Little Lady, Big Meals: Kozuma no Kobito no Kenshin Recipe

The author of Mogusa-san, one of my favorite manga in recent memory, has a new series out. Kozuma no Kobito no Kenshin Recipe by Ootake Toshitomo tells the story of a down-on-his-luck salaryman named Oomori Shizuru and a 15-cm tall pixie named Mint, who shows up with the intent of becoming Shizuru’s wife and cooking him delicious meals. The series, whose title translates roughly to My Pixie Wife’s Recipes of Devotion, combines two things Ootake has focused on in his relatively short manga career: exquisitely drawn food and oddball romances.

One big change from Ootake’s other manga—Mogusa-san, Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite, and Teasobi—is that Kenshin Recipe isn’t published under Shueisha’s Young Jump label. Instead, it’s serialized in the web-only Comic Gamma Plus, which is under Takeshobo: a publisher arguably most famous for its mahjong magazines and manga. Essentially, the Takeshobo audience tends to skew older, and this is evident just from Shizuru being 27 years old instead of a high school or college student. However, Kenshin Recipe’s focus on cuteness means it’s not nearly as horny as many of its Comic Gamma Plus peers.

The highlight of the series thus far has to be the cooking scenes. Mint is around six inches tall, yet she has to use Shizuru’s human-sized cookware. Kenshin Recipe shows the way she gets around this: by casting a disinfectant spell on herself and doing everything from headbutting eggs to utilizing fire-resistant clothing to climb inside a frying pan. Ootake knows how to draw food and make it look good, and this provides a perspective on dish preparation that’s both fun and different.

Mint is the linchpin of the series, and while she’s no Minori Mogusa, she has her own unique charms. Putting aside those who are really into fairies and/or wives making home-cooked meals, one thing that stood out to me was Mint’s reasons for wanting to marry Shizuru in the first place. Having long observed him from afar as he left work every day, his sad figure at dusk made her want to protect him. It’s simple and silly, and even has a bit of wish fulfillment thrown in, but I rather enjoy the bit of agency given to the pixie.

There are plenty more opportunities for absurdity, and I’m eager to read more of Kozuma no Kobito no Kenshin Recipe. Based on Ootake’s past works, though, the truly entertaining parts are going to come when he introduces an expanded cast. It’s his strength with ensembles that brings his work from good to great.

BNA: Brand New Animal, Assimilationism, and the Myth of the Model Minority

There are anime where, if you really sit down and try to read deep underneath the surface for messages, you’ll find some surprisingly political messages. Then there’s BNA: Brand New Animal, which says to hell with subtlety—we are going to talk about racial politics, and we’re going to juuuust barely disguise it with furry characters. BNA is a story featuring stark looks at the act of othering, the specter of assimilationism, and the way society and government create negative stereotypes of minorities to then use those fabrications to push racist policy.

BNA takes place in a world where humans share the world with part-animal beastmen. Kagemori Michiru is a human girl who one day finds herself as a tanuki, and must deal with anti-beastman prejudice. She travels to Anima City, a city built and run by beastmen, in order to find answers. There, she meets a wolf beastman named Ogami Shirou who considers it his mission to protect his fellow beastmen. Michiru soon finds herself further embroiled in the complicated politics of both Anima City itself and its relationship with the human world. 

One of the major points of conflict in the series is how humans perceive beastmen. Some are well-meaning but prone to exoticizing, others believe beastmen are inherently inferior. Even Michiru, once human and now beastman in appearance, has a perspective that is both insightful and limited due to her unique situation. She knows what it’s like to face prejudice but does not have the lived experience of those who are born that way. 

Also important is that the very purpose of Anima City is to provide a safe haven for beastmen, but its astounding success and prosperity are seen as a nuisance by powerful forces—including those that ostensibly support Anima City. Though I do not know if this is a direct reference, the city has parallels to Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma—aka “Black Wall Street.” A predominantly black space where residents thrived commercially and financially, Greenwood was burned to the ground in a racist massacre in 1921 due to the absolute fear and resentment from white people towards the notion of black success. 

