Originally Posted: February 2, 2021
“A tough cookie like myself always began her day with a cup of coffee. […]
Pumping ourselves full of coffee and drugs was the way of the world-weary. I mixed a drop of the medicine into the coffee and drank it down. This was my daily routine. […]
I’d never been sure of what was in these drugs. I bought them from some mail-order catalog. But they were super expensive, so I was convinced they were beneficial to my health.
“Bleh…so bitter.”” – Yuuri, on her strange relationship with coffee.
In the new generation of her diary-turned-book, the robe-clad traveller finds herself in a great variety of countries. One such nation has a somewhat naïve spy hellbent on fitting in with the hardest. Another has an archaeologist who’s only in it for the beautiful girls. What sort of witch gets herself consistently mixed-up with the weirdos? That’s right. It’s Elaina.
(Warning: contains minor spoilers for Vols. 1-3. Skip to the bottom for the spoiler-free summary and rating.)
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina, Vol. 4 is the newest volume in the fantasy-adventure series with a relatively famous witch as the protagonist (thanks, anime!). In this entry, she’ll encounter two-faced spies, apple-loving murderers, arrogant connoisseurs, and more! The fantastical world of Wandering Witch always has something in store for us. And it appears that Elaina has a white-haired traveller accompanying her – what could this mean for our normally lonely(?) witch? Find out in this mix of stories full of curiosities, drama, and adventure written by Jougi Shiraishi and beautifully illustrated by Azure.
Hey again! How was my intro? I was quite excited to continue with this series, especially after the way Vol. 3 ended. In case you didn’t know, Jougi Shiraishi took a break from Wandering Witch to write Riviere to Inori no Kuni (リリエールと祈りの国, no licensed translation as of writing). Then, after its success and Wandering Witch‘s reprints, Vol. 4 was conceived. From then on, they’ve released ~3 volumes/year; Vol. 4 must’ve been quite the hit! As for the anime, it seems to have covered up to the end of Vol. 5, so I won’t make any comments until its English release.
Like many reviews of later instalments, we’ll focus more on the changes and unique elements that Vol. 4 brings to the table. (Reviews for Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3 here!) This will be mainly targeted towards the story structures, characters, world-building, and themes. And, as we’ll be making comparisons to the previous entries, there will be minor spoilers for Vols. 1 – 3. Now, let’s begin our review!
Before we jump into the text, we should complete the first impressions. Vol. 4’s cover pushes us towards a solemn atmosphere with the subdued colour-palette of blues/greens and a ruined-city. However, Elaina’s bright smile makes things seem like it’s going to be alright (<3). But, like Vol. 3, the cover deceives us – this volume is much lighter in tone than Vol. 2. Jougi Shiraishi says in the afterword that the original “City of Oblivion” chapter was inspired by the art but scrapped it because it was too dark. Perhaps the lighter-tone is something this series will strive for moving forward.
After the cover, we’ll quickly mention the length. As it is with the other Wandering Witch volumes, Vol. 4 sits at approx. 60,000 words. It would seem Jougi Shiraishi (or the publisher) is quite comfortable with this size. And I appreciate the consistency; it means one can expect the same amount of material to nibble on every release.
Finally, let’s talk about the coloured-inserts. Like the other entries, Vol. 4 contains a background-less cover (bottom), a character sheet (below), and a full-page insert (above). The variety of colours and outfits for the characters are always interesting and pleasing to the eye (thank you, Azure!). As for an improvement, the full-page insert seems quite inconsequential narratively. There were quite a few incredible scenes that were left unillustrated, and here would’ve been a great place to showcase them. But other than that, I only have my recurring gripe of the absent bishounens… Now, let’s dig into the text!
To start, let’s briefly talk about Wandering Witch‘s unique story structure once again. Vol. 4 continues the series’ evolution towards longer, stronger overarching-plots. Vol. 3 had a few connected stories, the most obvious being the “Object Lessons” chapters. However, there wasn’t much in terms of Broom-chan’s character development or an exciting plot. Vol. 4 up’s the ante through Elaina and Amnesia’s story, as it consumes about 1/2 of the page-time and spans over 4 chapters. This improved connectivity and more developed plot showcase Jougi Shiraishi’s writing better than ever before, and I love it! The way the connected chapters elaborate on the starring characters and feed into one another is excellent. I can only hope Jougi Shiraishi continues this trend and creates more book-long arcs in the future.
