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PODCAST - Ep. 72: Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama, and MARS by Fuyumi Soryo
Epic YA fantasy meets epic YA romance, which everyone is gonna love.
Hey Substack Readers! Get ready for the witchiest month of them all, AUGUST, as we begin three weeks of Very Different books about witches! We kick things off with the darling of the witchy world (and one of the bestselling manga in North America), Kamome Shirahama's Witch Hat Atelier! Deb hosts and says this manga is good for EVERYONE, but will Chip and the gang disagree? Find out! Plus: In our latest Comixology Manga Must-Read segment, we tackle the classic shojo manga MARS, by Fuyumi Soryo. Will this beloved 1990s shojo manga about a troubled romance hit with the crew?
Witch Hat Atelier Volume 1
By Kamome Shirahama
Translation by Stephen Kohler
Lettering by Lys Blakeslee
Editing by Ajani Oloye
Kodansha edition cover design by Phil Balsman
Published by Kodansha (Print/Digital)
Audio editing by David Brothers. Show notes by Deb Aoki and Christopher Woodrow-Butcher
IN THIS EPISODE:
00:00 Witch Hat Atelier vol. 1
47:30 THE BREAK
48:34 ComiXology Manga Must-Read: MARS vol. 1
01:03:00 Shout-outs! Gay erotic art/manga, shows about petty crime, a manga and a game
BEFORE WE GET STARTED
Deb took the lead on show notes this week. It’s her writing unless prefaced by [Christopher:]. Thanks Deb! And sorry things are late lately, I’m having a pretty wicked case of writer’s block. :D
About Kamome Shirahama
(Bio provided by Kodansha)
Kamome Shirahama is a freelance illustrator and manga creator. Graduate of the Department of Design at Tokyo University of the Arts. She also illustrates comic book covers for Marvel Comics and DC Comics, as well as comic books in the Star Wars franchise. Other manga work includes the 3-volume series Eniale and Dewiela, currently in-print from Yen Press.
00:37 [Deb:] That’s right, we’re doing three books about witches over these next few weeks. Witch Hat Atelier, which is an tween-friendly fantasy-adventure story, Witchcraft Works by Ryu Mizunagi, which is maybe more fanservice-y, but still a fun read about a young man who finds that the cool, popular girl in his school is actually a witch, and her mission is to protect him from other supernatural forces – that’s coming next week. After that, we’ll be talking about Witches by Daisuke Igarashi, a series of short stories about witches that maybe aren’t as nice or cute all the time.
01:00 [Christopher:] Deb gets asked for recommendations all the time, I do too (Hi, it’s Chris). We started the podcast mostly to give readers who are looking to get into manga some great on-ramps to start enjoying it.
02:00 Here’s how Kodansha describes Witch Hat Atelier:
In a world where everyone takes wonders like magic spells and dragons for granted, Coco is a girl with a simple dream: she wants to be a witch. But everybody knows magicians are born, not made, and Coco was not born with a gift for magic. Resigned to her un-magical life, Coco is about to give up on her dream to become a witch … until the day she meets Qifrey, a mysterious, traveling magician. After secretly seeing Qifrey perform magic in a way she’s never seen before, Coco soon learns what everybody “knows” might not be the truth, and discovers that her magical dream may not be as far away as it may seem …
03:54 [Christopher:] David is right – this first volume has a lot of explanations about “how the magic works /here’s what we use it for, can’t use it for” in this world. There’s a ton of world-building in this volume, and we’ve heard it continues at this pace through the entire series. Surprisingly, in a few minutes Chip calls out the world-building as one of his favourite parts, the ‘contraptions’ or magical items. We will get to that in a second…
Debs mentions that in the world of Witch Hat Atelier, “magic isn’t cast with words, it’s drawn.”
And magic that revolves around drawing means that the pen and ink used matters!
Around midway thought volume 1, there’s several explanations of the history of magic in this world, and what kind of magic is okay / not okay — for example, anything that affects people’s bodies and minds are forbidden:
And it’s not enough to be able to draw — your drawing skill matters too.
