Yuru Camp△ 2 – 12 – Crossing the Rubi-tombolo

Yuru Camp takes a quick look back at when Nadeshiko was saying a tearful goodbye to her best friend Ayano; and I agree with the commenter that Kurosawa Tomoyo is a perfect voice to match Aya-chan’s personality—I just wish Kurosawa voiced a main character! Aya assures Nadeshiko that she’ll make new friends (which she does) and says that once she’s in a new place, she should try a new thing.

That new thing turns out to be camping up an absolute storm, culminating in this latest group trip to the geospot and lookout-packed Izu peninsula. After a refreshing breakfast of sashimi rice bowls, the group heads to Dougashima and the famed tombolo of Sanshiroujima. Akari is heartbroken to learn, her big sis was having her on; “tombolo” isn’t food, but the sandy bridge between islands that appears during low tide.

Removing their boots and braving the frigid waters, the group crosses the shallows and explores the island before the tide comes in. Nadeshiko thinks this would be a perfect spot to visit in the summer when the water is warm enough to swim in, leading to what I believe is the series’ very first cutaway to the girls in swimsuits.

From there, Rin takes point in her 30km/h moped for the drive along the glorious Nishiizu Skyline to their campsite. I can’t help but recall a similar drive I took up Mount Evans, on the highest paved road in North America. Evans is 2km taller than Fuji-san, so you can imagine words will hardly do the majesty of the scenery justice. It truly is, as Rin says, like driving in the sky.

Once they arrive at the Daruma Forest Campsite on the Darumayama highland, Aki, Rin and Ena start prepping for dinner early, while Akari leads the birthday girls Nadeshiko and Aoi away to check out the baths near Cape Mihama (which is sometimes mistaken for Cape Ose). To Akari’s shock, they already know a birthday meal is being prepared, since Aki specifically told Aoi that back at school, and their grocery shopping included things like whipped cream.

But even though it’s not a complete surprise, Nadeshiko and Aoi are still delighted by the celebration prepared by the others, who go all-out with decorations, a (pancake-based) cake, and the gift of durable and easy-to-maintain wooden cooking pans.

A suitably sumptuous feast of shrimp and tomato risotto awaits, made with spiny lobster broth and made extra-shrimpy by the addition of a highly-concentrated shrimp sauce. While Toba-sensei is enjoying the snacks the girls prepared to go with her booze, she gets a call from her Ryouko, who is herself solo camping much closer to Fuji-san out of her sister’s Suzuki Hustler.

Ryouko can tell her sister isn’t that drunk (yet) and congratulates her for being a good advisor. Minami admits she “wasn’t too keen” on becoming one at first due to the time it took up, but watching her students growing up before her eyes, she totally gets the appeal now!

With everyone now on the same sleep clock, the girls eschew movies and head to bed early so they can get up in time to watch the sun rise from the peak of Duramayama. The extra 500-meter climb nearly kills Aki all over again, but Rin and Nadeshiko reach the top first with time to spare, and Nade prepares instant miso soup with more of the spiny lobster broth, telling Rin the shell can be used more than once and even ground down into powder for future use.

While Toba-sensei stays in the van with a still-sleeping Akari, Aki, Aoi and Ena join Nadeshiko and Rin at the top, and the three formally bow and thank Rin for saving them. They also intend to visit the Iidas to properly thank them (and play with their adorable Corgi, Choko).

Then that sun rises and begins to bathe the landscape in its warm, silky light, rewarding the girls for their effort. Did I mention that shortly after starting this show I’ve started getting up early to watch the sunrise? There’s really nothing quite like that light. Yuru Camp isn’t just about immersing yourself in its warm and fuzzy therapeutic goodness, but inspiring you to get out there and give something new a try, as Aya urged Nadeshiko to do.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 12 (Fin) – The Multitudes of Me

Elaina’s final trip takes her to the suspiciously foggy “Country That Makes Your Wishes Come True”. Elaina enters the country wishing to become rich, and is utterly mystified when she happens upon a landscape comprised of all of the places from her travels thus far.

Things get even stranger when she enters Mirarosé’s palace to find no less than fifteen alternate versions of herself. Some of them represent individual personality traits she possesses, while others are just random like the gel and ghoul versions.

Hondo Kaede has a blast voicing all these different one-note versions of Elaina, but I have to admit…it’s all a bit much. The intros were fun, but the gimmick wore quickly. This wasn’t one of those dreaded Recap finales, but it did borrow elements from the previous episodes, without adding much new or compelling, which gave it the sheen of a recap.

