Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 04 – The Princess and the Cook

Elaina begins a love story—complete with ornate storybook illustrations—though aside from her love for her parents, it’s not something she knows a lot about. That makes the next stop on her journey potentially quite edifying. At first, a grand city looks to be in ruins, smoldering and covered in snow and ash.

The palace is the last building standing, and within she finds the last person in the city, Princess Mirarosé—a princess without subjects who looks exactly like her painting, as if it were painted that day. Curiously, aside from her name, Mirarosé isn’t sure about much of anything, as she’s suffering from amnesia.

Elaina joins the princess for a cup of tea (without mentioning the front door she broke), and Mirarosé shows her a letter she found that provides some but not all answers. There is a monster, Javalier, who appears at sundown to wreak destruction upon the city and eat its subjects. Elaina gets a first-hand look at the monster in action.

As a magical barrier prevents Javalier from attacking, Mirarosé and Elaina are safe. But the letter beseeches her to go out and slay Javalier with all due haste, as it will never stop chasing her or cease its reign of destruction until it is no more. Mirarosé, who has recently learned she is a witch, resolves to take it out.

Elaina basically says “Good luck with that!” but will be watching from a safe distance and nothing more. Mirarosé respects and even appreciates her plain, almost curt honesty: it is true Elaina stands to gain nothing from risking her life to help.

That said, Elaina does avail herself of a guest room for the night—complete with a soft fluffy bed that gives her no shortage of pure joy—as well as a sumptuous (and lovingly animated) breakfast of bacon, eggs, and fresh-baked bread. While they eat, the princess tells Elaina how she can feel the hatred in the author of the letter, and is starting to feel the same way.

As thanks for Mirarosé’s hospitality, Elaina agrees to help her prepare for the battle, if not help her fight it. We watch Elaina’s considerable magical talents on display as she charms an army of doors, buckets, and stuffed animals (of dead kids no less) to dig a massive hole in the city’s central square. Elaina offers to make dinner for Mirarosé when she’s done, and kindly asks her not to die.

When the sun falls, Elaina can’t help but leave the safety of the palace to help in case Mirarosé needs it. Even though she’s only spent a day with the princess, she doesn’t want her to die, and so will do what is necessary (without putting herself in danger) to prevent that from happening. I appreciate Elaina’s change of heart while maintaining her pragmatism.

At this point the episode certainly seems to be setting Mirarosé up for a glorious but inevitable death. Of course, I should have expected Elaina would have something more interesting in mind for the climax, which follows one hell of a beautifully choreographed and animated battle between Mirarosé and the raging Javalier.

She isn’t just a witch, she’s a hella powerful witch, employing wind, fire, ice, lightning attacks as well as red plasma beams and summoning thousands of swords like Gilgamesh. And by the time she beheads the trapped, exposed, and wounded Javalier, she’s recovered her memories, which brings us back to the cold open story of the Princess and the Cook.

When Mirarosé’s father found out she was carrying the child of the lower-class cook, he ordered the cook’s torture and execution…as Mirarosé watched. In response, she cursed her father, transforming him into a monster that would destory his city and eat his subjects—while still being fully aware he was their king. She wanted him to feel the same helplessness she felt when she lost the thing she loved most.

After cursing her dad (who presumably killed the queen during one of his nightly rampages), Mirarosé wiped her memories but left a letter for her future self to discover. The rest of the story, we know: Mirarosé succeeded in every aspect of her plan, fully avenging her lover—who taught her how to bake—and her child, the fate of whom is only implied.

When Elaina takes her leave, she watches as Mirarosé lays out breakfast for her long-departed lover and speaks with him as if he were there. It would seem the combination of her trauma and subsequent trials, and the crushing loneliness of her present situation have conspired to drive her mad. And yet she seems content, and at times even giddy.

As for the departing Elaina, well…her expression is worth a thousand words. In the cold open, she asked “Why do they call it ‘fall’ in love?”, which sounds like love is a trap, which is kind of is…it’s just that ideally falling in love won’t result in your lover’s summary torture and execution. And hopefully, should she ever fall in love, Elaina will fare better than poor Princess Mirarosé.

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.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 02 – You’ll Never Fly Alone

While flying along on her broom during her travels, Elaina makes it a point to declare that even the “sun’s eyes” squint at the beauty and majesty of the lovely Ashen Witch, i.e. her! I like how Elaina isn’t a perfect goody-two-shoes but has a healthy ego that could curdle into arrogance if she’s not careful, but hasn’t yet. That confidence is both to be expected of the youngest Apprentice and full Witch ever, at at times, justified!

Her destination this week is the gorgeous, whimsical City of Mages, so-called because the non-magical are unable to reach it, as if Diagon Alley were a whole city. Instead of flying cars, witches dart hither and thither in the sky, and Full Witches like Elaina are idolized. Unfortunately her first encounter with a resident involves a mid-air collision with a novice who lost control of her broom.

Elaina repairs the damaged roof and the cut on the face of the girl, who introduces herself as Saya. She thanks and apologizes profusely to Elaina, insisting that she be allowed to do something to make up for the trouble she’s caused, but Elaina is content to continue on her journey, and bits Saya farewell—for all she knows, for good.