05:15 [Christopher:] The first chapter has a few writing hiccups, like Chip mentions here, where the author isn’t super-organically introducing the readers into the world. While this is something that continues through the book, the author’s hand gets fainter and fainter as it goes (imho) and the reveals and instructions become more organic.
Here’s that scene from chapter 1, where Coco brings up that she’s been asking her mom about wishing to use magic…
06:10 – Chip likes the color pages! “”They’re the best we’ve had so far.”
06:34 – Chip and Chris admiring Shirahama’s linework and compare it to P. Craig Russell, another fantasy/fairy tale inspired comics creator. Some of his most beloved work can be found in The Sandman by Neil Gaiman stories that he has illustrated.
[Christopher:] Russell is a favourite creator of mine, and he’s done so many brilliant and beautiful comics over the years. Perhaps closest to Witch Hat Atelier is his work adapting the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde, go see if you can track those down, they’re quite special.
07:09 – Chip loves the contraptions! The magical toilet that drops your leavings into an eternal void!
07:51 [Christopher:] Yup, Witch Hat Atelier is serialized in Morning 2, which is INDEED a seinen manga magazine. Much like one of our earliest reads, Yotsuba&!. We’ve been talking a little more lately about how Japanese age and content categories don’t entirely make sense in an American context, but I think it’s pretty clear that they don’t always work even in a Japanese context. We’re working on a larger essay about this, hopefully coming before the end of the year.
[Deb:] We’ve mentioned that the traditional definition of “seinen manga” is “content aimed primarily at adult men in their 20’s-30s, but a lot of stories that N. American readers think are all-ages friendly stories, like Yotsuba&! and Chi’s Sweet Home were all originally published in seinen manga magazines.
In between when we released this episode and when we’re getting the show-notes up, Morning Two announced that it will become a digital-only-magazine (boooo), but that the digital magazine will begin serializing the English chapters of Witch Hat Atelier, for FREE, beginning this month.
In fact, the first chapter is now available in English on comic-days.com
09:29 [Christopher:] We talk a LOT about cool stuff that the artist is doing in this book, and just reference an image, so lots of our notes this week are going to be “OMG look at this drawing!” For example, here’s how drawn magic works. If you draw something too close to the edge, it makes things sprout out of the side:
Later, Coco uses what she learned from this ‘mistake’ to produce a water spout that helps her get out of a jam.
10:40 – The CONTRAPTIONS! Christopher liked the window that let you see (and travel to) other worlds: “The window was so great!”
And he especially liked the Wizard-of-Oz-inspired shoes, where “clicking the shoes together makes you levitate, because you’re completing the circle on the soles of the shoes.”
11:29 [Christopher:] So yeah, the covers for Witch Hat Atelier are VERY ornamented. While it adds to the storybook-like quality of the series, how does it interact with the other kinds of literature for the intended young adult audience? Here’s some bestselling YA fantasy novels for comparison.
So that last one, Demon in the Wood, is a graphic novel from the Shadow and Bone author Leigh Bardugo and illustrator Dani Pendergast, and even that one, you can see how far away it is from the cover of Witch Hat Atelier. Much stronger and more prominent text treatments on all covers, and ALL of the illustrations and graphical elements are full bleed. I couldn’t find anything that was evoking a storybook.
Now that said, it’s absolutely okay that Witch Hat Atelier is doing its own thing. It’s a manga, its drawing more deliberate references from storybooks, it’s trying to look from a place and a time. But if a teen is reading the other 11 books in the graphic above, what are they going to think about Witch Hat Atelier by comparison? Are they even going to pick it up or will they simply assume it’s not for them?
It’s worth noting that the cover is the same in Japanese with very few changes, there probably wasn’t much to be done to re-contextualize the work for the North American audience… But I think it’s worth pointing out, because our Learned Manga Reader Chip was actually confused by this book at first, thinking it was a ‘classic’ title.
