Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Witch's Love at the End of the World
Witches once lived quietly going about their business, until the day that humans decided that they were responsible for all the ills of the world and began to persecute them. That ended when witches realized that if they allied themselves with those in power, they could continue to live on in secret, and today they maintain that secrecy, training at special schools and working towards the day they get revenge on humans. Alice is a descendant of one of the greatest witches, and many hopes are pinned on her, but all of those will be lost if she falls in love – and that's just what threatens to happen when Mari, a new girl with strange powers, enters the school.
A Witch's Love at the End of the World's first volume exists in the strange space where it somehow has glacial pacing while simultaneously trying to do too much. This is in part due to the story itself – it's a hybrid of the magic high school and slice-of-life yuri genres, so it has tasked itself with both explaining all of the various magic systems and histories while also trying to introduce disparate characters and giving them a believable start to either love or rivalry. While none of that is impossible to mix, here they just don't sit comfortably together, making for a book that feels very uneven for almost its entire length.
On the topic of not sitting comfortably, it is worth mentioning that there are a couple of elements here that gave me pause. The first is a very clear shot of a witch wearing a necklace with a Star of David on it, which could be brushed off as a mistake – no others appear in the volume – but its presence in the story coupled with the consistent use of the term “heresy” unfortunately makes this story's concept of witches harken back to the fact that many Renaissance descriptions of witches often used images coded as anti-Semitic. This, hopefully unintentionally, can also make the use of German in the text a little dicey, although the language appears to be very much a simple effort to seem “foreign,” as the hexenschule (witch school)'s cafeteria is labeled “mensa,” which is Latin for “table.” Intentional or not, however, it is an issue which may stand out to some readers, and as such merits mentioning.
As far as the plot goes, it leans into tropes of both magic high school and yuri series. Alice is one of the star students at her hexenschule, a descendant of one of the original witches who decided that the way to survive was to hide in the shadows behind those in power as their personal fixers. As such, Alice is not only revered by other students, like the sycophantic Miriam, but also feels unduly burdened to be as amazing as they all assume she is. This results in her being made the tutor for the school's newest student, a Japanese girl named Mari who, to all appearances, isn't from a witch bloodline and is simply “human,” which is a major insult (or at least Miriam thinks it is). Mari's at the school because she began evincing magic powers when she turned seventeen, and once that was out, witch society wasn't going to allow her to keep living in the regular human world. Mari is, therefore, stuck at a school she doesn't want to be at trying to learn things she's never heard of – and suffering from anxiety as a result. It also doesn't help that Mari's got a very different view of what's acceptable than the girls who were raised to be witches, particularly when it comes to things like dissection. There are no coloring sheets or computer programs to simulate a frog dissection for witches, and this, plus the nature of Mari's particular magic, is part of what lands her in Alice's care.
We are, presumably, supposed to be watching Alice and Mari begin the process of falling in love in this volume. As you might guess from my use of the word “presumably,” that doesn't quite happen. Mari is so out of place and bewildered that there's a sense that Alice is the only person to be kind to her at all, which doesn't necessarily work as a believable seed for love to grow from. On the other hand, Alice is so insular that even when we see evidence of her falling for Mari, it doesn't feel like anything beyond the author's whim. That there is evidence at all is due to something established early on in the volume: Alice's grandmother has admonished her never to fall in love, because when a witch loses her heart, she also loses her magic.
While this isn't entirely original – there are definitely some other manga and light novels that touch on the idea – here it feels more like a shortcut to the girls' relationship than an actual plot device, because if it turns out that changing her entire identity from witch to human is the only way for Alice to be happy, then there are definitely some issues. We do see that Mari's mother resents Mari's powers because it destroys the life she's built up around her new human identity, so the implication seems to be that a change from witch to human is something to be avoided, although the other implication – that all witch relationships are loveless – is also not a great one. But it's the fact of witches being taught that they now exist for vengeance, that all humans must be punished for what happened to the witches of old, that really makes things uncomfortable, because if part of Miriam's issue with Mari is her human nature and that falling in love will demote Alice to human, then that means that to be human is to be allied against the witches.
It is entirely possible that later volumes will work to overturn this idea that humans and witches have to hate each other. In fact, if the romance plot is going to work, I suspect that it will. Things at the end of this volume are shaping up to give Alice a real understanding of what Mari's world is like, and that does mean that this book is really the prologue to the story that will occupy the rest of the series. Whether it succeeds on that front or not will at least partly hang on whether or not the pacing can iron itself out.
On the art front, this is also something of a disappointment. Even if we excuse Alice's reverse mullet hairdo (short in back and long in front, but less like it's supposed to be that way and more like someone cut the back of her hair and she never noticed), there are almost no drawn backgrounds and not much sense of movement. I do like that the girls all have big feet and the design of their uniforms, but overall it's a bit underwhelming, which is something that can be said for the book as a whole.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : C
+ Decent combination of genres, Mari's power is interesting, as is how the witches plan to use it.
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