As BNA moves towards its climax, events similar to Tulsa begin to emerge, particularly by outside attempts to frame beastmen as being inherently one step away from violence and chaos. Michiru and Shirou, as well as their allies, must fight against the racist idea that the beastmen must be “saved from themselves,” presenting an argument against what Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Anti-Racist) calls “assimilationism”: the flawed belief that a race can improve itself by behaving more like a “superior” race. The climax of the series even includes something about constructed notions of racial purity, and how flimsy they are when scrutinized to any real degree. 

Due to some muddling of metaphors, BNA’s approach isn’t perfect. A racist viewing this series could potentially use it to reinforce their own beliefs because of the human/beastman distinction, and allegory often gets lost on those who ignore it, even when it’s this on-the-nose. However, the series ultimately rests on the notion that those who are disingenuous about equity and equality will constantly move the goalposts in order to maintain their oppression, rendering the notion of achieving success as a model minority is inherently limited.

While there’s the possibility that I’m reading too into a show about a tanuki girl and wolf guy, Studio Trigger’s previous works show an awareness of politics in the US and elsewhere. Promare features a thinly veiled reference to ICE (Immigrations and Custom Enforcement) known as Freeze Force. A very special episode of Inferno Cop has a fat and obnoxious parody of Donald Trump. Because of the content of the anime itself and this history, I think BNA can only really be interpreted through the lens of racism, both in its effects on society and its perpetuation by the powerful.

20th Century Boys: Pandemics, Conspiracies, and Cults of Personality

I never read 20th Century Boys until this year, but in some ways, I’m glad I waited this long.

Warning: SPOILERS

20th Century Boys in 2021

A manga by the award-winning author Urasawa Naoki, 20th Century Boys (published from 1999 to 2006) is a decades-spanning mystery about a man named Endo Kenji and his childhood friends, whose innocent elementary school antics are resurfacing in bizarre and dangerous ways. A Book of Prophecy they wrote around 1970 with far-fetched doomsday predictions about plagues that seem to be coming true, and at the heart of this conspiracy is an enigmatic and politically powerful cult leader known as the Friend. But while the Friend’s identity is unknown to all, there’s a hint that Kenji should know who he is: the Friend’s symbol is exactly the same as one Kenji and his friends came up with when they were kids.

Although conspiracies, cults of personality, and apocalyptic disease are not that unusual in fiction, these elements resonate particularly strongly in 2021. Between QAnon, authoritarians such as Bolsonaro and Trump, and then COVID-19, there are a lot of parallels between what happens in 20th Century Boys and what has transpired in reality. There’s a certain poetic element to a series revolving around The Book of Prophecy seeming to tell the future in itself, but whatever farseeing power it might have possessed are less interesting to reflect on than its portrayals of human behavior. What struck at my core from reading 20th Century Boys was not merely the presence of all these current dangers, but the all-too-real psychological reactions we’ve seen actually take place in the world.

QAnon vs. the Friendship and Democracy Party

One vital difference between QAnon and The Book of Prophecy is that the former has not been substantiated in any way, whereas the latter’s predictions are actively made true through the machinations of the Friendship and Democracy Party led by the Friend. Regardless of actual success rate, however, the two bear some fundamental similarities. In one scene in 20th Century Boys, the character Manjome Inshu recalls how he came to know and support the Friend. Manjome, who has a history of being a snake-oil salesman, is one of the people responsible for giving the Friend his messiah-like aura to his followers. At one point, they use a rope and pulley to make the Friend seem like he’s levitating—a flimsy trick that could have been undone by a bit of swaying. However, not only does the audience buy it hook, line, and sinker; even one of the assistants who literally helped hoist the Friend up by rope starts to believe the man can fly. Manjome, thinking to himself, comes to a realization: the people are just looking for something to believe in. Like QAnon, the Friend’s following is not about logic, rationality, or even trying to understand the world through one’s emotions. It’s working backwards from a conclusion because of a particular desire to see the world a certain way, and to feel like one has a part in its transformation. 