Deemed “Protagonist Me” by her intellectual version, Elaina sits down on the throne and orders the others to go out and investigate, but all of a sudden the “Violent Me” everyone else had been avoiding bursts into the palace.

Violent Me’s hair is still short from being cut by the ripper, as apparently she never emotionally recovered from the events at the town with the clock tower. All the other versions kind of hang around while the Protagonist and Violent Elainas fight to a draw (as expected).

Only when both are completely exhausted of magic and can no longer fight does Elaina try to calmly discuss things with her violent self. While we heard Elaina wish to become “rich” back in the beginning, it seems the country interpreted that as becoming rich with different “experiences”.

As such, all of the versions Elaina has now encountered represent different paths and possibilities available to her on her journeys. She also believes her other selves wished for the same thing, which brought them all together to pool their stories into a single book: Wandering Witch.

Elaina then wakes up in a meadow; the whole ordeal with her versions was just an elaborate dream. She hops back on her broom and continues her travels, cognizant of and excited for all of the possibilities and choices those travels will present.

In an epilogue that seems to preview a second cour of Elaina I’m not sure it earned, Elaina (in plain clothes) bumps into someone with similarly ashen hair but green eyes. They’re both holding red books, and when they bump into each other, those books get switched. This person’s name is apparently “Amnesia.” Um…alright then!

It’s a curious yet also fitting way to end a show that was never quite sure what it wanted to be: episodic or serialized; lighthearted and comedic or dark and dramatic. It started strongly and had a couple of powerful episodes, but that lack of decisiveness and focus in the stories it wished to tell ultimately dulled its impact.

Read Crow’s episode 12 review here!

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 – 08 – The Dollmaker

I already adored Elaina, but now I have one more reason to love her: she’s as creeped out by dolls as I am! And, I imagine, most people? Who really wants dozens of tiny figures staring at you from a shelf? To each their own; I just feel like that’s a bit odd!

Despite the propensity of creepy dolls in this nation, Elaina sticks around, and learns from a fellow Witch, Sheila, that someone known as the “Ripper” has been going along “taking the lives” of women. Elaina also enters a store run by a kooky, sleep-deprived dollmaker who is also the world’s worst ventriloquist. Even though she’s giving the dolls away, Elaina would rather not take one.

She asks Elaina to look out, and Elaina being Elaina, she doesn’t commit to anything; you gotta admire her devotion to her independence. However, after stowing the doll in her hotel room in a closet so it won’t stare at her in the night, Elaina wakes up to find she’s the latest victim of the Ripper. Going by the adage “hair is a woman’s life”, the Ripper took her “life!”

A furious Elaina brings in Sheila, who is the second statuesque woman in as many weeks to declare Elaina “thin”, adding insult to injury. They discover the hotel room doll is gone and only its hair remains in the closet. Makee no mistake: Elaina is pissed that her ashen locks have been chopped, and she openly wishes the death penalty on whomever’s responsible!

After Shiela interrogates the innkeeper, she and Elaina learn that high-quality dolls with human hair are often sold at a late night “secret auction” in the city. The two dress the part, complete with masks, to indicate that they belong among those who “look like they’re doing something they shouldn’t”.

The auction turns out to be full of what I would call hardcore dolltakus—people harboring an obsession for dolls Elaina simply doesn’t get, even though she herself is pretty doll-like and she’s pretty in love with herself! That’s not a bad thing at all, mind you; just an observation!

When the lot comes up in which a doll looking like the one in her hotel is sporting her ashen hair, Elaina puts an end to the auction…with her wand. She takes the stage, rips it’s head off and stomps on it, demanding the Ripper to show themselves. She’s not fuckin’ around.

The Ripper turns out to be…the kooky dollmaker, because DUH. She also proves to be far kookier than I imagined, as she seems to basically get off on strong facial expressions, be they happiness, sadness, or anger. Yes, she makes a profit with the auction, but she gives all the money to charity.

That’s nice, but it doesn’t move Elaina in the least, so she conjures a giant golden birdcage with which Sheila can deliver her to the Magic Association. Also, as I suspected, Elaina doesn’t stick with her new bob cut, as she’s able to use magic to restore her hair to its original length. She also still maintains the Ripper deserved the death penalty.

