2018’s Witch Hat Atelier, Volume Three is the third tankōbon of Kamome Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier fantasy manga series. Witch Hat Atelier (Tongari Bōshi no Atorie in the original Japanese) has been serialized in Kodansha’s Monthly Morning Twomagazine since July 2016. The English translation of Volume One appeared in 2019.
When last we saw magic-obsessed Coco, she was about to be summarily mindwiped by a passing Witches’ Council member. She is accused of being suspiciously adjacent to a magical anomaly.
Estheath of the Council is not entirely in the wrong, since Coco did cast a spell of a magnitude no apprentice should have been able to cast. His error is to assume that prompt (and disproportionate) reaction is appropriate, without any investigation. He should be wondering how an apprentice could have successfully cast the spell.
Happily for Coco, her schoolmates manage to stall Estheath long enough for their teacher Qifrey to arrive and intervene. Coco’s memories of magic and everything associated with magic1 are saved … for the moment, at least.
While Estheath is an erase-minds-first, ask-questions-later sort of guy, Qifrey takes an investigative approach. Indeed, the main reason he didn’t erase Coco’s mind two volumes ago is because he suspects that somewhere in her memories lurks the clues he needs to track down the Brimhat witch who stole … something unspecified but precious … from Qifrey. For Qifrey the important question is not what Coco did but what unseen factor allowed Coco to perform the spell that she did.
Qifrey is relentless and methodical. It does not take long for him to determine the key to the mystery is the unusual ink with which Coco was supplied. This leads him to kindly Mr. Nolnoa’s magic shop. Too bad for innocent bystander Nolnoa, who sees too much and has his recent memories wiped by Qifrey, who it seems is just as ruthless as Estheath.
Meanwhile, Coco’s attention is drawn to an unpleasant truth of the witch world, which is that witches place a very high value on perfect sight and no value at all on coping mechanisms for any kind of disability. Colour-blind Tartah is relegated to being Nolnoa’s assistant due to his condition. Helpful Coco sets out to find a magical approach that will allow Tartah to overcome his circumstances.
She might not have much time. Qifrey was careless when he erased Nolnoa’s short-term memory. Tartah knows something is wrong and is determined to discover what. It’s an excellent way to earn his own mindwipe.
Readers can take “this is beautifully illustrated” as a given for this series.
Even if Tartah isn’t brain-scrubbed by Qifrey, his other avocation, healing, puts him on a dangerous path. Healing magic is on the proscribed list because it is too easily weaponized, and it’s just the sort of magic that would get Tartah’s attention.
This volume divides fairly nicely into two quite dissimilar elements:
- Coco doing her best to atone for her past mistakes by being as nice and helpful as possible to those around her, whether it’s not snitching on her schoolmate Agott (who tried to make sure that Coco would fail a crucial test) to providing Tartah with the means to circumvent colour blindness2.
- Qifrey and others making dubious choices thanks to heavy-handed law enforcement in the witch world.
With the possible exception of the Brimhats (witches who resist witch authorities and whose motives are for the present obscure), all of the characters have what they believe are solid reasons for doing the things that they do, even the underhanded ones. This is not a manga with convenient villains doing bad stuff for the lols, but rather one where people are sometimes led down dark paths by what started out as benevolent goals. The Council, for example, believes:
Right now, peace and order is being preserved only because all witches strictly obey the law. Needless to say, peace is extremely precarious. The smallest fissure will send everything crashing down, so there can be no exceptions to the rules.
They are in favor of harsh enforcement even when the rules don’t actually apply. Even when the consequences of punishment are much worse than any harm caused by the mere appearance of rule-breaking.
Coco’s attempts to do good make for a cheerful story line; witchy government makes for a depressing one. Too bad that the two story lines are inextricably connected. I have no idea where this will go in future volumes, but for the present, reading about Coco is pleasant enough to outweigh all else.
1: Coco will have to remember her mistakes as well as her magical education. Mistakes included accidentally turning her mother to stone.
2: Kindly Mr. Nolnoa’s little quirks include refusing to put labels on any of his variously coloured supplies. They are filed in a particular order, which his helper Tartah has memorized. At least he has memorized where ingredients are supposed to go.