Of course, Elaina and Saya are fated to meet again. This happens when Elaina is roughly turned away from every other hotel in the city—a far cry from the fawning and deference she expected due to her full Witch status. It’s a fun echo of when none of the witches in her hometown would give her the time of day. However, Saya happens to work at the one hotel that will let her stay there, and Elaina asks for and receives a “nice witch discount”.

Turns out Elaina was turned away from the other hotels because her Witche’s brooch fell off and is now lost. After a fruitless search, she takes a relaxing bath…and Saya waltzes right into her room! It’s the first sign that Saya wants quite a bit more than just to make up for bumping into Elaina. She prostrates herself and begs Elaina to help train her to pass the Apprentice exams.

Saya shows Elaina a photo of her and her little sister, who came with her to the city but passed the exam before her and returned home. Since Elaina’s ego was bruised by getting kicked out of so many fancy hotels, she wants a win, and a boost to that ego. Impressed with Saya’s prostrating skills (an odd but sincere gesture from her home back east), Elaina agrees: while searching for her lost brooch, she’ll train Saya for a week.

It turns out to be a wonderfully equitable arrangement for both parties. Saya proves a quick study in both broom-flying skills, and while she’s lacking in magical attack focus and accuracy (and mushroom tolerance), Elaina’s very close attention is both appreciated and effective.

In return, Elaina gets to experience what it’s like to be a teacher like Flan was for her, and finds nurturing her junior to be extremely appealing and rewarding. While there’s nothing as intense as Elaina and Flan’s duel, there’s still plenty of lovely eye candy to enjoy throughout their training.

While searching on the roof where she landed for her brooch, Elaina spots a lady whom she pays to tell her what she saw the day of the collision. That night, Elaina lets Saya sleep in her bed with her, and Saya indicates how happy she is that, at least until her brooch is found and she continues her journey, they’ll be “together forever.” That’s when Elaina says she knows Saya stole her brooch and has been concealing it.

This was never about learning how to fly properly—Saya wouldn’t have been able to come to the city from far to the East if she weren’t a solid flyer—instead, but how Saya can’t “pin someone down” with “misguided methods” so they’ll remain with her. Ever since her sister left Saya has experienced crippling loneliness, which she hoped would end upon meeting Elaina (with whom her collision was intentional).

Seiyuu Kurosawa Tomoyo brings a beautiful vulnerability and comic expressiveness to Saya throughout the episode, and shows her equally solid dramatic chops in this scene as Saya breaks down. Hondo Kaede is just as effective as a consoling Elaina who, after delivering a needed forehead flick, tells Saya that being alone is an inevitable and necessary part of becoming a witch (like eating mushrooms).

Elaina felt lonely during her development, but she gradually gained the courage to fight alone, and so must Saya. Part of that means understanding that those she loves are always watching her, even if they’re not physically there. To that end, she gives Saya her spare hat, so that when the time comes that she’s lonely, she’ll remember Elaina’s words and her affection.

Six months later, Elaina is elsewhere in the world (looks like Venice…Hi Arte!) and reading this show’s equivalent of the Daily Prophet, an article in which reports that Saya finally passed the Apprentice exam, and announced that her next step is to go see “the traveler I love!” It’s an immensely sweet sentiment to end the episode, while almost assuring us that not only will Elaina and Saya meet again, but Saya could well become her apprentice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pick up on some of the yuri undertones to Saya’s interactions. While Elaina kept things platonic, it’s clear Saya is very much enamored of the Ashen Witch…and who can blame her? While Saya first tried to replace her little sister with Elaina, now that she’s advanced to the next stage of her magical life, Elaina is something else—a friend, mentor, and ideal for which to strive!

Our fellow anime lover Crow has also written on this episode; you read about it here!

The Journey of Elaina – 01 (First Impressions) – The Ashen Witch is Born

Ever since she was wee, Elaina (Hondo Kaede, recently Bofuri’s Maple) dreamed of traveling the world like Nikeh, a great witch who recorded her adventures in a diary. Her parents, the supportive type, told her she could do it if she studied hard to become a witch. She did just that, not only passing the sorcery examination with flying colors, but being the youngest ever to do so at age 14.

Elaina’s next hurdle to becoming a witch would be to train under one as their apprentice, but due to her fame as the youngest ever, she has the door of every witch in the city slammed in her face before she can even state her case. Then she overhears a “dodgy” witch having taken residence in the forest outside the city, and flies over to take a look.

Flan, Stardust Witch (Hanazawa Kana, who is having a ball) agrees to take Elaina on as an apprentice, but like Mr. Miyagi with Daniel-san, it doesn’t seem she has any actual interest in training her, just using her as her own personal assistant. Cooking her meals, collecting ingredients, dealing with spiders in the tub and rubbing her shoulders; this is all Elaina gets to do.

After a month of this, Elaina has had enough, and asks if Flan is at last ready to train her. Flan tells her she has “nothing in particular” to teach her, but she will have Elaina fight her. Flan’s awesome mastery of the elements proves too much, as Elaina can only bob and weave against an onslaught of fire, earth and lightning. This fight was also the point at which I was utterly and completely sold on the show; its fantastic magical combat!

Totally defeated for perhaps the first time in her life, Elaina collapses into a heap and starts to bawl uncontrollably, catching Flan, clearly not used to dealing with teenage witches, tries to cheer her up with butterflies and a crown made of weeds, but settles on a hug, which proves most effective.

