Story by Mochinichi
Art by Yasuhiro Miyama
Translated by Amber Tamosaitis
Lettered by Erin Hickman
A Witch’s Printing Office has settled into a comfortable groove of parodying fantasy tropes, pop culture references, and satirizing the japanese publishing industry. Whereas its first volume devoted a lot of time to establish the procedures of Magiket and the process of book printing, these volumes veer off into adventures that use Magiket and Protagonist Press as backdrops for the story rather than its focus. These result in a funny, diverse collection of stories that help flesh out and have fun with existing characters while introducing new supporting characters to the series’ stable of regulars. These volumes particularly allow protagonist Mika to shine, highlighting the unique appeal and charisma in her character’s passion for books and flippancy towards danger. Most stories thrive on her friendliness, enthusiasm, and self-indulgence, helping us see just why all manner of folks from a grumpy old dragon to the demon lord herself would befriend and admire her.
Printing Office alternates between stories involving its two principal settings; Magiket and Protagonist Press. Unlike in real life, Magiket must happen more than twice a year since it seems to happen every other chapter in this story. Regardless, they’re primarily used as excuses to explore characters getting into specific situations they have to problem-solve, often to humorous results. Most of these stories involve parodying and subverting common fantasy cliches. For example, one chapter focuses on an heiress from an overbearing aristocratic family running away to explore the world on her own, a very common archetype and storyline even outside of fantasy fiction. The twist here is that she runs off to Magiket, where she becomes infatuated with spicy fanfiction shipping historical rivals, which culminates in discovering her mother is also attending the event as one of the most popular authors of said subgenre. Other common fantasy storylines and tropes are similarly subverted in comical manners in these volumes, including the task of pulling a sword from the stone, traversing an endless maze, and slaying a dragon. None of these are taken as seriously or resolved in as dramatically as you’d expect!
Probably the biggest development in these volumes in the grander scheme of things is the introduction of another person from Mika’s world: Yamamoto. This is another story point that you’re led to believe would be something dramatic, as the end of volume 2 leaves off on the reveal as a big cliffhanger. However, Mika meets Yamamoto immediately by happenstance at the beginning of the third book and while they proceed to bond, it’s clear neither of them are particularly focused on their supposed goal of returning home. Instead, Yamamoto’s story explores how a bookstore operates in a fantasy world, leading to some commentary on the real-world struggles of independent bookstores. Moreover, Mika and Yamamoto are clearly two peas in a pod in their enthusiasm for books and profit, which results in them partnering to grow their respective businesses. It’s an amusing misdirect that pushes the story in a direction you wouldn’t expect, expanding on the publishing plot rather than the goal of returning home, which seems to be more of an afterthought at this point.
Goofy swerves that derail traditional expectations of fantasy character archetypes and tropes really make the manga feel like a fresh riff on the setting. Even legendary figures and artifacts in this world, from the malevolent King of Magic to a sword in the stone, are treated with irreverence and nonchalantly disregarded by the characters. Some characters, like the demon lord and the leader of a rival faction, are humorized further by being blatant parodies of real-life Enka singers or personifications of real-life publishers! Everyone, even those who seem intimidating at first, is goofy and amiable in their own way. This gives the manga a light-hearted, comfy vibe as the characters get into shenanigans that even at their most perilous are still gut-bustingly hilarious.
The series also leans into pop culture parodies even more heavily in these volumes. The sword in the stone chapter sees expies of various video game characters, from Street Fighter’s Guile to Final Fantasy’s Sephiroth, humorously failing to pull it out. Another chapter is a full-on parody of Girls Und Panzer with a focus on a remote village obsessed with tanks and fishing, with character designs nearly identical to those of the protagonists in that series. The most creative parodies are those personifying real-life publishers or series as people, most notably in the chapter focusing on the Suei faction. Not only are they a blatant parody of Shueshia, but specifically the legendarily harsh editorial offices of Shonen Jump. Spells are spoken of and discussed in verily-disguised references to manga, the relationship of magicians and spell consultants are akin to manga artists and their editors, and director Jupps is shown repeatedly rejecting the works of new magicians throughout the chapter with language straight out of Bakuman. The chapter even culminates in Suei starting their own personal convention to rival Magiket, Suei Fest, complete with a commemorative summoning card from “Master Yugio!” While these parodies are funny in and of themselves, they’re even more impressive as vehicles for world-building. While Lorelai and the Suei faction are built upon parodies, they quickly flesh out their own culture and lore with a clear place and function in the world that makes sense and feels expansive. Opportunity is built in to revisit Lorelai and their local fish cuisine, and the rivalry between Suei Fest and Magiket is an intriguing conflict to dangle moving forward. Printing Office’s potpourri of pop-culture parodies helps it develop its fantasy world into an interesting mish-mash of different inspirations, making it stand out even more from traditional swords-and-sorcery type settings.
What really ties the series altogether, though, is Mika herself. She’s essentially the connective tissue between various factions who’d otherwise never cooperate or mingle, inspiring the mutually-beneficial coexistence of groups normally at odds. Mika’s both exemplary and subversive of the heroic savior archetype, often at the center of resolving conflicts and spurring change whether she realizes it or not. Throughout these volumes, Mika is able to pull an immovable sword from a stone, gets possessed by the evilest magician in history, and is summoned as the savior from another world. Mika’s casual disregard or blatant ignorance of her extraordinary circumstance keeps her specialness from feeling too contrived, especially as she resolves each of these situations through happenstance rather than meaning to. Mika’s not particularly heroic or kind, and in fact, most stories center around her selfishness and stubbornness. However, she’s friendly and accommodating to most everyone she encounters, especially if they have a book-related problem she can solve. It’s clear that her enthusiasm for books, willingness to collaborate and compromise, and creative ingenuity is what draws people to her. The chapter in which everyone Mika’s befriended working together to save Magiket from a raging magic storm really demonstrates Mika’s true superpower: her ability to unite people with common interests to work together for a cause bigger than themselves, with culturally transformative results.
Miyama’s art truly brings the series’ mish-mashed fantasy world to life. Their artstyle is familiar to modern isekai fantasy aesthetics, but carries a softness to his shapes and lines that befits the lighter-tone of this series. Miyama’s skilled at both very detailed drawings and more simplified, cartoony styles, and mixes both design sensibilities in their character designs while also adjusting designs between the two depending on the scene. Miyama’s also really skilled at action scenes, with the battle against the magic storm being a particular highlight, with an intensity and impact you’d expect more from a traditional action story. If anything, the level of seriousness and craft in such scenes only emphasizes the parodic nature even more. Perhaps the best examples of how Miyama can shift from serious to comical art are the volume covers. The covers depict characters in dramatic poses and situations, but when you flip the page you’re greeted with an underdrawing completely subverting the cover elements in goofy ways, like everyone falling off the walls in the MC-escher style maze on the cover of volume 3. The modus operandi of the series is to subvert fantasy tropes normally played straight, and Miyama’s skillful yet playful art perfectly compliments that irreverent spirit.
I wasn’t sure of what A Witch’s Printing Office was trying to be at first, but it’s really found its groove in these volumes. It’s an irreverent send-up of fantasy cliches starring a chipper book otaku as its protagonist, gleefully indulging in subverting tropes and pop culture parodies. It’s refreshingly original in execution despite drawing from disparate influences, creating an interesting world with a fun flavor to it that sets it apart from similar isekai riffs. The series has expanded its world and cast in fun ways in these volumes and I’m excited to see where it’ll go and what it’ll explore next. Pick up these books fresh off the presses at your local bookstore and allow them to transport you into its world of mages, spellbooks, cons, and mouth-watering fish delicacies.