FWIW, it probably will be one day.
12:26 [Christopher:] It was finally officially announced that Witch Hat Atelier would be getting an anime adaptation earlier this year. Morning Two released a video about it (in Japanese of course).
Kamome-sensei even drew a cool illustration to celebrate the news:
No date has been given for the release of the anime, and it probably won’t look anything like the video using panels from the comic, but it’s still very cool and I’m happy for the author.
13:03 Christopher references the graphic novel series Heartstopper by Alice Oseman. Originally a webtoon, then compiled into graphic novels in Europe and North America, and then adapted into a live action series on Netflix. It’s a fluffy romance between two teen boys, and it made quite a splash when it debuted earlier this year.
Then Christopher references the harder-edged The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, with which his niece is slightly obsessed, and which ALSO got a live-action adaptation on Anime Prime this summer. Anyway, now you’re up to date on the cool-ish books for teen girls.
“I would say most anime is not as good as the source material.”
13:57 Deb references the manga Drifting Dragons by Taku Kuwabara, published by Kodansha. The manga had a soft, almost Ghibli-like quality to it, which was largely lost in the CGI-created anime that just didn’t work as well.
And then here’s that anime trailer… It’s… got a very different feeling.
14:25 [Christopher:] I can say from experience as both a fan and someone working professionally in comics, that fans HATE delays. But the grumbling about the multiple delays that the anime adaptation of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki seems to be suffering has been very quiet. Everyone who is even remotely interested in this adaptation seems to revere the original as a classic (rightly so!), and everyone wants the anime to be GOOD, because the last Junji Ito anime project was very poorly received due to an uninspired adaptation and ‘mediocre’ animation quality. But as you can see from the teaser image released below, the team adapting Uzumaki is shooting for a much higher quality… and quality takes time.
Here’s an article about the third delay to the anime from Kotaku: https://kotaku.com/junji-ito-uzumaki-anime-delay-release-date-toonami-1849118485
15:13 [Christopher:] This series has some GREAT page turn surprises, Deb is right.
16:00 David describes Witch Hat Atelier as an anime-influenced book where every page flows into the next. Also, those reaction shots!
16:18 Kamome Shirahama is a big superhero comics fan. We’ve mentioned her Dr. Strange illustration for Marvel Comics… but have you seen some of her other work for DC and Star Wars? Wooo boy, they are pretty amazing. See more of them in this Illustration Age spotlight article.
Some N. American comics creators that the gang shout out here include, Adi Granov, most notably his work on Ironman, and Jim Cheung and his work on Young Avengers.
17:18 – Chip mentions Kamome Shirahama’s linework – “especially in the rock formations.” David mentions that the artwork looks “very European.” Here’s an example from page 21 that Christopher later mentions as having some Gustav Dore vibes.
Christopher mentions Go Girl!, a series created by Trina Robbins and Ann Timmons, and Chris, David and Chip mention Terry Austin’s “broken line inking style,” especially in his work inking John Byrne’s pencils for The Uncanny X-Men back in the day.
18:58 David zooms in on the dragon tail on p. 158 and “she actually drew every single line.”
19:44 [Deb:] Chip mentions p. 31, where she imagines Qifrey casting a spell, and there’s some“lovely smoke swirls,” with a cartoony face of Coco fangirling out about what she thinks Qifrey’s magic would look like at the bottom of the page — it offers an interesting contrast to the absolute elegance of the main image.
20:51 [Deb:] When Chip says, “When Deb recommended this, I thought it was a classic manga.” This was a surprising observation to me! I guess as manga readers, we know that Witch Hat Atelier is a new series, but to a new reader, maybe it’s not that obvious!
If you’re familiar with the fairy tale illustrations of late 19th / early 20th century illustrators like Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Maxfield Parrish and art nouveau artists like Gustav Klimt and Aubrey Beardsley — you’ll see hints of it in Witch Hat Atelier, which is maybe why it looked “classic” or an older work to Chip? Maybe?
