Burn the Witch Blazes a Trail – Your Manga Week #23

Burn the Witch one-shot

Hello there and welcome to Your Manga Week. Finding time to keep up with all the manga that releases on a weekly basis can be difficult, so I’m here to tell you what’s worth your time and what’s not. We’ll also be discussing the story and arc developments as they come. This week, we’re talking Tite Kubo’s Burn the Witch one-shot, My Hero Academia chapter 265, The Promised Neverland chapter 172, and Agravity Boys chapter 14.

I hope you’re keeping safe during these trying times. Since I wrote last week’s column, things have progressed at a rapid pace. Strict lockdown measures are now in place in both the UK and the US, joining such countries as Italy and France who have already done so. This means that COVID-19 is now truly a worldwide phenomenon, and there are a lot of people who are currently stuck at home without much to do as a result. How about reading some manga? If you’ve been waiting to catch up with any of the series featured this week, then now would be a good time to do so – between intense sessions of Animal Crossing, of course.

Burn the Witch one-shot

Aside from Coronavirus, what’s been dominating headlines this week is the long-awaited return of Tite Kubo. Not only is the Bleach anime getting a continuation, but the author’s 2018 one-shot Burn the Witch is also getting a proper serialization and a film adaptation. Given all of the buzz, shall we check the one-shot out?

It may sound a little strange to be covering a one-shot released in 2018 almost two years after the fact, but there are plenty of reasons to do so. Apart from timeliness, it’s only just been made officially available in English through VIZ Media, so many of us (including myself) will only just have checked it out. Furthermore, while the question of whether or not it would become a proper series has been hanging around like a bad smell since the one-shot was released, that fact has only just been confirmed. The question is, therefore, whether or not the one-shot has the potential to become something truly great.

Burn the Witch one-shot

Just in terms of the setting, I’d say yes. Burn the Witch is set in the world of Bleach – more specifically the location of Reverse London that the Western branch of the Soul Society calls home – but even if you’re not immediately familiar with Kubo’s other works, there’s plenty to like here. There’s real texture to the setting that immediately piques the reader’s interest – how do the residents of Reverse London live alongside regular capital goers? How do the dragons affect their daily lives? – and makes you want to learn more. The sheer variety of the many different dragons showcased in a relatively small amount of pages demonstrates, too, the amount of thought that Kubo has put into his new world.

In terms of story, the Burn the Witch one-shot follows a day in the life of our two protagonists, Noel and Ninny, as they fulfill their duties as members of Wing Bind. But this is hampered by a run-in with a fearsome ‘dark dragon’ that serves to bring a third character, Bargo, into the fold. As a result, this feels less like a snippet of what we can expect from the series and instead its opening chapter – hence why the serialization rumors were always so strong from the very start. Nevertheless, the depth and texture of the world give me hope that there is more than enough potential for individual stories going forward.

Burn the Witch one-shot

Furthermore, it goes without saying that the art and visual presentation of the Burn the Witch one-shot is phenomenal. Art was always Tite Kubo’s strong point and was one of the only things that did not deteriorate over the course of Bleach’s run, so it should not come as much of a surprise if I say that everything from the character designs to the paneling is brilliantly executed with the pen strokes of a master. That’s certainly more than you can say for Samurai 8, where Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto handed over art duties to a rookie whose ambition far outstrips his faculties. But that’s neither here nor there.

Keeping in mind Kubo’s previous failures, the kind of serialization that the Burn the Witch one-shot is going to become is encouraging. The series has been referred to as a “limited” one multiple times, not least by ex-editor in chief Hisashi Sasaki, which means that it will probably be around the same length as Dr. STONE Reboot, another so-called “limited” series. As a result, Kubo won’t be able to decline over a long period of time as he did with Bleach. Probably.

Finally, the translator over at VIZ should be given some credit for their sterling work. Unfortunately, they’re not credited on the first page, which is quite unusual, so I have no name to attribute my praise to. Nevertheless, the way that they have inserted British collocations such as “knickers” and “you lot” really helps to sell the setting and touches my own, British heart in a special kind of way.

My Hero Academia chapter 265

It is perhaps ironic to place My Hero Academia chapter 265 after the Burn the Witch one-shot given that Kohei Horikoshi’s long-running is, in many ways, the last torchbearer of the ‘Big Three’ generation. Certainly, many things have changed since then, with many of Weekly Shonen Jump’s front runners not fitting into the mold of expansive, action-driven adventure –  but My Hero Academia keeps on keeping on.

Unfortunately, My Hero Academia chapter 265 plunges us right into the middle of a chaotic new arc, so if you’re not up to date you’ll probably be quite confused as to what’s going on. Check out our coverage of the arc from the beginning if you’re interested in plugging the gap. In any case, in My Hero Academia chapter 265 our heroes continue to carry out their assault on the Paranormal Liberation Front’s underground base, but this time the focus is on two characters in particular: Tokoyami and Amajiki, who are working alongside Fat Gum to breach one of the underground entrances. Oh, and Hawks is dealing with Jin.

One of the most impressive aspects of My Hero Academia chapter 265 is how it manages to demonstrate both character development and growth in a relatively short space of time. When we see both Amajiki and Tokoyami’s new abilities – Vast Hybrid Chimera Centaur and Ragnarök respectively – we instantly understand how far both characters have come as heroes and as people. For Tokoyami, this is because of his tutelage under Hawks. For Amajiki, this is because of his time at Fat Gum’s hero agency – he’s even due to start there as a sidekick after graduation.

