3 Episode Rule is a series in which I watch the first three episodes of a new anime and decide whether to stick with it or drop it based on those three episodes alone.
It’s that time once again, where we find ourselves knee-deep in the new anime season. It doesn’t seem like five minutes since 2020 started, and yet here we are; looking at the final full anime season of the year.
The previous two anime seasons fell kind of flat for me. I know that COVID crippled production within a lot of studios, affecting both the quantity and quality of the shows we got. So I’m really hoping this Autumn/Fall season is a step up from what else I’ve seen this year, because otherwise my end of year anime list is going to be a little bit flimsy come the time to write that.
Majo no Tabitabi, or Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina is cute little travel anime. One that actually actually left me curious about it by the time I finished its third episode. Watching it on Funimation, the show starts with power fantasy/Isekai style trappings; showing the titular character Elaina reading a book about a legendary witch called Nike (who I low-key think is Elaina’s mom) and wanting to emulate her.
From there she spends the next decade of her life studying hard to becoming the youngest ever Witch’s apprentice at the age of 14. The next step in her journey being to find a fully qualified Witch to take her under their wing and train her up into a fully fledged Witch. Something that’s turns out to me much more difficult than she initially anticipated as charming little terrace house after charming little terrace house end up slamming their doors in her face
The exact reason for which never really seems all that clear to me. Although I have my suspicions.
Eventually, she stumbles upon an eccentric Witch called Fran living out in the woods. Someone she easily convinces to takes her on, for her to treat her like a glorified housekeeper for six months without teaching her anything. Eventually culminating in Elaina finally biting back and a magical duel in the rain, one that shows Elaina just how far she has to go. Which has all been orchestrated to teach her a lesson. It’s weird. On multiple occasions in the first episode, Elaina finds herself in situations in which her mom seems to be actively trying to knock her down a peg.
Because she has an ego problem or something I guess? Aside from a single passing line from her, I never got the sense Elaina was super arrogant or anything. The duel is the turning point in which Fran starts teaching Elaina in earnest. Which seems like as good a place as any to point how how great the art in this show it. The environments in this show are so pretty, having this painterly look to them inspired by quaint little continental towns.
What really knocked my socks off though was when the action scene kicked in. It really took me by surprise. The magic itself is mostly CGI generated and it looks great, coupled with the super dynamic camera angles used throughout the duel scene. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting it from what had otherwise been a light a fluffy show. It reminded me of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which had this absurdly well animated (and brief) action sequences.
After four years of training, Elania is signed off as the full “Ashen Witch”, and begins her journey travelling the world. With her mother once again telling her she isn’t special and shouldn’t pretend she’s better than anyone else. Weird lady. Maybe talking from experience?
It’s from here the series regular format becomes more apparent. Starting an episode with Elaina dictating what she’s writing in her journal as she introduces us to some new element of this world of magic and Witches. At this point I felt like I had a pretty strong handle on what kind of show this was going to be, with the second episode fulfilling the travel series tone and theme to the premise. It’s the third episode that really piqued my curiosity though. I’ll explain why:
The second episode shows Elaina visiting a mage town and meeting a young girl training to become a Witch’s apprentice, and who convinces Elaina to train her a little while looking for her lost Witch’s Symbol. We see Elaina emulating the teaching methods of her own teacher, helping this girl get better at magic and also something to terms with some personal issues plaguing her, which turn out to be the real thing holding her back from passing he apprentice exam. Things take a turn for the unexpected though with the third episode, splitting the episode into two, individually titles stories.
In the first, Elaina stumbles upon a vast field of flowers and is gifted some by a beautiful young woman within it. It’s when she arrives at the next town that the guards inform her that the flowers are cured, and if non magical people smell them, they become beguiled by their scent. They lose their minds and return to the field to become plants themselves, consumed by the cursed plants. ending on a scene of plant zombies approaching the town The second part shows Elaina meeting the son of a small village’s chief who is in love with their house’s servant girl.
The girl herself is a sweet, downtrodden little thing. Who is a victim of abuse by the chief and is revealed to be a slave with no real future to speak of. The well-meaning but clueless son tries to do things to help her, but ultimately only ends up exacerbating the tragedy of the girl’s situation, drawing parallels to a folklore tale in which a woman in a similar position to her ended up killing herself. Both stories end on much darker tones than I was expecting from this series.
Within them, Elaina seems like little more than an observing party, stumbling into the story while in progress. She comes to understand the gist of what’s going on before continuing on with her journey, leaving the story mostly unresolved. Because in the end, it’s not her story to insert herself into. Which is a super interesting take for me, trusting her almost like a documentary maker who doesn’t want to involve herself into the events she’s covering. Although she leaves before the results of these stories can be outright stated, leaving it up to the audience’s interpretation.
It’s the tone and content of this third episode that really drew me into the show, more so than the rather generic fantasy travel anime that the first two episodes where painting the show as. There was a dark folklore feel to it all, like a visual representation of a cautionary tale or something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. As both stories told in the third episode have this underlying dread to them, ending on a more grim note than the bright and cheery tone of the first two episodes.
Verdict: I’m going to give it a few more to see how the dust settles
I get the feeling the tone of the third episode is more of an anomalous story in comparison to the kind of stories this show will spend most of its time telling. But I would like to see where it ends up regardless, the idea of Elaina as this observer, passing through and chronicling the things she sees in her journal, rather than inserting herself into situations seems more appealing to me. But I don’t really think that’s the direction this is going to end up going.
The show itself has some great art and the one action scene it has shown so far was mighty impressive. Elaina herself is a nice, if inoffensive main character. I have the feeling the series is going to so somewhere with her eventually, seeing as her mother made a point to quash her ego in the first episode. That, plus the opening narration to the following episodes has Elaina introducing herself in a somewhat boastful fashion. She also seems to fantasise about people treating her like royalty wherever she goes simply because she’s a Witch.
However, when she’s actually interacting with people; she’s a sweet and earnest young woman. So I have to imagine that will become a story element down the road. This is the first anime of the season I’ve watched, so I saying this with no basis for comparison, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of this show so far and have higher hopes for this anime season already.
I’m intrigued to see if it continues down the slightly darker tonal road the third episode did or if that was a lone departure before we return to the lighter and fluffier usual events.