Sophomore slump or underlying inevitability? Witchcraft Works's second volume makes a frustrating turn into the kind of coincidence-driven storytelling that's neither necessary for nor beneficial to what it's already set up. Its central idea — a hapless kid finds the queen of his class is a witch dead-set on defending him from supernatural threats — would have worked fine on its own, but I'm worried author/artist Ryu Mizunagi is now more interested in tricking it out than playing it out.
The plotting this time around: Honoka (the kid) and Ayaka (the witch), after having successfully fended off attacks from the malevolent ranks of the Tower Witches, work together to ramp up Honoka's warlock training. They get about as far as the "get on the broom, don't hit the buildings" part (I half-expected Kiki to make a cameo) before encountering a new threat: the Tower Witches have sussed out that Ayaka's source of power is Honoka himself. Separate the two, and Ayaka becomes that much more vulnerable, but Ayaka is wise to such strategies, and one attempt to separate them ends with a giant bear and a giant bunny (devastating a whole slice of town a la a vintage Godzilla movie. But then all the stops are pulled out, and the volume ends of a cliffhanger with Honoka electing to unleash the full extent of Ayaka's powers, whatever the consequences.
Given those bare outlines, it doesn't sound like there should be any need for, oh, Honoka's sister to turn out to be a witch herself, or for Ayaka and Honoka to have actually been secretly betrothed to each other. Stuff like that adds nothing to the story we came in to see in the first place; all it does is remind us, badly, of all the other stories that shoehorned in such gratuitous developments because they couldn't think of any other way to make the story interesting. Even for a story with no particularly heavyweight ambitions on its sleeve, it's irritating; it's as if the story doesn't even have faith in its own initial suspension of disbelief, and so has to make up for it. A miscalculation; we were already along for this ride.
The other major criticism I had about Works, the detailed but cluttered art style, also carries over from the first volume. This time out, there's fewer of the confusing staging and layout problems that sometimes undermined the action; the big bunny-vs.-bear showdown scene, for instance, is funny and enthralling instead of confusing. But there are still too many panels where the crush of detail is so thick and undifferentiated that the spectacle of it all has come at the expense of basic coherence. There, and with the story itself, I was reminded that sometimes simplicity and spareness were ideals and not hindrances.