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Legendary Bleach author Tite Kubo has had a bit of a career resurgence in recent years. By the time Bleach ended its original manga run in 2016, after exactly 15 years of ongoing publications and being one of the highest-selling series of all time, his stocks were quite low. The anime ended in 2012 with the Fullbringer arc and while the manga’s final arc, Thousand-Year Blood War, had its strong moments and interesting concepts, health issues and being rushed by editorial definitely affected Kubo’s conclusion to Ichigo Kurosaki’s journey.
For a long time, Kubo’s name was only mentioned in the manga and anime community to slander him, often saying that he could only rely on his art and wasn’t a good writer. Time, as the saying goes, tends to heal everything and the recent Thousand-Year Blood War anime adaptation, along with people giving a much fairer analysis of the series, helped a lot in that regard. And that is when Burn the Witch comes along.
This one-shot was one of Kubo’s first forays into the manga medium after Bleach’s conclusion and when it came out in 2018, most fans were eager to see what he had in store. In general, Kubo was always heralded as a big idea man and it was interesting to see what he could deliver now that Bleach had ended and he now had free reign to do whatever he wanted. And the results are… fascinating.
Noel Niihashi and Ninny Spangcole are two witches who work for the Western branch of Soul Society, established in England, specifically a place called Reverse London. They have to deal with several threats and gain points that help them gain more status in the organization, including facing and capturing dragons of many different races and powers.
Good Ideas… But Way Too Short
As mentioned earlier, Tite Kubo is a huge idea guy. Bleach showed that the man can come up with lots of characters, abilities, and concepts, which is why Burn the Witch feels like such a vast world in a couple of chapters, although that can also play to the one-shot’s detriment because it feels way too restricted.
This is particularly shown with the characters of Ninny and Noel. Especially Ninny since she shows a lot of personality and eagerness to do things her way but that only makes the reader want to know more about her, her backstory, and why she is that way. The same thing can apply to a lot of different concepts and characters that you want to see more of.
Kubo has gone on record saying he doesn’t want to be pressured into writing or drawing anything and that he will do stuff like the second Burn the Witch arc or the Hell arc in Bleach when he feels like it, and that’s fair. He has proven his worth over the years and doesn’t want to put his health at risk. However, reading this one-shot in isolation doesn’t benefit from that situation as there is definitely a lot more to discover.
Characters such as Billy Banx Jr. or Balgo’s abilities are stuff that the reader wants to know more about but the one-shot feels very inconclusive because the author obviously intends to do more. So there are a lot of ideas and world-building elements that deserve a lot more attention and focus but this storyline feels more like an introduction than a full, well-developed story.
It’s not Kubo’s fault per se because he made this by design; showing that Reverse London is the place for the Western branch of Soul Society and that there is a Western branch is a testament to wanting to explore more of his own world. The abilities that the characters use, involving dragons in the process, also show a willingness to push the envelope in the Bleach universe while stirring away from classic shonen techniques.
No one is probably going to say that it’s their favorite manga of all time (at least not as of this writing) but Kubo did something very important, which was setting up an interesting world with a fun premise.
It’s easy to just say that Kubo draws beautiful pictures and he does but the more admirable aspect of his craftsmanship as an artist is his cleanness and paneling. There are a lot of great mangaka out there that can draw incredible pages but the sequences, and the visual storytelling, often feel cluttered or overwhelming, which makes it harder for the reader to understand what is going on.
Kubo is not like that.
His art in the Burn the Witch manga flows extremely well and it’s easy to see the progression of events without feeling lost. His pages are very beautiful to look at but they are also quite clear and that makes the reading experience so enjoyable, which is why a lot of Bleach fans have argued that reading the manga is a lot better than watching the anime.
The character designs are one of Kubo’s most celebrated strengths as an artist and they continue to be as strong as ever. The characters look great, their designs show a lot of attitude and personality, and they all have their own sense of individuality. Perhaps his biggest flaw as of late has been that many of the characters’ faces look similar, which is the biggest criticism he has received when it comes to drawing.
This 2018 Burn the Witch one-shot is fun, flows well, and the world-building and characters leave people wanting more, which was probably Kubo’s original idea. Considering that it’s been five years since this original publication, it would be great to see where the mangaka goes with this series and see his progression with a longer narrative because this series has a lot of potential and could be something quite interesting to see.