Magical academy stories sure have become popular lately, especially in the last five years or so. The Dawn of the Witch follows those same footsteps, but with a slightly unusual twist: rather than taking place in the school itself, it follows a group of students and their eccentric teacher on a special assignment that sees them travelling the world, trying to challenge the widespread anti-magic sentiment.
At the centre of all this is Saybil, a boy with no memories who was taken in by the school at a young age. Magic is the only world he knows and the only future open to him, but he’s also… terrible at it. With the lowest scores in the whole academy, his only hope of passing is to complete this special assignment. He’s joined by a few others: Hort, the top student who decided she needed a bit of extra credit anyway; Kudo, a reclusive “beastfallen”—half-human, half-beast—who’s a victim of frequent bullying and discrimination; and Loux Krystas, “The Dawn Witch”, whose childlike form, and petulance to match, belie the fact that she’s hundreds of years old and a powerful force to be reckoned with.
This special assignment is far from a simple field trip. This is a world where, due to the relatively recent memory of a great war, magic is despised by most of the populace and magic-users hunted by the church. The academy itself and surrounding villages are a bit of a safe place, where everyday meetings between mages and non-mages have helped to pave over prejudices and let the practical benefits of magic be shown, but the further afield you go, the more hated magic is. The aim of the assignment, then, is to travel the land, bringing regular folks into contact with magic, and helping to normalise its use and fight back the discrimination—but with witch hunters that even the church distances itself from out on the prowl, that’s a dangerous task.
This setup lends The Dawn of the Witch plenty of exciting possibilities for adventure, action, and humour. It’s like a magical road trip, where you never know what’s coming around the next corner. Each character comes with their own motivations, dreams, and baggage, complementing one another well and opening the door to plenty of interpersonal moments—both humorous and dramatic, but always with the humanity of its characters at its core.
That said, there’s a lot going on, and the pacing suffers for it. In the space of a single volume, we’ve got full character arcs for three different members of the cast, flashbacks to how everyone met and came together, the usual volume-one scene-setting, a handful of big twists, budding romance, and the sort of decisive battle that you normally wouldn’t expect to see until the end of a full story arc. It’s a lot to cram into 200-odd pages, and that means nothing really gets as much attention as it should. Moments that should be huge and shocking instead get glossed over in the space of a page or two; scenes that would be powerful given a proper build-up instead fall flat; what should be heartfelt moments lose impact without the necessary investment in letting readers get properly attached to these characters.
Tatsuwo’s art does a lot of heavy lifting to make up for those shortcomings in pacing, with detailed scenery and attention to the composition of each panel that does a fantastic job of setting each scene. Action scenes feel fluid and full of energy, and expressive characters bring a wealth of emotion to every page. Takashi Iwasaki’s vibrant character designs, too, overflow with personality. There’s a weird obsession with oddly-placed, fanservice, though—I don’t object to some suggestive imagery, as a rule, but in The Dawn of the Witch it feels forced and wildly out of character. Beyond the obvious aspect of titillation, good fanservice can inject a lot of character, humour, and cheeky fun, but here, it just comes across as a distraction—and in the case of Loux and her whole “she’s not really a child” thing, a rather uncomfortable one.
If you like a good magic academy story and can tolerate some crass, out-of-place panty shots, The Dawn of the Witch is a wild and enjoyable ride to take. There’s a little too much going on for one volume to deal with, and pacing suffers for that, but this is an intriguing world that’s home to some curious folk, with the potential for plenty more excitement going forward.
The Dawn of the Witch, Volume 1
Story: Kakeru Kobashiri
Character design: Takashi Iwasaki
Release date: 23 March 2021 (digital)
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.