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by Christopher Farris,

The Witch and the Knight Will Survive

GN 1 Review

The Witch and the Knight Will Survive GN 1
Losing everyone in his town to a curse, knight Agredios initially blames the witch living in the forest outskirts, and sets out to take revenge on her. However, upon realizing she is not at fault, Agredios instead brings her back to the town, where the two set out to rebuild it with what little they have left. Help is not coming from the capital, but refugees from other areas are arriving, and resources are finite. Agredios, the witch, and their growing collection of allies will need to work together if they want to survive.

"Contrast" seems to be the operative approach to The Witch and the Knight Will Survive. Billed as a "dark fantasy" title, this first volume opens with a poetic introduction that would be right at home in any of the old types of famously uncut fairy tales. The book shifts between that storybook-style vibe and acts of vicious fantasy action seemingly effortlessly. Our lead, the titular knight Agredios is visited with tragedy, which he responds to with an immediate act of pointedly misplaced violence. But in his moment of merciful clarity, he sees a road back to rebuilding and hope. It's a classic "out of darkness" tale that The Witch and the Knight Will Survive is seeking to tell here, with a side order of fantasy town governance and some occasionally messy detail communication.

The latter might be expected on account of that aforementioned contrast. The other half of the title, the witch initially known as Ganancetia, is the polar opposite of Agredios in terms of disposition and presentation. Her acts of magical strangeness often have no clear initiating reasoning. She utterly fails to explain herself until the very end of the book. Yet she's viewed and received more warmly by the children Perla and Percie, as well as later arrivals to the town, than what Agredios allows for her. This makes for an appreciable thematic underpinning but can lead to frustrations as readers try to suss out the exact nature of the "curse" of the forest, alongside the situations behind some of those other arrivals.

The expanding of the plot and scope of the story as this volume goes on can drive The Witch and the Knight Will Survive in some dissonant directions as far as quality goes. On the one hand, having more characters allows for more interactions and extrapolations of its ideas, specifically the whole town-building aspect. The manga is happy to elucidate on things like the magical mechanics of laundry and bathing in this setting or making use of resources like a felled fortress bee monster. And the additional aspects and responsibilities help shift away from the angst that can sometimes overbearingly characterize Agredios in the earlier chapters.

However, without said angst, Agredios does start settling into being the least interesting character in his own story. Much of the time in the book's second half, he feels like he's merely existing at the center of the town he's serving to manage, a sounding board for others to exposit story information to. And when much of that exposition is oddly-ordered clarification of information that was hardly "secret" to the characters and thus only serves to explain things better to an audience who maybe should have had a handle on it earlier, we in that audience start to think this sort of thing could have been ordered better.

To clarify, most of the narrative clunkiness of The Witch and the Knight Will Survive hardly comes off as "bad". It's the sort of thing that definitely smooths itself out upon reread when you know to look out for the foreshadowing of the clarification of things like what the capital's deal is, the curse and its stigma, and how those elements and others converge to isolate the village and set it up for these rebuilding mechanics. Agredios's sister Griamelda is a whole character who falls into this kind of tricky reading, as the scattered references initially foreshadowing her don't come off as quite enough to sell her arrival with some impact to the audience the first time around. It's a frustrating pity because once she's properly in the story, Griamelda becomes a strong character who not only feels like she has a more robust personality than her brother but actively brings his presence up a bit simply by sharing page space with him. The sibling dynamic is something this book definitely delivers well.

As uneven as the story can be, it thankfully cannot distract from the success of the art in The Witch and the Knight Will Survive. Gonbe Shinkawa's style is a perfect match for the darker tones this plot is reaching for while still instilling things with an appreciable amount of quirk. Ganancetia herself is a great example of that, as her looks fit in with the style of the story, yet once Shinkawa gets her moving and emoting, she becomes an earnestly enjoyable scroungy weirdo of a witch. It's the kind of eccentricities that broadly humanize a whole plot like this and the other people who come to reside in it. This sort of aside strangeness appreciably afflicts those other characters too, like Uhla's act of covering herself in bees, excused as being "just her thing." More characters who just have things, please; they add personality to this plot, and Shinkawa is inherently amusing at drawing them.

Even beyond the visual aspects of selling characterization, where the actual writing might prove too messy, the art also carries this book once the action in-between these zig-zagging exposition arcs gets going. Huge pages and panel spreads are deployed when best necessary. The flow of combat can occasionally get a little tricky to keep straight, but then you catch sight of a maneuver like a character using their foot to further push a sword slash, and you get back to enjoying the visceral aspects of it all. And that's before you get to the book embracing its odder impulses even in the midst of that action, like a bit where we see Agredios just flung Ganancetia at a cart driver. As with so much else in The Witch and the Knight Will Survive, that contrast is key.

For all the unevenness brought about by its commitment to that contrast, The Witch and the Knight Will Survive arrives at, I think, a net positive quality for its opening volume. Its converging background elements and city-building structure give it natural room to grow, and the proper reconciliation between the knight and the witch at the end allows it a few more enjoyable thematic chops. Amongst everything else, we arrive at a story about becoming what other people make of us and bringing out our best that way. It's nice to get that alongside some strong art and, as a bonus for me personally, a straight-up fantasy setting apart from any isekai or RPG-mechanic derivatives. It's worth a look if that's a genre you're into checking out, or even if the art just catches your eye.

Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A

+ Strong art that's great at both quirky characters and visceral action, plot and thematics solidify as the book goes on
Getting the details that set up the story can be awkwardly messy at times, main character shifts between overbearing angst and unremarkable existence

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Production Info:
Story: Dai Chikamoto
Art: Gonbe Shinkawa
Licensed by: Yen Press

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