Originally Posted: August 2, 2020
“I opened the door without hesitation. Because I’m brave and strong.” – Elaina
Along the pages of a novel, the girl continued her travels. Her ashen hair fluttered with each page turn. Her violet eyes twinkled with every new tale. The signature hat and robe determined she was a witch. Who was she? That’s right. It’s Elaina.
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina, Vol. 2 is the next entry of the fantasy light novel series that follows the Ashen Witch, Elaina, on her seemingly aimless journey. This time around, added to her aforementioned love of bread and travelling is coffee and cats! Their fantastical world, seemingly unlike ours, hides many truths and tales. Her interactions with the many interesting characters uncover these secrets, unsettling and otherwise. Jougi Shiraishi mixes drama, adventure, and action in a fantastical cauldron and brews us a unique potion (in literary form).
As our review from Vol. 1 did, we will look at the characterization (of old and new), the settings/world-building, and the stories presented in Vol. 2. This is done to better compare the entries and path the overall trajectory of the series.
While Elaina’s characterization has somewhat improved from Vol. 1 to 2, I would like to focus on the growing cast (one-off and recurring). The non-recurring characters can be further split into named and unnamed categories; usually present in longer and shorter chapters, respectively. Named characters are more developed overall given their increased time as the focus. Many, if not all of them, are given enough backstory and personality to make them feel like people in their world rather than characters in a plot. By contrast, the unnamed characters are typically relegated to being side-characters for longer chapters or unable to develop at all in their short chapters. This lack of development is fine though, as the short stories focus more on their current flaws and issues instead of the journey. The use of this technique is a good way for Jougi Shiraishi to indicate whose backstories and arcs are important. However, this leaves the unnamed characters harder to remember as we only have the stories to go off of (the number of times I had look at the chapter list for this review was… irrationally high). This can be particularly bad if the story has a weak impact. On the other side of the spectrum are the recurring characters who are usually re-encountered with a pleasant surprise. Seeing how they have changed since we last saw them is a treat, akin to catching up with a best friend after a while. In a way, this is a great way to see how they’ve developed, improve story connectivity, and show that the world persists beyond Elaina’s perspective. And, like Elaina, recurring characters will likely develop over time as we get more chapters where they play a role. Hopefully, we see even more of these types of stories in the future.
Continuing, encompassing these characters are their respective settings. The world-building in this volume is significantly stronger than in Vol. 1. The use of more unique destinations (rather than ‘insert-uninteresting-nation-here’) injects a greater sense of wonder to keep the reader engaged. In this volume, we get a snowy city, a desert, and a ghoul town among others; this is a great step in the right direction for the series. Of course, there are still some instances of pretty generic fantasy locales (particularly those where Elaina meets someone between two cities) but the location isn’t the focus then and they’re in very short chapters where detailing would add unnecessary length. Jougi Shiraishi’s clear love for describing scenes shines better now that it’s directed where it matters. In future entries, it would be nice to see settings better mesh with the message they are trying to send (see Chapter 6 for progress towards this).
The largest improvement from Vol. 1 to 2, alongside the world-building, would have to be the quality of the stories. In Vol. 1, many of the stories dragged on (particularly those with the “On-The-Road” title) and then proceeded to have weak endings. Even with the few decent stories, the bad apples soured my overall view of Vol. 1. By contrast, Vol. 2 cuts some stories short giving more time to those that need some to properly develop. The three/four stronger stories present in this volume are decent reads throughout and end with a satisfying conclusion. One longer story, in particular, left me in tears with how it resonated with me and demonstrates writing improvement from Jougi Shiraishi. This is not to say that the short stories are all of lower quality. While Vol. 1 felt fairly bland (on my 2nd read through), I genuinely reacted to many of the stories presented here (chuckling, crying, etc.) The range of emotions Jougi Shiraishi evokes alongside more impactful stories plot an upward trajectory for this series.
Alongside the stories, the writing seems to have improved. Particularly, while the long descriptive sections are present, they are not wasted on the stories that don’t need it. This ties well with the greater variety of settings. By describing unique destinations, these sections are filled with a sense of wonder instead of boredom. Secondly, the character illustration insert was a great addition to help solidify imagery paired with physical descriptions (see below). However, to note, they are all female and fairly detailed. (I- I want a character sheet too!) While their designs are unique, I would appreciate some effort put towards male characters (where are my bishounen?!) and additional background art (see the cover art for example). Lastly, the illustrations among the chapters are visually appealing and well-placed; usually punctuating a big scene in one of the longer chapters. Seeing so much effort put towards these sorts of chapters leaves me wondering if some of the shorter ones are needed at all.
Overall, this light novel is a significant step-up from its predecessor. Like Vol. 1, it continues to possess a unique charm. The wide range of stories, from short-and-sweet to dark-and-heavy, present strong evidence for the duality of their world. While this runs the risk of sharp tonal shifts, Jougi Shiraishi maintains a consistent atmosphere for each separate story. As a result, we get a collection of tales that showcase the highs and lows of life in a fantastical world whose hopes and strifes may not be so different from our own. The improved characterization, world-building, and overall story-telling give me confidence that this series will get even better in the future. Hopefully, this trajectory continues through to the next volume. I’m so excited, I can’t wait!
4.0 / 5 – Moderately Recommended
To readers who were on the fence on continuing after Vol. 1.
To lovers of brave and strong girls who happen to be super cute.
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read my review (even if you scrolled straight to the bottom). I hope that you take home even a little of what I’ve written down.
If you’re looking for more incentive to read: please focus on ‘Rosamia’ in the character sheet. Isn’t her knight-design super awesome?!
I’m 春華 or Haruka, aspiring novelist, light novel reviewer, and the recently titled “Effortlessly Effervescent Embodiment of Eloquence.” I’ve only started diving into light novels, so please bear with my naiveté. You can follow my Twitter for updates on my reviews and writing progress. And if you want to talk about light novels with me and many others, consider joining our Discord here! Let’s all get along!