Donald Trump vs. the Friend

When it comes to the Friend’s authoritarian nature and god complex, the commonalities between him and Trump stood out to me from the very beginning. However, when the Friend’s identity is finally revealed, their resemblance only gets stronger. The Friend, as suspected, was part of Kenji’s childhood circle, but one who viewed Kenji with utter disdain. The Friend—a boy obsessed with anime, manga, and other children’s entertainment of the time—accrued knowledge, things, and experiences as a way to impress his classmates. Yet, it was Kenji who seemed to capture the attention of the other kids. The Friend was so hellbent on one-upping Kenji that, when a planned trip to the 1970 World Expo in Osaka fell through, he decided to just lie and fabricate journal entries for school as if he had actually attended the event. The wounds of failure remain so open and painful to the Friend that even in the mythos provided to his followers, it’s canon that the Friend Definitely 100% Attended the Osaka Expo and It Was Amazing.

Other clues point to a man with the mind and maturity of a little boy as the mastermind. Many of the hints about who he really is require knowledge of his childhood hobbies because they inevitably reflect what the Friend values. In this sense, 20th Century Boys is somewhat like Ready Player One, which also plays on the idea of pop culture trivia being key to everything, though in the case of 20th Century Boys there’s no Gary Stu power-fantasy protagonist. Also, prior to the big identity reveal, one character manages to get a close look at the Friend and is able to sketch his appearance from memory. When drawing the Friend, the character remarks that even though the Friend is clearly not a child, his face looks as if the man has never aged emotionally—a description that also seems to get ascribed to Trump.

In Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Dangerous Man, the author Mary L. Trump (a psychologist who’s also the niece of the former US president) explains that Trump is unable to let go of grievances. Every slight he’s ever felt sticks with him forever—as shown by an anecdote of how Donald’s older sister recalling a story of him getting a bowl of mashed potatoes dumped onto his head for being a bully still seems to hurt the man well into adulthood. He has spent a lifetime constantly trying to get others to believe that he’s the richest, the smartest, the handsomest, and the best person in the world, and even becoming the leader of the strongest nation on Earth wasn’t enough to placate that selfish desire. With the Friend, his being overshadowed by Kenji became a deep psychological scar, and he uses that motivation to reach a similar place. If you erased my memory of the publication history of 20th Century Boys and told me that the Friend is a reference to Trump, I would believe you. But that’s not the case, and what we’re left with, in retrospect, is a very accurate portrayal of how someone with the most vile qualities could win the hearts and minds of others and remain just as terrible. 

COVID-19 vs. Bloody New Year’s Eve and Beyond

The spread of deadly disease is a recurring horror in 20th Century Boys, though in the manga’s case, it is a biological weapon utilized by the Friend to achieve his goals. I’m not going to get into much detail here, but I think the example I give is going to make it clear why 20th Century Boys ends up being a curiously ominous work when it comes to human psychology. In one scene, a scientist character is trying to make a colleague of hers—one who is responsible for developing new viruses for the Friend—understand at heart just how many people died from the virus they spread on “Bloody New Year’s Eve,” the name for the traumatic events of December 31, 2000. So what are these overwhelming casualties brought on by the virus? What is this horrifying statistic that defies human understanding? 

150,000. 

That number was meant to shock and horrify when it was written. But COVID-19 has killed nearly 600,000 people in the United States, and it has taken the lives of nearly 4 million people worldwide. “150,000 deaths” was a pie-in-the-sky notion dreamed up by a manga author, and we in the real world now see that as the “early days,” when the infection rate hadn’t gotten so out of hand. 

The trauma of the coronavirus is going to stick with us for a long time. 

A Compelling Warning

There’s much more to 20th Century Boys than simply being prophetic, and it’s a superb manga in terms of art and storytelling. Nevertheless, the way its narrative relates to these difficult times makes it all the more powerful. What should have been a suspenseful piece of fiction with an examination of humanity now feels closer to a documentary with a foreboding warning of how easily the human mind can be warped by a diet of bad information. I hope we’re able to heed its messages.

Nazuna Insomniax: Call of the Night

Kotoyama’s Dagashi Kashi is one of my favorite manga of the past ten years. So, when I saw a couple years ago that they started another manga, I jumped at the chance to give my early impressions of their new title: Yofukashi no Uta. Since then, I kept reading in Japanese while doubtful that it would get licensed in English, but that’s exactly what happened! 