When Sheila arrives at the UMA branch with her prisoner, she’s approached by Saya, and that’s when we learn Sheila has been Saya’s mentor all this time. When Sheila describes the traveling witch she met as having ashen hair and a dolphin brooch, Saya unilaterally takes over the Ripper’s interrogation, inadvertently making a face that causes the dollmaker to cry out in ecstasy. Alrighty then!

Read Crow’s review of episode 8 here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 07 – Walls Were Meant to Fall

Elaina fondly remembers a story from the Travels of Niké about a country separated into two halves by a wall. She shows the chiefs on both sides how to market themselves as the superior side: by having tourists and visitors etch their praise into the wall with blades.

Seeing Niké in this flashback resembles Elaina, I’m inclined to consider it further evidence her mom and Niké were one and the same, especially as her mom encourages Elaina to visit the country to find out who won the contest.

The thing is, over a decade later it’s Saya who makes it to this split country before Elaina. By then the outer coating of the wall has been weathered away by tourist praise, but the chiefs want to shake things up. Saya ends up etching her undying love for Elaina into the wall, and suggests that the townsfolk on both sides should do the same…it’s their wall, after all!

A little later, Elaina finally arrives, eager to see the wall and the results of the ongoing contest of the two sides…only to find a giant heap of rubble where the wall was. Turns out all that etching and erasing of messages by the townsfolk on both sides eventually causes the two sides to break through and meet each other.

By then no one remembered the source of enmity, and so decided to finish demolishing the wall.. This is great, right? Witches of two different generations (Niké and Saya) ended up being the catalyst for reunifying the country. The wall may be in ruins, but everyone looks happy. The sole exception is Elaina, who is disappointed she never got to see the wall, and also that the final score was an exact tie.

In a way, you could say Saya ruined Elaina’s childhood dreams. And in a final mark that the two are fated to reunite someday, the piece of rubble Elaina claims as a souvenir just happens to be a piece Saya etched “ELAINA” into!

A community separated by enmity is the basis of the second story, though instead of tracing history back to Niké, Elaina’s story is being told by a village chief who met her to his young son, while his wife stomps grapes in the background. Back when Elaina visited, the village was split into two: This and That. A bit on the nose, but fine!

Now of legal age, Elaina visited to sample the area’s famously delicious wine, but learns that That has begun dominating sales with a new label featuring Rosemary, a beautiful, buxom Grape-Stomping Maiden, and declaring the wine in the bottle to be made from grapes “lovingly stomped” by her.

Simply put, the villagers (or rather the male villagers) of This wish to recruit Elaina as a rival Grape-Stomping Maiden. Why don’t they just pick one of their own maidens? That’s never explained, though the women of the village are always in the background stewing ruefully (I imagine if they all agreed to withhold sex from their men, this childish nonsense would stop pretty quick!)

Elaina is given a charming red outfit to counter the green of Rosemary’s, but when she stops by the This side with a retinue of loyal That men carrying her on a litter, she most heartily laughs at Elaina’s “childish”, “thin” figure, deeming her unsuitable to lovingly stomp on grapes. That’s when Elaina’s confidence and competitive spirit kick into gear.

Technically, Rosemary is right: Elaina doesn’t lovingly stomp on the grapes…she hatefully stomps on them while screaming “DIE!”, as if she were stomping on Rosemary’s head. After a whole day of stomping, Elaina’s legs and feet are a wreck, but she only stomped enough grapes for maybe half a cask.

That’s when she becomes Witch Detective Elaina, thinking it fishy that That’s wine sells in so much higher numbers. Even if Rosemary stomped all day, every day (and she clearly doesn’t, since she had time to stop by This and trash talk them) she wouldn’t be able to stomp enough grapes. Elaina and the This Chief discover she’s sitting back and relaxing while all the men stomp the grapes at factory scale.

With Rosemary’s verbal barbs still stinging in Elaina’s side, she has a little revenge by tying up Rosemary and exposing the scam. But as she samples That’s wine for the first time, she admits it is indeed delicious. Then has another glass…then another, and before long, she’s drunk.

By this point the villagers of This and That have begun a grape-tossing fight, and when she’s hit in the grapey crossfire, she responds by launching a magical counterattack. Surely there are regulations against witching-while-intoxicated, but thankfully Elaina’s “grape bullets” only knock everyone out; no one is killed!

The morning after the grape fight, Elaina is gone, but the villagers of This and That eventually reconcile. The chief of This and Rosemary fall in love and marry. In the present-day where he’s telling the story to a kid, Rosemary is still stomping grapes, as beautiful as ever, and the grape-tossing festival is a tradition.

