Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 11 – Love is In the Air

Elaina arrives in Qunorts to find that the Curio Company from the Niké stories has been revived. Townsfolk say mages are once again at risk, so she dresses like an ordinary, non-magical traveler to avoid any hassle. However, it’s because she appears to be a random NPC that she is targeted by Curio.

Specifically, Curio’s aged leader shoots both Elaina and the newly-arrived Saya with balls of magical dust that cause them to swap bodies. Elaina opens the mystery box Saya was delivering on behalf of the Association, and a massive cloud of love potion spreads across the town, causing the complex situation of Saya’s little sister Mina falling madly in love with Saya while Elaina is in Saya’s body.

Much hilarity ensues, and both Hondo Kaede and Kurosawa Tomoyo demonstrate their talent by wonderfully mimicking the voice styles of Saya and Elaina while in opposite bodies. Having been caught in the love cloud while looking at the reflection of Elaina, Saya is even more in love with her senpai, while Elaina in Saya’s body is decidedly Not Amused.

Fortunately, the Curio Company’s grand plan was as sloppy as it was dependent on numerous suppositions to succeed, and because Elaina is a witch, she and Saya have no problem rounding up the company before they can cause too much damage. When the captured leader gloats about dozens of her cohorts still out there, Fran and Sheila finally make their appearance, having mopped up the remaining bandits.

The love potion is returned to the box, while Elaina, Saya, and Mina eventually return to normal. Sheila reveals she’s Mina’s teacher too, and the one who forced Mina and Saya apart lest they fall into a codependent spiral. Saya for one is glad Mina loves her so much, while an embarrassed Mina would prefer if the subject were changed.

One subject that doesn’t come up is whether Elaina is aware that Niké and her mother are one and the same. This latest adventure in Qunorts should have provided all the clues she’d need to make that determination, yet when the four witches part ways, she remains coy about the revelation. Elaina promises Fran that she’ll return home to see her parents at some point, but as Niké had five volumes of adventures, she remains committed to writing at least six of her own.

That means a lot more traveling and a lot more situations, both fun and trying. As to the latter kind, I was disappointed but not particularly surprised the show swept her time travel trauma under the rug. In its place  was another fun and hopeful outing. Her closing monologue and broom ride into the sunset felt like the end of this particular volume with one episode to go, while hinting at the possibility of a second cour—something to which I certainly wouldn’t be opposed!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 10 – Meeting in the Middle

Journey of Elaina takes a break from Elaina’s journey to tell the story of her teacher Fran and Saya’s teacher, Sheila. Both were apprentices of Niké, who no doubt decided each of them could benefit from each others’ unique qualities.

Fran is your typical quiet, dignified, by-the-book “teacher’s pet”, while Sheila is the mage equivalent of a delinquent, complete with blond hair and twisted scowl. She’s always smoking a cigarette, and her gaudy broom is souped-up like a Yankee bike, complete with fancy lights and a two-strok burble.

Hanazawa Kana and Hikasa Yoko demonstrate how adept they are at voicing younger versions of Fran and Sheila, and it’s a lot of fun watching them bounce off each other like oil and vinegar while Niké serenely smiles between them. I particularly like how Fran starts imitating Sheila’s combative “Huh?!” with a “Huh” of her own!

The trio arrives in Qunorts, Town of Freedom, for an Association job, and like Elaina, Niké is primarily concerned with what the job pays (like mother like daughter!). The job is to take care of the non-magical Curio Company, which has been tricking and embarrassing the town’s mages with “mysterious tools.”

Niké, who has tolerated her students’ bickering to this point, now calls upon them to work together to take Curio down. If either or both of them fail, she’ll expel them from her instruction. Naturally, Fran and Sheila try to use the job as an opportunity to sabotage one another so they’ll be rid of each other.