Released by VIZ, Call of the Night (as it’s now called) is a laid-back yet moody story that’s subtly charming while defying expectations.  The story revolves around Japanese boy named Yamori Kou, who wanders his town at night due to a general feeling of dissatisfaction, and Nanakusa Nazuna, an immortal vampire girl who’s not big on creating undead progeny and would rather have fun her own way. Kou decides that he wants to become a vampire, but it’s not just a matter of having his blood sucked—he also has to fall in love with Nazuna for it to work. Thus, in order to fulfill his goal, Kou must learn to understand his own feelings and to find what it would take for love to enter his heart.  

Not Just a Vampire Story

I think it’d be all too easy, and even unfair, to write off Call of the Night as just another vampire story. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the genre, but I think the way Kotoyama approaches the concept and builds his story to include it gives more than enough for those who just want an interesting manga regardless of its supernatural trappings. In addition to the basic vampire-oriented jokes (Kou’s blood is apparently super delicious), it’s just a really clever and poignant character study that touches on the balance of joy and malaise, as well as the burden of social expectations. One defining contrast between Kou and Nazuna is that the former is comfortable talking about romance but blushes at anything remotely dirty, while the latter is the exact opposite. Anytime a conversation veers towards sex, Kou quickly tries to change the subject, while Nazuna can’t stand thinking about love. 

That’s the foundation for a lot of the humor in the story, but there are other amusing moments as well. For example, the topic of cell phones comes up, and Nazuna replies that she has one already. However, Nazuna’s phone turns out to be one of those gigantic Zack Morris-style portable bricks, hinting that she’s at least a couple decades older than Kou despite her appearance. The presence of “outdated” items like the cell phone and even wristwatch walkie-talkies lend a certain nostalgic atmosphere to the series in general, somewhat like how dagashi plays a role as old-fashioned candy in Dagashi Kashi.

Future Volumes

I’ve read past the first volume that’s currently out in English, but without spoiling too much, there are later developments that add some interesting wrinkles. The addition of new characters familiar with Nazuna expands her world and her identity more, such that her story gets fleshed out to a greater degree. She already isn’t quite your typical vampire, but the story goes on to further emphasize that. 

While I have some of the books in Japanese, I plan on getting all of them in English going forward. Kotoyama makes some fine manga, and I hope that they find success outside of Japan as well.

Wild Wings: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 40

As Akira and Jin sing, they remember their first encounter in the classroom when Jin asks Akira to join his Chorus Club.

It’s time for the Chorus Appreciation Society to sing in their last song of the School Culture Festival, and Jin is nervous about being onstage in front of his mom. Fortunately, Kozue delivers a confident speech about their happiness spreading music through the school, which calms Jin down—though she then turns it into a taunting preemptive declaration of victory. 

Their performance of “The Wings of Mind” begins, and the four guys harmonize perfectly, the beauty of the song causing emotions to well up in nearly everyone listening. The LED display Himari programmed displays the lyrics, and before everyone realizes it, the entire audience is doing the same as she is: singing along and being drawn into the performance. However, the chapter ends with Reika with an ambiguous expression that seems to read as her not being terribly impressed.

Song, Singular

This month, there’s only one song, and it’s the centerpiece of the entire chapter. The power of “The Wings of Mind” seems to be its ability to resonate on a very personal level with everyone listening to it. The song brings about a range of emotions: hope and disappointment, nostalgia and discovery, past and future. The two flashbacks indicate this strongly: Akira remembers meeting Jin in the classroom and being introduced to the world of music, while the senior members of the Rugby Club recall looking at the younger teammates as they themselves have to move on to the next phase of life. 

This potentially ties into a previous conversation Akira had with Jin about individual interpretations of a song’s meaning. It’s something Jin has trouble with, and to see “The Wings of Heart” hitting people in different places highlights the notion that we bring a part of ourselves into the songs we hear. “Art is how you interpret it,” or something like that.

Thanks to the LED display of the lyrics, the audience is singing along with the Chorus Appreciation Society.

Perhaps this is why the audience gets swept on in singing. As explained in the chapter, it’s not just that the lyrics are visible, but that it’s as if everyone is being compelled to follow along by the song. Everyone, that is, except Reika. 

1v1 Me, Son

The bit of nervousness (or self-consciousness) Jin feels before the performance is not just understandable—it speaks to the core of Jin’s internal conflict. His mom thinks he’s not trying to prove that talent doesn’t matter so much as he’s hiding his own lack of, and Jin is afraid that she’s right. In this respect, I think the whole “sing-along” plan he thought up might actually backfire, as I suspect Reika sees it all as a gimmick: more camouflage for Jin’s comparatively mediocre vocals. 

