The Witch and the Beast opens with a question: “Do you know how to break a witch’s curse?” It gives two answers: “Method 1: A loving kiss from a prince on a white horse. Method 2: Hope the wrathful witch has a change of heart.”
But the manga is quick to assure us that these methods are nearly impossible to work out.
We’re then introduced to Guideau and Ashaf, who are with the Order of Magical Resonance — “a group that works by magic, for magic, and of magic.” When Guideau sneers, she looks as if she has fangs. Ashaf carries a coffin on his back. The two wander into a city and announce they’re looking for a witch.
There is a witch in the city, but the inhabitants insist that they love this witch, and she would never hurt them. Guideau and Ashaf are dubious, and at first it’s unclear whom to believe, which is a nice set up. Pretty soon things get really crazy, with what looks like a giant shark in the sky. The truth of who is trustworthy and who is not becomes apparent in one stomach-clenching scene involving the witch and her apprentice. Later Guideau and Ashaf continue on, and by the end of the book they’re dealing with an especially brutal serial killer.
Guideau has a witch’s curse on her, which appears to be why she’s in this work. She is very clear that she’s out for revenge, and she’ll show her fangs as she says it. We also get to see what can come out of Ashaf’s coffin, and it’s not what you might expect. There are multiple fight scenes, though sometimes they can feel busy and too cluttered with activity, which can take away from what’s happening and slow down the flow of the story. More visceral are the horror scenes, like the aforementioned scene with the witch and her apprentice.
The Witch and the Beast takes place in its own world, where magic still exists but people have modern technology like handguns. It has a slick, punkish and historical feel all at once, which might sound a little odd, but that’s the world building it’s doing. The first few pages are in color, and after that it switches to black and white drawings. While some panels are too crowded, others balance very nicely for atmosphere and mood.
Sometimes in the first volume of a manga you can tell exactly what kind of story it is and where it’s going. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing, as it can help readers decide if they want to continue a manga series past the first volume. But The Witch and the Beast is still building, and the first volume feels as if it’s simply getting set up. The worldbuilding, the hints at Guideau’s curse and the references to the Order of Magical Resonance makes it feel as if there’s a lot to be uncovered in future volumes.