Flan also confesses to Elaina that her parents paid her to teach her about setback and failure until she reached her limit. Elaina has the skill, talent, and potential, but needed to learn not to deal with or endure everything no matter what, just because she can.

With that catharsis, and Flan’s strategy revealed, the training continues in earnest. Over the period of a year Flan teaches Elaina everything she knows, and Elaina soaks it all up like a sponge. But unlike her first month, she speaks up if something displeases her. Eventually, she’s good enough to best Flan in a duel for the first time, and that’s when Flan knows she’s ready.

Replacing her apprentice’s flower badge with the star brooch, Flan bestows upon her the status of a full-fledged witch. On Flan’s suggestion, Elaina picks the magical name “the Ashen Witch” due to her hair color. Fran then bids Elaina farewell and returns to her home country, and Elaina returns home.

She’s not there long, as now she’s achieved the requisite of being able to travel the world freely like Nikeh. Her parents keep their word, giving Elaina three simple rules to follow: When in serious danger, run; don’t come to think she’s a “special human”; and come home someday with a smile.

She’s outfitted in new witch’s robes, a kickass oversized hat (along with a spare—it’s windy out there!), and of course, a handsome diary in which to write about her adventures. With that, she says goodbye to the only home she’s ever known, without a particular plan or destination, and journeys in that fashion for three years, finally reaching the age of eighteen.

I for one am glad we got Elaina’s “origin story” at the most logical part of the anime: the beginning. It’s a story beautifully and efficiently told, and delivered the same kind of fuzzy feels as goodhearted witch series like Kiki, Flying Witch, and Little Witch Academia. I can’t wait to see where Elaina ends up landing next week!

Rating: 4.5/5

Crow is also watching the Wandering Witch, and always has great observations about the episodes’ best moments. Read Crow’s review here.

Re: Zero – 34 – Down the Great Rabbit Hole

For being the Witch of Greed, Echidna sure is helpful and informative! It’s her opinion that there is no limit to how many times Subaru can use Return by Death, as it is limited only by the Witch of Envy’s presently-limited delusion.

Envy wants him to “redo destiny” without mistakes, but doesn’t count, say, what happened to Rem as a mistake. Neither Rem or anyone else are taken into account. Subaru alone is responsible for who is or isn’t lost when the next “save point” is established.

The more immediate concern is, of course, that horde of voracious rabbits, which Echidna identifies as the Great Rabbit. Like the White Whale and Black Serpent, these Three Great Mabeasts were created by Daphne, Witch of Gluttony, over 400 years ago. The Rabbit can only be killed by killing all of its constituent parts simultaneously.

When Subaru requests more info on the Great Rabbit, Echidna arranges for him to meet Daphne one-on-one; such is her ability as the vessel of the souls of all the dead witches. Instead, the childlike Witch of Pride Typhon pops out first, ripping off Subie’s arm and shattering him to bits before the earnest, self-conscious Witch of Wrath Minerva saves him.

After that, Daphne finally appears, bound and chained within a coffin. After questioning why Subaru would destroy the Great Rabbit without first understanding the infinite gluttony that powers it, she offers a useful hint about how to at least get the rabbit where you want it: it is drawn to great sources of mana, like a powerful magic user.

As Subaru exhibits signs he could soon wake up, he beseeches Echidna to tell him how to return to her should he require more of her wisdom. She tells him the conditions for joining her tea party are tougher the more times he’s admitted, but like the last two times, if he needs her, he’ll find a way to get to her, either through the tea party or in the trial itself.

As for the trial: Echidna is losing her patience and interest in Emilia, and is all but convinced the half-elf candidate will never “break out of her shell”, i.e. properly confront her past. Right now she’s much more confident in Subie’s ability to pass. After Echidna receiving payment in the form of the sentiments within the handkerchief Petra gave him, Subie returns to the tomb, his memories of the Witch of Greed fully intact.

The only problem is, Emilia is nowhere to be found. When Subie goes outside, he faces a giant shadow slowly engulfing his surroundings, and Witch of Envy Satella makes her appearance. She draws close to Subie declaring “I love you” over and over and over again.

I’m sure there’s some truth to that, considering the ability she game him. At the same time, as Subie himself is gradually covered in her cloak of darkness, it sure doesn’t look like he should be sticking around, and certainly isn’t going to get anything useful out of her other that “I love you”.

It’s Garfiel (of all people) to the rescue, splitting Subie and Satella up, grabbing Subie and leaping to a (slightly) safer place. There, the two observe Satella not following them, but headed to the barrier. It dawns on Subie: she’s headed for Roswaal’s mansion, and to Frederica, Petra, and the comatose Rem.

Determined not to let Satella “get away with anything else”, Subie no doubt is preparing to chase after her—though I wonder whether Garfiel will be okay with that. After the credits, we see Roswaal in bed about sink under the shadow, and grabs a book (a gospel?) in grim preparation to accompany Subaru in “hell”.

Watching Subaru and Echidna interact is always fascinating, while it was fun to meet three more colorful quirky witches. Interesting too that they’re portrayed as characters with whom Subaru can converse and reason; Satella is much more of an implacable force of nature.