My Hero Academia chapter 265

From a narrative point of view, My Hero Academia chapter 265 is also important as it finally blows Hawks’ cover. For several months now, the Wing Hero has been acting as a double agent, feeding information to the heroes about the villains’ plans from the inside. But after assaulting Jin and failing to finish the job before Dabi catches him in the act, the jig is up. What’ll happen to him from here on out remains to be seen, but an early character death wouldn’t be out of the question. So, come next week, get the tissues ready.

Finally, special attention should be given to the artwork of My Hero Academia chapter 265. Unfortunately, due to various factors, Horikoshi hasn’t been unable to pump out quality artwork in large volumes as of late. But, as of this week, he’s officially back on his A-game. You’ll find the proof of this if you count the number of this week’s double-page spreads: not one, not two, not three but four, each one of them stuffed with tremendous detail and extraordinary artwork. What more could you ask?

The Promised Neverland chapter 172

On the other hand, you could ask for a lot more from The Promised Neverland chapter 172. I haven’t exactly kept quiet about my distaste for the current direction of the series, with the previous arc’s focus on demon politics hardly holding a torch to the quality of the initial arc and the later Goldy Pond arc, but this week’s chapter takes the biscuit.

Having driven Peter Ratri into a corner in both a literal and figurative sense – Emma and the kids have taken over Grace Field House and Grand Duke Leuvis has returned to topple the government – the dastardly villain decided last week that his only choice was to take Emma out and thus break her new promise with the mysterious ‘Him.’ But Emma throws a curveball in The Promised Neverland chapter 172: instead of wanting to ‘defeat’ Ratri once and for all, she wants to talk him down and convince him to see the merits of their point of view.

My main problem with this strategy is that it seems all too idealistic. History shows us that no oppressors give up their power without a fight, and they hardly ever do so voluntarily. Besides, how could someone as evil as Ratri ever be truly saved? Even when Emma offers Ratri the chance to undo “1000 years of suffering,” the odds of such a strategy actually working seem laughably low.

The Promised Neverland chapter 172

The most maddening thing is, however, that it probably will. Of course, we don’t know this for sure – author Kaiu Shirai could throw us another curveball and have Emma fail as a result of her hubris – but this wouldn’t fit with the direction of the series up until this point. Emma has always gotten her way, even when it seemed entirely possible, and this is ultimately a series meant for teenage boys and girls. Having your protagonist fail at the very end would be quite disturbing, which isn’t something that I think The Promised Neverland is going for.

Even so, it is worth noting that the brunt of The Promised Neverland chapter 172 failures, and indeed many of the series’ recent missteps, fall on the shoulders of author Kaiu Shirai and not those of artist Posuka Demizu. Demizu always does wonders with the material that they are given, regardless of how flawed it may be. So while Ratri’s almost cartoonishly villainous persona may not sit right with me on a narrative level, for example, its presentation leaves almost nothing to be desired. This chapter’s color page, too, even rivals My Hero Academia chapter 265 in terms of artistic integrity. Can things improve before the end? I sure hope so.

Agravity Boys chapter 14

If the duo does manage to turn the tide at the very end, then they wouldn’t be the first series to do so. Atsushi Nakamura’s Agravity Boys is another series that has managed to turn things around, only this time from an erroneous beginning to something that is now much more enjoyable. Agravity Boys chapter 14 is but the latest example of that.

Agravity Boys chapter 14 continues to build on the conflict between the titular Agravity Boys and the members of Project Jörd, a sort of mirror universe version of our main characters. Only this time, there’s a twist: the Higher Being (now referred to as HB) transports our characters to the galaxy’s premier entertainment district, Alesta, to participate in a competition to see who can pick up the most girls. The prize? Finding out what happened to Earth.

Of course, the reader already knows this information, so the main draw here is the comedy that results from the flirting battle. But before we talk about that, let’s stop for a moment to discuss Atsushi Nakamura’s surprisingly competent skill in world-building. The new setting of Aleta is actually quite interesting, with Agravity Boys chapter 14’s double-page spread selling the entertainment district’s huge sense of scale and alien allure. HB’s exposition dump shows, in turn, that Nakamura has thought a lot about the mechanics of the setting and how it would function in reality. That’s certainly more than you’d expect from a gag mangaka, hence why it is worth pointing out.

Agravity Boys chapter 14

With this in mind, it’s almost a shame that the series takes place in the solitary location of Alpha Jumbro. But, then again, this series isn’t about offering glimpses into alien worlds, rather making you laugh with stupid science-fiction jokes. So let’s talk about them.

When I first heard that Agravity Boys chapter 14 would take the form of a flirting competition, I couldn’t help but worry that this might mark the return to the shameless objectification that dragged down previous chapters. But, to my delight, Agravity Boys chapter 14 handles the concept surprisingly well. It plays out the interactions between alien women and the two respective crews with surprisingly good taste, not resorting to objectification and even letting them fail at some points – this stops it from becoming too overbearing and self-serious.

On a final note, the implications of Agravity Boys chapter 14’s ending are quite interesting. Saga saves the robot member of Project Jörd, known as Leeta, from a bunch of aggressive robots in an act of heroism that sees them agreeing to go out on a date. Whether or not this will pan out remains to be seen, but it is encouraging to see Agravity Boys chapter 14 promoting robot rights in this sense. (If Osamu Tezuka took it seriously, then we can too). A romance between those two, in turn, would be far more interesting than any of the infatuations we’ve seen in the past. Consider me excited for next week.

You can read the Burn the Witch one-shot, My Hero Academia chapter 265, The Promised Neverland chapter 172, and Agravity Boys chapter 14 for free via VIZ Media’s Shonen Jump service.

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