There are mysterious things in the east of the east of the east
Along with their re-release of Fruits Basket, Yen Press has seen fit to release one of Natsuki Takaya’s more recent works, the lightly fantastical Liselotte & the Witch’s Forest. The titular Liselotte is a noble girl who has fallen on hard times due to being exiled to a forest in the east of the east of the east with only two servants to keep her company in the miles of reputably haunted woods. Soon a fourth character joins this makeshift family however, and Liselotte sees a strong resemblance between this young man, Engetsu, and another boy she knew years earlier.
When all is said and done, this is not a very satisfying first volume. There are four major characters so far, Liselotte’s two servants as side characters and Liselotte and Engetsu being main characters, and yet there is absolutely no meaningful insight into any of them yet. There are hints that the mysterious Engetsu is actually someone from Liselotte’s childhood and this is shockingly where the story makes the most progress — although I would not be surprised if the truth of the situation isn’t revealed until far later on. The story also tries to create some tension by revealing that sweet, air-headed Liselotte was involved to some degree in an attempted coup to try and replace her noble brother in a position of power, but the idea seems so contrary to the current Liselotte that instead these flashbacks come across as bizarre and out of place, as if they were from a story with an entirely different focus.
Liselotte in general lacks focus; at this point it’s hard to tell if Takaya had only a loose story idea when she began this manga or if she is holding every single card pressed tightly against her chest. Without establishing a clearer picture of the stakes or giving the characters anything resembling interesting traits there’s nothing to grab the reader and make them want to read more. In addition, the art looks a little strange here. Liselotte’s look shifts a bit even within the same chapter (the style of her eyes change) and Yen Press’s larger trim size means that the bleeds don’t go fully into the margins and give those show-stopper pages an ugly look. This is made weirder by the fact that there is a single page that is black to the margin, and also two black and white promo images at the very end which also go all the way into the margin.
This is rather odd. As a personal preference I prefer bleeds to go nearly all the way into margins, and I find that situations like the top image look a bit sloppy. This situation is not nearly bad enough to keep me from recommending the manga, but I will say that the actual story didn’t instill any desire in me to check out the second volume promptly. This feels like a very sedately paced story without any real hook; a bad combination for a story that is not a strictly slice of life tale. Perhaps things will pick up in volume two, but based off of this first installment I see no reason to expect so.