At first glance, everything from the beautiful art style to the lovely description point to The Journey of Elaina (Majo no Tabitabi) being a delightful tale of magic and discovery. A young girl following her dreams of becoming a witch? A giant in love with his own muscles? We should expect mirth, light-heartedness, and adventure! We can expect all of these things… but there is an underlying theme of hidden pain, perversions, and hopelessness.
Starting with Just a Hint of Unease
Save for the beauty of the backgrounds, magic, and characters, The Journey of Elaina begins in a very predictable way. It is exceptionally nice to look at, at least, while you see the generic young character aiming for greatness, ending up with the seemingly least-likely teacher, and overcoming adversity just to learn it was a test. Elaina shows great promise even as a child but must learn to not silently suffer for the sake of her goals. It all seems very nice. A bright, ambitious girl who wants to learn all about the world learning to stand up for herself.
However, the speech her mother gives Elaina before her departure seems somewhat out of place. She asks Elena three things, to run if she’s in danger, to remember she’s not more special than others, and to one day return home. While the first and last requested promises seem normal for a worried mother to ask of her daughter, the second one is somewhat odd. Elena has not exhibited any cruelty and has persevered through unfair treatment even when she knows her skills are exceptional. As you progress through the episodes, Elaina’s mother’s words start to make a little more sense.
Isolated Incidents of Creepiness
Each episode, as to be expected of an anime about a traveling witch with no other motivation than to explore, is self-contained. It’s almost as if each town Elaina visits is its own storybook that she becomes a character in. The second episode starts innocently enough where Elaina meets a young witch and ends up losing her brooch which will allow her to stay in the city. The younger witch Saya just so happens to run a small inn and lets Elaina stay with her while they look for Elain’s brooch in-between magic lessons for Saya. Saya excels quickly under Elaina’s tutelage.
Perhaps thanks to her mother’s warning, Elaina realizes Saya is progressing too quickly. Not because Elaina is the fantastic teacher she first thought herself to be, but because Saya planned from the beginning to steal Elaina’s brooch so that Saya could force her to become friends out of necessity. While Saya just seems like a lonely girl, this is a little terrifying. Elaina literally cannot stay anywhere else in the city, not to mention the problems she’d run into trying to leave without her brooch. Saya didn’t seem to have any plans of letting her go either, instead starting to sleep in the same bed as Elaina and making plans for the future together. Elaina confronts Saya sternly yet kindly and they part on good terms, but it does make you wary for the next episode.
Further Delving into Darkness
From episode 2 on, things go from ‘mildly uncomfortable’ to straight-up ‘creepy and depressing. In episode 2, Elaina comes across the most beautiful field of flowers and is given a bouquet to give to someone in the next town. The soldiers at the gate have the flowers burned because they draw humans to their field where the flowers then stick their roots into their new hosts and drain their bodies of nutrients. One of the soldiers even falls victim and Elaina finds him slowly dying on top of his sister’s body now overgrown with flowers. His fascination with her beauty and disinterest in his own weakening body add to the shock of it all.
Not only is the subject matter dark, but Elaina’s distance to these problems also adds another layer of unease for viewers. She does nothing to try to help the boy (though honestly, nothing could have saved him at that point) nor does she try to stop the woman giving out these flowers or destroy the field, knowing that these siblings are not the first or last victims.
When she moves onto the next town, Elaina meets the mayor, his son, and their slave girl Nino. While the mayor only wants Nino for her labor and her eventual beauty (she’s still just a child), his son adores and loves her. Already, this is a sick dynamic for a terrified girl that has no choice. Elaina uses her magic to fix a vase to prevent Nino from being punished, but she doesn’t save Nino. Instead, she flies away, not wanting to know if Nino will kill herself or not.
Possible Look into the Future
In the latest episode, Elaina comes across a lone witch princess in a destroyed country with no memories. All they know comes from a letter telling the princess, Mirarose, to kill the beast Javalier that has destroyed the whole kingdom and killed everyone else. Mirarose is greatly hospitable to Elaina and asks for her help, yet is not hurt or unkind following Elaina’s flat refusals to help for no merit. They seem to understand each other perfectly.
Eventually, Elaina does feel some unknown (and frankly, unprecedented) drive to help Mirarose who attacks Javalier at first with determination and upon her memories returning, merciless glee. Both back at the castle, Mirarose reveals she was in love with the castle chef and revealed to her father the king that she was pregnant. The king tortures and kills her lover along with their baby. Mad with grief, Mirarose turned her father into the monster Javalier with his consciousness as the king even as he helplessly tears through the city devouring his subjects. This is what happens when hubris and power go unchecked. If Elaina doesn’t learn to weigh her options and blindly forge ahead with whatever she wants to do, she may too find her loved ones stripped away alone in a sea of carnage.
With just a few episodes, there’s a lot to unpack! It’s clear we are not going to be getting fanciful fables and more something akin to the Grimm fairy-tales. There may yet be some overarching plot or perhaps we’ll continue to see new snippets of horror as we follow Elaina on her adventures!