Publication is Shonen Jump is a merciless entity, but getting in means you’re now serialized in Japan’s bestselling weekly magazine. But that’s just one beast slain, because every week after that is a battle with another scarier beast to stay serialized. Even longrunning series have to keep their wits about them in this never-ending onslaught, but every story slain means another marches forth to take its place, and everybody tenses, wondering if our latest hero might have what it takes to repel the unceasing wave of baddies.
Guardian of the Witch is one such soldier stepping up to try its hand with the sword, and as of publishing this, there’re seven chapters out in the world. It takes place in an Attack On Titan-esque Great Britain, where humans cower behind fortifications built to fend off hoards of carnivorous abominations. But the differences between it and the juggernaut series is that instead of Titans it has Evils, there’s no need for omni-directional mobility gear because you’ve got badass Witches who can level a battlefield with a single spell, and everyone has manly hands, even the ladies.
The hero of this apocalyptic world is Fafner, a talented soldier tasked with being, as the title suggests, the Guardian of a Witch named Manasfa, a clamorous young dame who can down as much chow as an entire regiment. The status quo goes that Masasfa protects the city from the evil Evils, and the citizenry can go about their grocery shopping in peace. But Fafner isn’t satisfied with the status quo, dreaming of furloughing the Witches and turning the army into an independent force.
For a setting the main characters are in for exactly two chapters, a lot of detailed linework has gone into the illustrations for the city-state of Berne, giving the architecture a worn but distinctively medieval aesthetic reminiscent of cities like Dubrovnik, Croatia, or the many hillside communities of the Tuscany countryside. The Witch Tower at the center of the city-state is a hodgepodge of spare buildings I guess were just lying around, and spreading from it are walkways slicing the commons up into four districts as they connect with the outer defensive walls. But the neatest detail of the bunch, I think, are the corridors connecting Berne to the other city-states. For what’s introduced in just the first chapter, there’s quite a bit to glean about Berne and how it was constructed in response to the outside world just from the panels alone.
But even if I embarked on a grand tour to learn all its history and sample its crepe shops, that doesn’t distract from the fact that the story isn’t that great.
I’m a believer in that every concept and idea has potential, and it’s execution that makes or breaks it. A Silent Voice is about a boy befriending a deaf girl he used to bully, which doesn’t sound like much on the surface, but it’s one of the most powerful dramas you’ll come across, and Sword Art Online is about 10,000 gamers trapped in a video game where if they die they literally die, which is an intriguing premise but fails to capitalize on that setup with a shoddy video game, an OP protagonist, and characters who get five seconds in the spotlight before being shoved off for the next cute girl who put in an audition application. Guardian of the Aguni isn’t winning any accolades for originality, but there’s a lot of acreage to expand out from its initial foundation, so it’s a big fat disappointment to me that there’s a lot confining it to skid row.
The first problem I noticed was that Guardian of the Centipede Demon has the tendency to repeat itself. Midway through the first chapter, Fafner goes to talk to the definitely-not-evil rector, who lectures him on how Witches are actually manufactured by implanting them with seeds from the Evils, thereby granting them whipass magical prowess. However, there’s an expiration date to those powers, and when they go bad, the Witch morphs into an Evil and gobbles up every man, woman, and child in her sights. So the job description of a Guardian—which for some reason he wasn’t informed of when he received the promotion—isn’t to protect a Witch, but to lob off her head before she gets hangry. But then immediately in the next scene he overhears Manasfa recite the exact same thing.
Dialogue is precious in a medium where you’re allotted only so much real estate for it, so it’s a waste when Guardian of the Volvagia hits the replay button on Mr. Definitely-Not-Evil’s speech. The bare minimum it could’ve done was swap out Manasfa’s dialogue so that she was talking to her aid about how comfortable her socks are or something, but it could’ve gone a step further by transferring Fafner’s job orientation to the flashback department. That way, we can order the scenes like so: they discuss what they’ll be doing for their outing tomorrow, we find out that Fafner skimped out on the outing, then we’re momentarily stunned when we find out Fafner’s really just playing hide-and-seek with her, but if he finds her first, he’ll kill her, and if she finds him first, he’ll still kill her. It’s after that we flashback to Mr. Definitely-Not-Evil’s exposition to explain his apparent face-heel turn.
