Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, Vol. 1

By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press.

Backstory is important when you’re reading fictional works. It helps to show depth to the characters, show that they’re meant to be real people and not just caricatures. And it can kickstart a plot, or add some tragedy to give emotional catharsis. Occasionally, though, you run into a problem, and it’s especially true of first volumes of manga, where you have to wait a while to see what happens next? Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, by the author of Fruits Basket, has that problem – at least for me. Liselotte is the princess of a feudal family, who took up arms and warred against her brother for control of the land. She lost, and now she’s in exile in the middle of a somewhat fantastical forest, along with two servants and a mysterious young man who reminds her of her lost love.


The difficulty here is twofold. First, the badass princess going up against her family with a sword is literally less than a 2-page spread, and we don’t even see her face. The majority of the volume is dedicated to seeing the somewhat inept at common things princess trying to make the best of it, seeing her servants be a) frustrated and b) stoic about the whole thing (the servants are polar opposite twins, and I can’t help but be reminded of Hiro and Kisa, to be honest), and discovering the aforementioned vague supernatural forest. We don’t quite see the witch herself, though her presence is felt. We do see her familiar, who is the equivalent of a 5-year-old pretending to be a badass grownup. And then we have Engetsu, who seems to clearly be related to whoever is in Liselotte’s past, but is also clearly connected to the witch, though we’ll no doubt find out more in future volumes.

So yes, I’m complaining about the plot I didn’t get, and I know I should just read Yona of the Dawn if I want that. What I do get is thoroughly pleasant, with Liselotte being a bit useless at cooking and gardening but with a good heart, though it’s quite clear why her male servant tends to spend his days in a state of apoplexy. I’m not sure how dark this will get, or whether we will see more figures from her past. As always with Takaya’s works, she’s best at conveying people with terrible sadness inside them who nevertheless show a smiling face to the world. Tohru was like that, and I’ve no doubt that Liselotte will be the same. Of course, the series is still mostly lighthearted – the male servant, Alto, provides half of the comedy moments, and is highly amusing. (The other half come from the witch’s familiar and his puppy villain antics).

We have four more volumes till we catch up with Japan. The series is currently on hiatus while Takaya writes a sequel to Fruits Basket that’s running online, I believe. I worry this means Liselotte isn’t popular – worst case, it may be like Millennium Snow and keep readers waiting a while while the author does something else. But I’m ready to read on, and look forward to the next volume, even if it doesn’t have a sword-swinging princess.

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