Kodansha Comics brought the English translation of Witch Hat Atelier from artist Kamome Shirahama back in April 2019 for western readers to enjoy. It recently received the 2020 Eisner Award in Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia category with fellow nominee “Cats of the Louvre” by Taiyo Matsumoto.

Young Coco constantly dreams of becoming a witch and even gets mysterious about magic during a festival. Sadly people tell her that witches have to be born with their special abilities. She still clings on to her wishes as she helps her mom in their fabric shop and home. The day Quifey stops by, Coco believes her chance arrived. She tries to stay close by and sees him draw out a spell. Discovering that, she secretly attempts what is in her book. Her perseverance and attention to details leads to a successful spell however at a price. Not realising what kind of magic she chose, crystals burst out. Quifey suddenly rescues her but not her mother who becomes crystalized. The witch tells her that magic is easy to access if people knew the right components but it is the greatest secret about it. The usual punishment is a memory wipe but Quifey wants to find the one who gave Coco the book. With no other options, he takes the girl to be a witch.

Western comics fans may already have seen some of Shirahama’s works including some covers of “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey”, “Star Wars Doctor Aphra” and “Squirrel Girl”. While manga usually has just inked interiors, Volume One of “Witch Hat Atelier” has a small introduction in color. Compared to the bold lines and solid blocks of color for comics, “Witch Hat Atelier” has a style that is reminiscent of old master prints mixed with a bit of both the flowy Art Nouveau and geometric Art Deco. The illustrations, especially regarding the setting and clothing also may remind some of the late artist Moebius. The blend helps make the reading experience more immersive as readers and Coco learn more about the truth about magic. The detail is not only in the art but also the complexity in witches must do to harness their power. The first volume throws quite a lot of information and action, and it luckily provides notes in the end to organize them in a simple way. It seems that trouble keeps following unfortunate Coco but she seems to find a way to both solve and innovate with what she has.

As mentioned in the beginning, “Witch Hat Atelier” won an Eisner Award during this year’s Comic-Con@Home along with Taiyo Matsumoto’s “Cats of the Louvre” for Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia. The other nominees were Paru Itagaki’s “Bestars”, Korean memoir “Grass”, CLAMP’s “Magic Knights Rayearth” 25th Anniversary Edition and Moto Hagio’s “The Poe Clan”. “Grass” creator Keum Suk Gendry-Kim was also a nominee for Best Writer. Other manga that made it to this year’s short list in different categories included Kabi Nagata’s sequel series to “My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness”, “My Solo Exchange Diary” Volume Two (Best Reality-Based World), Gou Tanabe’s “H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountain of Madness” Volumes One and Two (Best Adaptation from Another Medium) and Shinichi Abe’s “That Miyoko Asagaya Feeling” (Best Archival Collection/Project – Comic Books). Another notable nominee is “Women’s Manga in Asia and Beyond: Uniting Different Cultures and Identities” in the Best Academic/Scholarly Work section. For the complete list, head over to the Eisner Awards’s page

For more information of “Witch Hat Atelier”, check out its web page on Kodansha Comics’s site where it has a free preview available. Volume Six is currently out digitally but the book will physically be released this September. Yen Press recently announced its acquisition of Shirahama’s 3-volume series “Eniale & Dewiela” during Anime Expo Lite 2020. The first translated installment is set to be out this November according to the website.

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