Wandering Witch - The Journey of Elaina
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Wandering Witch - The Journey of Elaina ?
Y'know Wandering Witch, your stories don't ALL have to be bummers, right? Obviously a few of your stories can have unhappy endings or unsettling subtext, but it's usually a good idea to space these things out, lest your entire show start to feel like a downer. It doesn't help that WW's strengths very obviously lie in its quiet, slice-of-life adventures rather than the bleak morality cul-de-sacs Elaina has flown into these past two episodes, as “The Princess Without Subjects” tells a suitably tragic tale without ever really finding a point or lesson in any of it.
In a vacuum it's a solidly-told mystery/horror story; Elaina encounters a city that's been wiped out seemingly overnight, with the only refuge being an abandoned castle. There she finds Mirarose, the amnesiac princess of this ruined land who's been left alone inside its halls and tasked by a mysterious letter to kill Javalier, the nocturnal dragon that annihilated her people. It's an interesting setup, even if the twist seems mostly obvious after about five minutes with Mira herself. It is also interesting seeing Elaina interact with somebody just as cocky as she is, and the two develop sort of a friendly rivalry, needling each other with small shows of power and calling one another's bluffs. Elaina is still far from a bastion of heroism, but her immediate decision to not get involved with fighting the rampaging dragon is at least less questionable than her inaction last episode. I certainly wouldn't be jumping to risk my life for somebody I just met, no matter how good they were at baking bread, so I can't exactly blame her for declaring upfront that she'll keep her distance. It's still a bit, shall we say, “odd” to see our heroine smile at the creature comfort of a warm bed while a city sits in ruin just outside, but at least there's no lingering question of whether she should be doing something to save people.
I'd also be remiss not to mention the magic in this episode. Like Elaina's spar with Fran in episode one, the power on display throughout is both enchanting and intimidating. It's just plain adorable to see Elaina animating a workforce of stuffed animals to dig the pit trap for Mirarose's plan, so long as you don't think too long about where all those plushies came from. And good lord was it metal as all hell to see the elder witch lay into the monster with a sky full of swords. It's vicious, visceral, and in a scant few minutes sells the central reveal in ways I doubt text alone could ever muster. Along with the lavish backgrounds of the castle, the haunting atmosphere of the drifting ash within the city, and some remarkably well-integrated CG, the visuals of Wandering Witch remain unimpeachable.
Unfortunately the resolution to this story, if you can call it that, leaves a lot to be desired. Turns out Mirarose was the source of everything that happened within the city – turning her own father into a monster and driving him to devour his own citizenry as revenge for executing her commoner lover, erasing her own memories in the process, and leaving the instructions to exact her final vengeance – and while certainly a dark twist, it also brings up a lot of questions. Revenge is all well and...not good (you know what I mean), but her vengeance also slaughtered countless innocent lives who never wronged her. If she fell in love with a commoner, and he was executed for the crime of violating his station in the hierarchy of nobility, isn't it antithetical to kill all the other regular people in the city? That isn't inherently a flaw in the story, as it could maybe say something about the vicious nature of vengeance, but as-is that's all just unspoken subtext that the show doesn't capitalize on. In the end it mostly just paints the picture of a Royal Family of supervillains who destroyed everything around them, and now Mira gets to sit alone in her palace and wait for death. Also Elaina's narration insisting this was a “love story” for good or ill is just kinda...weird? Like you're not wrong kid, but that feels like describing Titanic as a story about the importance of taking swimming lessons – technically applicable but there's a lot of more important angles you could take on all this. You're getting like a B- on this book report, tops.
Having now sampled a good amount of Wandering Witch's darker stories, I feel confident saying that this show is better off playing with lower stakes and less heady morals. I'm not as down on these episodes as some, but I absolutely would prefer a return to the inaugural focus on character and whimsy over the bleaker fare. In both writing and visuals that just seems to be where this production's strengths lie, and I hope it figures that out sooner rather than later.
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