While Saya ended up essentially tearing down walls with her intense and heavy love, Elaina does so by getting lit and escalating an epic food fight. The grape maiden fetishism aspect is pretty gross all round, but both tales are lightweight, fun, and the visuals, as always, were beautifully executed, earning the episode an extra half-star.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s Episode 7 review is here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 06 – Truth is the Sword, Lies the Scabbard

Elaina’s next destination is an island city-state whose name has recently been changed to “Land of Truth-Tellers”. Their king has initiated a barrier around the whole of his domain in which no one can lie, either verbally or by writing. Elaina is weary of entering such a place but deems it worth the risk if it makes for a good story.

This being our ever-confident Elaina, she first tests the truth-telling effect by trying to say “I am not beautiful,” and later tries to write “I have a twisted personality”. Instead she ends up saying she is beautiful and writes that she’s pure of heart—both of which are the unvarnished truth.

Despite the seeming benefits of a society without lies, she finds the town quiet and oddly tense. She’s also approached by an unwashed young woman who asks non-verbally via a notepad if she’s the witch dispatched the United Magic Association. Again Elaina tells her the truth: she isn’t.

It’s when Elaina witnesses two young men fighting in the streets while others do nothing and watch that the problems with a lie-free society become clear: if everyone always says the truth, it’s much easier to end up in fights, which is why most people simply stay quiet. If you don’t have anything nice to say, etc.

But one witch decides to break up the lads’ fight mid-punch—Saya “the Charcoal Witch”, who is the UMA witch dispatched to the town! She’s so elated to see her beloved Elaina that her time-freezing spell dissipates and the lads punch each other square in the jaws. Elaina tries to take Saya’s extremely heavy feelings in stride.

Another effect of the truth barrier is that Saya, who is naturally quite the chatty person, will and does say everything rattling around in her mind, including all the things she wants to do with Elaina. But duty calls: she meets with the notepad woman, Eihemia the Quicksand Witch, who gives them the full situation.

When the King (with whom Eihemia was secretly infatuated) demanded she make his kingdom free of lies, she went all out to do so, locating a sword (which he’d later truthfully declare “lame”) powerful enough to serve as a vessel for the truth barrier’s magic. Unfortunately, in doing so Eihemia loses all of her magic and even her voice.

That means even though she did exactly what the king wanted, she ended up losing all the things that made her a useful member of his court, and she was banished from the palace. Had the episode wanted to go darker it could have explored what Eihemia has been forced to do to survive on the streets in a town with no lies, but it does not go there, which is probably for the best!

Her solution is clear: destroy the sword, and her magic and voice will be returned—as will the ability of the kingdom’s people to lie. Elaina and Saya get around having to write the truth by cleverly piecing together separate sentences then putting them together to gain access to the palace.

Once inside, they soon end up fighting off magical attacks from the king and his sword, one of which hits Saya square in the back and hurts like a bitch. When the king’s guards arrive, Elaina has Saya take care of them in the background while she reasons with the king.

The crux of her argument for destroying the sword: good people sometimes lie, while bad people will always find ways to bend the truth through the various loopholes in the barrier magic. To keep people from the little white lies we tell each other to get along every day will eventually be the kingdom’s undoing.

If truth is a sword, Elaina puts succinctly, lies are the scabbard that keep us from swinging that sword recklessly. Of course, scabbard in Japanese is apparently Saya, so Saya momentarily thinks Elaina called her name. Elaina then uses her broom to disarm the king and conjures a hammer to smash the sword to bits, thus lifting the curse of unchecked truth from his kingdom.

Eihemia’s voice and magic are restored, and she and the king reconcile when he agrees that some degree of lying and being lied to is necessary in any society. She returns to the court, and the king apologizes to his people. All’s well that ends well, and Saya gets paid for her trouble!

That turns out to be a good thing, since she had recently spend all of her money on matching dolphin necklaces for her and Elaina for when they crossed paths. Before heading back to UMA HQ, Saya takes her time tenderly putting the necklace on Elaina. Then the two pinky-swear to meet again someday.

This week was Elaina very nearly at its best. I for one don’t mind the darker stories like the one with the princess and dragon, but this was also great stuff; a feel-good fable-like high concept adventure that’s balanced by solid comedy. And of course, it is improved immeasurably by the return of the delightful Saya, voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo, who brings so much effervescent vim and vigor to her characters.