As for the Great Rabbit, I’m sure it can be defeated just as the White Whale was defeated. However, I agree with Daphne: one lone human won’t be enough to do it, which means Subie will have to flex his alliance-building muscles.

Re: Zero – 33 – The Witch of Greed

Otto and Ram are ready to get Subaru the out of the Sanctuary, but he’s not ready to run quite yet. He meets with Roswaal for some straight answers, and actually gets them, though who knows he can trust the guy. Roswall assures Subie that Beatrice is not a witch cultist, and that the “gospel” she spoke of is the Gospel: one of only two Tomes of Wisdom in existence, not a Witch’s Gospel.

When asked how he can get Beako to help him, Ros says the same thing Ram told him earlier: “Roswaal said to ask the question”, and once that question is asked, answer in the affirmative. Bound by a contract, she will then ally with him. Subie’s last question is whether Roswall is really an ally, to which he says he’s an ally to “all of you”. Hmm…we’ll see!

While Subaru no doubt gained crucial information with which to move forward, he also tanked any chances of this loop being salvaged. That’s because he took so much time with Roswaal that Garfiel tracks them down and orders Subie back into confinement.

When he refuses, Otto and Ram cover his escape on Patrasche, and the townsfolk of Arlam light the path out with lanterns. Alas, Garfiel makes a full beast transformation into a half-Tiger, half-Behemoth, and kills Otto and several villagers. Patrasche finally grabs Subie and throws him at the barrier and the blue crystal glows…

Subaru wakes up in the dungeon, but the door is unlocked. He finds that snow has fallen, so my first through was something happened with Puck. But no one is around, and I mean no one: no Garfiel, Ram, Roswaal, Emilia, or villagers to be found. It’s like everyone suddenly up and left.

So Subaru leaves too, out into the snow without a coat or anything to defend himself. The landscape is so serene, you just knew something horrible was about to befall our young protagonist…I just didn’t know just how horrible it would be. Getting slowly torn apart and devoured by thousands of white demon rabbits? Pretty bad!

Cue that iconic choral stab that indicates Return by Death, and Subaru is right back in the ruin beside Emilia, who notably doesn’t seem to be having as fitful a sleep as we’ve seen in other returns. Frustrated, Subaru smacks his forehead against the stone floor until it bleeds, and Echidna’s voice declares he’s once again “earned the qualification” to join her tea party in Bliss.

Thanks to the Sloth Witch Factor-affecting tea he drank last time, Subaru is once again able to keep his shit together in Echidna’s presence. Subaru makes an appeal to Echidna: next time he leaves this place, he doesn’t want to forget her. He draws so close and is so emphatic, Echidna can’t help but betray her bashful side, and is inclined to acquiesce to his request.

That’s when it dawns on Subaru: this tea party must be happening right after her last one. That she doesn’t consider this strange in the slightest means she knows why and how he’s back a second time. When she asks him to clearly state what that “how” is, he’s understandably weary, considering what’s happened to him every time he’s tried to explain it to others.

But this time, in this place, and to Echidna, Witch of Greed, he’s able to literally shout it from the hilltops: he’s been returning by death. Shocked beyond reason that he was able to finally say it out loud, he repeats it again and again, still waiting for the claw-like hand to clutch his heart and squeeze—but it doesn’t happen. At long last, Subaru is able to tell someone what’s really happening to him.

This is because the Witch of Greed wants to know everything in this world. But while she’s known about Return by Death and has been watching him this whole time, there’s yet more she wants to learn from him, like how he felt while going through all the trials he’s endured and burdens he’s carried. Well, she may want to get comfortable and brew more tea—with or without “fluids”—this could take a while!

Re: Zero – 32 – All of It Was Written

When Beatrice grants Subaru access to her library and starts to heal him, he panics, just as I would if I realized I’d just overwritten a saved game at a crucial point. Considering all the crap things that happened in this loop, Subaru can’t let this point of time become a save point.

Beyond stopping Subaru from stabbing himself with a broken piece of her tea set, Beatrice either can’t or won’t help much, aside from telling Subaru that everything she’s said and done has been in accordance with the “Gospel” and for the sake of “mother”—presumably Satella, the Witch of Envy, but who knows?

While I’m skeptical Beako doesn’t care at all about Subie or anyone else, the two are unable to make any further progress as Elsa enters and disembowels Subie. He’s clearly hugely relieved to Return by Death back in the ruin, shaking off the last attempt and comforting Emilia.

Emilia’s beautiful dreamy piano leitmotif plays, as if to indicate the mood has re-lightened and there’s optimism in the atmosphere. Otto, who is unaware this is now Subie’s third time, finds his calm both concerning and comforting.

Before Subaru can meet with Roswaal (again) and this time try to get more about Beatrice out of him, he is brought to a quiet field by Garfiel so Ryuzu can speak to him. It’s productive in that he learns that because Frederica is Garfiel’s half-sister and was born to a human mother, she can pass back and forth through the sanctuary at will.

Meanwhile, Subaru is determined to find a way to liberate the Sanctuary without Emilia having to go through the trial. He considers it nothing more than his own selfish wish; Emilia may have to face her past one day, but it doesn’t have to be here and now.

