Of all the anime this season to be controversial, the last show I would have expected to have people in a frenzy is Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina. It’s not one of my favorites this year, or even this season, so it’s not one of my top picks for shows I’d like to write about. But the criticism of this show has been so mind-bogglingly nonsensical that I feel compelled to write about it, and defend it.
Keep in mind, I don’t think this show is critic proof. I do think it’s content is lacking in depth, at least so far. It’s like Kino’s Journey, but not as intriguing. So I don’t have issues with criticizing this show. My issue lies with the specific criticism that is being heavily levied towards this show.
Elaina has been harshly criticized for being apathetic, amoral, immoral, selfish, narcissistic, and sociopathic. I’m here to tell you that all of this is complete utter nonsense.
This criticism started to become common after episode 3. In the flowers portion, she decided to do something kind by bringing flowers to the village because a girl told him. Little did she know that this act of kindness would doom the village as the flowers are poisonous to everyone but witches.
The message is that even acts of kindness might not lead to happiness. This is made apparent in the story of the next episode, which involved Elaina going to a village with a slave girl. A village chief owned a slave and treated her like garbage. It was implied she would grow up to be a sex slave and that she was already abused. The chief’s son was oblivious to what was going on and just wanted to make the girl happy. He showed her some happy visions, which caused the girl to become depressed, knowing she would never receive that happiness, which is parallel to the other story.
The issue people seem to have is that Elaina didn’t do anything in either of these situations. There was really nothing she could do in either situation, but that didn’t stop the intense amount of controversy.
People seem to have the impression that Elaina is extremely overpowered, and that she could solve literally anything. This is not true. Elaina is a prodigy, but she is still just a novice among full-fledged mages. She is not omnipotent, and she isn’t traveling to solve all of the world’s problems.
There really was nothing she could do about the death flowers. Is there magic that could have saved everyone? Maybe, but it was never implied at any point that Elaina could do it. It was beyond her control. Knowing what happened to the village because of her likely made her even more hesitant to be kind to people unless she was sure there wouldn’t be irreversible consequences.
This is shown in the part with the slave girl. If the whole point of the episode was that doing good things won’t necessarily lead to happiness, then it makes sense that Elaina didn’t do anything. She had know way of knowing if saving the girl would make things better or worse for her and the slave.
There are so many hypothetical scenarios that could make things turn out badly. If she attacked or even killed the village chief, the whole village would hate her, and maybe even ruin her reputation as a witch. The village chief owning a slave implies it’s legal, so Elaina doing anything could lead to legal consequences. If she did somehow save the slave, there is no saying she could live a happy life afterwards. Where would she go? Who would take her in? You can’t expect Elaina to take care of her for the rest of her life, especially since Elaina is traveling the world.
I’ve seen people say her inaction is passive support of the morally corrupt position, which is slavery. While I do agree that neutrality in morals tends to benefit the immoral, this tends to apply to political activism, not personal acts of heroism. Even if you did wanna apply it to just doing the right thing, you have to make exceptions for situations with more unknown or dangerous consequences. If you see someone getting beaten up, are you responsible for stopping the fight? Obviously you shouldn’t take a neutral position on the morality of abusive violence. But what if you get hurt? What if you succeed in protecting the person getting beaten up, but then face consequences from a higher authority for butting in?
Elaina is not a show about personal heroism. There are shows out there about that, and they are valid. But Elaina is a traveler. Her purpose is to explore the world and to learn more about it, both the good and the bad. There may have been slavery in the show, but it’s quite clear the show itself doesn’t endorse slavery, nor does it endorse, neutrality on the topic. But this episode did make the point that kindness can be cruel, and it used cruel circumstances to show that. I think it could have done a better job, but that was the point.
I’ve seen people say that regardless of this point, Elaina is still a narcissist. Elaina IS confident and a bit arrogant. But her narrating what a good witch she is does not imply narcissism, which is an extreme and excessive sense of self-love and self-importance. People think that her inaction shows this on top of her confidence shows this, but it does not.
She may not be a shounen protagonist who more than wears her emotions on her sleeve, but she still does have feelings. You can read it on her face. Both incidents hurt her. Her not wanting to know about the fate of the slave, whether she committed suicide or not, does not prove that she is narcissistic or a sociopath. The situation as a whole clearly hurt her, so much that she wanted to avoid adding extra pain on top of that, which is a normal human reaction.
We also have to add the words her mother gave to her before she left, so run in situations of danger. She has no reason to risk her own safety and mental stability to save others. This does not make her a horrible person. She has been shown to be kind, such as when she trained Saya. There was basically no risk in showing her kindness. Elaina is more than willing to show kindness in situations she carefully determines won’t backfire.
This is even shown in episode 4 where she helps the witch set up a trap for the dragon in response for the kindness she was showed by letting her stay in the castle and eat meals. At the time the situation seemed pretty black and white. A dragon destroyed the whole city except one witch. She even hides at the scene, deciding she would help in secret if she needed to.
Eventually, we find out the princess witch was the one that caused everything, yet somehow this still lead to more controversy. First off, she eventually realized there was nothing she could do as the princess and the dragon were both significantly more powerful than she was. Also, the situation was already messed up when she arrived. Everyone was already dead, so there isn’t much she can do. I’ve seen people suggest that Elaina kill the princess, but why? Not only would she lose since she is significantly weaker, but there is nothing to gain but doing do.
Everyone is already dead and killing her won’t bring them back. Whether she leaves her to rot in the castle for the rest of her life, or just kills her, the end result is the same. But leaving without doing anything is at least the safer option.
Wandering Witch isn’t a show about personal heroism. Elaina travels the world to learn more about it, the good and the bad. The world can be cruel and not everyone has a happy ending. But in these short stories, the anime makes a point about our own world, and we learn through the eyes of someone who is mostly an observer. Will we see her crack in the future and get more involved? Maybe. But for now, that isn’t what this show is about.
Elaina is far from a perfect person. But on this journey, I’m excited to see how she grows as she learns more about the world. How will both the joyous and the cruel affect her and her journey. This is what interests me about this show. Even if the execution isn’t perfect, and even if it’s not one of my favorites, it still seems like a journey worth watching.
Elaina herself is not deserving of such harsh criticism as a terrible person. It does a disservice to the character and the show, which at least feels heartfelt in it’s attempt to contextualize the cruelty of our world.