by Eliana, a teen volunteer at Savage Branch
Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama boasts magnificent artwork, a lively world, and a complex cast of characters. It is classified as shounen (for teen boys) but is friendly for all demographics. The adult cast also actively works to protect and care for the child cast, something seldom seen in shounen and young adult media due to the limitations adults can sometimes pose in a story. Shirahama typically frames her arcs across two volumes, so I suggest reading two at a time.
In Volume 1, our main character, Coco, is the daughter of a seamstress out in the countryside. The people of this world use inventions made by witches – such as a spring of water that cleans itself after every use or cobblestone pathways that glow when you step on them – in their day to day lives. Having seen all of these inventions, Coco wishes dearly for magic.
After a series of unfortunate events, Coco is orphaned and initiated as a student of Qifrey’s atelier. Volume 1 follows Coco’s initiation and journey into the magical world.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE GIRLS
Coco is the main character. She is also unfamiliar with much of the magical community, its history, and its customs. From a technical standpoint, Coco is a vehicle what allows the mangaka to explain her world. We learn about the setting as Coco does. From a narrative standpoint, Coco’s newness to the world around her means that she brings fresh ideas and solutions to the table. Since she knows only a handful of basic spells, she must use them creatively. One early example is her solution to the first test, retrieving a rare herb from the top of a series of floating mountains.
Aggot is a ambitious student. She practices day in and day out. Aggot shares a workspace with Coco and feels that Coco has not earned her place at the atelier. As a matter of fact, it is Aggot who hurries an unprepared Coco into the first test. Aggot often overexerts herself due to pride. However, Aggot’s technical expertise tempers Coco’s more experimental ideas. Since Aggot has the most understanding of magic she is able to assist Coco in implementing a solution without collateral damage.
Richeh is a taciturn and sleepy young girl. She is aloof and only draws spells she enjoys. Richeh has a favorite hiding place filled with glowing ribbons. I personally relate to Richeh the most, but since she does not take much of an active role in volume one, I will refrain from discussing her in depth.
Tetia is a cheerful young lady with curly twintails. She is the most welcoming to Coco when she first arrives. Tetia believes happiness comes in twos. When she grows up, Tetia hopes to be someone who can bring happiness to many people. This does not mean that Tetia is one-note either. Tetia does get angry, but she is also a genuinely kind and empathetic person. It is Tetia’s wish to provide happiness and comfort that leads to the solution to the conflict in the second arc of volume one.
ON THE SETTING
The story largely takes place in a rural/pastoral community. It is earlier than the typical fantasy story, so it is a refreshing change of scenery. Additionally, the casting method of magic is unique. Spells are not cast by way of incantation or ritual but with drawing sigils in a very specific ink.
Two main factions operate within the setting. The Knights Moralis are the enforcers of the magical community. In the past, when magic was common knowledge, people used it to their own ends and caused grevious harm. Nowadays, magic is kept secret from the public. Any and all magic that changes the human body or the natural world is forbidden. Any member of the community suspected of casting forbidden spells will have their memory erased. It is illegal for witches to cover their faces. The Brimmed Caps are opposed to the Knights Moralis. They believe that the Knights have gone too far in restricting knowledge. Healing spells, after all, are among the forbidden spells.