To that end,Subie announces to Ryuzu and Garfiel his intention to undergo the trial in Emilia’s stead. Once he says this, Ryuzu has Garfiel restrain him and then knock him out. When he comes to, he’s tied up and gagged in a stone cell. Why, do you ask? Because as soon as he came out of the ruins he reeked of miasma—what he calls the “witch’s scent”—which means Ryuzu and Garfiel can’t trust him.

This is an interesting complication. The miasma could be an innocent by-product of Subaru’s respawning process to which Ryuzu and Garfiel are simply overreacting. But either we nor Subie himself can rule out the possibility he is an unwitting cog in a much more elaborate machine: doing things for the Witch while under the impression he’s doing them just for himself or others.

Could his will already be written, as Beatrice claims hers to be? Whatever the case, Ryuzu and Garfiel keep him under lock and key and he wallows in darkness and damp for three days. Garfiel, thinking Otto as a merchant first and foremost, dangles a valuable-looking glowing stone at him as payment in exchange for his silence (Otto was the last to see Subie with Garfiel).

Garfiel’s flaw in keeping Subaru restrained, as well as Subaru’s deliverance, lies in the many meaningful relationships great and small he’s built with others. In this case, he is served by Otto choosing his friendship with Subie over a trinket he’s not even sure Gar will give to him.

Otto reports what’s happened since Subie was captured: after a fruitless search for him, Roswaal instructs Emilia to keep attempting the trial, which she’s done the last two days without success. He then details how he’s been in hiding collecting information ever since Gar attempted to make a deal with him.

At first Subaru doesn’t realize why Otto rescued him—and even mishears the word “friend” as “Eugene”! For all the people stonewalling him and making his internal organs external, he still has friends like Otto to help him in his time of need. While not as deep or profound as Emilia or Rem, his bond with Otto, and the things they’ve gone through, are still significant.

It’s a good thing too, because were it not for Otto Subaru would still be rotting in that cell for as long as Ryuzu and Gar want him there—say, until the barrier falls (if that can even happen without Subie). Otto leads Subie out of the dungeon and to a “very reliable helper” he’s lined up: Ram, who is just wonderfully smug and cool as she declares even if she had to wait for them so long she’d become a old granny, she’d be a cute old granny. Damn straight!

This episode ends with Subaru on an encouraging upswing, with ample time to reach the mansion and armed with a bit more intel. But many concerning looming questions remain. How exactly will he be able to keep everyone in the mansion from an Elsa-slashing? What exactly is Beako’s deal? Are all of Subie’s actions following a sinister predetermined path without him even knowing it? Is he just another Witch’s tool, kept in line by the mere illusion of free will?

Re: Zero – 31 – Not Unfolding as Specified

You didn’t think he’d set things right in one try, did you? That isn’t the Re:Zero’s style. Subaru and his friends will have to suffer and die a lot more until this latest puzzle is solved. Things will get much worse before they get better. Let’s just say I’m glad I have CCS to balance the “ani-negativity”!

Subaru returns to the tomb where he’d just completed the first trial, and finds a shuddering Emilia in over her head. When he later tells everyone he passed the first trial, there are two more, and he can do it in Lia’s stead, nobody, especially Lia, is okay with that plan.

Roswaal, whom everyone there but him serves, wants Emilia to liberate the sanctuary, no doubt as a necessary test that she’s worthy of the throne, but perhaps for other reasons as well. Subaru understands, and meanwhile there’s still the possibility Frederica is up to something.

He decides to head to the manor so he arrives two days earlier than last time, hoping to head Elsa off. Ram grudgingly accompanies him, and is as dry and withering in her disapproval of Barusu as you’d expect when they set off on Patrasche.

Still, Subaru notices something “off” with Ram, and oddly enough, when he made an offhand joke about throwing her as a decoy, she too is surprised how much it bothered her; as if it was something that actually happened.

In truth, it did happen, but in a previous loop but Ram can’t remember clearly, perhaps due to losing all memories of Rem. Speaking of which, Subie decides to tell Ram everything he can about her lost twin sister before they reach the manor.

The two are greeted by Petra, who is too cute for Subie to resist hugging, while Ram is pleased with her manner. Subie gives Ram some time alone with the sleeping Rem and speaks to Frederica, who is pleasant and polite as always, even when Subie starts questioning her.

Frederica claims not to know anything about a teleport trap or conservatives who want to keep the sanctuary barrier up, but as Ram notes (and her and Freddie’s back and forth is great), she could not tell them anything even if she wanted to, due to her oath. Subaru will have to use force to break that oath. For her part, Frederica says she won’t resist.

Their exchange is interrupted by the appearance of Elsa, holding her knife at Petra’s throat. Frederica reveals her beast transformation ability, which proves more effective than Ram’s Al Huma El Fula magic. Still, all they manage to do is flee from Elsa briefly, and Subaru is stabbed in the shoulder by a needle-like blade dipped in who-knows-what.

Ram breaks it to Subie that sacrifices will have to be made if some of them are going to survive this. To that end, Frederica uses the blue crystal to fully transform into a stylish blonde lion-like beast (I’m sure she and Kero-chan would get along famously) and leaps back into the manor to stall Elsa.

Despite Ram’s logic, Subaru (and Petra) are determined to save Rem and Beatrice if they can. They’re immediately confronted by a Mabeast, which Ram manages to lure away, leaving just Subaru and Petra. Moments after dressing each others wounds, things get very violent and fuzzy, as we follow events from Subaru’s POV.

