Witch Hat Atelier Volume 9 is the ninth tankōbon in Kamome Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier secondary universe fantasy manga series. Titled Tongari Bōshi no Atorie in the original Japanese, Witch Hat Atelier has been serialized in Kodansha’s Monthly Morning Two magazine since July 2016. First published in Japan in 2021, the English translation of Volume 9 was released in 2022.
Volume 9 begins with a mystery and a revelation. Unfortunately, they are unrelated to each other.
First of all, Coco and Tartah’s friend Custas vanishes, leaving his walking chair behind. Badly injured in a mishap, Custas needs the chair to replace his useless legs. Why would he abandon such an expensive necessity, given that he’s poor?
Second, Coco and her schoolmates get firsthand experience of the duties of accredited witches. Since witches monopolize magic for the greater good, it follows that only witches can maintain the magical infrastructure on which mundane society depends. As there are all too few witches, this means that every witch is expected to invest a fair amount of time on basic maintenance. This is not exciting but it is necessary.
Although she presents a façade of relentless cheerfulness, Coco wonders if her past actions (especially having inadvertently killed her mother) will allow her to be happy. Were this not enough, the fact that she and her fellow witches are required by law to lie endlessly about the true nature of magic weighs on her. Can Coco, who should by rights have been among the legions of the ignorant, justify her own use of magic and the falsehoods she spreads every day?
Custas would love to know the answer to that question. After being ambushed by murderous bandits, Custas and his mentor Dagda made brand new witch friends. Despite the ban on using magic to heal, the witches used the magic at their disposal to restore both Custas and Dagda. Furthermore, they revealed to Custas how magic really works.
A furious Custas confronts increasingly alarmed Coco and Tartah1.
There seems to just one more volume of this series available in English, but more than one in Japanese. However the next volume plays out, it won’t be a final resolution.
Readers late to the party may wonder what the big secret is. It is quite simple: anyone with the proper training can perform magic. The witches monopolize magic by concealing how magic is done while claiming that only those from certain lineages are capable of magic. This is not (just) because this provides them with social rank and wealth, but because when magic was known to all, the consequences were literally apocalyptic.
The witches charged with enforcing these laws are diligent, competent, and perfectly happy to dole out disproportionate responses to rule breaking. The intended outcome is the preservation of the current social order. The actual result is the creation of an intensely unhappy permanent underclass of deviationists and revolutionaries, on top of which rule-breakers often decide that since minor infractions get the same punishment as major2, they may as well go all in. It’s almost as though the author is making a point of some kind here.
Come for the skillfully drawn plucky witch trainee and her chums overcoming personal challenges to master magic. Stay for the story of a well-intended social order whose efforts to maintain the status quo are actively undermining that status quo, with no assurance that what replaces it will be any better. Although it will certainly be interesting.
1: It may seem like every volume ends on a cliffhanger but this is only because so many of them finish with Coco facing dangers from which rescue appears unlikely. [Editor’s note: I think James is being sarcastic here. What do you think?]
2: In this volume, a creep who builds goggles that allow the wearer to see through clothes is pursued by magical cop Luluci. Luluci fully intends to erase the miscreant’s mind as soon as she corners him, on the grounds that the only reason the merchant and his client settle for voyeurism is that they are too cowardly to commit the crimes they really want to commit. Peeping toms are actually proto-rapists.
Luluci has a personal history that drives her views.
This seems like an excellent place to mention that the witches are known to protect their own when the offender is of higher status than the victim.