Reika and Jin’s contrasting priorities reminds me of arguments made about competitive games. Players of 1v1 games will point to the fact that in a 1v1 scenario, you own all your wins and losses, whereas team games soften the blow of failure by giving players the excuse of blaming their teammates. At the same time, there are impressive things achieved through the group cooperation of team games that 1v1 games can’t touch. All of it is true at the same time, making it so that neither side is inherently correct.

The Hasegawa Kozue Show

Kozue provokes the other groups by saying they knocked everyone else the hell out the tournament, and they're here to win.

This comes as a shock to Mimi-sensei, who thought Kozue was going somewhere kinder.

Kozue carries such power in this manga, being a kind of motivational force that can redirect the inertia of the other members, not unlike Saki from Genshiken. The confidence in her speech, the way she sets Jin back on course, she’s proving more and more how invaluable her friendship can be.

Even if he never said so outright, it’s clear at this point that Kozue is one of Kio’s favorite characters. One thing I like about her character and the emphasis given to her is that she’s nowhere near a traditional “bishoujo” by manga standards, and I like that it bucks expectations and stereotypes. Even her romance (of sorts) with poor Sora from the Rugby Club feels refreshing and new. 

She gets thanked by Kousei and blushes a bit, but I don’t yet see it as anything special. It feels more like Kozue is unaccustomed to such direct gratitude, especially from a guy like Kousei.

Final Thoughts

This sort of feels like the series could end soon, but I really hope it doesn’t. I want to see the club officially form, and for some new faces to give opportunities for more interesting storytelling and drama. 

Skate or Cry: SK8 the Infinity

SK8 the Infinity is an anime with great potential for mass appeal, but rather than catering to a “general audience,” it’s more a series that crosses over so many different niches that it merely appears generic from a distance. The series combines the thrilling world of skateboarding, the involved races of Initial D, the designer+pilot friendship dynamic of Gundam Build Fighters, the over-the-top characters of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and the nudge-and-wink male “friendships” of Free! If you have a passing interest in just two or more of these elements, there’s a good chance you’ll get a kick (flip) out of the whole thing.

The story: Langa is a half-Japanese, half-Canadian teenager who has just moved to Japan with his mother. Reki is one of Langa’s new classmates, and he’s obsessed with skateboarding—a world that Reki is eager to introduce to Langa. While Langa doesn’t know the first thing about it, the way he approaches this unfamiliar sport reveals another side of him: Langa is actually an expert snowboarder who lost his spark after the death of his father who taught him. With Reki’s knowledge and passion, as well as Langa’s unique talents borne out of his history on Canada’s snowy slopes, the two are poised to take the world of underground skateboard racing by storm. Looming in the shadows, however, is the mysterious “Adam,” an antagonistic figure who is one part Dio Brando from JoJo, and one part flamboyant matador.

SK8 the Infinity fires on all cylinders, providing compelling characters and a beautiful story of friendship, but also a kind of ridiculousness that can only come from trying to portray the high-energy world of extreme sports in as loving and passionate a way as possible. The best episodes offer some of the best animation quality you’ll find in a sports series, and the relationship between Langa and Reki takes a lot of twists and turns that feel natural and personal. It’s the kind of anime capable of bringing a lot of disparate groups together, and it’s just plain fun.

Spotted Flower and Fusion Characters?

Spotted Flower is Kio Shimoku’s refracted-universe version of his hit manga Genshiken, but as the series goes on, more and more major differences crop up. Recently, I realized that one major change might be that a few characters are, in essence, fused together from different Genshiken characters.

Since her first appearances in Spotted Flower, there has been a certain character who looks and behaves much like Sue Hopkins from Genshiken. Outside of age—Spotted Flower characters are all far into adulthood as opposed to being roughly college age—the major difference between Sue and Not-Sue is that the latter has much wider hips and larger breasts. From the neck down, she’s much closer to Angela Burton, the other Genshiken American character.

I originally chalked up Not-Sue’s physical qualities to just being another way to slightly bend the details of Genshiken to make it “different enough,” but a recent side chapter of Spotted Flower, 35.5, makes me think that the merging of characters might be a recurring aspect of the series.

