Having seemingly stopped publishing Monogatari, Pretty Boy Detective Club or Zaregoto, things have been quiet on the light novel front for Kodansha. Now the publisher has broken their silence and returned to the market with a variety of new light novel releases. First up is Volume 1 of The Dawn of the Witch which will hopefully set the standard high going forward.
The story follows Saybil, who’s a student at the Royal Academy of Magic in the Kingdom of Wenias. Saybil has no memories of his life before joining the academy and now finds himself in trouble as he’s on the verge of being expelled. Due to an agreement signed upon entering the academy, students who are expelled or leave before graduating have all their memories of time spent at the academy wiped, which of course is troubling for someone like Saybil who knows nothing of his past beforehand nor why he chose to pursue magic in the first place.
Luckily for Saybil, the headmaster (called Albus) has a special assignment for him, which involves heading to a small village in the South and helping out the villagers. In that part of the kingdom, anti-witch sentiment is strong and Albus is hoping that by sending Saybil and some of the other students there, they’ll be able to help show people there’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to magic and those who wield it.
Joining Saybil for the trip are fellow students Hort (who‘s a star pupil) and Kudo, a Beastfallen who looks like a lizard. Much like Witches, Beastfallen are also discriminated against but in this case, it’s the other students of the Royal Academy of Magic who bully and distance themselves from Kudo, leading him to resent all the humans around him. Guiding them to the village is Loux Krystas, a professor at the academy and powerful Witch known as the Dawn Witch who is taking on the job in exchange for hopefully getting a look at the legendary Grimoire of Zero. Together, they head South, facing many a trial as they make their way onward…
The majority of this volume revolves around the cast making their way to the village. Initially, Kudo splits off from Saybil’s group in a bid to make his own way, but along the way, he’s targeted by a group of Witch killers. Once Saybil’s party catches up, they set about saving Kudo before he meets an untimely death and perhaps even prove to Kudo that not all humans are out to harm him.
If you’ve watched the anime adaptation of this that aired last year then you’ll already be aware that The Dawn of the Witch is a sequel to author Kakeru Kobashiri’s previous series, Grimoire of Zero. While the main characters are new to this series, we also see characters from the prequel. Given they’re set to be recurring and Saybil holds some connection to the original cast, it’s difficult to recommend this series to newcomers. But having said that, apart from the Grimoire of Zero anime (which only adapted one volume of the series) there’s no way to get the familiarity you’d ideally want going into The Dawn of the Witch because the prequel series has still not been licensed in English, nor does it seem likely, given it wrapped up in Japan in 2017.
I appreciate it’s a difficult circumstance to navigate though since in Japan Grimoire of Zero was released under the Dengeki Bunko imprint, which is connected to Kadokawa. Meanwhile, The Dawn of the Witch is released under Kodansha in Japan as well as here in the West, so without one of the other publishing companies putting out Grimoire of Zero there’s nothing Kodansha USA could have done to resolve the issue. Kobashiri talks in the afterword about having written the series to be accessible to newcomers, but also admits more characters from the previous work are set to show up in the following volumes.
As far as this first book goes, I think it stands on its own feet okay. Saybil and his group are all likeable enough characters and the author does a good job of giving all of them development throughout their journey. The real wildcard is Loux, who is somewhat overpowered while looking like a child and speaks in an old English dialect, which can get irritating in the long run. She’s just a bit too stereotypical without any of the mystery and suspense such a character would usually hold. But, by and large, I like the setting and story the author is trying to tell here. If you went into it blind, you might be a bit confused due to some of the elements clearly explained in the prequel series, but it’s not completely inaccessible. And if you’ve enjoyed the anime of this one previously, you’ll certainly enjoy reading the light novel which I found easier to follow than its animated counterpart.
As previously mentioned, The Dawn of the Witch Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Kodansha where it has been translated by Alexandria McCullough-Garcia. The translation reads well and although I complained about Loux’s speech earlier, I do like how it has been translated into English since it fits her vocabulary in Japanese. This release includes colour pages handled by illustrator Takashi Iwasaki and one of these depicts the main characters, which I always appreciate since it gives the reader a frame of reference for what they each look like.
The series is ongoing in Japan with 6 volumes since 2018; meanwhile, Kodansha has Volume 2 scheduled for an English release in March with #3 in June and #4 in September. Given the publisher has gained quite a reputation for dropping light novels, I am concerned about them not finishing this one either, but at least it looks like we’ll get through most of the currently available material before that happens. I am especially wary since this is being released under the Vertical imprint (according to the credit page), suggesting it may be an old license. Kodansha also publishes the manga version in English.
Overall, The Dawn of the Witch is off to a solid start with Volume 1. Going forward however, it seems readers will need more knowledge of Grimoire of Zero and that will prove a problem. This is a shame since it’s no real fault of the books that the prequel series isn’t available in English. One I’d recommend, provided you’re into the franchise, but probably worth skipping otherwise, sadly.