Guardian of the Witch 001-004 – Manga Review

Synopsis: In a world full of Evils, humanity’s only hope is the inhuman power of the witches. (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):

Review:

Guardian of the Witch uses its opening chapters not so much to set the stage for its characters, but more so to capitalize on whats popular, using strong allusions, if not outright copy-cating, to suck readers in. It’s easy to forgive anyone who comes away from Chapter 1 thinking Guardian of the Witch is merely an Attack on Titan clone. So much of the first chapter puts not the manga’s more unique elements forward, but what the series has chosen to borrow so heavily from Attack on Titan. But these borrowed elements aren’t even integral, rather they feel almost superfluous to the narrative. So much so I can imagine a version of this story that borrows little from Attack on Titan. Unfortunately, copying Attack on Titan, and putting those elements front and center to goad readers, might have been the best call. Because as the series strikes further and further out on its own, revealing a narrative that has few comparisons to the series it chose to borrow so heavily from early on, we discover that what’s in store feels shoddy at best, and dull at worst. Let’s Jump In!

You call them evils but they sound a LOT like Titans….

Guardian of the Witch opens by introducing us to the Evils Not Titans; horrific, giant monsters. They surge across the landscape, descending on walled castle cities, eager to devour men and women whole. Men’s weapons are near totally ineffective against these beasts, and it falls to but one power to stop their advance: Witches. Witches use magic to obliterate the threat, keeping mankind safe within their fortresses. Despite the inclusion of magic, it’s not surprising so many people latched onto the Attack on Titan comparisons. The basic premise, delivered with such heavy handed narration, screams with Attack on Titan allusions. The comparisons don’t end with the basic set up either. Fafner, our protagonist, is a strong-willed, confident young man with a strong hatred for the Evils Not Titans, having lost his family to them when he was but a boy. The only thing that keeps Fafner from feeling like an Off-Brand Eren Yeager is that he’s actually a very capable fighter, proving himself to be an absolute bad ass at least twice in Chapter 1 alone.

Extra flourishes like Witches keep it from feeling like a direct rip off, or at least seem to. Once we learn that the Witches power is tied to the Evils Not Titans you could draw a comparison to how Eren’s transformation powers also come from the very villains of the series. (There’s also something to be said for the criticism floating around with Witches being a copy of Claymores from Claymore.) What sets Guardians apart from Attack on Titan is less so the addition of Witches and instead how much worse Guardians is at storytelling. For one the tone is all over the place, in typical, generic Shonen fashion. We fly wildly from dread to comedy, the tone changing at the drop of a hat. This gives the series a manic quality that makes it difficult to take seriously. It doesn’t help that more dramatic elements are thrown out without any build up or gravitas. Like Fafner’s backstory about losing his family. It’s delivered in but one page, making it more a plot point than a component to our lead’s character persona.

Let’s just throw this backstory in, you know, don’t bother to flesh it out, who needs to experience emotions when reading a manga anyway?

It’s probably a good time to talk about our leads. Guardian of the Witch offers two, or really one male lead and a damsel in distress/pseudo secondary main who really, once the story gets going, doesn’t get to do anything cool. Fafner is our wanna-be hero. He joined the Guards of the city in hopes of vanquishing the Evils Not Titans and avenging his family himself. Unfortunately, and somehow, Fafner is unaware that the city’s guardsmen don’t actually do anything. Everything is up to the Witch. Enter Manasfa, a young girl who acts as the cities Witch and primary protector against the Evils Not Titans. Fafner then finds himself installed as her sole guard. Fafner feels like a more Shonenified Eren. Eren Yeager was already a pretty typical Shonen lead, but his worthlessness, inability and frequent boats of anger aren’t carried over to Fafner, who offers little in the way of unique traits all his own. He’s basically a generic, bad-ass, shonen lead with a heart of gold and nothing to set him apart from the pack. Manasfa herself could be an interesting character, particularly with the way her and Fafner bicker early on, although it’s not like that dynamic is all that novel in and of itself, but it’s at least more interesting than what we get later. Once the truth is out to Fafner’s true duty as Manasfa’s guardian, delivered in a heavy-handed and lengthy blast of exposition, Manasfa and Fafner’s bickering dynamic is sheathed in favor of something more neutral as we transition from aping Attack on Titan into what the actual story is going to be moving forward.

