Dec 18, 2020
"Happiness is a way of travel, not a destination."

Fiction often tells us a similar tale: one of the hero saving the day, where happiness is a commodity given as a reward for good and just deeds. In the case of Majo no Tabitabi, which follows Elaina's solitary journey throughout the vast skies and endless seas, this rule of fiction is approached in a more skeptical manner. Good intentions may be rewarded, but it is not always so.

Unlike most anime, Majo no Tabitabi doesn't portray karma as an infallible law from which we can never escape. Sometimes the characters will strive to resolve an issue with good intentions, but as a consequence of following their heart, it can sometimes lead not to a problem being fixed, but a problem made worse. These themes can potentially be misconstrued by some viewers as the story being pretentious (among other disparaging terms), but Majo no Tabitabi does not claim that optimism or idealism is wrong, either. Karma and morality are treated as an open-ended question of which there is no inherently correct answer. It is situational and oftentimes a matter of luck, which is demonstrated by the various happy and unhappy conclusions to the episodes.

It's precisely this unpredictable pattern of storytelling which makes Majo no Tabitabi so enchanting. There are happy episodes that warm the soul, more slice-of-life in nature and which will make the viewer laugh and smile. There are darker episodes, which are less frequent, but which make you question the characters' actions as well as your own beliefs. And even in the quieter moments, where the story is meant to be approached more as entertainment, there are subtle themes that can be pursued by the viewer at their behest. What happens when a wall is erected in the middle of a small town, for example? While these themes are nothing exemplary on their own, they do complement the story on a wider scale by showing facets of Elaina's personality which are not otherwise explored in the more serious episodes. It is, after all, as much a story about Elaina herself as it is about the adventure. Travel is personal, and is inherently a story about the traveler.

Most likely, there will be some people who disagree with aspects of Elaina's worldview. And that is fine, as she is an observer and fervently avoids the role of hero. Unlike most anime protagonists, while Elaina is naturally a kind person, she will sometimes ignore the plights of others if it is not of personal benefit or interest to her. There are of course times where she will help the strangers of a country on a more selfless basis, but by and large, she calculates whether or not it is worth getting involved in a problem, just as the vast majority of people in our world do. After several years travelling from place to place, being embroiled in local issues that do not affect her personally, it is inevitable that at least some of her good intentions would have led to tragedy and less-than-happy outcomes. And so Elaina knows, and so she does not assume the helping hand will be met with a just reward. There is a big difference between someone like Elaina, who is experienced and hardened, and an anime character who is cynical and morally grey simply because it is perceived as cool to be so. I would even go as far as to say this is what separates Majo no Tabitabi, a surprisingly adult-oriented anime, apart from series like Oregairu and Re:Zero. Elaina may not possess the same innocence and happy-go-lucky nature as other characters in anime, but that is because she has traveled far and seen the world at large, and has thus not had the luxury of being trapped in a small social bubble, as so many are.

That is not to claim that Majo no Tabitabi's storytelling is without error, because it is not. There are a few aspects that I wish were better, particularly the conclusion of the 9th episode, which was excessive in a way the show hadn't really been up to that point. It's possible the anime staff tried to capture part of that Re:Zero audience, which, for a product seeking financial success, is unfortunate but expected. The themes and the plot of the episode were engaging and shocking in the right ways, but the visual direction had me almost feel as though I were watching a different anime entirely. But it is not as though the serious episodes all follow this same formulae, so the odd directorial shift for the one episode was given little more than a shrug from me.

Another issue some might find is that the pacing, particularly at the start, is lightning fast. Hearing "And so, six months later..." doesn't really allow the viewer to get all too attached to the events of the episode. I do appreciate that the story covers a large span of time (essentially 4+ years, and likely more in the light novels), and I even prefer this over more traditional slice-of-life, but trimming the timeskips down a tad would help to make the passage of time feel more natural and less abrupt. The presence of yuri elements towards the end - a frequent trope in slice-of-life series with predominantly female casts - was also a bit on the unnecessary side. That said, it is not pervasive, and is largely relegated to a single episode, which is fortunate as the series' strengths are not in romance and sudden... homoerotic proposals.

On a more technical level, Majo no Tabitabi is solid. While the animation is not something that will explode your mind and make you feel as if you were watching some massive-budget production, there is more effort here than the typical static visuals of most anime. In a lot of anime, it is essentially just a slideshow - panning over a single image for five or more seconds, with the only moving parts being the flapping of a character's lips. Majo no Tabitabi may occasionally fall victim to this shortcutting as well— there are weekly deadlines to be met, after all— but there is often more going on than the average anime, even if it is something as subtle as Elaina shrugging her shoulders while speaking. As well, the art style of Majo no Tabitabi is vibrant and lively, and the characters' facial expressions convey considerable emotion. They do not need to explicitly say 'I am angry' or 'I am sad' for you to understand what they are thinking and feeling. This may sound obvious, and something to be expected, but the sad truth is that most TV anime forget the importance of facial expressions and instead rely on voice acting talent to illustrate a scene. Majo no Tabitabi may be simple, but it excels in said simplicity.

It is also admirable how the anime staff honoured the creator's wishes to keep the anime adaptation free of sexual fanservice. I don't have any issues with sexual content in anime, and— to the contrary— view it as a positive when handled well. But moments involving pantyshots and things of that nature are juvenile and would do nothing but detract from Elaina's character. She is mentally and emotionally mature in a way that most female characters in anime aren't, and seeing her get embarrassed because she was caught changing clothes— or whatever else ecchi anime do these days— would diminish who she is as a person. The anime is confident enough in its own qualities that it does not need to add gratuitous sexual fluff. Leave that to the doujins and fan material, and keep letting Majo no Tabitabi be as it is, I say.

So, yeah. I liked Majo no Tabitabi. Quite a bit, too. A lot of people have drawn parallels between it and Kino no Tabi, and I would say that is quite appropriate. But where Kino no Tabi excelled in worldbuilding, I sometimes thought it fell short with regards to characterization. Majo no Tabitabi is the answer to that issue. While it may be more divisive than other anime of its genre, it comes as a solid recommendation to all varieties of anime fans. Anime like this are exceptionally, and increasingly rare in today's marketplace. If you haven't watched it yet, you're missing out on something special.

And if you're curious, I'll even go a step further: I think Majo no Tabitabi is the best anime of the year - and potentially more.
Reviewer’s Rating: 8
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