Guardian of the Witch 005-012 – 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):
I get the impression over these 8 chapters that Guardian of the Witch really wants to be a straight battle manga. By that I mean that the author would prefer to draw exclusively action. It feels particularly evident with how much we skirt story stuff, character development, and talking in general in order to get to things that showcase the art in full glory. An example is how fast we leave the village, and any potential characters/plot there behind, after the battle between Fafner and their would be rival/pursuers ends. From there we spend no time letting the gravity of the situation take hold. Fafner can’t fight Guardian/Witch combos on his own, and Manasfa over exerted herself so badly that she’s on the cusp of transforming into an Evil. The way we skirt past the impact of that development and they immediately run into a ton of Evils, which are then immediately dispatched by the guy who will be training Fafner so he and Manasfa stand a fighting chance, really speaks to how our author just wants to get from one big action set piece to another as fast as possible. But there’s a major problem in cutting down so much story stuff, one Guardian suffers from more so than your typical Shonen titles.
It’s no secret most Shonen manga are a collection of tropes. To be fair, most manga, anime and other mediums of entertainment are. It’s hard to be original. But the way strong forms of entertainment manage to captivate is by taking established tropes and framing them in a new way, one that feels unique to that title. It helps to obfuscate the more worn aspects to the story, and if done well enough, can feel like they’re taking the old and transforming it entirely into something new, even if in truth they aren’t. One Piece’s own brand of comedy, dialogue and whimsy makes that title what it is. Academia’s massive cast of uniquely designed characters is another example of a title successfully obfuscating its more typical elements with something that makes it all feel new again. Guardian has to do the same, and unlike other fledgling Shonen, backed itself into a tough place by aping a successful manga at its start, rather than trying to feel unique. Maybe aping Attack on Titan wouldn’t have been a mistake if Guardian was actually a similar story.
As it stands the further we get into Guardian it’s very much got little to do with those early Titan trappings at all. Because of that early choice though, it’s likely left a bad taste in readers mouths. Just looking at the rankings it’s clear that the first four chapters were far and away a disappointment to Shonen Jump’s Japanese audience. That means Guardian has got to show that there’s a reason we want to see the rest of this story play out. Maybe that means making Fafner a deeper character, or fleshing out his relationship with Manasfa, or offering up valuable details to the world, political nuance to the situation, etc. But Guardian is also actively negating its own ability to offer those details by rushing from set piece to set piece. And while the art is all nice and flashy, most readers aren’t going to find their attention held by pretty panel lines and intricate art. They need characters to love and a story to go along with it.
That leads me to another issue. For as much attention as Fafner gets through his fight with their pursuers, his training arc, and just from being the front man on the battlefield, Manasfa and Nahta both border on non-existent, especially Nahta. While Manasfa is referenced in the title, her focus is still very much in support of whatever Fafner is doing. Even when opportunity is given to have her undergo growth it’s always more off-panel than it is something actively showcased. Often her troubles are more in the service of Fafner, to help show that he’s grown as a character. A good example of this is during Fafner’s final training fight with Drake, where Fafner is the one to pull her back from a stupid mistake and Manasfa only learns the same lesson by proxy. Manasfa needs to be more of a player. She needs her own arc, heavily focused on, and has to start feeling like a true character. Right now she reeks of a female lead from 90s manga, built entirely to be in service of our male lead. Nahta herself actually disappears during this mini-training arc, barely featuring at all. At times it feels like she’s not a real member of the trio, only speaking up when the narrative demands her as a voice of dissent. Otherwise conveniently she stops mattering for chapters at a time.
So the question becomes; Is Guardian rushing? Is this a case of a very early canceled manga, one cut off before it even had a chance to begin? I don’t think so. Right now this rushed pacing still feels like the author/editor’s intent, even if the attempt seems to be falling flat on its face. It might be hard to tell if Guardian is ever rushed into an abrupt conclusion, because it’s already so disinterested in fleshing things out that a surprise finale could sneak up on audiences before we’re even aware of it.
Ultimately I think Guardian is in dire straits and could very well end up on the chopping block like Zipman did earlier this month. I don’t get the impression many readers are giving it a second chance, and I don’t blame them. Up to this point the manga has done nothing to prove it has worthwhile characters, or an interesting world/narrative worth following week to week. Things could turn around with this new duo of characters, Spica and Claude, as they have a tragic backstory and a bit more heart here that the series is sorely lacking. The problem though is that for as touching as it is, it’s also exceedingly tropey, and if we don’t stop and flesh these two characters out, not to mention our main trio, before moving on, this beat in the story will feel as stale and lacking of flourish as the rest of the story has. Guardian of the Witch has a lot of work ahead of it, assuming it’s not already too late.
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.