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Witchcraft Works Vol. #01 Manga Review

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Witchcraft Works Volume 1 CoverHas there ever been a gender reversal as bland as this?

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Ryu Mizunagi
Translation/Adaptation: Ko Ransom

What They Say
There is something unusual about the Tougetsu Academy. While on the surface it may seem like just another private Japanese high school; hidden amongst its student body, though, are a few youngsters with some unique abilities. One of them is Honoka Takamiya. He may not know it yet, but inside him lurks something very powerful. And it is the job of the school’s idol, Ayaka Kagari, to protect Takamiya from anyone, or anything, wishing to capitalize on his innate abilities. Dare to harm her “Princess,” and watch out—you’ll get burned!

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
It’s useful to consider that the “Witchcraft Works” anime is based off of the manga–i.e. the manga functions as the original source material. I admit that I haven’t seen the animated “Witchcraft Works,” but based on my limited knowledge of it, the anime likely capitalizes on its dynamic format to alleviate some of the manga’s problems. In short, Ryu Mizunagi cannot write a well-paced, clear action sequence to save his life, and the anime, with its focus on the moving image, probably does a much better job of rendering Mizunagi’s intentions on-screen. I find it pitiful that this manga felt like an absolute drag to get through, while even the first volume of “Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire” managed to entertain me slightly more–because the latter’s action sequences were its saving grace, of course. As you can imagine, I don’t think too highly of “Witchcraft Works,” although through the obscuring cloud of problems I can see the faint ideas of what Mizunagi wanted his series to be: original in its gender-reversal, stylized in its quirkiness, varied in its concepts, and entertaining in its fast-paced action and humor. Unfortunately, his execution makes the end result consist of some of these qualities only some of the time.

In this world, unbeknownst to the average human, there exists witches split into two groups: Workshop Witches claim to act as the good guys, while the Tower Witches act only for themselves (hence bad guys?). The main character, Honoka Takamiya, is your “average male high school student.” One day, he is attacked by a Tower Witch, and his ultra-popular classmate Ayaka Kagari rescues him in her own display of fiery Workshop Witch powers. From there on, Kagari tells Takamiya that he is her “princess” that Kagari must protect, hence why she always “happens” to be around him at school. Why is Takamiya so special that both groups of witches want him? The first volume has yet to make that clear. Unfortunately most of this first volume gets bogged down with unimportant-seeming witch scuffles and slice-of-life conflicts at school–for instance, Takamiya’s newfound friendship with Kagari makes her worshipers jealous and lash out at him. Hopefully future volumes will show a greater focus.

The gender reversal is, obviously, what stands out here: Kagari calls Takamiya a “princess” and protects him with a power and authority that consistently demands Takamiya sit on the sidelines in fights for his life. Kagari–and most of the women that appear–represent a kind of author’s fetish for big-breasted, take-charge women who fight tooth-and-nail for their passive male charges. On the surface, the reversal is nice in terms of breaking gender stereotypes, but on the other hand, despite their roles as powerful protectors, the women featured seem irrationally centered on Takamiya himself. Let’s test this: almost all of the women want Takamiya to the point of fighting each other for him because Takamiya is “special.” Sound familiar? “Witchcraft Works” falls just short of a harem set-up and thankfully dodges that temptation (for now). A welcome addition is the fact that by the end of volume 1, both Kagari and her mother, the latter of which is the head of the Workshop Witches in the area, agree to teach Takamiya how to use magic. Frankly, it took Mizunagi too long to get that point.

For another, the manga relies solely on gimmicks, which to this day is a sign of bad writing. Instead of incorporating the gender reversal naturally within the story, the mangaka hits us over the head with it. This applies to not just the gender reversal, but other gimmicks introduced as well: the aforementioned first action sequence pits Kagari against an animal-eared Tower Witch with an army of bunnies as her minions. Mizunagi wants to go for entertainment value and originality here, but there’s no soul in his decisions, and he relies on these gimmicks to carry the first volume through where good writing should prevail.

Happily, the art redeems the manga a great deal. Mizunagi has an excellent grasp of drawing–when Kagari turns into her fire form! How detailed are those tiny curls of flame along her cape!–and although I don’t always prefer his style, many people I know praise it. Indeed, there’s something that can be said for his wacky and interesting character designs, which put a cartoony, almost Harajuku spin on witches. Mizunagi does curse his women with such drooping-huge breasts to the point that I want to wince at the page, but for the most part, each character introduced (and there are many!) shines with their own fresh style.

Is there anything else that redeems “Witchcraft Works”? Well, it’s not terrible. Despite how negative and simple it sounds, in the often drivel-laden anime/manga industry, “not terrible” as a compliment elevates “Witchcraft Works” above its many competitors. There’s enough of a starting point here to work off of that future volumes may rescue this series yet, although maybe not to the extent that I hope. Certainly the gender reversal and stylish spunkiness fulfills a niche that a few fans will find enjoyable.

In Summary
Unfortunately, “Witchcraft Works” suffers from what many, many anime/manga series suffer from today: beautiful art with gorgeous ink/color but too little well-written story. It’s disappointing, because despite this first volume’s errors, I can see that Ryu Mizunagi had the best intentions for his work. I can’t help but feel Vertical Comics must know their series doesn’t deserve the fullest marks, either: early into the volume an ugly typo rears its head, and the summary on the back cover is rife with grammatical and punctuation errors that a more attentive editor could have fixed. That kind of treatment can definitely detract from the volume’s value.

Content Grade: B-
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B-

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Vertical Comics
Release Date: October 21, 2014
MSRP: $12.95