2019’s Witch Hat Atelier, Volume Six is the sixth tankōbon in author/artist 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 Two magazine since July 2016. The English translation of Volume Six appeared in 2020.
No sooner have our central characters (protagonist Coco and her fellow student witches Agott, Tetia, and Richeh) emerged from their latest test than they, their badly injured teacher Qifrey, and their Watchful Eye1 Olruggio are summoned by the Assembly to account for certain irregularities in the test.
The irregularities all have to do with the ambush of the students by the series antagonists, the Brimhats. However, while the Brimhats were the instigators, among the ingenious coping mechanisms used by the students were some minor egregious violations of the magical guidelines (the legal system at this time making Legalism look open-minded and flexible). The authorities having utterly rejected the concept of mitigating circumstances, the consequences for the students could be dire.
But only if they tell the complete truth! By providing the authorities with a carefully edited version of the facts, the students and their Watchful Eye provide a narrative that while not entirely convincing, is not sufficiently suspicious to warrant a much closer examination of the events. The students are spared an unjust punishment … for now at least.
Thanks to the Brimhat attack, the students got what amounts to an incomplete on their rite of passage. The Assembly being the sort of open-minded, supportive lot that they are, incomplete is equivalent to failure. Beldaruit of the Three Wise Ones is far more whimsical than his colleagues; since the test falls under his domain, he is able to suggest an alternative that promises to amuse the bored functionary.
All Coco and chums need to do is to come up with a magical surprise for Beldaruit. This will not be easy. Beldaruit is very very jaded because he is very, very experienced. Surprise may be impossible.
The art in this is still wonderful. There are many manga that I would just as happy to follow in light novel format. In this case, the detailed art is too good to forgo.
Olruggio’s loyalties should be to the greater good, which his higher-ups believe to be the absurdly doctrinaire laws. But … as he lives with and likes the kids, and since the punishment to which the students would be subjected is disproportionate to the offense, Olruggio errs on the side of mercy. Presumably, if Olruggio’s careful omissions are ever uncovered, he would be subject to mind-wipe or worse. The system (intended to ensure that only safe magic is used) manages to turn its own officers into lawbreakers.
Given that the entire plot of the series seems to be driven by different approaches to circumventing the law, ranging from turning a blind eye to overtly criminal conspiracies, there may be a lesson here.
The interrogation at the beginning of the volume aside, this is a breather volume, intended to provide relief and recovery between episodes of extreme stress and danger. The stakes, while important to the students, are not life or death or even crime and punishment. If the quartet fails, all that will happen is that Beldaruit will be mildly disappointed and the students will have to wait a year to retake the test. If they succeed, all four will pass the test, even though not all of them took the original test in the first place. So, “results no worse than current circumstances, and potentially better than they could have expected.”
The situation isn’t urgent (that is, potentially fatal) but the students are still highly motivated to arrive at a creative solution. In this case, the solution requires both an innovative application of magic and a psychological assessment of their invigilator. There are enough interesting hurdles to please the most demanding puzzle-loving reader.
1: Watchful Eyes are magical compliance officials, somewhere between an OSHA official and a KGB officer. Of course, only criminals would object to having their activities closely scrutinized.