(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina.)
When I had started watching Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina (Majo no Tabitabi), I loved the soothing vibes I got from the show. Combining that with its gentle opening and Elaina’s calm voice, I just knew I was in for a comfy watch.
Then Episode 3 aired.
This isn’t to say that the show became completely dark in terms of tone and subject matter. Of all 12 episodes, only three would be considered “dark.” Nevertheless, after that episode, Wandering Witch became a polarizing show with an equally as polarizing main character.
Elaina, the “Ashen Witch” who writes about her travels, has a particularly distinct character that you either like or dislike. She is consistently shown as a self-important character who acted as a passive observer towards anything unless it directly affected her self-interests. Some people like her for being “realistic” with her flawed characteristics. Others detested her for those very same traits, some even going as far as labeling her as a “narcissistic sociopath.”
Rather than putting my two cents on Elaina as a person (there’s more than enough discussion on that), I want to focus on one of the segments in Episode 3 that kickstarted this controversy.
“The Girl as Pretty as a Flower”
The first half of Episode 3 is the “The Girl as Pretty as a Flower” story (as stated in the heading above). As a quick summary, Elaina comes across a field of pretty flowers. There is a girl in the field and she asks Elaina to bring a bouquet of these flowers to the next kingdom she visits.
Elaina agrees to bring them, but once she arrives at the front gates of the kingdom, she learns from the guards that these flowers are banned. The reason? They are magical flowers that affect regular humans.
When she later returns to the flower field, she sees the girl from earlier had already turned into a plant. Her brother, the first guard she encountered at the kingdom, is there as well. In a crazed state, he rambles happily over having reunited with his sister. He doesn’t seem to realize that she has already turned into a plant, nor that he is already well into the process of becoming one as well.
Seeing that there is nothing she could do, Elaina flies away. This lack of action is what led to the backlash on the show and her character. I’ve seen viewers accuse her of not trying to do anything to save them (or any future victims of the field), especially when she herself can’t be affected.
So, let’s conduct a little thought experiment of sorts.
Re-envisioning Its Ending
Ignoring how it might possibly lead to inconsistencies with her character, let’s say that Elaina did take action at the end of the segment. All previous events are kept the same for simplicity. Since I’ve seen many people suggesting that she should’ve burned down the field, we’ll go with that.
So we have Elaina deciding to burn down the entire flower field. First off, would she have enough magic to completely burn all the flowers to the point where they can’t grow back? (This second point is important — if these flowers can grow back, then all Elaina would be doing is stalling for time before the flowers lure in more victims.) Even though she is a full-fledged witch, she’s also still young and relatively new. She clearly has limits to how much magic she could use at a task. Permanently burning down a whole field of magical flowers would definitely be a draining task.
Furthermore, we know that these flowers are poisonous to humans due to their magic, but we don’t exactly know how the magic affects them. Is it through direct contact? Is it airborne? Considering that we see the guards wearing face masks, I’ll make the assumption that it is airborne (although it is more easily contracted when the flowers are in close proximity).
I’m going to have to mentally check myself later, because that, uh, sounds more like a virus than a magical flower… Anyways.
When something is set on fire, toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and whatever the burned material is composed of would be released into the air. Granted, there’s no real proof that this would happen, but what if the magic in the flowers is one of those toxins that are released into the air from the fire? If the effects of the magic really are airborne, then how many more humans would be affected when large quantities of the magic are spreading through the air?
Let’s assume the best-case scenario and say that she has just enough magic to burn the entire field without any risk of magic spreading or the flowers growing back. At this moment, there is the guard still in the field. His sister has already turned into a plant, so she’d have to be burned down with the flowers. The guard is already too far gone to have his curse removed (plus that definitely would also require a lot of magic input from Elaina, which she probably wouldn’t have by this point). There is no way for her to save him, so she would have to burn him alive.
This would put Elaina from being someone who indirectly (and accidentally) led a person to their death to someone who directly killed said person. Would an outcome like this please more people? Even though this would save more people, I feel like this would still be controversial for viewers. The show itself would definitely frame it as such. For all of the flaws Elaina has, I feel as though she would still be someone who would not want to kill someone (who only came here as a result of the witch’s own actions, nonetheless) directly with her own hands. This is something I’m basing off from how she reacted in a much later episode — Episode 9.
Remember, this is a best-case scenario. At worst, she would not only have directly killed someone but would’ve made things worse short-term.
Am I overthinking things too much here? Probably.
Even so, the point I want to make is that regardless of how you think of Elaina as a character, that specific scenario would’ve been controversial either way. Sure, there are many people who would’ve liked to see Elaina put in some effort, but does that necessarily mean that things would change for the better had she stepped in and helped?
This ties back with the overall “lesson” Wandering Witch was conveying that episode: even actions with good intentions have their consequences. In this segment, we had Elaina bring flowers to the kingdom solely with good intentions — to follow through on a seemingly harmless favor and to share some rather pretty flowers. This ended up having a horrible consequence. We also see this theme play out in later episodes, such as Episode 9 (aka Wandering Witch’s darkest episode).
Whether you agree with it or not, Elaina has her reasons for being a passive traveler and not an active heroine.