Good Witch of the West Vol. #01 - The Girl of Sera Field -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Art Rating: N/A
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 7.99
  • Pages: 232
  • ISBN: 1-4278-0045-6
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left
  • Series: Good Witch of the West Novel

Good Witch of the West Vol. #01 - The Girl of Sera Field

By Ben Leary     February 18, 2008
Release Date: November 27, 2007

Good Witch of the West Vol.#01 - The Girl of Sera Field

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Noriko Ogiwara
Translated by:Agnes Yoshida and Natalie Bann
Adapted by:Agnes Yoshida and Natalie Bann

What They Say
Fifteen-year-old Firiel lives in the remote highlands with her reclusive father. Country life is pleasant enough for Firiel--her father's servants adore her, his apprentice Rune is a good friend, and she's about to attend her first ball! But as Firiel prepares for the gala, she discovers her past is more complicated than she had thought--and she may be the heir the throne! Unaware of the danger that faces her and those whom she loves, Firiel courageously quests for the truth. In this unique, evocative Cinderella story, heritage and destiny converge to change a young girl's life forever!

The Review
The fairy tale and the political thriller form an unlikely but fruitful companionship in a series of books that may turn out to be a bright gem in the PopFiction lineup.

The book is a compact volume, not too thick and a little shorter in height than the typical manga. The cover, with its portrait of Firiel wearing her blue necklace and holding a lamb, framed by a cropped oval design, gives me the impression that the book is a good deal more girly than it actually is. But it's attractive enough and the back cover is simple and effective: a short block of copy on a pinkish background, kept company by a couple of elaborate swirling designs. The inside features some similar swirls around the chapter headings and at certain breaks within the chapters themselves. The paper is fine for text, with very little pulp, and when the illustrations show up (there weren't enough of these to give them their own grade for art) they look pretty good, especially the moody portrait of Rune. The printing is, as far as I can tell or remember, perfect - no half-printed letters or blurs in sight. Even without taking the price into consideration this is a well-produced paperback.

Text is good and clear and easy to read, even in italics, so no worries there. A recurring problem is that you can see the footprints of revision in the form of words added or missing, depending on which way the revision was supposed to go. There aren't a great many of these in terms of number, but they do (oddly) bunch up on a couple of pages near the beginning and a couple of pages near the end, so they end up being a bit more troublesome than they would be individually. But you can still see what the affected sentences were supposed to mean and apart from those pages everything is perfect.

The translation and adaptation are probably the best I've seen in a novel yet. To go through 210 pages of story with barely an awkward phrase is achievement enough. But to have a style that reads as beautifully as this is a rare and wonderful experience. The descriptions are excellent, and the tone of the writing is a perfect fit in each scene. It's all so good I'm going to name names here just in case you didn't see them earlier. Agnes Yoshida and Natalie Bann deserve bouquets for their work on this book, and if I see their names on any others it will be a definite selling point with me. This was a joy to read.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The fairly-tale is a form so deeply ingrained, at least in western societies, that a reader can generally see the end of one from the beginning. It's difficult to break away from the usual trappings of the genre without going into outright parody. Difficult - but, as The Good Witch of the West proves, not impossible. The task is accomplished in a clever way: this story begins just where most similar stories would leave off. We're all familiar with the idea of a girl raised as a commoner suddenly discovering she is of royal blood. But we're all familiar with this as an ending. Supposing the political situation were more complicated, with many different factions in the kingdom manuevering for power and the choice of the next sovereign very much in doubt, where royal blood may be as likely to get you killed as crowned. What happens then? That could make for a pretty good story in its own right. Which is exactly what it does here.

The thing I like best about this book is that it manages to take some of the best materials of the genre and put a whole new spin on them. We have the grand old archetypes - old but evergreen - to which our very bones respond: the dashing prince, the unsuspected parentage, the castles, the kidnappings, the rescues and escapes. In addition to all this we get the closer character studies of the modern novel and the complexities of the political wrangling. And best of all, we have a storyteller who knows how to write. There is a very distict sense of place, and even of time. The world seems to have had its own existence even before we opened the book, and still more as we put it down again. We never get the sensation so many books have, the sensation that the set may be changing but we're not really moving around. When we follow the heroine from the cold, sparse, hard northern lands to the rich and elegant ballroom alive with light and colour and voices, the author doesn't have to tell you you're in a different place. You can feel it. And may I once again comment on how lucky we are to have a translator and adaptor who can render all this so excellently. Writing like this isn't something you see everyday.

Good originality is rare enough; good unoriginality is perhaps even rarer. I am as much impressed by what The Good Witch of the West was able to leave in as I am by what was invented. Using an old form to do something fresh and exciting is an achievement that pleases me much more than doing something that nobody's seen before. This book is that kind of achievement. The only drawback is that it doesn't stand on its own quite as well as I would like. It suffers from "Part One" syndrome. The ending is far from bad, but it leaves too much in the air for my taste. I wish it had given us something more: either a cliffhanger revelation that leaves us begging for the next volume, or something to tie up at least one of the many threads that this volume introduces. As it is, it just sort of stops at a convenient place. All the same there's a lot to look forward to from now on. I'm particularly intrigued by the idea that fairy-tales from our own world have somehow made their way into this one - I can't wait to see what that can lead to. If the following volumes build on this successfully, and there's plenty in here to make me think they will, we're in store for something really special.


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