Manga Review: Sheeply Horned Witch Romi

Sheeply Horned Witch Romi (known in rōmaji as Youkaku no Majoromi) is the newest series by mangaka Abe Youichi, who is known in Japan for his unique art style, characterised by thick, bold lines, and for his fascinating storytelling, where he interweaves supernatural and realistic concepts to create highly eccentric settings and scenarios. It’s the author’s first manga to receive an official English-language publication, with Seven Seas Entertainment releasing volume one last year in March 2022, with volume two to follow in October 2023.

The manga introduces us to Sawada, a high school girl and self-professed witch who is adorned with sheep horns, and her senpai, an unnamed male student one year her senior. The two awaken to find themselves in an overgrown apocalyptic Earth, mysteriously covered in coral and algae, where all other humans have fallen into a perpetual slumber. As the two take refuge in their school, they quickly discover that it is being encroached by a black miasma host to hordes of shell-faced monsters.

Sheeply Horned Witch Romi is a characteristically bizarre and absorbing start from Abe Youichi, whose previous series told of a black-suited vampiric Slenderman-esque character with a fishbowl for a head, who emerges to bite people after a rainstorm from within a puddle, and the army of high school girls who shrink themselves down and dive into his victims’ blood to purge his toxins (literally titled Blood Diver Ringo and the Fishbowl Man). Things aren’t quite as full on this time around, but Romi still contains many similarly peculiar conceptions, not least of which are the bipedal sheep servants with magical wool.

Right from the beginning, the manga is gripping and fun. It is filled with creative ideas which don’t often make sense in reality, but Abe Youichi’s speciality lies in his ability to combine the supernatural and commonplace to create wondrously imagined stories that skillfully whisk readers away to another world. “The point of manga is to show ideas that are tough to explain with words alone,” remarks the unnamed male lead, whose hobby is drawing manga. In metatextual fashion, the author does just that, building upon his already impressive back catalogue with gorgeously envisaged concepts that come to life in the pages of his manga.

Abe Youichi’s artwork is bold, eye-catching, and uniquely his own. He illustrates with thick lines and a lot of background detail, crafting lively settings which command your attention. Though not as impressive in scale compared to his Fishbowl Man series, which spoiled readers with dramatic spreads and intricate crosshatched sketches, Romi is nonetheless abundant with extraordinary illustrations. In particular, the brilliant designs of the monsters—including a dragon-sized sea slug and a miasma stricken witch—invoke an exciting energy through their bold inking and imposing dispositions. Additionally, the character designs for Sawada have an infectious charm.

At only 160 pages long, Romi volume one is shorter than most other single manga volumes, which typically contain between 180 and 200 pages. Yet it’s a manga that I certainly didn’t feel I was breezing through, with much time spent enjoying the art. The volume is also slightly smaller than those you might find from other publishers such as Viz or Kodansha, with its dimensions being closer to the original Japanese tankōbon. Uniquely, the chapters are of varied lengths, the shortest being just 4 pages, and the longest stretching to 40 pages.

The early chapters are quite humorous and light-hearted and, in their short length, reminded me somewhat of 4-koma manga. Not in format, of course, but in their short, contained gags. There are comedy segments about Sawada’s horns, Sawada’s panties, being naked at school, and such. Abe Youichi often incorporates some fetishist aspects into his work, but these aspects are always much more jovial than they ever are crude.

The story takes a turn when the characters begin to venture outside the school halfway through the volume, and the witticism swaps out in favour of a darker plot with more development for the small cast, where reality and psychology begin to homogenise. Abe Youichi has several depictions of a broken reality throughout his work, and in Romi he illustrates with great dexterity, spiraling his world into an exciting disintegration. The manga twists in thrilling and unpredictable ways, with the first volume ending on a fantastic cliffhanger. From the Japanese reviews I’ve seen for volume two, which was published in Japan last month, the manga quickly ventures in even more bold and zany directions.

My only issue concerns the author’s schedule. Sheeply Horned Witch Romi began publishing in 2017 and has been an infrequent addition to the pages of Young Dragon Age, where it is serialised. Abe Youichi isn’t known for penning long manga, though his series often run for years. His previous manga, the aforementioned Blood Diver Ringo and the Fishbowl Man, is his longest at five volumes, published over the course of four years. At only two volumes after five years, Romi follows a much more sluggish schedule.

That said, Abe Youichi continues to stand distinct within a medium that is both massively varied and imitated, making his output one of great anticipation. Romi is off to a great start, and if it’s to be anything like the Fishbowl Man series, which grew from volume to volume to end as a creative masterwork, then no matter the length, it’ll be worth the wait.

One thought on “Manga Review: Sheeply Horned Witch Romi

  1. Beautifully written as always. I love the character designs and the whole concept of the overgrown world, abandoned and covered in algae. This is one I’ll definitely be adding to my reading list.

    Liked by 1 person

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