I doubt that shuffling around of duties turns the first chapter into a 10/10 masterpiece all first chapters should aspire to be, but this tampering of mine leads me into another issue I take with this series, which is that its panel layout isn’t that great.
There’s this trick in storyboarding a comic or manga where in the bottom corner of the page, in the last panel the eye lands on before turning the page, you have a character start saying something, notice something, or go wide-eyed at something. Just adding this sets anticipation on a simmer, urging the reader to flick to the next page to discover what happens next before they boil over from suspense. The big reveal doesn’t need to be the launching of a nuclear warhead, but there does need to be an adequate payoff.
Debate me if you believe I’m misguided, but Guardian of the Ifrit would be a sizable percentage better if it took advantage of this trick. Lying all over the pages are panels it could’ve laid out in this fashion but instead are spread about willy-nilly, up front and center to not catch the reader by surprise.
This lack of suspense worms its way in other forms. In chapter 3, Mr. Definitely-Not-Evil hires a Guardian and a Witch from another city to hunt down Fafner and Manasfa after they make a break out of the city, because apparently he can’t trust the Evils to do what they built interconnected fortified cities to not do. The Guardian he hires—let’s just call him Unlikable Runt and then never use that name—decides to exhibit what he’s combatively capable of, and while the intention here obviously is to hype him up as an opponent, it’s nothing more than juggling knives. We know already that Guardians are ultrastrong, so it’s redundant to have him spread his feathers like a peacock desperate to see some action. Just by seeing that Mr. Definitely-Not-Evil is hiring them do we know there’s a 100% chance of a tough battle for Fafner and Manasfa’s forecast. If you really did wanna tease a bad guy’s power, you’d have them say their piece, then after they leave, their employer wonders when they had the time to trim the hedges.
Of the many decisions it could make when deliberating how a scene could or should shake out, Guardian of the Heatran often chooses the least effective setup. Even the opening excerpt is weak, being a diary entry from Manasfa about how she’ll never be happy. This does beg the question why that’s the case, but it’s too on the nose of what her central conflict is. It could’ve flirted with subtlety if she instead wrote about her day spent with Fafner, wrapping up by expressing her regrets that days like this are on death row. Still begging the question but not being as overt.
This’ll be the pettiest of my complaints, but since I brought up the diary, why does it show up for the first page and then is never seen nor mentioned again? You’ve included that Manasfa is the type to put her thoughts in ink, so why not make that a larger part of her character? Her diary doesn’t need to be the sword-proof vest that saves her from a fatal blow in chapter 9, but just taking a page or two to sit us in her head as she fills in the day’s entry gives us perspective on her take on the story’s events.
The transition expectation here might be to next nitpick how the characters feel one-dimensional, and while, yes, better writing is always better, I take bigger issue with the things the characters say. Beyond just repeating themselves or each other, their speech bubbles would pair well with nachos because of how cheesy some of their lines are.
It’s not all dairy products, though.
Guardian of the Annie reads like someone who took some classes on how to write but hasn’t put in any practice and is still making amateur mistakes. That’s a shame, because I want to like Guardian of the Flame Atronach, but it makes it hard to, like a girl in your class you wanna ask out but are hesitant to because she has the habit of gnawing on her pencils whenever she’s peckish.
To repeat myself like the hypocrite I am, I see a lot of potential in Guardian of the Tindera. The plot the main crew starts off on is small and has the capability of achieving what series like Attack On Titan, The Promised Neverland, and Land of the Lustrous have: plot developments that kick your legs out from underneath so that you don’t know which way the sky is.
As things stand, however, Guardian of the Bohboh isn’t looking too hot. It stacks its cards so poorly that it’s only a matter of time before someone stubs their toe on the table and the whole house comes falling down. I don’t believe it’s doomed from the get-go. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’s first 13 episodes are inferior compared to the 2003 anime adaptation’s, but as soon as it’s done recapping trotted ground, it sits up and says, “All righty, boys, time to do 10,000 chin-ups!” But unless Guardian of the Gargantua Blargg takes a step back to ponder what it should and shouldn’t do in outlining, it’s headed down the fast lane to that big subterranean incinerator. I recommend it start keeping a diary.