“But what if Forbidden Magic is the only choice you have?” Coco, talking with Lord Beldaruit.
Qifrey, Coco’s teacher, was badly injured defending his students from the magical attacks at Romonon Point launched by the banned order of the Brimmed Caps. As Qifrey recovers from his injuries in the safety of the Great Hall, Coco learns from his teacher Beldaruit the Wise what happened to Qifrey as a child at the hands of the Brimmed Caps. She is horrified by what she learns: how he lost his right eye and would have died if Beldaruit and the Knights Moralis hadn’t found him, buried alive by his abuser. At the same time as she is with Beldaruit, Qifrey regains consciousness and shares his concerns with Olruggio, his close friend since childhood and now his ‘watchful eye’ who confronts him with an uncomfortable observation. “This never was about helping Coco’s mother, was it?” he says pointedly. “It’s about what she can do for you and the things you’re after.”
But Coco, having learned that her own master once infiltrated the Tower of Tomes when an apprentice, determines to do the same and – before Beldaruit can stop her, sets off on the perilous journey. Qifrey might be recuperating but when Beldaruit bursts in with the news that Coco has gone, he and Olruggio don’t hesitate to go after her.
Beyond the magic portal that leads to the Tower of Tomes, there are fearsome water snake dragons lurking in the lake surrounding the witches’ library, ready to attack and drive away any intruders. They sense Coco’s presence and put on a fearsome display, enough to deter even the bravest of witches. But when Qifrey reaches Coco and the two of them get the chance for a real heart-to-heart, it’s Coco’s strength of will that may be the only way to get them out of danger. But is she ready to abandon her attempt to get into the tower?
Volume 7 is very much Qifrey’s volume as Kamome Shirahama fills in some of the missing pieces of his history – and a very bleak history it is, too. We also get to see how deep his friendship with Olruggio is – and how driven he is to discover what the Brimmed Caps are planning, in spite of Olruggio’s stern warnings. But we also get to learn much more about Olruggio, including a delightful side story in which he is summoned with two other witches to provide magical entertainment for a noble wedding where Lord Cladd, the father of the bride has very specific ideas about what he wants for his daughter’s big day. Nevertheless, the volume ends with another meeting between the two old friends that leaves the reader fearing for Qifrey and what desperate ends his dark past may be driving him to.
Kamome Shirahama’s art is as detailed, inventive and expressive as ever, drawing the reader in to Coco’s world. And as the story darkens, we get glimpses of the very real dangers threatening Coco; her dauntless spirit and infectious enthusiasm have saved her from many dangers so far, but will that be enough to see her achieve her dream?
Volume 7’s bonus is a brief recap of the world of Witch Hat Atelier with map (no fantasy is complete without a map!) and short paragraphs about notable places mentioned in this volume, including the Tower of Tomes and Thristas Forest, a black-dyed forest of death where Qifrey was found by Beldaruit.
The very able translation (all those fantasy place and character names!) is again provided by Stephen Kohler for the Kodansha edition.
Winner of the Eisner and Harvey awards in the USA, Witch Hat Atelier is still one of the most readable and imaginative fantasy manga available in translation. Shirahama has become very skilled at balancing the humorous moments (Olruggio’s frustrations with wealthy client Lord Cladd at Mistcall Castle deliver some nice character moments for Olruggio fans) alongside the darker moments of pure horror, most significantly the revelations about the damage that has been done to Qifrey. After a revelatory conversation in the final chapter, the mood lightens as Coco and the girls gather to watch the passage (shooting) stars and Coco is excited as the others tell her about Silver Eve, the upcoming festival of magic.