First Look: Wandering Witch — The Journey of Elaina

Alternative title(s): Majo no Tabitabi
Light Novel Adaptation by C2C
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

Like the author of her favourite book, Elaina has always wanted to become a witch and travel the world. After becoming the youngest person to ever pass the qualifying exam, she finds a mentor in the whimsical Fran, but her training doesn’t exactly go as expected…

Aqua’s verdict: 99 Problems But This Witch Ain’t One

Ever since the unceremonious downfall of J.K. Rowling — an event so ghastly it now seems to be gaining the train wreck credentials required to qualify as a sociopolitical issue in the UK, a country that in and by itself is a sociopolitical issue — people seem to be desperate for a new fantasy series to fill Harry Potter‘s throne. Granted, the desire amongst some — especially those who revisited the Potter books as adults and realized just how all over them the three-Tony-Blairs-in-a-trenchcoat hogwash Rowling passes off as her political views really is — to see the bespectacled boy wizard excommunicated from the pop culture pantheon has been there for a long time — but up to now no one’s really been able to reach a convincing consensus on which magical series fans should migrate to instead. On the anime front, Little Witch Academia has been gaining traction again on social media, while Kamome Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier finally seems to be getting the buzz it deserves. Until the latter’s inevitable anime adaptation rolls around, however, the best anime candidate for satiating the undeniable need for robes and wizard hats in our lives is Wandering Witch.

Starved Potterheads craving another lore-smitten parable of good versus evil — or rather, neoliberal versus evil — will probably not get what they want from Elaina’s adventures, however. While the snazzy wand-flinging in Elaina’s initial duel against her mischievous mentor vaguely recalls Rowling’s work, Wandering Witch is far more steeped in the tropes of slice-of-life anime than it is in the rigid framework of the young adult novel. That’s not to say that this is one of those pastoral series that many anime on the softer end of the fantasy spectrum end up being categorized as, though. The aforementioned duel hopefully serves as a prelude to many to come for starters, but it’s the character development in particular that marks Wandering Witch as snappier and more ambitious than its contemporaries.

It goes a little something like this — Elaina, our prodigious main character pluckily passes her qualification exam with flying colours and ends up under the tutelage of the eccentric “Starlit Witch” Fran. As these stories often go, Elaina is unhappy with Fran’s sink-or-swim training and voices her dissatisfaction, only for Fran to mop the floor with her. When Elaina breaks down into tears over her defeat, however, Fran quickly reveals that she was hired by Elaina’s parents — who asked her to kick her ass so Elaina would learn how to cope with failure before heading out on the journey that will cap off her education. It may sound a bit ridiculous, but as a former “gifted kid” (ugh) who crashed and burned spectacularly the first time they failed at anything, I can understand where mom and dad here are coming from. Obvious as it may seem, being taught to deal with failure is part of growing up, and in a genre currently dominated by almighty escapist characters, it is refreshing to see that — as evidenced by both Fran’s training and her mother’s warnings (“Don’t believe that you are special. Remember that you are equal to everyone else.”) — the acknowledgement that failure is always around the corner seems to be a key component of Elaina’s character.

Whether that undercurrent of powerlessness will play the role this first episode destines it to in further adventures, remains to be seen, but it makes for a strong opener to what seems to be a Kino’s Journey-esque show that will present both levity and darkness in equal amounts. The fact that the source material appears to be in good hands is a reassurance at the very least. Wandering Witch looks phenomenal in every single frame, from the gorgeously imaginative backgrounds to the riveting duel sequences, which compensate for some questionable computer-generated fire effects with creative choreography and elemental spectacle that could give Avatar: The Last Airbender a run for its money on a bad day. Guess it’s more than just the use of Papyrus in their title cards that these two shows have in common!

Behind the scenes, Wandering Witch shines just as brightly thanks to the directorial talents of Gainax veteran Toshiyuki Kubooka, whose eye for brisk pacing still manages not to rob the show of its inherent beauty and breeziness. It’s this breeziness that will probably, to many at least, disqualify this show right out of the gate. I’ll admit, the Harry Potter comparisons were mostly an excuse to dunk on Rowling, because the similarities here are superficial at best. Stranded fans who need something formative and engrossing to fill the Hogwarts-shaped hole in their hearts probably won’t find it here. Still, I’m happy the renaissance succession crisis the Internet seems to have turned this whole who-will-take-Potter‘s-place nonsense into just happens to be going on right when Wandering Witch is airing. You might find out that scratching that magical itch you have won’t require a shallow metaphors of a spineless bigot after all. Ding dong, the witch is dead, long live the witch.

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