Now, after the story-structure, let’s continue onto the tone. Like Vol. 3’s trajectory, the stories are more light-hearted, and the darker realities from Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are fading away. That’s not to say they’re absent in Vol. 4, just not as despair-inducing (like Vol. 3’s Retroactive Grief ). The result is a volume that pulls more laughs than tears from the reader. Unfortunately, that leaves dwindling hope for those who loved Before The Snow Melts and want to see more (That’s right. It’s me!). Only time will tell if Wandering Witch will ever return to its roots.
Oh! And because I’ve been asked before, let me spotlight my favourite story in Vol. 4. I love “A Fictional Witch”, starring Yuuri (above). The mix of silly and sweet with the earnest spy-mage kept me giggling the whole way through. And the mystery of her agency and twist had me “aww-ing”. It is by no means the strongest story but experiencing it certainly brightened my day. I hope you enjoy it too!
Now, let’s talk about the special recurring and featured characters. The Wandering Witch series has already demonstrated a good handle on its non-recurring cast, so we’ll avoid treading on old ground. They have distinct personalities, memorable traits, and well-defined roles. And it’s your job to meet them all!
The first on our list of elaboration is Broom-chan, introduced in “Object Lessons: Thriving Among the Ruins”. She makes an appearance at some point. Though her importance is somewhat reduced, I’m happy to see she wasn’t a one-off. The bonus here is her interactions with humans that aren’t Elaina, and their perspective on her ‘object-tongue’ powers. However, as a literal broom, she lacks in motivations and backstory – perhaps she has some fun tales about Elaina…? In any case, this also gives me hope in Jougi Shiraishi bringing other supporting characters for surprise guest appearances in the future.
The second and probably most important character is Amnesia. She’s an aptly-named knight of the Holy City of Esto, one whose citizens are sworn to utmost secrecy, and she suffers from memory loss every time she wakes up. To circumvent this, Amnesia carries a diary she reads every morning. And despite her situation, she’s trusting with a cheery disposition. This provides a curiosity-inducing start to her travels alongside Elaina and some silly interactions between the two. However, as our time with her increases, we discover other sides of this knight and slowly unravel the mystery behind her condition. We won’t go much further for spoiler reasons. In short, I think she’s my favourite so far. Despite some potential improvements in the plot of her personal chapter, Amnesia is a fun and interesting character, and I hope we can see more of her in the future.
After the stories and characters, let’s talk about the world of Wandering Witch once more. For the recurring elements (e.g. the United Magic Association, magic, etc.), there isn’t much development in all of Vol. 4 – maybe a mention of the nebulous Nike or two. The lack of greater-world-building is somewhat disappointing given the prevalence of the UMA in Vol. 3. But this may be due to the sudden offer to publish Vol. 4 after Riviere and the focus on Amnesia’s story. For now, I’ll wait patiently for what’s in store for us in Vol. 5.
As for the non-recurring settings, Vol. 4 takes a step back from the brick-lined cities Vol. 3 towards more fantastical ventures. These locations include an underwater city, a city (literally) frozen in time, and a city shrouded in mystery and magic. For me, this change is very welcome; I just love reading about their unique (and likely troubled) pasts, and how its denizens survive around such anomalies. Jougi Shiraishi even manages to tie these to the messages they want to send. Overall, a great showing here from Vol. 4.
As plot-specifics are spoiler-territory, let’s instead talk about a theme. Throughout Vol. 1-3, a common recurring one is relationships between girls/women – i.e. yuri. Some more overt examples include A Runaway Princess, Pursued by Whom? in Vol. 2 and any chapter involving Saya; others are more subtle like Before the Snow Melts or Retroactive Grief from Vols. 2 and 3, respectively. And we find that, in Vol. 4, the dial has been turned up a notch with chapters such as The Sunken City and The Hero, the Dragon, and the Sacrifice. I whole-heartedly welcome the increased focus, but there are some caveats to that.
The Wandering Witch series is not one known for handling its more complicated topics with care or much depth. Its dive into yuri is no different. While Jougi Shiraishi is good at tying such relationships to the plot, it always feels shallow – like it’s only there for the sake of being there. It’s flirtatious but only that, and such interactions are usually played up for a joke. The conflicts borne by the non-recurring characters don’t usually explore their respective relationship in detail. And as for Elaina’s relationships, there are no developments beyond how such characters obtained their feelings (see: Saya). For an author-illustrator combo who’ve shown competency and seem to like the idea of including more yuri, they can certainly do better.
