Reading Pile: No One Returns From The Enchanted Forest GN & Witch Hat Atelier Vol 7 & 8
This is just as charming as the cover infers, offering a fun adventure about sibling rivalry, found family, dealing with anxiety and fear, and plenty more.
The story focuses on the goblin sisters of Bix and Pella, two orphans raised by their village. Recent earthquakes in their underground home have forced the townspeople to declare they need to move, causing bratty younger sister Pella to rebel and run off into the enchanted forest to give the mythical Earth Queen a piece of her mind. Bix, her anxiety ridden older sister runs off after her despite her fears of the legends that declare that no one has ever returned from the forest.
Robin Robinson's pacing and approach of splitting the adventure between both sister works perfectly to set up up a number of ideas. As Pella finds the Earth Queen, Bix stumbles across a host of various threats, a new friend, and ultimately the Water Queen. The Earth and Water Queen offer up a parallel conflict as they compete to appease their mother, and their struggles help to flesh out the worldbuilding behind the narrative.
I also really enjoyed Robinson's art style as it infuses a ton of personality into the characters with her strong sense of emoting. Toss on top of that a lot of fun fantasy designs as she populates the world with various elemental nymphs, dryads, trolls, monsters, and more, and there's just a lot here that young readers would fall in love with. Definitely recommend for any of the kids in your life, plus if you just need a cute little fantasy story to help lift your mood.
Witch Hat Atelier Vol 7 & 8
I've already spoken about how great this series is, but that last review was a full year ago. I've dragged my feet on catching up, and now that I have there are two very particular points I want to make. Other than you should read this series, and that you should read this series now.
There are a few reasons why Witch Hat is now an Eisner and a Harvey award winner. The storytelling is sharp, the art is beautiful, and it focuses on themes of representation, accessibility, and empathy. This read through for me had me in awe of the strength of the characterization and narrative flow, as well as Kamome Shirahama's mastery of composition.
After a full year off from the series I decided to jump in without recapping. Even though the story was coming off of a number of cliffhangers and previous buildups there was never a single moment where I felt lost or confused. I have a terrible memory, and yet it felt like I had just put the book down moments ago and picked it right back up. Every character, interaction, and the flow of information from the plot to the visuals was just so engaging that it never missed a beat across the span of a year. That takes a certain amount of consistent yet subtle development to establish, and it's not something that I feel like I've experienced a lot in my past few years of comic reading.
As far as the art goes, every page is an utter treat in regards to artistic flourish and style working in perfect step with a keen sense of layouts. There are simply no bad panels, just as there's no wasted space or overused visual shortcuts. Every panel and sequence just feels perfectly timed, and every splash page feels completely earned within the context of the story. The balance between sequences with empty backgrounds or cleverly designed uses of negative space balance out the more ornate sequences where Shirahama draws every brick in a castle or the lush vegetation in a forest scene, creating a back and forth flow for your eyes so that things are never overwhelming or boring. Larger panel gaps give subtle beats to the action, the control over clothing and drapery add nuances to each character and action, and cartoony breaks in style alleviate all the building tensions at just the right times.
As far as I'm concerned, Witch Hat Atelier is a perfect comic. This is one of those few books where I don't just enjoy it, but I'm straight up glad I'm alive at this point in time to have the opportunity to enjoy it. And that's saying something considering what a time 2016-2021 has been, ok?