Originally Posted: November 8, 2020
“Hello! I’m Elaina! The Ashen Witch, Elaina! […]
I’m a beautiful young witch whose most outstanding characteristics are my lovely ash-colored hair and my lapis-blue eyes! I’m always wearing a pointy black hat and a black robe. If you see me around town, say something to me, okay? Oh-ho-ho!” – Elaina, words possibly misconstrued for advertisement.
In her third book of adventures, the girl’s ashen hair is cut short. Her lapis eyes shimmered in the early light. Her pointed hat and black rode hinted to her witchy prowess. Who was she? That’s right. It’s Elaina.
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina, Vol. 3 is the newest volume of the fantasy-adventure series that follows the titular Ashen Witch on her travels. Along her journey, she’ll participate in magical investigations and mundane quests alike. Grape-throwing, odd furballs, and animate furniture are all encountered in this volume. And with Elaina’s experiences, we’ll learn that their fantastical world and its inhabitants may not be so different from ourselves. In this conglomeration of short stories, we find humour, tragedy, absurdities, and introspective messages. Jougi Shiraishi improves their concoction of drama, adventure, and action to give us a fantastical world to explore. And don’t forget Azure’s beautiful illustrations of all the (female) characters!
So, how was my intro? I’m not sure of what to say as Vol. 3 is more of the same – though improved in a few ways. If you’re on the fence on continuing or starting this series, I hope to inform you even just a little. But I want to say some things before we start. Wandering Witch is one of my first light novel series ever, and I’m happy to see it grow over time. I haven’t seen the anime yet and am waiting until it is complete (I’ll update then). And as I’ve talked about it in my older reviews (here and here), we’ll focus on the changes Vol. 3 brings to the table. This focus will be targeted at the stories, characters, and world-building, as always. We’ll also avoid any spoilers from Vol. 3 but may tread upon hidden elements of Vol. 1 and 2. Beware! And with that, let’s start this review!
To start, we’ll do some first impressions. For Vol. 3, the cover is more solemn with the sunrise(set?), less vibrant colour palette, and Elaina’s cut hair. This is odd given the overall lighter tone of this entry vs. its predecessors. Instead, something more akin to Vol. 2’s cover would’ve been a better fit. But I’ll admit it piqued my curiosity as I worried for Elaina in this volume. Moving on, the length of this volume is very similar to the others (~ 230 pages & ~60,000 words). This is about average length and value, if not a little more than that. The uniformity between releases is quite impressive; I just hope it doesn’t push Jougi Shiraishi too much to fill a page requirement. Finally, once you open the covers, you’re greeted by the colour-inserts. Like Vol. 2, there’s one of Elaina (not shown), an action shot (bottom, cropped), and a character page (below). There’s not much more to say other than the designs are pretty and colourful, but I wish there were more male characters (bishounen!) illustrated as well. Now onto the meat of the text!
The one thing that distinguishes Wandering Witch from other fantasy-adventure series is the story structure. Like a certain K’s Journey, Wandering Witch features a collection of short stories in a variety of locales. This hasn’t changed from the previous two entries. What has changed in Vol. 3 is the average tone and the size of the issues it tries to grapple with. In Vol. 1 & 2, one aspect that turned readers away was how it handled some issues – troublesome ones in particular. (See the constant use of ‘pig’.) Given the short length and disjointed nature of the chapters, such themes are difficult to convincingly and thoroughly convey. Thus, the resulting message comes off as heavy-handed and clumsy. So, the tonal-shift is directed towards more light-hearted and simple topics: taking care of your possessions, the customer is always right, etc. And though this risks creating an imbalanced perception of the world, Wandering Witch still includes a few serious stories or two to maintain a sense of reality. Otherwise, the stories in Vol. 3 are stronger overall with some neat twists. This is also helped by having fewer ‘inconclusive’ endings which tend to leave an unsatisfied feeling. Though there were one or two chapters that were on the verge of disappointing, everything on average was a step up!
In addition to the tone shift, the connectivity has vastly improved. A large issue for Vol. 1 (which saw minor improvements in Vol. 2) was the disconnected feeling of its overarching plot structure. Elaina’s aimless wandering is exactly that – aimless. Though each story may feel (un)satisfying to complete, it never felt like it was building towards anything greater. With Vol. 3, we see an increase in cross-references and recurring characters. This helps build not only a timeline but the character arcs and world beyond. We see Elaina compare situations she’s seen and poke fun at previous encounters – as any real traveller would. With that, we see the hints of a girl growing from her accumulated experience. And this is all helped by firmly establishing pervasive elements that Elaina frequently encounters (e.g. Witches and the United Magic Association (UMA)). We’ll talk about the details and effects in the following paragraphs.
