Wandering Witch - The Journey of Elaina
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Wandering Witch - The Journey of Elaina ?
You know that cliché about how sequels are never as good as the original? Personally I don't ascribe to that idea – I think it has more to do with what sequels get made and how, rather than anything innate to telling a followup story. But sometimes that old canard proves true after all, because compared to last episode, “The Two Apprentices” is definitely the Blues Brothers 2000 of anime.
The setup is honestly interchangeable with any of the other comedic episodes of Wandering Witch: Elaina (feat. Saya) gets caught up in some magical chicanery that pretty much immediately has no real stakes, and is solved incredibly easily by our uber-powerful witch protagonists. That's technically what happened last week too, but here there's neither a compelling character conflict to exacerbate the threat, nor does it even pretend that the bad guys involved are at all a threat. The entire plan of the goobers from last episode returning decades later to set up a weirdly convoluted scheme to let them rob a bunch of places is just silly, as the show points out about five different times once it's revealed. It's also obvious that Elaina and Saya can clean the whole thing up in no time because, duh, so the first 18-odd minutes of this episode feel totally pointless outside of more tired hijinks, and I suspect the creators knew this because they try to spice the whole thing up with that most hallowed of tropes: the body-swap.
For some reason the bad guys decide if they can't steal the magic love-gas box they tricked Saya into delivering, they'll have her swap bodies with a random person on the street, and wouldn't ya know it? They chose Elaina! This sounds like a recipe for goofy hijinks as the two try to navigate the world in each other's body, maybe puzzle out how this happened or try to locate the other, but as has been endemic of Wandering Witch's writing for weeks now, it barely attempts anything besides some surface-level jokes. Saya spends a good five minutes just staring at her (read: Elaina's) reflection in a window and trying to make out with herself, while Elaina/Saya makes grossed-out faces. Oh and in all this, we run into Mina, Saya's younger sister from episode 2, and learn the girl has a sister complex when she tries to make out with her sister's body housing a separate woman's mind, so there's that. Ew. There's a smattering of background gags as the love magic wreaks havoc in town but it's all the same gag repeated for minutes on end, and never gets more clever than a lovestruck dog chasing a cat.
Making this all the stranger is how this episode was built up as something important or pivotal; not only is this the first story to be a direct followup to a previous one and reuniting pretty much the entire recurring cast, it also chooses to forego the OP and ED. That's usually something a show does if it has a momentous episode to deliver and they want to lend it gravitas, or the story itself is so jam-packed they need every second of screentime to properly tell it. But outside of the final few minutes there's nothing of real value here save some silly faces and a couple of decent gags. Honestly, with the lethargic pacing of some of the jokes, they could have done with trimming this screenplay down, not extending it.
Then we come upon the final few minutes, and the first real bit of genuine sentiment in this whole mess. Elaina, being smarter than your average witch, has put the pieces together that Nike was in fact Fran's teacher, but surprisingly this link to her inspiration doesn't thrill our heroine. Instead she tries to avoid discussing it entirely, saying that if she were to find out she was somehow the inheritor of Nike's legacy, it'd spoil the romance of just being her own witch going on her own adventures. It's honestly a pretty endearing sentiment, and the first time since episode 2 that Elaina's felt like a real character instead of a smug cipher observing the world without personal investment. It's unfortunately too little, too late to salvage her as our perspective character, but I do appreciate the nuance to her we get in these waning minutes. It's something, anyway.
Now the question remains of where we go from here. There's at least one episode left in all this, and I can't really think of what it could be about. This episode, half-baked as it was, featured everything you'd expect from a season/series finale. Elaina herself remarks on not wanting her journey to “end in 5 volumes” (see this was from the 5th volume of the novels. Get it?) but I'm also not sure what a single episode can cover that could properly conclude a 12-episode anime season. Then again you don't typically have a “conclusion” for anthology series like these so it's a weird prospect already. I think it's far too late for Wandering Witch to pull itself out of the depths of its worst entries, but it'd still be nice if we at least get a decent finale. So here's hoping.
Wandering Witch - The Journey of Elaina is currently streaming on Funimation. Save on Anime Streaming Subscriptions with Funimation.
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