21:56 Deb is referencing this scene from chapter 1, when Coco tries to cast her first spell and darkness approaches her from her back, and as David says, “the escape goes on for a couple of pages.”
24:02 – David mentions that Witch Hat Atelier is “very similar to Ancient Magus’ Bride, a fantasy romance series by Kore Yamazaki. The Ancient Magus’ Bride manga is published by Seven Seas Entertainment, and the anime is streaming now on Crunchyroll. If you like Witch Hat Atelier, this is a good next read/watch for you, if you haven’t yet discovered it.
Another manga about a magical world, but maybe with a more fanservice-y vibe is Fire Force by Atsushi Ohkubo (creator of Soul Eater). The Fire Force manga is published by Kodansha, and the anime is streaming now on Crunchyroll.
24:25 [Deb:] Here’s an example of the flowing hair and garments, and extra ornamentation, in Witch Hat Atelier, in contrast to the usual stiff “action figure hair” that you might see in other manga/anime.
25:51 – David mentions a recent Witch Hat Atelier chapter that the Twitter-verse noticed because it points out that “harassing people is wrong.”
26:13 [Deb:] Here’s that “the boob pic” that Christopher mentions at the beginning of chapter 5:
26:51 The original Dragonball manga has a lot of non-sexual nudity… and that gets it in hot water when it’s on library shelves in more uhm… conservative communities. Comics Beat gives a little backgrounder on this.
27:07 We blithely mention the Comics Code Authority, a by-product of a time when parents were concerned about comics content being too dark, violent, and/or explicit for younger readers. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund explains what the “Comic Code Seal of Approval” was, when and why it was created, and why you don’t see it anymore.
28:18 The world of Witch Hat Atelier is diverse, but not in a patronizing way. Here’s the first appearance of Alaira:
In later volumes, we meet witch elder Beldaruit in a four-legged goat chair — a magical way of getting around that’s not a wheelchair.
29:37 Black characters in Fire Force in the 2-3rd chapter that are not based on geography / where they come from. Here’s some of them on the cover of Fire Force vol. 28:
This is in contrast to how sometimes, in both comics, manga and anime, they make mention that the darker skinned characters come from from a particular place / country / region of the world, like black Kryptonians coming from Vathlo Island on Kryton, and Killer B, the rappin’ ninja leader in Naruto and the rest of his crew from the Hidden Cloud Village.
35:05 David mentions all the “triangles and nested triangles in the logo, in the cover on the hats, in the buildings…” This is likely a nod to the the “witch hats” that the title refers to — that the good witches have cone hats, the bad witches have the traditional brimmed ‘witches hats.”
Here’s the witch with the mask who gives Coco a forbidden book of spells. Is this witch wearing a “brimmed” hat or not? Is it a “good” or a “bad” character? Keep reading this series to find out!
38:20 Eniale and Dewiela is Shirahama’s first published manga series. Originally serialized in Enterbrain / Kadokawa’s Fellows! magazine, this seinen manga comedy series is about “an angel woman and a devil woman and the bizarre hijinks they have when they just want to hang out on earth and go shopping.” Same beautiful art, but maybe a little more saucy and uhmm… a little less all-ages friendly.
Eniale and Dewiela Vols 1 – 3 is available from Yen Press now.
40:00 – Deb is referring to Olruggio the dark haired witch character who is more cynical than Qifrey. He’s featured on cover of Witch Hat Atelier vol. 6:
40:15 Witch Hat Atelier / Kitchen of Witch Hat (Japanese title: とんがり帽子のキッチン / Tongari Boushi no Kitchen) food manga /side stories by Kamome Shirahama / drawn by Hiromi Satou has 3 volumes out so far in Japan. It hasn’t been announced for English release yet, but it is available in French from Pika Edition.
43:09 Chris mentions a moment on page 20, when Qifrey is leaning on the side of the panel while his arm hangs down – “it’s such a natural way of standing.”