Because they start out working at cross purposes, the Curio Company problem only grows, and their leader calls Fran out in a cafe that turns out to be full of her loyal subordinates. Fran is captured, and finds that Sheila has also been captured. If they’re going to escape expulsion (and, incidentally, beheading) they know they’ll have to work together.

Either the mages of Qunorts must not have been much to write home about, or Fran and Sheila are particularly gifted mages, because they’re able to deal with Curio all at once without much difficulty, and with much style and flair. Turns out both of them let themselves get captured to spare them the effort of tracking their targets down one by one.

Once Curio is dealt with, the two have a rest and each explain why they wanted Niké to teach them. Sheila was a street urchin unaware of witches who one day stole from Niké, and saw an opportunity to right the wrong path of her life. Sheila sought to become the first witch in her country, thus securing a steady job and source of income.

Both realize that because self-interest was their motivator, they have a lot more in common than they thought. Shortly thereafter, Niké makes them official Witches and names them Stardust and Night, with the implication that they complement one another perfectly.

After a rough start to their relationship when they were constantly clashing, Fran and Sheila became friends, which they remain to this day such that they still go on annual vacations together. Only because the box Sheila instructed Saya to take to Qunorts was the same box the Curio Company had, Sheila decides to put their vacay on hold, and Fran follows.

At roughly the same time, Elaina, who is either completely over her crisis of confidence or doing a good job suppressing her trauma from the time traveling ordeal, is headed to Qunorts as well. That means next week could feature Elaina, Saya, Fran and Sheila in the same place at the same time. That’s something I can get on board with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

For more on Wandering Witch episode 10, read Crow’s review here.

Arte – 12 (Fin) – The Firenze She Made Along the Way

Matei pays a visit to Arte to apologize for his rude comments. Especially once he sees her gorgeous portrait of Lady Sofia, he admits to harboring an “ugly jealousy.” Arte replies that if his jealousy is ugly, the jealousy she’s had for male artisans is ugly too. He urges her to always treasure the talent that comes from her unique position, and to continue to cultivate it.

Matei helps Arte realize that she has unique talent and value as a female noble artist, and she doesn’t want to become tied down by a patron just yet. On top of that there’s much she still wants to learn from Leo, so she turns Yuri down and prepares to return to Florence. Yuri respects and even admires her decision; she and Katarina leave on good terms as well, committing to being friends from now on and vowing to write one another.

Upon returning to Florence, Arte finds Leo’s workshop empty. Darcia informs her that he’s come down with a fever and is resting at Ubertino’s house. Ubertino believes Leo will be fine, but is more concerned with the fact the ceiling mural he started won’t be finished by the Easter deadline. As a member of Leo’s workship and with Ubertino’s approval, Arte rolls up her sleeves and vows to complete the ceiling herself.

When the timeline proves impossible for any one person and Arte nearly collapses from exhaustion, Angelo steps in to assist with the painting while Darcia resolves to keep them fed and healthy. Eventually a group of other apprentices Arte has met and befriended join the team. With all the extra manpower the ceiling is completed on time.

Leo and Arte don’t end up meeting until the mural is unveiled, and while her “light calculations” are still in need of some seasoning, he’s nevertheless grateful for her help. When he asks why she came back, Arte says she wants to paint paintings that encourage people, like the triptych of the Virgin Mary encouraged her while she was in Venice. Leo’s glad to have her back, even if he’ll have to get used to the extra noise and energy all over again.

Finally, Arte’s mother accepts an invitation to the unveiling, and shows that she’s big enough to admit when she was wrong. She was sure that despite her late husband’s encouragement, a woman only had two paths: marriage or the convent. Arte proved she could forge her own path, but she didn’t do it alone, and made sure to honor everyone in her life—including her parents—who aided her in her journey by painting them into the mural (in heroic garb, of course).

It’s a touching gesture, and a fitting end for an anime with a lovable heroine in a very unconventional time period and setting, but a timeless message: Believe in yourself and your abilities, work your ass off, rely on friends and allies when needed, and you’ll eventually convince the skeptics and soar to success. Brava, Arte!

