The Spring 2017 Manga Guide
Flying Witch Vol. 1
What's It About?
Makoto Kowata may look like a normal fifteen-year-old girl, but she's actually a witch. Witches have been around for centuries, hidden from the public eye, and now that Makoto's turned fifteen, according to witch tradition she's supposed to set out on her own. But it is the 21st century now, and Makoto's parents want her to at least finish high school before fully embracing adult witch-hood, so they send her to live with her second cousins in Touhoku, an area popular with witches because it's still very rural. Now Makoto has time to finish school and learn more about what she wants to do with her life, both as a witch and as a person as she plants a garden, practices flying on her broom, and interacts with the world around her. Flying Witch is an original manga by Chihiro Ishizuka. The first volume was released by Vertical in April and retails for $10.95. In 2016 it was adapted into a twelve-episode anime series, which is available streaming on Crunchyroll, The Anime Network, and Tubi.
Is It Worth Reading?
With its leisurely pace and its numerous small moments, Flying Witch projects the ambiance of rural living—brightened with a touch of magic. The family feels real (even if titular witch Makoto is in fact a distant relative) as they interact through laidback moments and gentle teasing. True, Kei and Chinatsu's parents don't make much of an appearance, but the core dynamic between Makoto, Kei, and Chinatsu is always fun to read, even if they're not doing much besides watching TV together or making dinner. Makoto's airy cheerfulness and cavalier attitude toward revealing her magic abilities in front of Nao, Kei's childhood friend who becomes Makoto's school friend as well, is frequently comedic. Nao's ability to mostly take it all in stride, even if she's still shocked, makes their interactions all the more fun. Rounding out the cast this volume are Chito, Makoto's cute and slightly prideful familiar cat with whom she seems to have no problems communicating, and Makoto's famous witch older sister, whose skills don't help her figure out social tact or remember to take her younger sister's only burgeoning magic talents into account. Also rounding out the slightly magical feel to this otherwise ordinary world are the instances where magical creatures like a mandrake and a harbinger of spring seep into the pages. The “ordinary” folks’ reactions to such things and Makoto's continued obliviousness to the oddity of them are a treat.
While much of the manga's appeal is its laidback tone, there's also just enough magic peppered throughout that the reader may wish for a little more conflict—a little more danger—on the page, as well as more explanation of the lives and history of witches. Still, it's clear this is a slice-of-life series, so it can't really be faulted for making a witch's life no more harrowing than the average countryside teen's. Also, Kei is almost too bland to leave much of an impact, especially with all of the three-dimensional young women around him.
Ishizuka's character designs are expressive and more on the adorable side than the realistic, but that suits the atmosphere of the story perfectly. The countryside backgrounds and the traditional Japanese-style house the main characters live in are frequently drawn with great detail, down to the grains in the wood and each overgrown weed in a field. Flying Witch volume 1 balances everyday life, a touch of comedy, and a dash of actual magic for a read that's both relaxing and a little wondrous.
The rating for Flying Witch’s first volume comes with the caveat that if you don't like slow-paced stories where virtually nothing happens, this won't be the book for you. The original source material for the 2016 anime series of the same name, Flying Witch follows fifteen-year-old Makoto as she moves from Yokohama to Touhoku with her familiar, a black cat named Chito, where she will embark on the next phase of her witch training, which mostly consists of her just sort of existing. What makes it all work is that Makoto and her little cousin Chinatsu are utterly winning characters, with Chinatsu reacting like an utterly normal human being when faced with things like creepy-looking Harbingers of Spring showing up at the door or Makoto holding conversations with the cat, wherein the cat meows and Makoto clearly understands how to translate. This juxtaposes well with Makoto herself, who seems blissfully unaware of how she presents to the non-witch population, with the most stunning example being when she pulls up a mandrake from the roadside and presents it to the girl she hopes will become her new friend.
It's the little reactions that really make this book. While Chinatsu can't quite bring herself to let the Harbinger in, she's also perfectly happy to accept Makoto's flying broom in a pair of reactions that make sense given her age. Nao, on the other hand, who is Makoto's classmate and her cousin Kei's friend, can't wrap her head around any of it, and when Makoto claims friendship with her, it's clear that the monologue in Nao's head says something along the lines of, “Like hell I'll be your friend!” She's completely weirded out by Makoto, although she never actually vocalizes it, and as the stand-in for other kids Makoto's age, she, too, comes off as feeling very realistic.
Ishizuka's artwork helps to make the book read quickly and smoothly, with a clear, clean art style and simple page layouts. There are some overly cute touches, such as the scenes of Makoto pulling weeds – how could she pull out the mandrake just fine and then keep toppling over adorably when she's pulling regular weeds? – and Makoto's far-too-tropey inability to get anywhere without getting lost. I'm also not entirely thrilled with some of the translation choices, such as Uncle's dialectic accent and use of the word “harbinger,” which has a mostly negative connotation in English that doesn't suit the character. But for the most part, Flying Witch’s first book is a sweet, enjoyable read, vaguely reminiscent of Kenji Tsuruta's Spirit of Wonder in its vibe. If you don't need action, you should definitely give this a read.
I don't tend to get much out of entertainment that is intended to be relaxing. Too often, aiming for that mark leads a work to be uneventful and boring. Flying Witch is an example of the concept executed properly, a laidback manga that has plenty of character and humor, but in just the right doses to not disrupt its soothing tone. A lot of this has to do with the relatively calm reactions that characters have to whatever occurs. It's not quite deadpan – at least, not all the time – but rather subdued, as characters react to seeing Makoto flying on a broom and pulling mandrakes from the ground with momentary shock and befuddlement before simply moving on. Because these are things that would normally justify a more extreme reaction, you feel compelled to accept and take on the laidback attitude of the series.
Flying Witch has a strangely effective sense of humor that is difficult to fully explain. The jokes, generally speaking, don't seem like they would be particularly funny in concept. The ones originating from Makoto's general ditziness are not unusual, such as when she explains that witches are forbidden from revealing their nature to people outside their close family, then a moment later realizes she has just said this to someone outside her close family. But the funniest moments are completely unexpected. A great deal of this has to do with the relaxed feeling the series gives off. When a sudden, sharp joke hits, like Kei breaking his cool demeanor and immaturely demanding a donut, it feels even punchier than it would have outside the context of the manga. But then there are jokes that come down entirely to pacing and execution, which the manga hits perfectly on a consistent basis. Sequences like Makoto doggedly chasing a pheasant and Chinatsu locking a strange-looking visitor out of the house are hilarious, even though those ideas on paper would only get a chuckle at best. The joke builds and builds on multiple punchlines, then ends quickly before it has the chance to stop being funny, and things resume being quiet and calm.
The manga is a pleasant read all the way through the first volume. While there's not really an ongoing plot to speak of, it avoids being uneventful. There are no huge developments that result from Makoto being a witch, but it gives the manga more options for stories and helps prevent it from feeling too mundane or stale. And, of course, it's really, really funny. Just make sure you're prepared to relax while reading it – it's a great way to go to bed, not so much for starting the day.
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