By Ryu Mizunagi. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Good! Afternoon. Released in North America by Vertical Comics.
Sometimes when a company has a reputation for left-field, odd or intellectual manga titles, it can be a bit of a shock to see a license that goes against the grain. Such is the case with Witchcraft Works, which is not exactly a lowest common denominator title per se, but it definitely feels odd at Vertical, being the sort of thing I would have expected to see more with one of the more mainstream companies. Vertical it is, though, and the production is as always first rate. The content is pretty good as well, with the proviso that this feels very much like a first volume that hasn’t quite gotten a running start yet.
The best thing that Witchcraft Works has going for it are its two leads. The heroine, Ayaka, is the school princess, revered and good at everything she does. And, as we discover, she’s also a witch, there to protect our unwitting hero, Honoka. As a witch, she is also good at everything she does, being adept at fire magic to the point where she may literally be a fire elemental of some sort. Throughout this first volume, she doesn’t crack a smile or even vary her expressions, really – she is completely stoic. It works quite well for what she’s supposed to be. As for Honoka, given that his function here is mainly to be shocked at events spiraling around him and ask “what’s going on?” a lot, he does pretty well, and you identify with his frustration at being unable to do anything.
As for the villains and supporting cast, I will admit I was less impressed. The ‘moe’ aspect of the manga, since it can’t come out in its stone-faced heroine, tends to be shunted here. Thus, our first villain is a catgirl who uses bunnies to attack, her villain team that arrives later also looks like a collection of traits rather than people (though we’ve barely met them yet), and Ayaka’s waitress friend is there to have giant breasts and fall down a lot. It feels as if the author was told “there isn’t enough here that would remind people of Comic Alive, please add some fanservice pronto.” I hope that as the series goes on these villains will be fleshed out a bit more.
There is a healthy dose of humor, and I like that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. I may have disliked the fanservice waitress, but her appallingness is lampshaded, and Honoka’s general bafflement can get so intense that footnotes are needed to remind readers that he’s an idiot. With a title like this, where catgirls are throwing around evil bunnies and our heroine decided to get intel by typing everyone to a stake and torturing them, a sense of humor is essential to not have it tip over into self-parody, and this strikes just the right note.
I wasn’t blown awway by this first volume, but it’s solid, and with an anime airing last year should definitely attract some readers, particularly those who like stoic female leads who don’t take any guff. We’ll see how it develops.