“Your task…is to use your magic to surprise me.” Lord Beldaruit.
Coco and her three fellow apprentices have been through a terrifying ordeal – but, thanks to their resourcefulness, have emerged shaken but unscathed. Now they seek shelter in the underwater Great Hall, the headquarters of the witches. Master Olruggio and Luluci take the badly injured Qifrey to be healed – and while his wounds are attended to, the girls are free to wander about. It’s Coco’s first visit and she’s thrilled and amazed by all she sees. While Olruggio undergoes some intense questioning about the vicious attack launched on the group (Euini has still not been found) the girls encounter Lord Beldaruit, one of the Three Wise Ones, who sets them a new challenge. “If you manage to astound me even once over the next three days,” he tells them, “you will have passed my test!”
After the terrifying encounters with the Brimmed Caps at Romonon Cape, this is a challenge of a very different nature. Lord Beldaruit, although benign and outwardly friendly to the apprentices, is also capricious in nature and his magical abilities are formidable. How can they find a way to enchant and surprise a witch as wise and experienced as he is? And what will happen if they fail? A chance encounter with another apprentice awakens bitter memories for Agott – and Coco hears cruel slander about her friend; only now does she begin to understand how important passing the next test is to the young witch, who is determined to forge her own path and prove her critics wrong about her abilities.
We also get the chance (much appreciated here) to see much more of Olruggio (called slightly disrespectfully but affectionately ‘Master Olly’ by Richeh) as he takes the four girls under his wing. His teaching style is quite different from Quifrey’s but his heart is definitely in the right place, as we see when he’s drawn into a freighted conversation with Utowin, one of Captain Easthies’ formidable squad (“Your atelier keeps producing a lot of firsts. Wouldn’t be smart to ignore ’em if they’re signs of a threat to come – one that could shake the foundations of our world.”) Olruggio wisely doesn’t rise to the bait but when Utowin’s parting shot is, “For the sake of magic and order throughout the world.” he can’t resist quietly reflecting, “For the sake of magic, huh? Not for the sake of the witches?”
This is another volume to treasure in Kamome Shirahama’s ongoing fantasy series, with more revelations and hints at troubles bubbling up in the future. Coco continues to make a valiant and charming protagonist; her natural enthusiasm is as endearing as ever. Among the new people she meets in the Great Hall, Beldaruit is by far the most intriguing (and beautifully, intricately drawn: all that hair!)
But by the concluding chapter, Coco finds herself faced with what may be the most difficult decision she’s had to make so far.
A word of praise here for the wonderful cover art, both front and back (and the design for Kodansha by the talented Phil Balsman). Kamome Shirahama’s art brings Coco’s world and the people within it to life for us so ably, with some delightful splash pages added throughout the book. Stephen Kohler’s translation continues to deal ably with the different characters: from the girls’ friendly informal chatter among themselves to the formal and stern pronouncements of Galga of the Knights Moralis.
There are two charming bonus chapters at the end, dealing with the everyday life of Coco and Qifrey in happier times back at the atelier: ‘Eating’ and ‘Sleeping’ as well as Part 1 of a guide to ‘The Tools of Witch’s Hat’…and a tantalising two-page trailer for Volume 7 ‘Coming Soon’ although, alas, ‘soon’ now seems to translate to early 2021, so we’ll just have to be patient.
(This July, Witch Hat Atelier was joint winner with Taiyo Matsumoto’s Cats of the Louvre of the Will Eisner Best U.S. Edition of International Material -Asia award. And it’s just been announced as winner of this year’s Best Manga at the Harvey Awards!)
- Witch Hat Atelier © Kamome Shirahama/Kodansha Ltd.