Few new manga have gotten as many accolades as Kamome Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier. Until this week there were only two volumes out but it was already regularly topping “best of” lists. Now Vol. 3 is out and it delivers more of Shirahama’s trademark uber-detailed line-work, as well as ups the intrigue surrounding both villains and protagonists who might be up to no good. Does the conflict build successfully? Is Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 3 good?
It would be hard to overstate how skilled Shirahama is as an artist. This manga’s world is lushly detailed with intricate line-work and a fantasy aesthetic reminiscent of classic children’s storybooks. From a technical standpoint, there’s virtually nothing wrong here. The shading, consistency of line weight, variety in textures, and great use of perspective all intertwine to create a world that feels truly three-dimensional and lived in.
The page compositions throughout are also excellent. Shirahama changes up her panel layouts frequently, resulting in form choices that reflect the contents while also preventing the manga from ever feeling predictable. The amount of careful attention paid to every little detail is impressive on a scale unmatched by almost any other comic out there right now.
Fortunately, Shirahama’s writing skills are nothing to sneeze at either. This is most evident where Tartah is concerned. Previously just a bit part, this time around he gets a large amount of development that makes him one of the manga’s most charming and interesting characters. He’s been severely limited in his witch training by the expectations of others who believed he could never amount to much due to his silverwash (a fantasy version of colorblindness). Tartah has quite the moving character arc, featuring flashbacks to the poor treatment that made him feel hopeless as well as his poignantly asking why people just assume that everyone sees the world the same way.
Even better, however, is the culmination in which Tartah proves to himself that he can excel at magic. There’s an obvious metaphor here regarding disability, and Shirahama treads this ground respectfully without ever feeling exploitative. This is thanks largely to the fact that Tartah’s success isn’t in spite of his disability, and his character arc never feels like inspiration porn.
This volume is also a great example of how to further a long-term plot while still giving short-term conflicts their due. While Tartah’s arc takes up much of the focus in the foreground, we also get little hints at what the villains are plotting. Not only that but the mystery deepens as characters who were seemingly protagonists drop hints that they may be up to something sinister. There’s a definite sense that the scope of this magical world, large as it already is, will only expand from here.
All in all, Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 3 is my favorite installment in the series thus far. The artwork continues to astound both on a technical level and in terms of rendering a world that truly feels alive. Tartah’s character arc is also wonderful. There’s very little to critique here– the occasional spread that’s not quite as effectively laid out, and other such minor squabbles. All in all, it’s hard to imagine not recommending this book to anyone.
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