Arte – 11 – Crossroads

Having made excellent progress with Katarina, Arte gets back to the official reason for coming to Venice: Lady Sofia’s portrait. Arte also paints a portrait of Katarina, and accompanies her to the workshop to learn more about artisans first-hand.

While there, the apprentice Matei states that he “envies” Arte for being an educated noblewoman and an artist, and when she sees his battered hands, this compels her to step up her work considerably. Aside from her modeling sessions during her portrait, Katarina never sees Arte.

She stays up all night sketching and studying, not eating any the food Daphne brings. After being told she was the wrong gender for the world of artisans, suddenly hearing the opposite lights a fire under her.

As one would imagine, this eventually catches up to Arte, and sure enough Daphne and Katarina find her passed out from overwork and exhaustion. For this, Yuri gives her a very stern, businesslike talking-to that amounts to “I don’t care about your problems, don’t make my niece cry again.”

She eventually recovers and finishes Katarina’s portrait, and Kat is so bowled over by its quality she rushes back to the workshop to show Matei that Arte isn’t just an educated noblewoman who paints, but an immensely talented artist in her own right.

After meeting with Matei Arte must’ve thought she wasn’t dedicating enough time to art and was wasting her privilege. Of course, that’s rubbish! We’ve seen Arte work till she literally vomits; no one, including herself, can call her a loafer or coaster.

Both Arte and Leo also have moments this week when they truly miss each other (though Leo puts up a stoic front as always). Presumably Arte will return to Venice, but then again, perhaps not: Yuri offers to be her full-time patron going forward if she remains in Venice permanently.

That means a steady wage and a comfortable life, neither of which any woman of any station can take for granted in these times. If Yuri and his sister-in-law are satisfied with her portraits, perhaps there’s nothing more Leo can teach her she hasn’t already learned during her solo time in Venice.

We know Katarina doesn’t want her to go, but what does Arte want? Is her personal and professional bond with Leo worth declining a potentially once-in-a-lifetime offer? (Leo would probably say no way.) Yuri gives her until she finishes Sofia’s portrait to decide. I wonder which path she’ll choose!

Arte – 10 – For Her Sake

When Katarina invites Arte to a meal, it’s more than just servants preparing everything for them. Katarina is in the middle of everything, working hard with the help, and not thinking of them as mere servants. Arte’s never seen her more happy. What gets Katarina down is the prospect of returning home to her parents’ house, which has never felt like home to her, so how can she be happy there?

A large part of that unhappiness stems from Katarina’s disgust for the nobility’s inclination towards always wanting there to be a clear difference between themselves and poorer levels of society. Her egalitarian attitude was developed by osmosis when she was raised far from Venice by her wet nurse Buona, who had a son Gimo with whom Katarina was close. When Buona suddenly died (as people did with far more regularity back then) she was thrust back to Venice, separated from the only home and family she knew to that point.

Yuri tells her about Katarina’s past in order to contextualize his opinion on the matter: Katarina finding her happiness depends on her ability to accept that she’s in the place she’s supposed to be, where that happiness is to be found, and that moving forward is the only way to find it. Even so, Arte can tell there’s a serious lack of closure, so she offers to take Katarina to see Gimo.

As Arte observes how both Katarina’s parents and servants act around her, it becomes clear that no one is really looking at the girl. When she overhears Malta complaining about how expensive her dowry’s going to be, and Sofia not challenging him, Arte recalls how her own parents argued spiritedly about her. The difference is, while they disagreed on the details, they were arguing for her sake.

Yuri tells Arte that Gimo is on Murano Island, and maintains his utmost faith not in her, but in his decision to choose her. It’s an interesting distinction, but Yuri didn’t become the rich and successful person he is by doubting his instincts.

On the island, Gimo regards Katarina coldly, but mostly out of deference to his mother Buona, who told him he couldn’t have any more contact with Katarina, since she was a noble. Their being a family was a beautiful dream, but that’s over.