How do more people not know this with how readily you just give everything away?

Fafner, tasked with killing Manasfa, changes his mind last minute, choosing instead to save her, abandon the Witches system, and find a way to prevent Manasfa from turning into an Evil Not Titan, as is destined of any girl corrupted by the Evils Not Titans flesh. It becomes clear here why Fafner losing his parents was glazed over so readily. It existed as but the plot point to make his heel turn towards saving Manasfa, and turning against the city, more heroic and self-sacrificing. There’s no real internal struggle as Fafner chooses to abandon avenging his family, a life long dream, keeping the more emotionally charged aspects at arms length in favor of seeing Fafner kick ass.

Despite some pushback, Manasfa agrees to be saved by Fafner, abandon the city and enter into a quest to find a way to stave off her turning into an Evil Not Titan. Chapter 2 focuses on the escape, which is really just an elongated continuation of Chapter 1, and where the series blatantly admits that it’s been aping Attack on Titan for attention’s sake, as Fafner’s performs the iconic hand-bite Eren does in order to activate his transformation. The excuse is a lame one; Fafner noting biting himself reminds him of the taste of pain??????

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Chapter 3 is then about setting the actual stage for the story. With Fafner, Manasfa and her servant, Nahta, on the run, they discuss how to actually save Manasfa from her fate; their quest is to find a particular Witch, the only one noted as retiring from her position. We also snap away to introduce our starter baddies, or perhaps rivals, another Guardian/Witch pairing by the name of Gen and Ruli respectively. It’s not until Chapter 4 that we finally get an idea of what kind of manga Guardian will be going forward. Chapter 1 and 2 were for pure attention’s sake, and Chapter 3 to set the stage.

Chapter 4 makes it clear however, that even once the series strikes out on its own, we shouldn’t expect anything deep or compelling. Guardians of the Witch is focused on action, the cool factor, and has little to offer beyond that. Our heroic trio reach their first village, one of at least seven they need to progress through. Despite Fafner’s fears, the group is greeted with open arms in a brief comedic sequence. After a one page conversation between Manasfa and Nahta, which is honestly but a flimsy excuse for bath time fanservice, Fafner meets the village elder again and learns that he judged them good people, and tears up a recent wanted poster that just arrived in the village. This entire ‘ordeal’ with the village is wrapped up in just half a chapter in order to get to the action, as Fafner finds himself confronted by their new pursuers Gen and Ruli. Action takes priority over anything else. We don’t start a mini arc with this village, or really get to know any characters, even the Village Elder, making it feel like a quick distraction used simply to set the stage for our first big fight.

Did– did Guardians just promote the idea that judging a book by its cover is a good idea?

Overall I think Guardian of the Witch borders on Awful. Its lazy attempts to capitalize on Attack on Titan, simply to draw readers in, when there were other ways to set up the story, are insulting. Then, what’s beneath that lazy introduction isn’t really worth anyone’s time. Manasfa, Nahta, etc. are all bog standard characters without an ounce of depth to make them stand out. It doesn’t help that the story suffers a number of glaring plotholes. How can a village exist in this world where Not-Titans seek to consume humans? What keeps them safe if not witches? It’s big, lingering questions like that make me question how well thought out this story actually is. Right now I’d say Guardian is easily the worst of the three newest additions to Jump, but I suspect it may last the longest simply thanks to its high quality art. There’s certainly flare in Asahi Sakano’s work, and to be honest I know from my own years as a teen manga reader how well good art can cover for poor writing in a teenager’s eyes.

 

That’s it for this week! Let me know your thoughts on Guardian of the Witch!

Guardian of the Witch is published weekly in Shonen Jump.

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