[Christopher:] It shows that the artist wants to do something special with the work, it shows that the author is thinking about the ways in which magic “breaks the rules” of the world, it’s just a pretty illustration… It shows that there’s a ton of care and thought in this manga, and I’m SO excited about that!
46:20 [Deb:] Kamome Shirahama was a panelist on the manga publishing biz panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2015. Alas, no recordings or transcript of the panel, but it was great to meet her then — we hope she can come back to visit her fans at a comics show sometime in the near future. She did create this amazing poster for Toronto Comic Arts Festival, but thanks to that dang pandemic, her planned visit in 2020 just didn’t happen. Maybe someday…
47:30: THE BREAK!
ComiXology Manga Must-Reads
Mars Volume 1
By Fuyumi Soryo
There are no English credits in this edition
Published by Kodansha (Digital-Only)
[Deb:] This week’s Manga Must-Read is a shojo manga classic about a shy girl and a ‘bad boy’ who fall in love and well, go through a lot of drama along the way.
It was originally serialized from 1996 – 2000 in Bessatsu Friend magazine, and is a 15-volume series that was published by Tokyopop from 2002-2003, with its prequel series, Mars: A Horse With No Name (MARS外伝 名前のない馬, MARS Gaiden Namae no Nai Uma) published in 2004 in English. The series debuted in Tokyopop’s short-lived shojo manga magazine, Smile in October 2001. With many of the print volumes now long out of print, Kodansha has brought it back as a digital-only release, so new fans can discover this romantic drama once more.
While there isn’t much of Fuyumi Soryo’s manga available in English, she’s been active as a creator. Her most recent series is Cesare: Hakai no Sōzō-sha (Japanese: チェーザレ 破壊の創造者 – Cesare: The Creator of Destruction). The story follows the early life of Cesare Borgia, a 15th-century Italian aristocrat, politician, and mercenary leader. It was serialized in Kodansha’s seinen manga magazine Morning from March 2005 to November 2021. While the series did get a French release, an English release is unlikely, at best.
48:56 Description of MARS from Kodansha:
Super-popular motorcycle racer Rei and shy, neurotic art student Kira are worlds apart … until one fateful day brings them together. Rei stumbles upon Kira in the harassing hands of her sleazy art teacher and saves the quiet girl from his clutches. And when the resident school pretty boy plants a kiss on a statue of Mars in the studio, Kira finds herself drawn in and even summons up the nerve to ask him to model for her!
[Christopher:] This moment, which could read uncharitably as ‘queerbait’ since this is a pretty hetero series, instead to me revealed real depth to the characters and their place in their worlds. It’s an amazing image to put into the first chapter of a popular shojo manga series, particularly in the 90s, and showed just what an ‘outsider’ Rei really is. A real, as we say, bad boy.
50:43 The teacher with wandering hands, and the bullying that Kira experiences — all told from a woman’s perspective.
52:17 [Christopher:] I brought up Othello by Satomi Ikezawa as another series that dealt with bullying and harassment among high school girls. It was a really powerful release at the time, and very easy for us to recommend and sell to schools and libraries because of its firm (albeit slightly extreme) hand. Unfortunately the series is out of print now (Digital release in future?), but here’s what it’s about, and if you liked MARS you’ll probably like this too:
Yaya’s high school friends haven’t been very nice. They call her “Yaya the cry-ya! Yaya the misfi-ya!” But no matter how badly they act, Yaya is just too naïve and trusting to believe the worst of her friends. Hard-rocking, butt-kicking Nana is just the girl to grab hold of Yaya’s timid demeanor and turn it upside down. Nana exposes Yaya’s “friends” as slime bags, doles out punishment, and does it all with style. Can there be anything that terminally shy Yaya and hyper-confident Nana have in common? Well, for one thing, they’re the same person. . . .
-Del Rey Manga
53:02 “I want you to model for me.” Both David and Deb react to the great page design here, and how Soryo draws the stairs in this scene where Kira surprises Rei by asking him to be a model for her drawings/paintings.