Gimo tells her that there are times when he has to do things he doesn’t like, but because he was able to face forward properly and move on, he knows Katarina can do the same. When she does, he’ll look forward to welcoming her back with a smile.

Upon returning to Venice, Katarina ends up in bed sick for three days, and Arte is dismissed by Malta for failing to live up to her expectations. However, Katarina appears before her parents, performs all the requisite aristocratic gestures perfectly, and begs them not to fire Arte.

While Malta and Sofia are shocked to see their daughter behaving so properly, Malta still bristles at the idea of changing his mind, until Sofia, her hands trembling, speaks up and offers her opinion to her husband for the first time, agreeing that for Katarina’s sake, keeping Arte around is best.

Katarina’s home was a house of closed hearts, but thanks to Arte’s sentiments on doing things for someone’s sake, Sofia and Katarina’s hearts are now open. Like Arte, Katarina is a modern young woman with modern ideas, and they’re steadily learning together the ways to strike a balance between their modern values and the customs and obligations of their class.

Arte – 09 – The Tiny Gourmet

Katarina proves to be a handful to Arte, who is still disoriented by Venice, where not only do people dress differently but the very air she breathes smells different. While Arte received a crash course in Venetian etiquette from Yuri, to her shock Katarina is actually exemplary at etiquette; she simply chooses not to demonstrate it in public—or to her parents—because it’s “such a pain” and she’d rather spend her time napping.

Arte’s new servant friend Daphne tells her all the other tutors quit because of Katarina’s lousy attitude. Yuri admitted to Arte that painters are “a dime a dozen” in Venice, so she must assume he hired her more for her potential as a tutor to Katarina. But what does she, Arte, bring to the table that’s new?

Arte finds herself thinking and worrying so much about her fitness as a tutor that she gets pains in her stomach. But when Daphne takes her to a church so she can see and sketch the wonderful works housed therein, she’s approached by a couple men who praise her work then mock Florence for stooping to letting girls be artisans.

Much to Daphne’s shock, Arte not only takes their mocking in stride, but laughs about it. Those misogynist pricks showed her that not everything in Venice is different, and she’s not any different than the young woman who overcame overwhelming odds in Florence. She just needs to do her best here, like she’s always done. Doubt and anxiety won’t serve her.

The next day, Arte dithes the local garb and dons her workshop frock, which itself surprises Katarina. But part of Arte’s new wardrobe also meant removing the kid gloves: when Katarina tries to nod off, Arte plucks her out of bed and parks her in a chair, and in that chair she stays until she explains why she won’t practice the etiquette she knows in public.

She refuses, but Arte isn’t about to be discouraged now that she’s regained her confidence. She’s dealt with greater challenges in the past, and in a battle of wills between Arte and Katarina, I simply can’t bet against Arte.

That night, Arte makes a crude dress for Katarina to play in, and destroys a barrel so that they can go hoop rolling together, something at which Katarina is already an old hand. While this shows the girl that Arte can let loose and have fun, she can still smell her ulterior motive, and so her lips remain tight despite having had a genuinely good time.

Katarina’s mother Sofia tells Arte how her husband never wanted a daughter, and how all of her upbringing was to ensure she wouldn’t embarrass the family prior to being married off. Sofia believes that’s the reason Katarina hasn’t opened her heart to anyone in the house.

That night Arte visits Katarina’s room, having seen her light on late at night, and discovers her deep, dark secret, hinted at before: Katarina has a passion for cooking, deemed a job for lowly servants. Arte tries to reach out, but Katarina assumes she’ll rat her out, and demands that she leave at once.

The next day we see that Katarina has opened her heart to someone; namely her uncle Yuri, who unlike her father doesn’t see her as a burden to be married off, but a treasure whose passions should be nurtured. You can tell how close they are by the fact they’re cooking together without a care in the world…only Katarina is certain this will be the last time they do so.

