Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, October 10, 2010
      ( 10/10/2010 07:22:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“KAZUKI . . .THE WORLD IS LARGER THAN WE THINK.” Let’s clear this up at the onset: Christine O’Donnell is not the Witch of Artemis.

That title, per Yui Hara’s new Tokyopop manga series, is reserved for a seemingly young (though we’re told she’s hundreds of years old) girl in a pointed hat. Looking more pixy-esque than witchy, blond Marie shows up outside the family business where Kazuki, a young boy who has lost his parents, is sweeping the sidewalk. Kazuki’s father has told him tales of Artemis, a world alongside ours populated by people with “special powers.” While his wet blanket older brother insists that Artemis can’t be real, the orphaned Kazuki believes in it because, well, any place can be better than this. This makes him a ready pawn in a mysterious conflict between Marie and a more trendy looking brunette sorceress named Viora.

The latter puts a Death Curse on our hero, forcing Marie to take him back to Artemis where he can be cured. The only problem with this: once he’s taken to the other world, he can’t return to his home realm. “It takes incredible amounts of energy to return,” Marie tells him. This fact doesn’t bother Kazuki too much: “Back home was kind of empty,” he says. Unlike Dorothy Gale, he has no desire to return from Oz.

Much of the first volume in this teen-rated fantasy is devoted to establishing its two main characters -- wide-eyed Kazuki and his somewhat surly rescuer Marie – along with its fantasy setting. If our young boy seems a bit bland in the opening volume, the title witch proves an amusing figure. Prickly and more than a little resentful to have this young kid tagging along, she regularly gives lip service to her altruistic intentions. (“I like doing things that help others.”) But as Kazuki astutely notes, her “words and expression don’t match at all.” As the Grand Witch of Artemis, Marie clearly has some sort of obligations to fulfill, but by the end of the first volume, we still don’t know what these are. Meanwhile, lurking in the background is Viora who -- for all her threats of Death Curses -- doesn’t seem that sinister. She's more like a Veronica to Marie’s Betty.

Hara’s story moves swiftly and easily: this is a book I might want to give to new manga readers still unaccustomed to the task of reading right to left as it isn’t all that text-heavy and its panels aren’t that dense. The artist’s style is closer to Sabrina the Teen-age Witch than a grimmer fantasy manga series like the currently running Alice in the Country of Hearts, which suits the series’ more lighthearted tone. Aside from that ultimately none-too-threatening Death Curse, the only problem facing our twosome in the first book is an artist with magically induced amnesia. Perhaps Hara intends to up the stakes in later volumes -- we are told in the end by Viora that our duo needs to “hurry and notice before the entire world dies” -- but for the now The Witch of Artemis stands as an agreeable lightweight comic fantasy.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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