53:19 Rei falls asleep after talking about nihilism:
I guess what I need to enjoy shojo manga is a main character who maybe thinks about dying all the time.
55:35 When rival Harumi threatens Kira by wielding a barbell to break her hand, Kira tells them that she won’t give up on Rei, even if it means that she’ll get hurt. She’ll find a way to keep drawing, no matter what.
56:10 Kira hears Rei’s motorcycle as he rides away, and says that it sounds like crying. David mentions the part of the page where her arm leans on the window/panel too.
57:00 Deb calls out this 2-page spread of the vertical panels against the apartment complex in the background. A really nice way to set a scene where it’s just two people talking.
58:05 Kira’s mother and child drawing is likely modeled after this painting by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.
58:13 Here's that 2-page spread where Rei and Tatsuya are squaring off, with the tension conveyed by the page composition and the screentone in the background.
58:34 David mentions this 2-page spread on pages155-156, where Rei and Kira are embracing. Rei realizes that he’s attracted to Kira, but he’s also conflicted because he knows his friend Tatsuya also has feelings for her. “I can’t hurt my friend, even though I like her a lot.” It’s a tender, beautiful pose that conveys a lot in two pages.
01:00:54 The stakes are high in this story! Mr. Yoshioka ramps up his threats on Rei by removing the brakepads on his motorcycle, nearly causing an accident…
Later, Rei responds to Mr. Yoshioka in a very Rei kind of way:
01:01:18 – Fuyumi Soryo’s other series in English is Eternal Sabbath. Published by Del Rey Manga in 2006, this sci-fi/drama series is currently out of print and not available in digital format… yet.
Here’s the description of the series from Del Rey Manga:
Ryousuke Akiba calls himself ES, a code name taken from a mysterious scientific experiment. Ryousuke will live to be at least two centuries old and possesses strange mental powers: He can enter people’s minds, discover their darkest secrets, even rearrange their memories so that complete strangers will treat him like family. Ryousuke acts not out of malice but for survival–wandering Tokyo for reasons known only to him. No one recognizes him for what he is . . . until Dr. Mine Kujyou, a determined researcher, meets someone who challenges everything she knows about science–ES, possessor of the Eternal Sabbath gene. But is he the only one?
-Del Rey Manga
Hopefully, we’ve inspired you to check out Mars! Let’s close out this one with a quiet, lovely moment from this shojo manga romantic drama:
1:02:05: THE SECOND BREAK!
Now it’s time for SHOUT-OUTS
DEB – shouts out Chip’s Substack newsletter because he’s too modest to do it.
He’s workin’ so hard on making these comics that he’s not able to enjoy other kinds of entertainment lately, so please buy more of his comics, Public Domain and Batman!
DAVID – continues to love Barry on HBO, but also shouts out three more TV series that he’s been enjoying:
South Side on Comedy Central – a comedy/drama set in Chicago about a rent to own company:
Reservation Dogs – four teens are small time crooks on a native american reservation. See the season 2 trailer from FX:
Brassic by Joseph Gilgen on Hulu – a semi-autobiographical series that’s “super fun, really touching.”
DEB picks… another manga. This time, it’s Cat + Gamer – (Dark Horse), a wholesome manga about a young woman who’s a serious, stressed out office worker by day, and a hardcore gamer by night. She’s a single gal who adopts a kitten even though she’s never owned a pet before, but she decides she wants to ‘level up’ her new feline companion and level up to be a great pet owner too.
DAVID adds another cat pick! Stray – a new PlayStation game about a stray cat in a cyberpunk world.
That’s it for this week! Thanks so much for listening! Please support your local comic and manga specialty shop when purchasing these books, and you can find one near you at comicshoplocator.com. You can also check your local library for print and digital lending options, they have TONS of manga! Also, keep an eye on what we’re doing at MangasplainingExtra.com — we’ve got some cool new manga series that we’re hoping to announce very soon. Finally, thanks to D.A.D.S. for their musical accompaniment this episode.
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