Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 03 – A Flower’s Fangs and the Cruelty of Kindness

This week chronicles two separate stories of Elaina’s travels, neither of which end remotely happily, indicating Wandering Witch won’t be content to ply us with bromides about the beauty of the world. It’s going to show us the good and the bad, and how the bad often wears a good cloak.

On the lighter side: This is the second straight ep that starts with Elaina asking the audience some version of “Who is that elegant stunning girl?…Why, it’s ME!!!” Later in the episode, a character praises her, and replies “You can praise me more if you like!” Our wandering witch is brimming with confidence, and I am here for it!

On to the meat of the story: Elaina first comes across a young woman in vast and gorgeous flower field. When asked if she tends the field, the woman says “no one can tend it”, which in hindsight was the first sign something was off. She asks Elaina to give a bouquet of flowers to someone in the next town—doesn’t matter who.

Elaina doesn’t get past the gate when she’s stopped, first by a hot-headed guard, then his superior, both of whom are wearing masks and demand she hand over the flowers. While they may be harmless to a witch, the blooms are poisonous and drive ordinary folk insane.

The younger guard recognizes the shawl the flowers were wrapped as belonging to his missing sister. When Elaina returns to the now dark and stormy field, she finds the brother there, covered in vines and being slowly digested beside his sister, who has already fully morphed into a plant.

Elaina wisely peaces the fuck out, but misses the worst of this story. The smoke from the burned bouquet apparently spreads to other townsfolk, who in turn become thralls to the predatory plant and spread the “gift” of lovely flower bouquets throughout the land.

There’s a harsh German children’s tale quality to this segment, warning one to beware of outward beauty, as it could one day enslave and kill you. Life-affirming this is not—but it is surprisingly powerful.

In the next segment, a young lad flags Elaina down to say hello. His name is Emil, who himself has been traveling about collecting scenes of happiness and converting them to magic he’s keeping in a bottle. He intends to give it as a gift to the girl he likes. First red flag? The girl in question is his servant.

Emil, the village chief’s son, invites Elaina to lunch, after which he’ll present the gift to the shy, gloomy Nino. But from the start it seems quite unlikely his gift will raise Nino’s spirits. During a painfully awkward few minutes with the father, Elaina learns she’s a slave he bought because she could do housework and would grow up to be a beauty.

The lunch is far larger and better than Elaina expected, but the village chief shows his true colors, and the typical dynamic of the household, when Emil surprises Nino and she drops a pitcher of water. The dad verbally abuses Nino and shoves her to the ground, and Nino adopts a desperate contriteness.

Elaina is able to deescalate the situation by magically repairing the pitcher (a very neat bit of CGI), but it’s long since time she was on her way. When Emil presents Nino with the bottle of happiness and they open it together, images of truly happy people wash over her vision, moving her to tears.

But they’re not tears of joy, and Nino certainly doesn’t cheer up afterwards. It isn’t until Elaina is back in the sky that she remembers the end of a similar story: when a man traveled the world capturing beautiful images to share with his bedridden wife, they only made her more depressed, and compelled her to eventually take her own life.

Neither we nor Elaina know if Nino will turn out that way, but she pointedly remarks that she doesn’t want to know. As with the flower siblings, she saw and heard all she needed to, and it was time to move on. This isn’t The Heroic Crusade of Elaina, it’s The Journey of Elaina.

That means accepting that the world is sometimes ugly and cruel and dark, there’s nothing you can do about it but move on and try to find something brighter over the horizon. While this episode was hardly comfort food, I applaud the show’s guts to “go there”, i.e. not make all of Elaina’s experiences whimsically wonderful…or even remotely pleasant.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s thoughts on the episode here.

Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan – 02

Rana warns Madera, who warns Rick and the baker girls that a powerful storm is coming. As they get up early to prepare and throughout the bread-selling day, they warn everyone they can. Airy helps a lonely girl whose mother is off shielding the orchards from the impending wind. When the storm hits, the weather is too rough, so Rick spends the night at the bakery. The next day the clouds disappear and Rick and the girls give Rana and her brother bread as thanks. A mysterious girl has washed up on the shore.

One thing this series has down is that it makes running a bakery seem like the most enjoyable, rewarding, noble profession one can have. If you make bread and you make it well, you’re going to make lots of money and friends. Especially friends, if you give the bread away, which they do a lot (the little kid gets free bread three times!) That said, it’s hard work and requires a vigorous schedule; Rick (voiced by a very chipper Mr. Despair) and the ladies are typically up before dawn and working until sundown. But it would seem to be worth it; their bakery is the talk of the town, all the more impressive considering Rick is relatively new to the trade.

One thing that irked us somewhat was how there was this constant dread of the coming storm hanging over the island – which we liked, especially as the skies got darker and drearier – but the storm itself really doesn’t seem like that big a deal. The rain and wind just look like a typical summer rainstorm to us, and there certainly wasn’t any damage done. It just feels like the storm hand was overplayed, and didn’t turn out to be the unprecedented calamity Rana warned about. However, it did do one thing: deposit a young lady on the beach who will undoubtedly shake things up next week.

Rating: 4 (Fair)

Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan – 01

Rick is a baker who works with his three friends Airy, Neris and Emil. His bread is the best in town and people come from all over to buy it up. When on an errand to buy ingredients, the group hews close to the border with the forboding Elven forest. After helping an injured selph, an elf admonishes them and rejects their offer of bread, angering Emil. Another, friendlier elf named Rana bids them forgive her icy brother, and gladly takes the bread. A red moon that hangs over the night sky portends a big storm ahead.

We’ll get this out of the way: we only broke open Shining Hearts on a whim. Before yesterday we’d never heard of the Shining franchise, or the PSP game upon which this series is based. We do know director Kawasaki Itsuro from one of his previous works: Chrome Shelled Regios, a manic series best described as dumb but entertaining. We definitely noticed some stylistic similarities. Unlike Regios, which started with a bang, Shining Hearts takes the quiet, deliberate, slice-of-life route to introduce us to the characters and setting, both of which came off as, well, a bit bland. The delicious-looking bread steals the show, as Rick (or Rikku) kind of just goes about his business.

His somewhat ridiculous harem conveniently consists of a blonde (also a nun), a brunette, and a redhead; unsurprisingly, the redhead is the fiery one. Rick lives on a beached ship, which is kinda cool. Their land is placid and green, not unlike Ireland, and the fantasy elements introduced include your standard elves (one affable, one aloof), a weird creature called a selph, and that portentious red moon. You could also count the bread, which may also have some kind of magical power (unless it’s just drugs). Neither an awful nor inspiring start – this is what 2.5 ratings were made for!

Rating: 4 (Fair)

Horse Cart Cameo:
A horse cart appears.
We don’t know the make or model.