Dunward, the onetime vampire ruler/king of Orlencia Sett, has been admitted to the presence of Dornez, Queen of the Night and his longtime enemy. At his side are the mages Oskar and Ashaf. But where is Guideau? She’s on a bloody rampage of her own in the palace, having discovered the two magical axes that drain the lifeforce from their victims, as well as the wielder – and is looking for traces of the witch Angela who cursed her and is possibly still at large in the darkness of the long night in Orlencia Sett. All Ashaf can do is watch and wait as Dunward pursues his revenge. And at last we learn why the powerful vampire hates the Queen of the Night so much.
The underlying story of The Witch and the Beast is Guideau’s unrelenting search aided by the mage Ashaf through various lands for the witch Angela. There is, we guess, history between the girl and the mage but Guideau, in her current form/state of mind, is interested only in vengeance. But does this dangerous voyage into the blood-soaked vampire kingdom bring the two any closer to their goal?
Looking back over the eight volumes released (so far) in English of The Witch and the Beast, I find myself returning again and again to the same pluses and minuses. Kousuke Satake’s Gothic horror story of beautiful, treacherous witches, mages, curses – and, in this story arc, vampires – continues to intrigue and baffle the reader (or this reader, at any rate) in equal measure. At its best, the art is wonderfully grotesque and dark, revelling in its use of black. The vampires look genuinely scary, not merely sexy women and men with pronounced incisors but monsters that have taken human form. The world-building around the vampire kingdom of Orlencia Sett is convincing – for the most part – too. However, it’s frustrating to note that the lack of clarity in the storytelling (and in the illustrations which should help explain what’s going on) is still a major flaw. Too many times, I’ve set this volume aside, scratching my head and wondering, “What just happened there?” We really need to know who the witch is, where she is, what she’s done and to whom (and when!) as this is the third volume of this arc and it’s just not adequately explained. I wonder if the translator Kevin Gifford also had some issues as the dialogue – which should help clarify matters – is obscure in places and baffling in others.
So, this is where I shall bid my farewells to mage Ashaf and his female companion Guideau, before I’ve discovered whether Guideau is able to free herself of the witch Angela’s curse or is forever doomed. For those that wish to read on, the series will continue in English (from Kodansha) with Volume 9 (the most recent volume in Japan) due out later this year. But, eight volumes in, I really need to know so much more of Guideau and Ashaf’s backstory to keep me invested in what becomes of them. Satake’s inexperience as a storyteller shows here; a better writer would have kept feeding in little nuggets of information and minor reveals to keep the reader invested. Sadly, there are never any credits to editors or words of explanation from the mangaka which is a pity; I suspect that a good editor would have kept the mangaka more on-target as the chapters rolled by.
However, if you’ve been following this arc, you’ll really want to read this volume to find out what happens in the final acts of ‘Four Levels Below’ – and to appreciate some dark and powerful graphic evocations of a vampire court at war with itself.