When things come back into focus, Subaru is still holding Petra’s hand, but her arm is no longer attached to anything; we then see she’s been crushed by rubble. Subaru runs to Rem’s room, but is once again stopped by Elsa. She talks as though both she and her unnamed client (the Witch’s Cult?) are aware of Return by Death, and that they’d planned for another attempt by Subaru.

Subaru is prepared for Elsa’s killing strike when he’s suddenly thrust through a door, only it doesn’t lead to Rem’s room, but to Beatrice’s library. Beatrice, the one person in that manor with sufficient power to stand against Elsa, even if things didn’t go so smoothly last time she and Subie met.

Only Subie is not happy about being saved. He’s ready to scrap this loop and use Return by Death, not yet willing to accept the sacrifices of Ram, Petra, and Frederica. But as Ram said earlier, he may not have a choice, and is only delaying the inevitable.

Re: Zero – 30 – Partners in Crime

First of all, it’s classic Natsuki Subaru to compliment Echidna on her school uniform! Second, Re:Zero finally deigns to air its opening credits! After they roll, Echidna didn’t really send Subaru back in time; both her uniform, the classroom, and his parents were illusions created from his memories. After some rather half-hearted attempts to trip him up. Subie doesn’t take the bait; he’s now fully faced and accepted his past and is ready to move forward.

Echidna declares he has passed the trial…but it was only the first of three. Subaru stops her right there: Freeing the Sanctuary is Emilia’s job, not his. Unfortunately, when he comes to back in the ruins, Subie finds an unconscious Emilia enduring a terrible nightmare, and she wakes up in an acute state of panic. If she was facing her past, it’s clear she’s having a much tougher time than Subie.

Ram makes sure Emilia is comfortably resting, while Subaru and the others talk barriers. Otto wonders if those who can pass through it can simply carry those who can’t across while they’re unconscious. That idea is shot down by one Ryuzu Bilma, the elfish girl Subaru briefly spotted in the forest, who turns out to be extremely old (a “loli hag” as Subie artfully puts it).

Anyone of mixed blood who crosses the barrier will have their body and soul separated, leaving the formless soul within and a shell of a body without. In other words, the only way out for them is the lifting of the barrier. Subaru then stays beside Emilia’s bed until she wakes up in the morning, and unconsciously puts her hand on his arm, a gesture she immediately walks back.

Later in the morning Subaru warns Ram that not everyone within the sanctuary wants the barrier to fall, and he must be vigilant against any threats to Emilia from those elements. She also believes Frederica could have some kind of plan in mind she didn’t reveal to Subaru. That night, Emilia attempts the trial again, and while she’s not denied a second chance, it too ends in failure. Afterwards, Roswaal has Subaru meet with him in his room while Ram stands by.

The Margrave finally admits that he allowed everything regarding the Witch’s Cult attack on the village and manor to happen as kind of political gambit, knowing the villagers’ opinion of Emilia would improve if she saved them. Subaru is pissed, mostly because so much of Roswaal’s plan depended on Subaru not being “complete trash” and coming through. But Roswaal had faith in him then, and has faith in him now.

Subaru doesn’t tell Emilia any of this, respecting Roswaal’s wishes (and deferring to political acumen). Like Roswaal with Subaru, Subaru may not have the most concrete evidence that Emilia can and will pass the trials and free the Sanctuary, but he has faith nonetheless. Emilia is grateful for the belief in her and trusts Subaru, but asks him to simply continue believing in her—without “spoiling” her.

To that end, Subaru decides to appeal to Garfiel to free the villagers. Since Garfiel has Emilia working on the barrier, the villagers are no longer necessary, so he agrees. Garfiel will escort Subaru and the villagers back to Arlam. Subaru leaves with Emilia’s blessing and one last tidbit from Roswaal, via Ram: if he runs into trouble with Frederica or anyone else, turn to Beatrice, and tell her “Roswaal said to ask the question”.

En route to Arlam, Garfiel tells Subaru he can tell he went through a trial, and wonders why he can’t simply complete them in Emilia’s place.  Judging from how she acts whenever she fails an attempt, it’s clear to Garfiel what I mentioned earlier: that Emilia is having a hard go with facing her past, probably because a part (or all) of her doesn’t want to.

After a brief stop in the village, Subaru goes on to the manor, which is oddly empty and bathed in blood-red light—never a good sign on this show! As he desperately runs through the halls searching for Rem, we hear an odd squishing sound and he trips and falls…on his own bowels. As he lies in a pool of blood and guts, his assailant reveals herself: Elsa, his very first nemesis in this other world.

Talk about a blast from the past! We last saw her back in 2o16, retreating after being wounded but not killed by an all-out attack from Reinhard. I wrote “the fact she’s still out there with her chilling desire to disembowel everyone else is certainly disquieting, as is the fact that such a huge attack didn’t kill her.” Well, now she’s back, and Subaru is almost certainly primed to Return by Death. I wonder where and when he’ll end up?

Re: Zero – 29 – Take Care, Natsuki Subaru

Having episodes end with Emilia unconscious two weeks in a row was a bummer, but returning to the real world and getting to spend some time with Subaru’s remarkable parents made up for that and then some. Right from the word go, we know we’re in for a ride: Subaru’s dad executes wrestling moves to welcome him to the morning, while his mom (who shares his “scary eyes”) insists he eat a giant mountain of peas, which neither she nor his dad like.

