The first volume of Witch Hat Atelier provided an excellent opening that made me want to read more right away. Time has passed, and the next chapter has arrived. Is it good?
According to the official description from Kodansha Comics:
Join Coco as she continues her spellbinding journey of magic and discovery! After traveling to the mystical township of Kalhn with her new master to buy a casting wand, a strange, masked witch transports Coco and her three sister apprentices to an eerily quiet city. But they soon find out that they’re not alone, and they encounter a ferocious dragon! Do these fledgling witches have what it takes to defeat the fire-breathing beast, or will their plans and lives go up in flames?!
After reading the second volume, I’m pleased to report that there was not a drop in quality at all. Witch Hat Atelier continues to be one of the most enjoyable and promising new series that has come out this year.
With regards to the story collected here, everything turned out to be quite enjoyable. The first third of the book picks up where the manga left off: our heroines trying to figure how to escape the maze and the dragon that has them trapped. It’s here where we get some focus on Tetia, diving into her dreams and wants, which ends up leading to the answer to their problems (combined with Coco’s out of the box thinking and Agott’s tactical forethought). The solution is actually rather ingenious, playing on the themes of how magic is supposed to bring happiness to others and it doesn’t need to be a tool to hurt. After all, dragons are living beings and don’t they deserve a little happiness as well?
The book then shifts gears, focusing a little on just Coco before diving head first into Agott. We have two slower-paced chapters about Coco learning how to better harness and use magic through practical means while introducing a new character into the mix. The rest of the manga moves faster afterwards by having Agott assist in a rescue operation that dives deeper into her own issues and insecurities. More lore is also introduced at this point, leading to a moment that feels weak. It’s not a bad development, but the idea was only just introduced and it feels like it would’ve been more beneficial for the issue to come up later down the line for bigger impact. But that’s hardly a problem when the story is rather engaging from start to finish.
Character-wise, this is where the manga really shines. Coco steps into her own here as her experience and learning come into play. Her magic is still weak and she needs a lot of training, but her attention to detail and thinking out of the box leads to some clever solutions on her part. Her quick thinking and observation of surroundings allows her to figure out how to handle situations that others may not see. Plus, her constant practicing and attempts to help contribute to her growth as both a witch and character, solving problems within the story in natural, believable ways. It really shows that while Coco may not be the most powerful, her unique skills can really help overcome some of her shortcomings.
The other character who gets the lion-share of growth and focus would be Agott, as the manga dives into what her deal is. Her distaste for Coco doesn’t merely come from being “rewarded” with a magic life and apprenticeship after failing in. It comes from something much deeper and heavier, an ambition and drive to constantly prove herself due to her family. It appears she comes from a very long line of talented witches, including her mother. However, her talents were never good, never perfect– just merely “average” at best, leading to her being ousted from her own family and possibly by her mom. Now she’s desperately trying to get better day after day just so she can impress her mother. She isn’t foolish enough to risk people over her wants, but this has psychologically scarred her. Even trying to step up at one point when she has the chance, she suffers a panic attack, worrying she’ll never be good enough. It’s a familiar character trait, but the way the mangaka depicts it makes it work.
This volume also shows us some more of Tetia while introducing the new character of Olruggio. Tetia is a girl with a dream. She may be a very bubbly, energetic girl, but her hope is to develop a new type of spell. She wants to create something that all witches can use and will love, something that’ll mean a lot. When there’s a chance that she won’t be able to or will die before she reaches her goal, it terrifies her that she won’t be able to leave a mark. She may be a bit silly, but as a comedic relief character she offers more substance than most.
Olruggio is the Watchful Eye to the Atelier, a figure appointed to keep an eye on things to make sure Qifrey and his apprentices don’t get into trouble. He’s very stern and far more serious than Qifrey, almost taking Coco away to the Knights Moralis (think the police) like protocol dictates. He has an intense aura around him but he’s not a bad person. He just has a different mindset than Qifrey, like offering Agott a chance to join him on a rescue operation when her master wanted her to stay out of it despite her wanting more experience. He can also be a bit flustered or surprised by positivity, like when Coco thanks him for making magical contraptions that, though mundane to him, mean a whole lot to her. He’s an interesting character, and one I’m eager to see interact with Coco more.
The writing is particularly good. The pacing is a bit improved over the last volume, not feeling as rushed outside of one plot element later on. Everything moves at a good speed without feeling like it daddles for too long. The exposition is still handled fairly well, integrated and introduced into the story in a non-invasive way that makes sense. The dialogue is still decent and the humor definitely still lands when it shows up. The story structure is nice, allowing the reader breaks in the action and intensity with the way the chapters play out. It does still feel weird that Coco’s mom getting frozen doesn’t leave that much of a lasting impression on Coco like you would think it would, but that’s a small gripe.
The artwork on this book is still simply stunning. While there is no clever layouting like in other series, everything flows and moves perfectly. Not once do the panel layouts ever feel disjointed or flow into each other poorly, even during the most intense of scenes. The characters are still incredibly expressive and detailed, along with some fantastical, interesting designs in the fantasy setting. The world feels so alive, and the range captured in moods and tone through the settings, action, and characters make the writing and story even better. I have little to no complaints about the art. It’s just simply beautiful.
Is It Good?
Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 2 is a wonderful, magical book. From its terrific writing to its beautiful artwork, this is by far one of the best manga I’ve had the pleasure to read in a while. It may not set the world on fire with new ideas, but its implementation and engaging characters come together in a great way. If you liked the first volume and weren’t sure about continuing, have no fear. This is a series that only continues to get better.