Story by Mochinchi
Art by Yasuhiro Miyama
Translated by Amber Tamosaitis
Lettered by Erin Hickman
A Witch’s Printing Office follows a relatively recent tradition in isekai stories. The protagonist, in lieu of going on an epic quest, introduces modern concepts into a fantasy world to humorously transformative results. In this case, Printing Office’s protagonist Mika opens up her titular printing press in her new home, using magic and fantastical methods and materials to make her books. At least, that’s supposedly the premise. Perhaps this manga should’ve been titled A Witch’s Comiket instead, because the majority of chapters in this volume are dedicated to Magiket, a fantasy version of Comiket in which witches and wizards sell their new spells much like how independent artists would sell their new doujinshi. If anything, this manga is more about what it’s like to volunteer at Comiket and be in charge of planning and line control more than it is about printing books. I mean, the manga starts with Magiket and doesn’t actually get to the printing press stuff until a third of the way into the book! That said, it’s still a fun read, using its fantasy trappings to satirize conventions and fan culture, and the contrasts between fan culture and fantasy trappings are quite amusing.
Introducing modern elements into a fantasy isekai appealingly exaggerates the mundane into the bizarre, and Printing Office copies this formula well. Much of its humor derives from reimagining situations encountered at fan conventions with fantasy tropes and characters. The story opens with an ominous force of golems and zombies attacking a Holy Land, fought back by magicians and soldiers in a sweeping action scene that’d be at home in any battle manga. The punchline is that these monsters were “overnight fiends,” an actual term used to refer to people who try to line up to Comiket the night before it opens, which is against the rules. So Mochinchi took a metaphor and had Miyama literally illustrate it!
A lot of the manga works similarly, depicting how common problems at conventions are exacerbated in a magical world. On the flipside, it also postulates ways magic may alleviate problems, like making an interactive guidebook or being able to revive a passed out attendee with necromancy. Some problems the characters face are presented straight, like long lines, overcrowding, and miscommunication, and these moments are amusing just in the sense that it’s novel to see knights or magicians try to navigate these problems like volunteers might at a real con. It’s clear Mochinchi has a deep love for Comiket, and there are several in-jokes about the event in the story. The emotional centerpiece of the first chapter sees Maika getting an agitated and confused crowd’s attention by leading them in a slow clap to signal the opening of Magiket, referencing the actual tradition of clapping during announcements and when the Comiket opens and closes in real life. Specific references like this may go over the head of readers who are unfamiliar with Comiket (thank goodness for Yen’s great translation notes!), but the enthusiasm Mochinchi has for it still comes across, and the series is endearing in its reverance of artists, admiration for fan communities, and respect for the hard work of those who make events where those groups intersect possible.
The manga’s biggest asset, however, is Miyama’s incredible art. Fantasy worlds are established through a sense of scale and their lived-in feel, and from the very beginning Miyama’s environments are stunningly detailed and thoughtfully planned out. Moreover, events like Comiket in real life attract thousands of unique visitors, and the same holds true for the manga’s depiction of Magiket. There’s an astonishing amount of unique character designs, and because this is a fantasy story, there are beast-men, orcs, demi-humans, dwarves and all sorts of different characters, all of whom wear intricately designed wardrobes. Since so much of the manga’s humor derives from the contrast of fantasy and modern elements, Miyama’s art is essential to making the experience work, seamlessly able switch from serious action to a goofy face. Mochinchi and Miyama’s compositions and layouts are imaginative too; there’s a particular two-page spread depicting the icons in Mika’s guidebook coming out and crossing into each other’s spaces, and the sheer amount of characters, interactions, and jokes laid out in it is truly eye-popping. Printing Office is worth recommending just to marvel at the almost magical complexity of its art alone.
While it primarily approaches its topics from a fan’s perspective, Printing Office is also about the struggles and joys of creating and sharing art. In Magiket, Mika creates a space for magic lovers to come together and share their work, discover others, and make lasting friendships and connections. Through her printing press, she’s able to help artists share their work to wider audiences and distribute helpful information for people’s convenience. Throughout the book, Mika reassures artists that their work is valuable and meaningful to both themselves and other people. She finds ways to help them reach the right audiences, even inspiring new modes of creative expression in the process by inventing this world’s equivalent of cosplay. Where future volumes may go feels unclear, as this volume’s final story is only barely connected to the Printing Press and Magiket, and it feels like it hasn’t chosen which premise it wants to commit to. No matter where the story goes, though, its genuine passion for creative people and those passionate about them are undeniably at its heart, and that’s what makes it such a compelling piece of art.