Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 1. (For reviews of other volumes, click here).
Back cover blurb
Despite being completely hopeless at endeavors like farming and cooking, Liselotte, a young lady of noble birth and guardian to twins Alto and Anna, picks up and moves to a remote land. At the easternmost reaches of her new home lies a forest where it’s said witches roam. When Lise one day finds herself at the receiving end of an attack by one such witch, she’s saved by the sudden appearance of a young man named Engetsu. Though they’re strangers, Engetsu is remarkably similar to someone she already knows…
If you’re a fan of Natsuki Takaya’s art and particular brand of ditzy and big-hearted heroine, you’re likely to fall in love with this title’s main character, Liselotte. For those familiar with Fruits Basket, Liselotte is pretty much a blonde, blue-eyed version of Tohru, with the same energetic optimism and trusting nature. However, whereas Tohru was a hard-working poor orphan, Liselotte was born to privilege and would probably starve without the help of her two servants. In addition, Liselotte’s setting is not contemporary Japan but an unnamed European-style fantasy land where witches exist.
Takaya-sensei mentions in an author’s note that she aims to “make it a relatively easygoing story,” and the tale starts off that way. The first several pages consist of Liselotte driving her considerably younger but much more capable servant boy Alto crazy with her attempts to do chores in their new home. Then the mood abruptly shifts when Liselotte gets attacked by a witch. This isn’t your chipper moe-style witch, but one who’s dangerous and malicious, and Takaya-sensei does an excellent job conveying the suddenness and creepiness of the assault. Fortunately for Liselotte, a young man named Engetsu rescues her, and despite his spacey behavior and strange clothes, he’s remarkably similar to someone she once knew.
While the magical elements put this series into the fantasy category, it’s difficult to tell what kind of journey Takaya-sensei’s taking us on. There are plenty of comical interactions, including a lot of bad cooking and growly stomach humor, but while the scenes are entertaining and establish character relationships, they don’t set a clear direction for the plot. In addition, the witch’s forest loses some of its ominous aura when the attack on Liselotte gets followed by an invasion from a witch’s familiar who’s about as terrifying and destructive as a puppy dog. However, Takaya-sensei keeps the narrative moving by revealing bits of Liselotte’s past, which, for such a simple-minded character, is surprisingly complicated. Engetsu, on the one hand, remains largely a mystery, but judging from the emotion that overflows from the drawings whenever he and Liselotte are together, romance will brew between the two.
I should mention that the book doesn’t include translation notes, which may prove problematic for manga newbies, especially in one particular scene regarding the honorific “-sama.” However, the book does include embedded author’s notes, two color illustrations, and two full-spread black and white illustrations.
Natsuki Takaya spins a new fantasy tale with a girl determined to create a new home for herself beside a witch forest. In addition to our super-positive heroine, we have a grouchy butler, an ever-supportive maid, an adorable fireball of a familiar, and a mysterious young man. It’s unclear where this group is headed, but for now, readers can simply enjoy the lively antics of this noisy and unusual household.
First published at the Fandom Post.