They may have their amusing quirks, but his folks are alive, present, and relatively normal…which makes them among the rarest anime parents out there!

Subaru is a shut-in; he has been since about three months after high school began. His dad manages to coax him out for a walk, and sakura-strewn park in which they have that walk is particularly dreamlike and bright, as bright as his bedroom is dark.

Also bright, to the point of blinding: his parent’s absolute unconditional love and support, no matter how far off “the prescribed path” he’s strayed. Like so many others, Subaru’s problems weren’t caused by a rough or abusive childhood.

When periodic stabs of pain in his head resolve to the spirit of Emilia thanking him for saving her all the time, his memories from the New World flood back in, and with all that amassed experience and wisdom, is able to look at his past objectively and wrestle with it.

Subaru’s dad is a gregarious renaissance man, which put pressure on Subaru to achieve a similar level of greatness in anything and everything he did. But as he grew, he became less than the best, and eventually not that good at those things.

He tried to make up for the lack of talent and ability by acting out, gathering people around him he called friends but who ultimately were only around until he got boring. High school was the rude awakening for which he was not socially or emotionally prepared, and he gradually just stopped going.

Even so, his mom and dad treated him with the same affection and cheer as they always did, despite his desire for them to punish him or even throw him out for being such a pathetic loser. At a couple points during their talks, his dad asks if he likes someone. That’s because as his father he must sense a positive change in Subaru; that he’d figured out to get back on his own two feet.

Without naming names, Subaru admits there is a girl he likes, and a girl who loves him. Rem once told him giving up doesn’t suit him. She and Emilia saved him from his own complex because they didn’t have to pretend he wasn’t the son of the great Natsuki Kenichi—obviously neither of them know his dad. Subaru didn’t know how bad he needed to know it was okay to just be Subaru.

After a little cry and hug with dad, Subaru puts on his school uniform and prepares to return to school, Starting Over from Zero just as he did on Rem’s recommendation…only with school. His mom decides to walk him part of the way there.

She reiterates the things Subaru and his dad talked about, and when Subaru tells her he’ll never let go of people who helped him get over his troubles, and be sure to make himself worthy of them later, she declares he’s definitely “his kid”.

While those two words once caused stabs of pain (and still do one more time), his mom assures him not to worry about being “just as awesome” as his dad. After all, he’s only half his dad, and half his mom, so half as cool constitutes a “filled quota”.

Subaru, knowing he’ll leave both his parents soon and may never see them again, offers tearful apologies for not being able to do anything for them before going off to do his own thing. Again, his mom tells him not to fret; she and his father didn’t have him so he’d do something for him, but so they could do something for him. And they have, just by being there for him, loving him, and never judging him.

Subaru’s dad may have cast a shadow that inadvertently, temporarily stunted his son’s development as an individual. But because his son was half-him, he was eventually able to make it out of that shadow. It’s why when his dad says “do your best” and his mom says “take care”, he can hold his head high, smile, and go to school.

In this case, “going to school”, and specifically opening the door to his homeroom constitutes the completion of the trial, and Echidna is waiting for him (in his school’s uniform!) when he does so, remarking how he made it there faster than she expected.

As we return to his trials in the new world, it was both instructive and at times downright emotionally compelling to see of the old world from which Subaru came. The struggles he faced before arriving in the new world underscore why ending up there and meeting Emilia, Rem and the others was not only the best thing that could have happened to him, but also possibly meant to be.

Re: Zero – 28 – Desirable Existence

Subaru agrees to join Echidna for her “tea party” and brusquely gulps down the contents of the cup, which she identifies as “a body fluid of mine.” From there, the two proceed to have a spirited yet affable back-and-forth, with Subaru evoking quite a bit of amusement from the Witch of Greed. Echidna strikes a lovely balance between cool menace and warm feline playfulness.

For a few terrifying moments she transports them into an eerie void where she mentions all of the witches and what they were all about before the Witch of Envy killed them all. She then reveals the tea strengthens his resistance to the magical power that would already have caused most others to vomit or go mad.

Subaru is only able to chat with Echidna thanks to the “Sloth Witch Factor” that made him its new vessel after Betelgeuse died. The ruins in the forest are the Witch’s Graveyard, where Echidna’s soul is held prisoner. She grants him the right to face the trial of the Sanctuary, no doubt in hopes she can use him to free her soul. Before he leaves she licks her hand like a cat and warns Subaru: “I’m a very, very evil magic user.”

Subaru then finds himself out of the freezer and into the frying pan, with the fiery Garfiel about to pummel him into dust (having already done the same with Otto and the ground dragon). When Subaru mentions Frederica, with whom Garfiel shares hair color and tooth sharpness, Garfiel stands down.

Emilia is safe and sound in the wagon, and when she comes to, she adorably, belatedly shields Subaru from Garfiel. Still, her crystal grants her (relatively) safe passage to the Sanctuary, and Garfiel sees to that. Turns out the Sanctuary is a bit of a dump, with an ill-favored aura neither Lia nor Subie can shake.

