Some of you may have already heard of light novel series Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina thanks to its forthcoming anime adaption or due to its consistently high ranking in the Japanese Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! guide book the last couple of years. Whatever the case, Yen Press has just brought the series to the West so it’s time to find out why the series has proven so popular.
Inspired by a book about a travelling witch that she read in her childhood, protagonist Elaina sets out on an adventure of her own. Her journey sees her visiting many different countries and interacting with the various people she finds there. The path she flies down will show her many different sides of the people and creatures who call this world home, sometimes good and sometimes bad but always worth knowing about.
As the title of the series suggests, Elaina is a witch but despite having the title, she doesn’t use magic all that much. In the 14 chapters (all individual stories) included in this book, she only uses magic a handful of times and never at pivotal moments. As a child, Elaina was known in her village for being something of a genius and was shunned for being better than everyone else, which could certainly be why she uses it so little.
As briefly mentioned above Volume 1 of Wandering Witch is made up of 14 stories, which show Elaina in a different town or place (although two also act as backstory for her). If you’re familiar with Kino’s Journey then you’ll find that this series is very similar. Just like Kino’s Journey, many of the tales in this book are bittersweet or downright depressing affairs.
For example, during her travels Elaina comes across various unusual places, such as a town that’s split by those who eat bread or rice for breakfast, a flower field that takes humans hostage before devouring them, and a deserted city where only a mysterious girl lives. The very first story sees her mentoring a lonely girl who wishes to become a witch and return home to her sister (this is admittedly one of the better stories). It’s a mixed bag and some of these tales are better than others, but they all give off a mysterious aura that’s hard to look away from.
The thing that lets down Wandering Witch is an inconsistent tone in its storytelling. Author Jougi Shiraishi has written Elaina as a lazy, stubborn girl who wants to relax and see the world but not involve herself with others. Her inner monologues are often quite humorous, which doesn’t fit with the stories being told. Everything else about the work is quite serious and doesn’t lend itself to comedy. Elaina’s personality almost takes away from the messages the chapters are trying to convey to the reader.
This appears to be Shiraishi’s first work (originally self-published in Japanese before being licensed), which could explain the inconsistencies in the writing. The series itself is still on-going in Japan at 11 volumes, so it’s certainly been popular enough to overcome any problems there.
Of course, it helps that the light novel has a fairly unique set-up going for it. Earlier I compared it to fellow light novel series Kino’s Journey, but those books aren’t available in English (only the manga and anime are), so Wandering Witch is filling a gap that nothing else has. That’s perhaps both a blessing and a curse because I think readers will be more likely to overlook problems they shouldn’t just because there isn’t anything similar. Having said that this is only Volume 1, so it would certainly be interesting to see if things improved for the second instalment!
Wandering Witch Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Nicole Wilder. The translation reads well and apart from one typo there are no issues to note. Illustrations for the series have been handled by Azure. There aren’t that many images included throughout the book, four black-and-white images and two in colour and these mostly focus on Elaina. I’d have preferred a bit more variety in scenes featuring other characters, so hopefully, that changes going forward.
Overall, Wandering Witch is off to an interesting start. Fans of Kino’s Journey will certainly want to check it out for its similar style of storytelling, while others may be put off by the grim tales being told. As this is coupled with an inconsistent tone in writing, potential readers may want to hold out until more volumes are released to see how or if things improve.