Kenta Shinohara is an author who immediately caught our eye here thanks to Sket Dance, the first series of his career, an often spirited and inventive comedy, stuffed with earthy characters, which will have made the happiness of Shônen Jump in his time for more than 30 volumes, and which ended in France just a few days ago at Kazé Manga after a rather laborious publication (but at least we got the end). Then with the excellent Astra – Lost in Space released in our language by nobi nobi editions! the mangaka, the mangaka has only confirmed all the good that we think of him, thanks to what is surely one of the most mastered and clever adventure short shônens of recent years. We were therefore waiting with some impatience for the arrival in France of his latest work, Witch Watch, a fantastic comedy that marked his return to Japan in Shônen Jump from February 2021, and is still in progress at the ‘actual hour ! And for his third series published in our region, the author finds himself with a third publisher, namely Soleil Manga.
Witch Watch involves us in a Japan in all respects similar to reality, except that almost certain supernatural beings exist there and that their existence is generally accepted by ordinary mortals, even if their rarity sometimes makes them freaks. Descendant of a family of ogres of his state, the new high school student Morihito Otogi is one of these beings apart, but tries as much as possible to keep in him the colossal strength that his status confers on him, because the past has taught him that physical power is seemingly useless, causing unnecessary fights and risking hurting others instead of protecting them.
And yet, his serious daily life is in danger of changing completely when, to respect an oath he once made, he will have to live in a shared apartment with Nico, his childhood friend who is herself a bit special since she is a witch, and that she now wants to make the young boy her familiar, in addition to hoping to be able to conquer his heart since she has always loved him madly. After 6 years of absence spent training in magic on the land of witches, the young girl seems indeed ready to reintegrate the human world, right for the high school years. But things may not be as ideal as the girl hopes. Not only because where she was expecting a romantic or even very blue flower reunion with Morihito, the taciturn boy does not actually seem really excited about his return, nor excited at the idea of living under the same roof as a pretty young girl. . But also because, according to a nebulous omen from Nico’s mother, a disaster will befall the teenager in the coming year, something that Morihito will have to prevent like a good familiar. And, above all, because the worst threat to the cute witch may well be herself! Indeed, Nico being of an extremely clumsy nature since very young, the different magic spells she casts from time to time tend not to go quite as planned…
After the SF Astra adventure, Shinohara therefore reconnects here with a register mixing the slice of life, the eccentric and a little romantic comedy as well as a part of the supernatural, finally rather in the line of Sket Dance (remember that Sket Dance regularly offered also a fantastic part, in particular via the improbable inventions of Professor Chûma). The story then begins with the classic but essential first steps: the presentation of the two main characters and their personalities, the resounding return (it is the case to say it, poor glass!) of Nico in town, the beginnings of a funny roommate where the young girl still hopes to seduce Morihito by sinking into her romantic fantasies while he remains impassive, lively shopping to buy what the young girl will need in her new life, the first steps in high school that have quickly slipping outside of what the young boy was hoping for (he wanted Nico to hide his nature as a witch to avoid a lot of problems, it will be very quickly missed!), the establishment of the first secondary characters with character traits already defined as the teacher Makuwa (hiding her otaku side behind her serious and hot demeanor) or the big-hearted friend Kara (whose excellent and very marked character ruins the dreams of a romantic relationship)…
The first classic elements, yes, but which do enjoy a particularly effective rendering thanks to various elements, starting with the narrative talents of Shinohara: the mangaka has already proven in his previous series that he is an excellent storyteller , and it does it again here, as everything is so clear and self-evident to best involve us in a fresh and straightforward reading. It is also the slight deepening already brought to the main characters that hits the mark, because while we discover how much the endearing Nico dreams of becoming an excellent witch capable of always helping others, we also identify the beginning of evolution into Morihito: he who has always tried not to make waves and to keep his colossal strength to himself, he may well open up a little more thanks to his mission of protection towards Nico, he who has visibly suffered from the passed from his condition of ogre having been worth to him to be described as abnormal. And finally, it is above all the flood of humor that works drum beating. We have already mentioned, among other things, Nico’s sentimental desires, Morihito’s impassiveness in the face of this or even the first sympathetic secondary characters, all this offering an always light atmosphere. but another element makes the difference: Nico’s clumsy witch status, of course! Because the young girl, while she never hesitates to use her magic hoping to do well, definitely has a gift for making her spells slip: she flattens herself, “lightens” our hero’s brain, n does not enlarge the object it was initially aimed at, which often gives rise to a number of grotesque situations, to a succession of little gags testifying to a fairly present inventiveness in the author, a passage like the vomit of confetti being good proof.
Rediscovering the narrative and humorous talents of Shinohara therefore already promises to be pleasant over the course of this first volume smoothly conducted. In a fairly cool atmosphere, the author has no trouble posing characters that are already quite endearing and colorful, serving up his typical, often wacky humor. Witch Watch seems to have the cards in hand to bewitch us without further pretension, and that’s all we’re asking for here!
On the side of the French edition, we will underline a single limit: typically Japanese references which are rarely explained as it should be, in particular at the level of the tales of the beginning, and even more concerning the names of the different classmates who are games of words not explained, or in any case which are not explained when necessary (there is a page between two chapters which explains these puns at one point, but it’s too late). Apart from that, Soleil Manga offers a good copy: the paper is flexible and without transparency, the printing is of good quality, the lettering by Studio Charon is neat, the translation by Sophie Piauger is generally doing well, the dust jacket pop tones is very close to the Japanese original… Let’s also highlight a first page offering to discover the magic of the work in augmented reality via the publisher’s application for smartphones/tablets, an all in all nice idea.