Guardian of the Witch

Asahi Sakano debuted in the manga scene at the age of nineteen when he won Weekly Shonen Jump’s Treasure Rookie Manga Award in 2014. His new series, “Guardian of the Witch,” received enough preliminary success as a one-shot comic that it was greenlit for weekly serialization and is the final of three new entries for the first quarter of the year.

As always with first chapters, the series began with a two-page color-spread to showcase the protagonists, ideally giving the reader a feel for whom they were about to read. Unfortunately, “Guardian of the Witch’s” color-spread didn’t achieve that goal. It just showed the two main characters standing side by side, one with a sword and one with a fiery hand, with slightly different facial expressions.

The spread didn’t speak strongly about who they were as people. Right off the bat it gave me the feeling that Sakano might struggle with depicting the emotions of his characters through art alone.

It turned out I was right.

The chapter had plenty of panels where the depicted expressions felt muted in comparison to the circumstance. In most cases it was fine because of story context and thought bubbles, but it’s worth noting that when working in a visual medium, one should be relying most heavily upon what the reader sees.

Beyond that, the art throughout the chapter wasn’t anything special, but I didn’t notice any glaring issues with it either. The shading and linework is of passable quality, particularly for the first chapter of a debut work.

Following that initial mental note, the chapter opened up into exposition, and what I saw made me think, “Hey, I’ve seen this before.” Most of this first chapter felt like I was reading an alternate universe version of the international hit “Attack on Titan” by Hajime Isayama.

In “Guardian of the Witch,” the Titans have been replaced by Evils, the Titan Shifters have been replaced by Witches and the walls that protect humanity have been replaced by . . . walls that protect humanity. Furthermore, one of the main characters, Fafner, has the exact same backstory as “Attack on Titan’s” protagonist, Eren Jaeger.

Despite the feeling that I was reading yet another story trying to ride the coattails of another’s success, I, of course, forged ahead, and I’m glad I did. During the second half of the chapter, Sakano began to steer the story in a direction unique from that of his inspiration, setting the grounds for a very different story in the long-term. So while the premise has its obvious influence, the execution is unique.

The characters’ motivations that push the plot forward could very well spell out an interesting storyline. If done right, this story could be incredibly intriguing as the characters fight for both survival and political upheaval. On the other hand, if handled in more formulaic way, this manga will simply end up as a repetitive “enemy of the week” narrative.

For me, that would be the worst-case scenario; however, I’ll put my faith in Sakano, or perhaps his editor, and say a more complex story will be coming down the pipeline.

I’m definitely interested to see how this series plays out both in narrative and in artistic development. It’s always fun to look at long-running series and compare the artist’s work style and technique from beginning to end.

6.5/10

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