In it, Not-Sasahara racks his brain over trying to interpret Not-Sue’s signals, and the possibility of a threesome. As he’s trying to shake off the mental image of Ogino-sensei (aka Not-Ogiue) and Not-Sue together nude, he has an expression that is very uncharacteristic of Sasahara but makes him look just like Kuchiki, the annoying guy from Genshiken who has issues with boundaries. The resemblance to Kuchiki is further enhanced by the character’s hairstyle. This leads me to believe that Not-Sasahara might actually be better described as a kind of “Kuchihara,” though mostly dominated by the Sasahara side in terms of personality.

Endou, the “original character” who’s actually closer to Yoshitake than anyone else is probably not a fusion, but she feels like she belongs in a similar territory. In her case, it’s almost like she’s a mix of Yoshitake and a Genshiken character who never made it off the drawing board.

Not every character in Spotted Flower is a mash-up, as plenty map onto their Genshiken characters pretty comfortably. However, I’m keeping my eye out for any potential combos from now on.

Show by Rock!! Stars!!

The original Show by Rock!! anime was a surprise hit for me. “Cute animal-eared girls in bands by Sanrio” sounds fun but not especially amazing, but the execution turned out to be magnificent. Between the fluid animation and excellent comedic timing, I still think fondly of the series and its immediate sequel, Show by Rock!!#. The third season, however, didn’t quite hit the mark with me. The relatively low-key Show by Rock!! Mashumairesh!! took place in the same general setting, but it just didn’t have the charm or humor that made the first two anime such winners. 

I’m not sure if the aim of the fourth season, Show by Rock!! Stars!!, was to bring back some of that old magic, but it pulls the “crossover” card and decides to combine the old and new casts together. Now, the band Mashumairesh (whose name still confuses me) has joined up with the original heroines, Plasmagica, to participate in an all-star band competition. The crossover isn’t limited to the characters either, as the staff includes talents from all the previous series. 

The result is that Show by Rock!! Stars!! brings back much of that old magic. From the very beginning, it feels closer to the earlier seasons. Mashumairesh, new to the big city that Plasmagica calls home, accidentally ends up doing some serious property damage that gets them landed in jail and facing a criminal trial. “These are the absurd antics missing from the Mashumairesh!! season,” I thought while watching it. By the finale, I think it’s largely satisfying and captures  most of the spirit of Show by Rock!! at its best, though it doesn’t go quite as far as I hoped.

Ultimately, I think the problem is that Stars!! focuses much more on Mashumairesh. While the fourth season brings snappier writing and performances to the story that helps elevate the Mashumairesh girls, they and their surrounding cast just don’t strike the same strong balance between friendly personalities and character flaws that help define Plasmagica and friends. Though Howan is by no means a poor character, Cyan makes for a more appealing protagonist. Plasmagica’s ChuChu has a personality of tempered ruthless ambition that’s just absent among the Mashumairesh members. Moa the alien sheep is the best, as always. And how do you beat the overwrought melodrama of a band named SHINGANCRIMONZ, whose band leader is adored as a man among men by the other members because he holds steady employment as an accountant? None of the all-guy bands originally featured in the Mashumairesh!! season even come close.

That’s not to say Show by Rock!! Stars!! is a failure. For the most part, the series is highly amusing and does a good job of bringing out the best qualities in its many characters. It elevates a B+ cast into A-rank players, but I still wish I could have seen more of the S-rank superstars.

Witch Hat Atelier: The Fantasy of Science, the Science of Fantasy

Witch Hat Atelier is a manga with gorgeous art, compelling plot and characters, and an endlessly fascinating world. What I’m especially impressed by, however, is the way it manages to achieve a near-perfect balance of complexity and simplicity in its storytelling. It goes beyond the boundaries of manga and deep into the general world of fantasy fiction.

A Robust Yet Accessible Tale

I love the variety brought by manga in general, but it can often be difficult to recommend titles to a wider audience because of a focus on an incredibly niche subject, an issue of how approachable problematic tropes might be, or just the sense that you have to be “into” manga to read certain titles. More emotional stories might get criticized for lacking a robustness of environment, while those with careful attention paid to world building might be seen as too heady for their own good. Where Witch Hat Atelier differs from so many titles is that it manages to be both emotional and intellectual, and makes it difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends.