Alas, when she returns home and her parents don’t broach the sore subject, it’s clear Arte didn’t snitch. Arte assures her she didn’t come to take what she likes away from her. Hell, she can relate to how Katarina feels, since her own mother burned her drawings.

Now that Katarina knows Arte is Good People, she’s willing to open her heart a bit when Arte joins her for dinner, when we’ll surely learn more about her “complicated past.” Until then, Arte’s basic decency, kindness, empathy, and determination—not to mention brute strength—contributed to coax Katarina into lowering her defenses. I came away from this episode liking both of them more!

Arte – 08 – Finding Her Footing

After assuring Angelo and Darcia that she’ll be back, Arte prepares to step into Yuri’s wagon and the next chapter of her life. Before she does, Leo impresses upon her the importance of using that chapter to think more seriously on how she wants to make her way in the world, and whether that aligns with her continued apprenticeship with him.

Arte is certainly excited by her impending adventure, but can’t hide the worry in her face. Was she only ever holding Leo back from his work? Would he prefer if she didn’t return? Matters aren’t helped when Yuri presents her a portable altarpiece Leo told him to give to her, and she can’t help but see it as a parting gift.

One little check back on Leo sitting alone in his workshop makes it clear he’s become accustomed enough to Arte that’s it’s suddenly “too quiet” for him. Once on a boat to Venice, Arte is impressed by everyone else’s ability to not only stand and walk steadily on the heaving deck, but spar on it as well.

Alas, Arte finds herself on unsteady footing both physically and emotionally, as she can’t stop thinking in circles about Leo. That’s when she forgets she’s on a boat, where everyone must be responsible for their personal safety, gets up too fast, gets woozy, and falls overboard.

She wakes up warm and dry, in new clothes Yuri and his servant put on her (though Yuri assures her he has “no interest” of that kind young girls like her), and Yuri reveals he’s known Arte has been worried about having been a burden to Leo, but finds her so fascinating to watch that he let her be.

While that almost resulted in her accidental drowning, Yuri tells Arte that she worries needlessly. Leo didn’t discourage her from returning beacause she’s in his way, but because he might be in her way. As a noblewoman, she’ll have more opportunities (like this one) that he didn’t as a former beggar, and that she shouldn’t overlook them out of deference to him.

When the boat arrives in Venice, Arte is overwhelmed and delighted by all the new sights and sounds, the diversity of people all over the world—and how good Venetians are at balancing on boats! She’s also wowed by Yuri’s impressive collection of Oriental objets d’arte

While there’s a lot of exciting new things for her to see, Arte shows Venice some new things too, like a noblewoman carrying a heavy chest up four flights, or shaking the hand of a handmaiden while politely declining her service. She projects modernity and confidence even a former tutor warns her that Yuri’s niece is “unmanagable.”

When Arte finally meets Yuri’s sister-in-law Sofia, she can’t help but agree with his belief that she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her daughter Katarina is equally striking, like a delicate shy fine doll hiding behind her mother’s skirt. But she’s only shy when Sofia and Yuri are around.

Once it’s just her and Arte, Katarina reveals her true willful nature, haughtily reproaching Arte for her unrefined activities since arriving and expressing much doubt she’ll be any different from the previous tutors. Having heard all she cares to know about Arte, Katarina curls up for a nap, warning Arte not to wake her.

Looks like her usual method of simply being nice and friendly ain’t gonna cut it for Arte. She may now be on (relatively) dry land, but finding her footing with this young lady may prove far tougher than lugging heavy loads up four flights!

Arte – 07 – Opportunity Knocks

Despite the fact she’s surely busy with her apprenticing duties, Arte still finds the time to teach Darcia, a young woman she recently met, how to read and write. It’s an example of how Arte is paying forward the advantages she has as a woman of noble birth.

