Story by Mochinchi
Art by Yasuhiro Miyama
Translated by Amber Tamosaitis
Lettered by Erin Hickman
A Witch’s Printing Office continues to play with fantasy archetypes in its fourth volume, twisting their roles to fit into the context of fandom. Witches creating spells are analogous to artists drawing comics, a band of warriors who secretly covet magic is akin to sporty jocks hiding their nerdy hobbies, and attendees falling ill at Magiket basically just suffer more exaggerated versions of ailments people can suffer from at an actual convention, like malnutrition and exhaustion. Printing Office uses the veneer of its fantasy trappings in service of its satire of fan culture. The characters grapple with grounded, relatable situations like becoming disillusioned with your career path, being unable to openly embrace what you like, and overworking yourself to the point of collapse. By having said characters be the likes of magicians and swordsmen, the series adds a layer of separation that allows readers to both appreciate the story’s emotional truthfulness while indulging in the absurdity of fantasy archetypes facing these relatively mundane dilemmas with such difficulty.
Despite its satirical nature, Printing Office genuinely cares about the emotional well-being of its characters and tells heartfelt stories through them. Claire’s backstory is a particularly relatable metaphor for not succeeding in your chosen career but finding personal fulfillment in another field. Her relationship with Mika also illuminates the power of having a mentor that believes in their student and cultivates their growth, even if they’re struggling for a long time. Mika was rejected by other tutors for not being able to grasp magic immediately, but Claire accepted her and encouraged her even though her talents weren’t quick to bloom. However, giving Mika the opportunity and time she needed to find what she was good at allowed her to hone a specialty that she’d not only make a career out of, but revolutionize the field of magic itself. In turn, Claire realizes that she probably wouldn’t have met or helped Mika if she hadn’t failed as a magical researcher first, recognizing that her own failures have ultimately guided her to find her own true calling. Claire and Mika’s story serves as an encouraging reminder to not be discouraged by failure; there is more than one measure of success, even if it takes a little bit longer for some to grow into their own.
The series also has some strong commentary on the consequences of overwork in a couple of stories. In one chapter, a grateful fairy tries to help Mika rest by giving the workaholic an involuntary good night’s rest. Unfortunately, Mika’s accumulated lack of sleep karmically results in her being conked out for a week, awakening to the complaints of angry customers and an overdue workload. It’s a funny moral about the necessity of getting proper sleep lest you risk crashing and oversleeping at the worst possible time. Similarly, a subsequent chapter finds Hera, the head healing mage at Magiket, also overworking herself to the point of passing out despite knowing better and lecturing others about taking care of their health. As a result, she leaves Mika and her students with the arduous task of taking care of all the sick attendees without her guidance, fumbling about until they’re able to find workable solutions. Hera’s recklessness pushes more of a workload on her ill-prepared staff, causing more stress and chaos, leading to Mika becoming exhausted herself trying to fix the mess left behind. By overworking, Hera causes more problems for her staff than she would’ve if she’d not tried to juggle so much on her own. It’s very easy for workaholics to lose themselves in their work, pulling all-nighters and stretching themselves thin. A Witch’s Printing Office humorously illustrates the snowballing effect that neglecting your health can have, showing that in the long run, you’ll only cause more problems for yourself and the people relying on you.
The highlight of this volume, however, is the manga’s direct satire of the scheduling conflict between Comiket and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Hindsight is 2020 and obviously, neither event ended up happening anyway, but the battle for space between the two events was fertile ground for the series to spin into a hilarious conflict between Magiket and the Battle Olympia, an international tournament for warriors. The allusions to the real-life conflict are humorously on the nose, with the manga highlighting all sides of the argument and ultimately showing the fecklessness of Magiket’s resistance. The story also depicts the consequences of suddenly canceling a con, with Mika left to figure out how to refund attendees after already blowing the registration money on supplies, a situation many cons, unfortunately, found themselves in last year. Luckily for Mika and the reader, the manga then delves into a fantastic parody of tournament arc tropes as Mika unwittingly enters the Olympia with her invincible sword in the stone. The series dispatches all the tournament arc cliches gleefully and sardonically, complete with your typical rivals and even “denizens of darkness” plotting behind the scenes. One page is a devoted montage of all the tournament arc story beats packed together, rife with parodies of somewhat obscure but still recognizable moments from famous manga tournament arcs. This storyline is the perfect marriage of A Witch’s Printing Office’s marriage of social commentary and pop culture parody, crafting a hilarious storyline motivated by real problems and resolved by literally cutting down manga cliches.
Yasuhiro Miyama deserves so much credit for Printing Office’s comedic versatility. Their ability to blend styles, seamlessly transitioning from serious manga action to goofy slapstick, often recontextualizing badass characters as goofballs, complements the absurd range of the story so well. Their compositions are really well done too, with panels blocked in a clean and easy to read manner that always makes the reading experience feel effortless and engaging. My one criticism of their art is their tendency to needlessly sexualize female characters in strange ways. This isn’t a fanservice-laden manga, but most of the female characters are very voluptuous with absurdly pronounced breasts, and they often find themselves exposed in fetishy situations. The one that really sticks out is the fairy, who is introduced being squeezed in a compromising pose inside a carnivorous plant, its walls enveloping her as mucus drips all over her body. Stuff like this feels unnecessarily gratuitous, and while the characters are well-written, the art could really stand to sexualize them less.
A Witch’s Printing Office’s fourth volume is one of its most eclectic collections of stories yet. Determined to subvert fantasy, isekai, and shonen tropes alike, the stories in this volume run a gamut of tones. If you were to give a different chapter in this volume to different people unfamiliar with the series I’m confident they’d all get a different impression of what it’s about. Never let it be said that A Witch’s Printing Office is formulaic, because it fully uses the potential laden in its world, exploring it to its fullest in a wonderful variety of stories. Yet, through all its disparate ridiculousness, lies a sincere love for creative passion, and deep respect for people endeavoring to share their art with the world at its heart. Pick up this book and you’ll be spellbound from the start.