The Story

Witch Hat Atelier takes place in a world where magic exists but is almost entirely out of reach for most people, instead being the sole domain of those inherently gifted with it. Coco, the young daughter of a dressmaker, wishes she could become a witch, but when she tries to mimic a Wizard named Qifrey by drawing runes, she accidentally turns her mother to stone. Qifrey takes Coco under his tutelage so that she can learn how to undo the curse on her mother (a forbidden spell), and it’s from Qifrey that she learns the truth: Magic is usable by anyone, but the devastation it has caused in ages past has resulted in its gatekeeping by the Wizards, who seek to keep history from repeating itself. All it takes is the right ink and the ability to draw magic circles, but with that knowledge comes great responsibility.

The Political Nature of Witch Hat Atelier

Right from the premise, you have many different elements coming together into a tale that stimulates on multiple levels. Coco is a young heroine whose goals tap into a love of the mysterious but also a sense of guilt, and the supporting characters all have their own hopes and dreams that are as myriad as their unique personalities. The true nature of magic is that it’s built on a logical system, but having it executed through drawing brings a wondrously creative and artistic side as well. Most fascinating of all, the fact that magic is essentially a form of structured knowledge evokes both the political and the philosophical—namely whether closely guarding the truth of magic is ultimately for good or for ill.

Overall

What Witch Hat Atelier manages to achieve is a story with depth and breadth. There’s an endless path of discovery beyond the characters due to magic’s history within the world, but Coco, Qifrey, and every other soul within the story are like universes unto themselves. Their stories are straightforward yet intricate, and each chapter is more rewarding than the last. It’s no wonder that this manga is so beloved. Between this and Shirahama’s other title, Eniale & Dewiela, I hope we can see more of her manga work in English.

Kakushigoto: Refined Absurdity

The style of manga artist Kumeta Kouji is unmistakable. His brand of comedy focuses heavily on humorous misunderstandings combined with rantings by off-kilter characters eager to point out the absurdities of the world while blissfully unaware of their own eccentricities. Previous anime adaptations of his work have totally embraced and even enhanced this manic energy (Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Joshiraku), but the anime version of Kumeta’s Kakushigoto takes a relatively more mellow approach. It makes sense, given that Kakushigoto is a more subdued and down-to-Earth story by the artist’s standards. The key difference between Kakushigoto and his past works is an emphasis on the tenderness of a father’s love for his daughter.

Kakushigoto is the story of Gotou Kakushi, a manga artist and single dad who will go to any length necessary to hide his profession from his young daughter, Hime. Specializing in ribald humor, Kakushi’s greatest fear is that he will permanently embarrass her, make her a laughingstock among her peers, and ruin her life. Luckily for Kakushi, Hime is extremely naive, though that doesn’t stop them (and everyone they know) from getting caught up in humorous misunderstandings. As fitting the manga author, the title of the series is a pun on the fact that it can mean “something you hide” (kakushi goto) and “a job where you draw” (kakushi goto). 

Many of the jokes revolve around Kakushi’s job, and like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, there’s a lot of inside baseball about things like deadlines, color pages, industry trends, useless editors, and decency standards. These are often the source of many of the aforementioned Kumeta-style rants (and Kakushi himself shares Zetsubou-sensei’s voice actor), but because the general subject of these ravings are smaller in scope than the societal condemnations of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, it actually gives Kakushigoto a noticeably more intimate feel. Because of this, as well as the focus on Kakushi and Hime’s relationship (and some extra familial drama with his in-laws), I find this anime to be more accessible and enjoyable to a wider range of potential fans who might get exhausted by Kumeta’s other works.

If Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is a spicy ketchup, Kakushigoto is a high-quality tomato sauce. 

What I mean is that Kakushigoto has a certain kind of maturity, and a willingness to try to find a middle ground between the unadulterated creative style of Kumeta and something that can speak to others beyond those already familiar with his work. It’s a tricky balance to strike, reminiscent of Shinkai Makoto’s your name. and its greater mainstream appeal compared to his older films. Importantly, Kakushigoto does not abandon Kumeta’s signature style, but rather refines it into a more well-rounded experience.