the stories are extreme and unbelievable, but you must suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the experience of Ito’s amazing imagination!  

-Nancy

Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 1)

Coco is a young girl who lives in a world suffused with magic. She’s not a witch – witches are born, not made, everyone knows – but she wishes she was. She lives with her mom in the tailor shop they run. Upon a visit from a male witch named Qifrey, Coco discovers that magic is drawn, with a pen and ink, instead of spoken aloud as everyone had thought. She decides to try drawing from a book she had been given as a child – and accidentally traps her mother in crystal. Qifrey takes her to his atelier, his magic home, in order to train Coco as a witch’s apprentice and undo the spell.

The fantasy manga I’ve started so far all have a great knack for fascinating world building. The magic system of drawing, while not that new, is refreshing. I can always appreciate stories that show how hard work artistry can be 😉 What’s interesting to me is that a point is made to show that magic is everywhere in this world, but only a few people are shown how to use it… instead of the other way around where only a few people have magic within them in a non-magical world.

The art was cute, but thankfully, not over-the-top cute. It leans toward the cutesy style without being too much. There’s a classical quality to it, somehow. The light is either softly diffused or very dramatic, and a good measure of attention is given to the indoor scenes of kitchens and workshops and their respective tools.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Shirahama, Kamome. Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 1). 2017.

Beyond the Clouds: Vol. 1

Theo is a young mechanic and handyman in Yellow Town it’s so called because the exhaust and steam from the city creates yellow clouds that block out the stars. He stumbles upon a girl named Mia who has fallen from the sky and torn one of her wings off. She can’t remember who she is, and feels alone and scared, so Theo reads to her every night and starts to build her a new wing. Unfortunately they are being followed by bad men who want to sell Mia as a commodity to the highest bidder. She unleashes a terrible power and manages to fight them off, but she falls into a deep sleep with a high fever. Theo, though injured himself, ventures into the Sage Forest for medicine that can help her. Will he succeed?

The art is really what caught my eye here. It’s very loose and sketchy, unlike the other manga I’ve read. The shading is done with loose hatching, and for the most part there isn’t much of it. It looks as if there is a gentle, diffused light throughout the whole book; in part due to the clouds covering the city, in part due to the sweet nature of the story.

This one felt a little too cutesy to me. The figures are very cherubic, with short statures, round faces, and big eyes. The dialogue was overly sweet for my tastes and the obvious romance felt a little cringy to me as an adult. The target audience, middle readers and teens, would likely be more receptive to it.

That said… it’s kind of a sucker punch. The story goes from 0-100 pretty quickly with the fantasy elements. There is potential here for a story with more depth. I may try another volume to see how it goes.

– Kathleen

Nicke. Beyond the Clouds: Vol. 1. 2018.

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror

Happy Halloween! For the last few years I have posted a horror-themed graphic novel on Halloween Day, so this year I choose the classic three-volume manga series Uzumaki.

“Kurouzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral — the hypnotic secret shape of the world” is the premise of this eerie series that has definitely earned the acclaim it has been given. 

Kirie and Shuichi begin to notice their family members and townspeople’s strange fascination with spirals. It begins innocently enough, as many spirals are found in nature, with the teen’s fathers being the first to become entranced with the spiral’s power and beauty. Soon obsessed, people begin to experience terrifying body contortions and you will begin to need to have a strong suspension of disbelief as grotesque and unnatural occurrences happen that would have most people leaving the town for good. Kirie and Shuichi remain strong in the midst of turmoil, as they try to leave with their remaining family members when the town is destroyed by hurricanes, and then by the madness of the inhabitants who can’t escape. 

Each volume is divided into chapters, with eighteen chapters in all, and the final chapter The Labyrinth brings the story of Kirie and Shuichi to a close. While chronological, in volumes two and three the chapters begin to resemble short stories, so you can read a chapter at a time that is self-contained. The stories can spiral out of control, but that is part of the appeal in what makes this trilogy stand out.

The artwork is a masterpiece of time and effort by author and illustrator Junji Ito, with intricate black and white panels that show the town’s descent into insanity. The creatures are macabre and Lovecraftian in nature, so even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. The spirals and the body horror found throughout the chapters will stay with you, even after you put the books down. Who knew that a simple spiral could become so treacherous and all-consuming? 

This series is not to be missed, as you too, should join other readers and dive into this whirlpool of terror!

-Nancy

Collage of Uzumaki images from Mother.Dot

 

Magus of the Library: Vol. 3

Theo has passed his written kafna exam! He is now moving on to the oral and practical exams. He meets a few more of his exam-mates: Sala Sei Sohn, a girl very interested in mana; Ohgga, a carefree girl with cat ears; and Natica, who’s determined to be the best of the best. Theo is paired with Ohgga and Natica for the practical portion of the exam. They have to work together on a sample research request that they would get if they were working in the library. The three young people are very different in personality and methodology. Can they work together to beat the clock and pass this final portion of the exam?

The worldbuilding in this manga keeps getting better and better. As we learn more about the world, we learn more about Theo’s heritage. I love this device! It helps to bring the narrative together in a meaningful way.

The main themes in this volume were unity amid diversity and the journey is the destination. I found this very comforting among the world situation at present.

Though I am admittedly not a manga fan, I am really enjoying this one. The worldbuilding is so interesting and it’s stitched together with our hero’s story, to help form a cohesive narrative. The detailed art with different architectural styles continues to fascinate me. As ever, looking forward to more.

– Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 3). 2019.

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