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.

Barakamon – 02

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Averting mediocrity has been a recurring theme of Barakamon, and this week it applies not only to Seishuu’s efforts to re-capture the spur-of-the-moment lightning in a bottle style he awakened in a fit of passion, but also to the village chief’s son Hiroshi, who received all “3’s” in his school marks and has a tendency to half-ass things.

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First, Seishuu. Those efforts of his are running him ragged; causing him stress and insomnia, and not helped by the summer heat and the fact he can’t cook. Then, when trying to focus, his tranquil environment is invaded not just by Naru (who is less the focus this week and more of an enabler/go-between to the schoolgirls we saw sneaking out of his place last week, Miwa and Tamako.

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The girls only compound the disruption to Seishuu’s concentration Naru is usually responsible for, moving back in to their “base” and bothering him at every turn. They do inspire/drive him into rendering another bold, passionate piece in a moment of frustration. I particularly enjoyed their reaction to his creative lashing-out: they all think it’s amazing…but have no idea why.

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Seishuu’s poor living habits do eventually catch up to him. When Hiroshi is delivering him food his mom made (and guilt-tripped hi into delivering with an extremely dramatic monologue for a minor character), Seishuu literally collapses into his arms upon opening the front door. Yet despite his belief Seishuu’s a burden on his mom, Hiroshi is himself inspired by Seishuu’s intense, almost life-threatening effort.

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Hiroshi doesn’t believe he has any talents that will net him anything higher than a three, but through Seishuu he realizes that the will to work hard can be a talent in and of itself, and he pledges to work harder. Unfortunately, Seishuu takes a turn for the worse and must be admitted to hospital, which proves to be a fresh and versatile new setting for comedy.

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Even weak, in bed, and hooked up to an I.V., Naru, Miwa and Tamako don’t let up, continuing on their respective lines of interaction bordering on cruel antagonism. But intent is important, and the fact is, these people are visiting Seishuu with the best of intentions. Thanks to the hospital’s resident ghost, Seishuu grasps the truth: the girls are there because they like him and are worried about him.

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He can’t put everything he has into writing: he has to save some energy for figuring out how to endure the many forceful personalities in his life…and for sustaining that life with food, water, and sleep on occasion. Not that any of this will be easy, mind you, but at least he can count on Hiroshi’s mom continuing to feed him, saving him from cutting his hands to shreds in failed attempts at cooking!

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