Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina, Vol. 1

By Jougi Shiraishi and Azure. Released in Japan as “Majo no Tabitabi” by GA Novels. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Nicole Wilder.

I suspected going in, judging by the blurb, that this would be less a light novel and more of a short story collection, and I was mostly correct. Elaina is our protagonist, and we do learn bits and pieces about her as the book goes on, but it’s clear the main thrust of the series is “Elaina goes to [X], events happen, Elaina leaves [X]. Which is fine, as some of the stories are quite good. The publisher did a good job not just giving in and calling it “Elaina’s Journey”, because yes, this does remind the reader of a certain motorcycle-riding protagonist we all know. Elaina’s short stories are less concerned with a moral than Kino’s, though – in fact, some of the weaker stories in this book come from when it does seem to try to awkwardly hammer home a “deep down we’re all the same” sort of lesson to be learned. Fortunately, Elaina is not really the sort to take in valuable lessons. She just wants to walk around.

As the title implies, Elaina is a young witch who is wandering around her world, which is one where witches are known and tolerated in most countries, visiting cities, towns and villages to take in what they’re like. As she does this, some of the places she goes are very entertaining and funny; some are rather creepy and horrific; and some are designed to tell us more about Elaina herself – in both flashbacks and the present day – to show us how she got to be a witch and why she’s so dedicated to wandering around and not staying longer than three days (again, does this sound familiar, Kino fans?). The supporting cast is pretty much zero; there is a recurring gag about a muscle-headed brother searching for his sister that pops up a few times, but that’s less for the character development and more for the gag.

Elaina herself is somewhat dry and frosty; at times the book can feel like a tsukkomi wandering the world of bokes. She used to be worse – one of the better stories involves us meeting her teacher when Elaina was an apprentice, and having the arrogance stripped out of her. Now she’s helpful… sometimes despite herself… but still seems removed from events, never getting too emotionally involved. Several stories here do not have happy endings, or end on a sad or scary note; we see Elaina leaving the country on her broom and never looking back. In the final story of the book, where the present-day Elaina meets her old teacher, there are hints that there’s more to Elaina than meets the eye (I’m curious about her mom as well), and I suspect we may find out she’s more important than she makes herself out to be.

As you’d expect given the format, the book is quite variable; some stories hit hard, some miss entirely. And, as I’ve hinted in the review, you do get the sense that the publisher would have been better off just license rescuing Kino’s Journey instead. But Wandering Witch is certainly an interesting journey in the end, and I enjoy Elaina’s matter-of-fact, slightly smug narrative voice. I’ll be looking for more of this.

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