Burn the Witch cover

Tite Kubo has returned after eight years following the finale of his international hit manga “Bleach” with a mini-series titled “Burn the Witch.” This title is an urban fantasy based on the premise that there is a hidden place called Reverse London where individuals called witches and wizards live with the purpose of defending the world from the supernatural threat of dragons.

This first chapter begins following the one-shot version of the story that was published back in 2018 and takes place in the same universe as “Bleach.” Whether or not there will be any extensive Easter Eggs is yet to be seen, but fans can be certain that this story further builds the world of “Bleach” outside the bounds of Japan and the Soul Society.

Firstly, the chapter does several things very well as an introduction for the mini-series, namely in its characterization of the main cast and the establishment of antagonistic forces for them.

Ninny and Noel, our co-protagonist witches, have distinctive personalities and there are plenty of expository lines that tell the reader exactly what their motivations are for their choice in occupation: witches who defend the world from dragons. In this single chapter, readers know everything that they need to about them for the story moving forward.

Balgo, on the other hand, is kept as more of mystery, and this involves the antagonistic forces of the story. While he is well characterized and is far from what you could call dull, he is rather cliché, and his exact place in the story isn’t yet explored. By holding back this information and looping it into the hidden motives of the antagonistic forces, readers are left with feelings of puzzlement and interest, wanting to read more.

The antagonists themselves are all distinctly designed with easy to remember names. Character design within this story is actually one of its highlights, outside of Balgo who is cliché in every way.

I do have a few issues with this chapter, though. The hook didn’t grab me. Because I didn’t feel pulled into the story, I struggled to care about what happened on the page. That isn’t even to mention that a lot of the action during the opening sequences is cluttered and hard to decipher.

But following that stint is where my praise came from — after the hook. This is where we begin to learn more about the world and its inhabitants, and the motivating factors of our main characters.

Still, there wasn’t a lot there that stuck out to me as something I had to keep reading, that I would really be missing out if I stopped. Honestly, I’d describe the story up to this point as “sticking to the status-quo.”

I’m not going to write it off, though. The chapter wasn’t bad, just not something that sticks in your mind. Furthermore, this is only the beginning of a four chapter mini-series, so you can expect that the tension and stakes are going to elevate chapter by chapter until we hit the climax. There likely won’t be breaks or intermissions during the rising action.

The motivating factors of all the acting pieces are laid out in such a way that I gained interest and attachment to the story the longer the chapter went on, even if the hook was weak. And it's also true that Tite Kubo’s iconic art style is as present as ever, and is personally one of my favorite aspects of this chapter.

Despite the clutter of the action in the hook, Kubo’s art is often very clear and contrasted, utilizing black ink and the white of the canvas to skillful effect. While there does seem to be more of a reliance on screen-tones in “Burn the Witch” than there were in “Bleach,” his heavy use of black ink is still present in much of the shading, clothing, and contrasts.

For people who aren’t already fans of “Bleach,” “Burn the Witch” is separate enough that you can read this mini-series without having ever read “Bleach.” You don’t need to know anything about it to enjoy this story so far. If that changes, I’ll be sure to mention it, but as it stands, even though they take place in the same universe they still feel like unique entities.

For me, the opening chapter doesn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary or something worth bringing up as an iconic story ten years from now. I’d consider it to be somewhat average with the potential for upward growth.

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