In short, if the Wandering Witch decides to further increase its yuri-levels(?) in further entries, I hope we see greater detailing of such relationships and more serious developments (especially for those afflicted by Elaina). Understandably, it’s not a main selling point for the series now, but the current trajectory seems to say that might change soon. Rest assured that I’ll be keeping a close eye!
Finally, let’s talk about some additional details. The first thing I noticed in Vol. 4 was the improvement in the writing quality. For one, Jougi Shiraishi is getting better with their comedy: silly situations, comedic timing, self-reference, etc. This helps the lightened tone of the later volumes and keeps the reader engaged. However, there are still a few instances where it’s obstructive when drawn-out. Then another improvement is the flow of the stories. They’re simply much easier to read and digest. Comparing Vol. 4 to many of the stories from Vols 1-2, it’s clear that Jougi Shiraishi is growing in skill. Hopefully, we’ll see them take the series to even greater heights!
Secondly, the push towards longer chapters is certainly helping the series. By allowing themselves the time to develop the characters and stories, Jougi Shiraishi provides a higher-quality experience with each chapter. And by populating some short chapters (e.g. City of Oblivion and Likes and Dislikes) with recurring characters, we readers get more value through characterization than a half-hearted message. It also gives Wandering Witch an excuse to have Saya appear without being overly obnoxious.
Lastly, let’s talk about Azure’s efforts. As it is with the other entries, there are only a few black-and-white inserts throughout Vol. 4 (6 in total). These are typically used to comedic effect or accent a particularly powerful scene. My absolute favourite parts are the silly expressions Azure gives to the characters (especially Elaina). And only one, I feel, was wasted on a simple character introduction – all a step-up from Vol. 3’s slight disappointment. More action-shots and those selling the fantastical nature of the world would be greatly appreciated in the future.
Overall, Wandering Witch, Vol. 4 is a solid return to the series after Riviere by Jougi Shiraishi. The larger focus on a spotlight character, Amnesia, accompanied by a 1/2-a-book, multi-chapter-length story about her travels with Elaina was a great improvement over the structure we’ve seen so far. We also find longer chapters with the typically light-hearted tone this series is gravitating towards – another upgrade in terms of fleshing elements out and ease-of-reading.
As for the characters, The Wandering Witch continues to present unique and memorable one-offs for their respective stories. Some recurring faces return for silly moments, and one makes a surprise entrance (please be on the lookout for that!). However, none of the above are as well-done as Amnesia, who is now my favourite in the series. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of here in the future!
The world-building is lacking in terms of returning elements (UMA, magic, etc.) but makes up for it with the increase of fantastical locales. Tying some symbolism and the message to these locations then adds to their depth.
As for the writing, Jougi Shiraishi has noticeably improved the departments of comedy and flow. Wandering Witch, Vol. 4 didn’t feel as cluttered between chapters. And the jokes kept me entertained throughout the book – where appropriate, of course. The expressive and detailed art also returns with the high-quality we can expect from Azure. However, the lack of action-shots, fantastical elements (monsters, magic, etc.), and bishounens remain as a potential improvement.
If you’re still deciding on continuing Wandering Witch after Vol. 3, I’d recommend you give Vol. 4 a try. The new structure is a great addition to the series. And for now, I’m patiently waiting to see if we continue this trend of longer chapters (and for a return of darker stories) in the next volume. See you all next time~!
4.3 / 5 – Moderately Recommended
To readers of the original three volumes of the Wandering Witch series – it’s a whole new era with more overarching plots and yuri!
To lovers of white-haired, green-eyed amnesiacs with a legendary hometown and a mysterious past.
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.
What’s the extra blurb this time, hm? Well, if you’re this far into the series, there’s not a lot I can say… Oh! How about checking out Riviere? Its release caused a surge in Wandering Witch sales in Japan. And I’m excited to see it released in English at some point. So, please be sure to pester the publishers about it!
I’m 春華 or Haruka, aspiring novelist, light novel reviewer, and the recently titled “Effortlessly Effervescent Embodiment of Eloquence.” I’ve been exploring light novels for half-a-year now, so please bear with my hopefully-diminishing 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!