Still, Ram is a sight for sore eyes, and welcomes Subaru with a Barusu rejoinder. Roswaal’s dulcet voice is also a sound for sore ears, but he looks sore all over, covered in bandages as a result of failing the trial of the Sanctuary. He had to try, you see, for neither he, Ram, the villagers of Arlam, or even Lia or Subie are allowed to leave the Sanctuary…at least not until someone passes the trial and breaks the barrier.

Subie and Lia address the villagers, in that order. While they’re happy to see the former, they’re weary as always of the latter. But again Emilia shows her growth by telling them how she feels, what she intends to do for them, and why. It boils down to her wanting families to be able to stay together.

She isn’t asking for their support in the royal selection in return, but even though she still feels unworthy, she’d appreciate the villagers’ friendship. An impressed Ram wonders what Barusu said to Emilia to enact this change; Subaru says Emilia figured it out for herself.

That night, Emilia stands before the entrance to the Witch’s Graveyard, and it glows with light in a sign that it accepts her as a valid challenger for the trial. Naturally, something soon goes wrong: the light goes out, even though it’s supposed to stay on for the duration of the trial. Subaru approaches the ruins, the light returns, and he rushes in to find Emilia passed out again.

He’s stopped in his tracks, but not by Return by Death. A voices says “first you need to face your own past”, and he wakes up in a bed. His bed…in his world. A world not depicted since he was transported away from the konbini parking lot. Before he can get his bearings his muscular dad rolls in and jumps on him as a wake-up call.

Like his otherworldly meeting with Echidna who definitely has Big Plans for him, Subie’s journey to the home of his past may only last a third of an episode, or it could be the whole episode, or the entirety of a mini-arc. Whatever the duration, this development gives me, to quote Echidna, “such beautiful expectations.” I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 27 (S2 02) – Showing What They’re Maid Of

Emilia and Subaru bid Crusch and Felix farewell with thanks, hearty handshakes and best wishes. With Crusch’s memories gone who knows what shape the royal selection will take, but for now the priority is returning home and getting some answers. But upon returning to the village, they learn Roswaal, Ram, and others have yet to return from the Sanctuary.

Upon arriving at Roswaal manor (driven there by Otto), Emilia and Subaru are surprised to be welcomed by new maid, a “beast-girl” named Frederica Baumann. I immediately recognized the dulcet tones of Nazuka Kaori (Eureka), which complement Frederica’s adorably sharp teeth quite well. Turns out Frederica worked for the mansion just before Subaru arrived, and had been on personal leave until Ram called her back.

Subaru pays Beatrice a visit, and we see that extended isolation has not made her more pleasant to deal with. She’s downright prickly with Subaru, especially when he presents the gospel he took off of the dead Betelgeuse. Beatrice seems to regard “Geuse” as a dear friend who, like others, left her behind. She also resents Subaru once again using her as a mere “tool of convenience”.

Could this mean Betelgeuse was once good, or just that Beako doesn’t see the world in terms of good and bad? In any case, she has no answers for him, only the means to seek them. Roswaal’s intentions, the meaning of the Gospel, and answers about this “Witch Factor” thing all lie in the Sanctuary, which Frederica has been instructed to tell Emilia and Subaru how to access.

Before heading to the Woods of Clemaldy where the Sanctuary is located, Subaru says goodbye to the sleeping Rem and tasks new Maid-in-Training Petra(!) with Rem’s care, and Frederica with Petra’s care. Petra doesn’t have the maid-like manner of speaking down yet, but she’s eager to prove she’s an adult upon whom people can depend.

Frederica presents Emilia with a jewel that will help them pass a magical barrier that impedes access to the sanctuary. Petra bashfully gives Subaru a handkerchief as a kind of old tradition with travelers; he’ll return it to her stained from his adventures when he comes back.

The journey into the woods is uneventful at first. Emilia is nervous, especially considering Puck isn’t answering her calls to come out (Puck did tell Subaru he’d be relying on him to take care of Lia). She’s also apprehensive about hte possibility of meeting other half-elves in Clemaldy, a stronghold of demi-humans.

Her barrier jewel starts to glow, and Subaru decides the proper thing to do is to yank it off of her, causing her to pass out. The next thing Subaru knows, Emilia, Otto, and the wagon are gone, and he’s lost in the lost woods…not a great situation to be in! He encounters a small pink-haired elf in a white tunic and when she runs off he gives chase.

He comes upon a clearing where a stone ruin stands, and starts to walk through the front door…as Frederica said, will and resolve are as necessary as magic and strength in the Sanctuary. That’s when he’s transported again, this time to Windows XP’s default background, Bliss.

Just above him on the crest of a hill sits a woman with long silver hair having tea under an ornate umbrella. She introduces herself as Echidna, AKA the Witch of Greed. While voiced by Sakamoto Maaya (always a good decision), Echidna looks an awful lot like Emilia. But wasn’t the witch she said she resembled named Satella?

While this was mostly a getting-from-A-to-B(-to-C) transitory episode with lots of goodbyes between characters (and no telling whether they’ll ever see each other again), the intro of Frederica, Maid Petra, and of course Echidna represented major developments, and the steady buildup of Clemaldy as no place for the weak was highly effective.

It will be interesting to see if Subaru has reached a new “save point” for his Return by Death, or if that little trick is already obsolete. For now, he seems separated from everyone and unable to protect anyone but himself…if that. In other words, he’s been thrown right back into the Shit!