To begin the elaboration, let us talk about the characters – recurring first. In Vol. 3, we see much more of Saya, Fran, and a few other faces. This should come as no surprise to those who have read Vol. 2. With each appearance, we gain new insight into their characters and pasts (as well as some humour!) From there come new revelations about them and their relationship with Elaina. Like the Ashen Witch’s references to her other adventures, these extra connections add to a cohesive world and further overarching plots. Thus, the choice to increase their page time is a welcome one, that’s for sure. Next is the non-recurring characters. There is not much more to talk about beyond my thoughts on Vol. 2. This is not a bad thing; the way Wandering Witch has handled non-recurring characters has always been decent. They feel distinct, play the main role in their own stories, and make interesting/fun dialogue with Elaina. This makes them more memorable, especially if we’re to hear references about them later on. My personal favourites from this entry are Estelle and the Werewolf. And seeing that this aspect hasn’t weakened means we can enjoy all the other improvements instead!
Now, for the world, let us talk about the common and unique elements of each story. As previously mentioned, magic, witches, and the UMA are frequently present in varying quantities. Given these elements link Elaina and the setting, tales with them have the inherent bonus of a familiar and concrete base – then they are free to build off it as they please. This is most fun with witches from the UMA as they are typically dispatched to resolve a conflict (Saya and Sheila, for example). Magic maintains its nebulous nature but is primarily used to create absurd situations rather than solve them – a tried-and-true technique for inciting interesting reactions from characters. Now, after these common elements, let us talk about how Wandering Witch, Vol. 3 handles story specifics. In Vol. 2, we saw an improvement in unique locales to add a sense of adventure. Unfortunately, many of the stories in Vol. 3 are of villages or cities; no deserts, snowy cities, or ghoul towns are present. Instead, a focus on certain elements in each setting is done to further a theme. Without going too far, examples include a bell tower and a massive country-splitting wall. This is great for storytelling and adds an extra layer of thinking. Further improvements were found in the descriptions of each locale and atmosphere building. In short, the increased presence of common elements related to witches and stronger storytelling through the setting makes Vol. 3 an improvement on previous entries.
Finally, let’s talk about some additional details. Like the previous entries, the writing style is clear and simple, making for an easy read. The descriptive portions help build each story’s setting without bogging down the pace. And the dialogue is always fun with the interesting side characters (and a smidgen of Elaina’s snark). One confusing aspect, however, is the perspective changes. It can be disorienting at times, but the fun comes from the subtle differences in the world views – depending on whose perspective we’re taking (see Chapter 6 of Vol. 2). As each person’s experience is different, the way they see things also varies. This is especially true in Vol. 3 and adds an extra layer of fun. Moving on, let’s talk about the art. As it is with Vol. 1-2, Azure’s black-and-white illustrations are sparse (5 in total) but pretty. However, there appears to be a small drop in quality and placement skills. Vol. 1-2 use their inserts to punctuate important scenes and always have another character w/ Elaina. In Vol. 3, we see two images where neither is the case (and have simple backgrounds as well). This isn’t a deal-breaker but, if you’re looking for more art, Vol. 3 is a slight disappointment.
Overall, Wandering Witch, Vol. 3 is a step up from its predecessors, and it continues the series’ upward trajectory in quality. Its tone shift towards light-hearted and simple messages fits well with its shorter chapters – though there are still some serious tales to consume as well. And the lack of ‘inconclusive’ endings avoids unsatisfying the reader. An increase in references – in the form of comparisons and jokes – between tales adds to the connected feeling of Elaina’s journey. Also, a focus on pervasive elements such as magic and the United Magic Association add to a common world base for future stories to build from. In a similar vein, more witches and other recurring characters further add to the overarching world and explore Elaina through their relationships. As a bonus, this doesn’t cut into the quality of the non-recurring characters we’ve seen in Vol. 1-2. Thus, the improved storytelling, characterizations, and world-building make Vol. 3 the high point of this series. I’m confident Jougi Shiraishi and Azure will continue to make Wandering Witch even better. And I’m most certainly buying the next volume. See you then!
4.3 / 5 – Moderately Recommended
To readers of the Wandering Witch series, new and old – if you’re considering it, Vol. 3 is the current highlight.
To lovers of short-haired, ill-tempered witches with a penchant for widespread destruction.
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.
This is where my extra blurb goes! Usually, I add a bonus reason to check it out. Instead, I think I’ll ramble a little. The increased focus on additional witches and magic has done very well for this series. Relatedly, Saya is great; I hope we’ll see more of her (and the UMA) in the future. Oh! And more short-haired witches, please!
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!