Back in the mists of time, in the ancient era of the mid-00’s, publishers crept out upon a thin limb and tried to bring LNs to an anglophone audience. And it was a complete failure. Or was it? Truth be told, it’s actually a bit tricky to work out whether LNs were as much of a flop financially at this time as there tends to be recollection of; Tokyopop’s efforts are recalled while Yen’s aren’t (Book Girl, Kieli… Spice & Wolf, which, yes, people recall, but not that the early volumes came out in English in 2009-10)*, and Tokyopop’s problems were legion. While I am well-aware that LNs have performed much better in the second stab at bringing them over in greater numbers, Tokyopop was not brought down by bad LN sales alone or even probably primarily.
All of which brings us to today’s review, one of the LN series left in limbo by Tokyopop’s implosion in 2010. Good Witch of the West is about a girl named Firiel, who has been raised in relative isolation by “neighbors” of her father’s. Firiel is in high spirits when we meet her, as she’s about to attend a ball for the first time. On the day of the ball, her reclusive father, an astronomer, gifts her a magnificent necklace by way of his apprentice, Rune. Firiel’s more puzzled and annoyed by the gift than thrilled with it, as she resents that her father cares more for Rune than for his own daughter, but she wears it to the ball anyway. At the ball, though, Lady Adale, the daughter of the local count and potentially in line to be the next queen, spots the necklace and is shocked – she recognizes that it belongs to the royal family. So how’d an impoverished rural girl end up with it? As is so often the case with such things, Firiel’s about to get a hole blasted through her life as she becomes caught up in political and religious machinations she’d never even knew existed before.
Good Witch of the West is a straight-up fantasy series, which, read in 2020, feels a bit unique given how tightly tied to reincarnation or trapped-in-a-video-game scenarios fantasy LN/manga/anime have grown. Which is a bit funny since this volume originally came out in the middle of the last fantasy boom, the 90’s. It also lacks a lot of the tropes that’ve become common in LNs/anime/manga, as it predates the rise of things like the ultra-genre savvy protagonist. But even if it’s feeling a bit novel stems from its age versus much of what I’ve been consuming in recent years, nevertheless its straightforward fantasy nature charmed me as a reader as it was a relief to read a book in which the cast isn’t so knowing and no one’s trying to keep anyone from finding out they’re actually a reincarnated Japanese businessman/gaming addict/mech enthusiast.
As for the book beyond how it comes across given the context in which I’m reading it, its a solid if not particularly unique work. Tokyopop makes allusions on the back cover copy to Cinderella that I think are at odds with the actual content, but total nobody turns out to be special somehow and gets swept up in a saga is pretty standard stuff. Firiel is herself also certainly a type, as she’s a naive yet sometimes-fiery heroine. Even so, I like her, and I like most of the characters she comes into contact with, even if I do wish she had a little more gumption. Admittedly, showing flashes of a strong will early on doesn’t mean she is something she isn’t, i.e. a peasant girl, and it isn’t surprising that when her life is violently tossed out of whack and almost everything she knew is called into question that she’d go into some shock. I take more issue with her childhood friend Rune, who is thoroughly unpleasant throughout, even as its clear the author intended us to like him; he takes a hell of a lot of pleasure at the start in telling Firiel that she’s stupid to be excited about a ball, and it sets the tone for his behavior in this volume. He’s had his own struggles in life, but watching him repeatedly shoot down Firiel is at best tiresome.
Tokyopop’s release is fairly good, although that cover deserves scorn. If anything, that picture above is slightly better than the one on my physical copy, as its got slightly more contrast to the image of Firiel. The original Japanese release from 1997 had a completely different cover, and I suspect Tokyopop didn’t use it as it doesn’t look manga-esque. But there’s no issue with the reproduction of the interior illustrations. The text itself reads well, although there are a few spots where its clear that a word was accidentally left in that had been considered as an alternate translation, which did trip me out of the story. Translation, adaptation, and editing were done by Agnes Yoshida, Natalie Baan, and Kara Allison Stambach, and I found myself wondering what they’re up to now as none of their names rings a bell but their work here’s better than some of what I’ve seen on more recent LN and manga releases. Considering this was close to the lowest ebb in anglophone manga/LN publishing on quality of releases (with Tokyopop leading the way on cutting pay for staff to the bone), I’m amazed they were able to turn out such good work.
So is it worth reading? The answer is… well, how do you feel about in all likelihood only getting to read two volumes of a five volume story? (There are eight volumes, but the final three are entirely devoted to side stories.) Because while other titles in Tokyopop’s old LN stable have been re-licensed (Crest of the Stars), I sincerely doubt Good Witch of the West will luck into the same (Twelve Kingdoms and even Gosick absolutely have a better chance). I enjoyed this volume enough to pick up the second, but knowing I can’t finish it is incredibly frustrating, and I know most of us aren’t up for increasing their frustration levels in life. (Maybe this has all been a ruse to get you to list Good Witch of the West on the next license survey you come across!)
* Not a LN, but Viz released two volumes of Good Witch author Noriko Ogiwara’s novel series Magatama Trilogy in 2007 and 2011. The first volume was a re-issue of a translation released by another company in 1993, but Viz translated the second volume. Ogiwara, by the way, wrote the Red Data Girl LNs, too.