The other side of that is that noblemen like Yuri Falier from Venice are quick to kiss her on the hand to introduce himself. Yuri has a proposal for her: he wants her to travel back to Venice, become his family’s official portrait artist, and become a tutor for his niece, who is also an independent woman.

After sleeping on it, Arte decides to respectfully refuse Yuri’s offer. She’s simply not sure she’s learned enough to jump right into being a full-time artisan and tutor, and more to the point doesn’t feel right leaving Leo alone (Leo for his part, says it’s Arte’s choice to make).

Arte also meets Ruthanna, the daughter of Leo’s master who is very pregnant, but whose husband recently died, and his family won’t return her dowry, leaving her in serious financial trouble. After a cordial reunion with Leo, she doesn’t tell Leo the truth, but she does tell Arte.

Since legal matters are hardly her forte, Arte comes to Veronica for advice.  Veronica basically tells her that in lieu of her husband, Ruthanna needs someone of sufficient status and authority to serve as a proxy and pursue her interests.

Being a widow, Ruthanna has no leverage with her late husband’s family, who don’t care what happens to her or her child. Fortunately, she has Arte, who recently turned down work from someone with ample status and authority!

Arte revisits Yuri (who was already deep in preparations for an “offensive” to win her over anyway, the rascal), and reverses her decision. She’ll work for him, but only three months (negotiated to six). In exchange, he’ll help Ruthanna with her affairs (and he quickly comes through), and agrees that she’ll be able to return to Leo’s workshop when the period is up (though he won’t rule out an extension).

Similarly, Arte agrees to work not as an independent artisan, but as a representative of Leo’s workshop. After seven weeks in Florence, looks like Arte is headed for the picturesque canals of Venezia, where she’s been given an opportunity few men of her day ever got, as well as the opportunity to educate and possibly befriend a fellow strong-willed young woman in Yuri’s niece. She’s approaching all of this in good faith; here’s hoping Yuri does the same…no funny business!

Arte – 06 – Football and Frescoes

This week’s Arte was heavy on the history lessons, as the episode depicted the funeral of a master, handled by the guild. The guild also finds new masters for his apprentices, settles his various other financial affairs, and chips in for the family who survived him.

After the funeral, Arte witnesses a game of Calcio Florentino, a violent early version of football. One of the players notices Arte and is insulted by her presence, but Angelo defends her, saying she’s one of them. Other men come to Arte’s defense, the game turns into a brawl, and Arte gets smacked in the face with the ball.

Fortunately she’s fine, but it is evident at all levels of society that Florence is in a “slump”. In their post-funeral guild meeting, many masters voice their objection to Leo’s taking in of a female apprentice, fearing that an element such as she that divides the apprentices can’t be good.

When Leo comes home with a large bag, I was worried he was ordered to fire her, and it was severance. Instead, they decided to allow Leo to keep Arte, provided the two participate in a huge fresco-painting project in a grand hall. Arte is excited to be a part of it, but faces the usual sexism.

Leo is intentionally harsh on Arte so none of the men think he’s giving her special treatment because she’s a woman. They watch her toil (and in one instance, has to go vomit from overwork) without complaint—with a smile—despite taking on a workload with which even they confess they’d have trouble.

Arte’s hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. Guild Master Aroldo praises Leo on having found a hardworking apprentice any master would want: someone who believes in them and is always trying to keep up. She reminds him of a young Leo, and later admits he may have been selling her too short.

Arte continues to win hearts and minds, including the apprentice who most objected to her presence. When she asks if she can join a game of calcio, he agrees, and the game is on. It’s not the first sport I would choose to play after several consecutive nights of collapsing from exhaustion…but hey, have at it Arte!

We’re then introduced to the fancy Venetian lord, Yuri Falier, who comes to inspect the frescoes so far. His eyes immediately go to Arte’s practice sketches, and he admires their soft, clean lines in contrast to the rougher sketches of the other apprentices. Looks like Arte might have another new patron waiting in the wings.