Growing up inspired by the witches in storybooks, young Elaina studies hard and passes her magical exams with flying colors. However, none of the local witches want the upstart teen as an apprentice, until a witch from far away agrees to train her. Even so, this so-called Stardust Witch doesn’t seem to be teaching Elaina anything!
It took us some time to decide on a show this season, since there are quite a few interesting candidates in the Fall 2020 cour. On top of that, the ongoing craze of adopting light novels into animated series with extremely varied results has left most of us Con Artists a bit cynical and skeptical of shows based on them. That’s not to say we automatically dislike light novel-based shows, but it’s a small red flag since so many of these adaptations follow similar trends that we’ve grown tired of (isekai, fanservice, poor treatment of female characters, etc).
So color us pleasantly surprised when Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina (Majo no Tabitabi) popped up and the first episode was entertaining and joyful. We were especially pleased to hear that the creator of Elaina, Jougi Shiraishi, had one specific request for the anime staff adapting his work. It’s encouraging to see a creator push for broader appeal by avoiding some of the pitfalls that make even enjoyable anime harder to recommend, and especially by treating female characters with more respect than they sometimes receive.
Elaina begins with a brisk backstory, as the titular character studies and trains to become a witch and absolutely crushes the magical exams that will allow her to become an apprentice. When she goes to look for a certified witch to train her, it turns out that her dramatic rise to the top of her class has left magic users in her hometown very unwelcoming. Whether it’s due to jealousy or a belief that Elaina hasn’t paid her dues is unclear, but Elaina is out of luck until she overhears her parents discussing a mysterious witch who recently settled in the forest nearby.
Out of other options, Elaina visits Fran, the Starlight Witch, who seems sweet but somewhat airheaded. Fran agrees to teach her, but treats Elaina more like a servant than a pupil until one day when she challenges Elaina to a magic duel and soundly beats her. Yet after defeating the young girl, Fran is contrite and explains that Elaina’s parents had persuaded (read: paid) her to treat her that way in the hope that she would understand humility and failure before becoming an insufferably smug prodigy. Preemptive lesson learned, they move on to actual magical study and Elaina becomes a fully-fledged witch, ready to set out on a journey to experience the world and share her magic with others.
While the plot of the first episode is uncomplicated, it’s fun and keeps up a quick pace, jumping over anything that would get in the way of Elaina starting her journey. Even the touted magic exams happen offscreen, and most of Elaina’s lessons under Fran are a montage. Since the meat of the show appears to be a series of independent adventures as Elaina journeys across the world, I’m glad they we’re getting to that without neglecting where the protagonist is coming from.
Like the plot, the characters are straightforward, but enjoyable to follow. Elaina is something of a blank slate right now, cheerful and energetic, but with a mild bratty edge. Her parents are loving and supportive, and it was a hoot to learn that they commiserated with Fran to avoid becoming the parents of a magical mean girl. Fran’s bumbling but earnest attempts at tutoring are probably the highlight of the episode for me, and there’s a strong indication that she’ll be returning in the future, so that’s something to look forward to.
Visually, the anime is solid. The environments are vibrant and lush, with Fran’s enchanted tree mansion taking the cake for dream homes. The animation is fairly crisp, and the magical effects are well-realized. It’s especially nice to see how different elements act under magical influence, as fire roils out in a stream and wind lashes out in bursts. A fine musical score and sound effects compliment the visuals nicely, making for a good all-around production.
I have a few reservations about the show, but nothing too significant. With Elaina’s dream of becoming a witch and going on a journey already well underway by the end of the first episode, I’m unsure of what will drive her from here on. With the show appearing to shape up as a series of short encounters, it may end up light on the character development front for my tastes, but that’s purely subjective. My hope is that the individual stories are entertaining enough on their own, or form a strong enough through-line that Elaina grows and changes naturally without needing to result to some bigger overarching plot. Time will tell how it plays out.
With the world in such a state right now, it’s nice to dive into the storybook-style tale Elaina seems to offer. We all love complex and dramatic narratives, but sometimes it’s good to settle into a fun, lightweight adventure without huge stakes or melodrama. Hopefully the show keeps up it’s high bar of quality and finds an enjoyable trajectory.