Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 1st Episode Review
Synopsis: This story follows a cheeky, young witch named Elaina as she sets off on a fantastical journey across the world after being inspired by her favorite book. As with any classic fantasy tale, she’ll meet plenty of folks along the way, from the strange to the bizarre, including giants, townsfolk and even other witches! As she explores the world, her views on her own journey will take shape! (Official Funimation Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina has the makings of something interest: Too many fantasy anime, though typically more so Isekai, feature overpowered characters that sit so far above everyone else in ability. It’s often so bad that they rarely face danger or set backs. Here we’re introduced to Elaina, a young girl who studied hard to become a witch, and miraculously passed the Witch’s exam at just 14. She’s ripe to be full of herself, and this first episode becomes all about knocking her down a peg and keeping her humble enough to recognize that her talent doesn’t automatically make her better than others. That seems like a good, hearty message to pass along to the audience, yet for all the intent Wandering Witch doesn’t nail the execution; where what’s shown doesn’t really match with what we’re being told.
Linny: Before we get to the heart of Wandering Witch’s issues, let’s step back and talk about atmosphere. Wandering Witch’s premiere is a little too low energy. A fair chunk of the episode is devoted to first Elaina growing up, followed by her search for a mentoring witch to teach and then certify her as a full fledged witch, followed by doing all kinds of mundane house chores for the witch who does finally take her in. What makes these sequences so mundane is how the show portrays it all so matter-of-factly, lacking in both personality and memorable interactions between these characters. Most every character is extremely restrained in their emotional range too, only adding to that feeling of low energy. And that might be fine if the show was a straight on slice of life, those aren’t typically brimming with attitude anyway, but over half way through the episode the energy of the show does a snap change that’s incredibly jarring considering how bland everything was before.
Tom: The episode near culminates in an abrupt shift to action, sending crazy powerful spells blasting chunks of earth up into the air, all while Elaina must dodge and defend herself from an ally turned enemy. It’s all part of the episode’s thrust that Elaina needs to learn some humility, but this snap shift from low-key to action has me wondering what to really expect from the series week to week. It’s clear that like last Spring’s The 8th Son, Wandering Witch’s first episode isn’t really an indicator of what the show is going to be like week to week. No, this first episode is all about establishing who Elaina is. That said, I don’t know that the show succeeds at making her likable or interesting. It’s not to say she’s unlikable, in fact the show kind of botches the whole ‘she’s too arrogant for her own good’ thing it has going, but because Elaina is so low-key and generally just goes with the flow, we don’t find a lot of personality to her that sucks us in and endears her to us.
[Warning: End of Episode Spoilers to Follow]
Linny: And here’s the thrust of the show’s problems; Wandering Witch generally fails at selling us on Elaina’s character flaws and development. The episode accuses Elaina of being too arrogant, yet the only time we ever get a glimpse of this supposed haughty nature is a single line of dialogue. It’s too subtle a demonstration for a character flaw that is apparently so egregious that it forced her parents to go so far as to hire someone to teach her a lesson in humility. In truth the show is rife with unconvincing and self-contradictory storytelling. Wandering Witch also tells us that Elaina is bad at voicing her thoughts and opinions. It seems almost impossible for someone to be full of self importance to the point of needing to be humbled yet also needs to be told to speak up for herself. The crux of episode one is all about these crucial lessons that Elaina learns from her mentor; humility and the strength to voice her true thoughts. Yet even by the end of the episode, once the lessons are supposedly learned, Elaina continues to do the exact opposite, even though the show acts like she has embraced said lessons. For example, her mentor gives her a witch’s title, one Elaina isn’t too found of, yet she accepts it with barely a proper protest. To top things off the episode then wraps up with Elaina describing herself as the witch so beautiful she’ll make you sigh.
Tom: While it’s going to take another episode to hammer out weekly expectations for Wandering Witch, we do certainly get a sense for the show’s writing chops here and it isn’t pretty. If it can’t even effectively establish Elaina’s flaws, offer up character development, and stick with it, then I’m very dubious that whatever comes next is going to feel any tighter or compelling. It’s likely the rest of the show is as half-baked as the premiere.
Linny: Maybe the rest of the show will be about her ACTUALLY properly learning the lessons laid out here, but as it stands now , it just feels like I wasted 30 minutes of my time. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell with just one, origin story-esque episode, and that makes me hesitant to pass too harsh of a judgement just yet. I will leave it as a tentative maybe, worthwhile for anyone who finds themselves charmed by the concept and hope that the show better defines itself and its protagonist as it continues.
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina is available for streaming via Funimation.com