Wandering Witch - The Journey of Elaina tells the story of a traveling witch named Elaina, who experiences new sights and wonders in every country she travels to. The novels recently inspired a popular anime series. Anime News Network spoke to author Jougi Shiraishi about his humble origins as a self-published novelist and his personal approach to crafting the unique stories depicted in his novels.
Wandering Witch first originated as a self-published work on Amazon Kindle. Why did you initially choose this format instead of a novel submission website?
I started seriously striving to be an author when I was 14 years old. Even then, there were novel submission sites, as well as people who had used them as a springboard to debut as pros, so I actually did publish my work to those sites. It was one of the various things I challenged myself to do, like submitting manuscripts to publishers' newcomer writing contests. But even when I turned 20, I had no prospects of debuting.
I had decided that if I couldn't make my pro debut after 10 years, then I would give up my dream as a novelist and live a normal life, so when I turned 20 I was disappointed at the thought that I would never become pro. Around that time, I learned that you can self-publish books on Amazon's Kindle Store. Thinking that I may as well try it if this was where my dream was going to end, I poured everything I liked into a story and self-published it as an e-book. The story I wrote was Wandering Witch.
Thankfully, this self-published book was the trigger that decided my pro debut.
How did you feel when GA Novel asked to publish your novel? What was the biggest change between the original and the current version of Wandering Witch?
As a story that I wrote when I gave up on my dream as an author, Wandering Witch is filled with things that I like with absolutely no consideration of industry trends, so when I received the offer I thought it was some kind of joke. But I got the feeling that my efforts until that point had paid off, and I was really happy.
There are hardly any differences between the original and current versions. The most I did was add an extra part to the flower field story from chapter 2. In the original version, Elaina tries to bring the bouquet of flowers into the country but is denied entry, so she has no choice but to burn the flowers outside before she enters. That was the point where I originally ended the story, but when I got the publishing deal, we decided that I should add an extra part to it.
In some stories, Elaina is kind, while in others she can be selfish or apathetic. How would you describe Elaina's personality?
She is a realist who understands that magic can't accomplish absolutely everything.
Magic may be able to repair something that is broken and easily overcome various obstacles, but when a witch actually goes on her journey, her magic can only repair something immediately after it is broken, and instead of mowing down obstacles, there are many cases where things get resolved more peacefully by simply distancing yourself from trouble. For Elaina, magic is something to protect herself or just one means of solving a problem. She is just an ordinary person who happens to use magic.
She is not traveling to fix the world; she is simply a wanderer seeing the wide world.
Despite being a powerful witch, there are many stories in which Elaina adopts a stance of non-intervention. How do you decide whether she becomes a passive observer or an active part of a story?
Generally, I decide whether Elaina helps based on whether other people are asking her for help, and whether she is in a position as a lone traveler to be able to assist.
If there is someone right in front of me who is in trouble, I do have the desire to reach out, but in the story of Wandering Witch, there are many situations that have reached an impasse by the time Elaina becomes privy to the events. At that point, no matter what she does, she cannot be of help.
You've mentioned before that you enjoy overseas crime dramas . Are there any in particular that you would consider a big influence to your writing?
The main overseas dramas I like watching are CSI, The Mentalist, and Sherlock (the one where Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch), where each episode tells a standalone crime story. I'm a particularly big fan of Sherlock; the irony-laden dialogue thrills me every time.
Also, this isn't a drama, but when I was a student, I learned about serial killers through the film The Silence of the Lambs, and it got me into reading criminal psychology books as a hobby. The Silence of the Lambs was also a huge influence in getting me to watch crime dramas.
Wandering Witch is a work that is often described as having yuri elements. To what extent do you consider Wandering Witch to be a yuri work?
Everyone has a different way of seeing the story.
To people who can see heavy yuri in a work, they'll be able to see that in this story, and it will look like light yuri to people who see light yuri. It's very difficult to state just how much yuri is in this story, so I like to think of it as a story where the amount of yuri depends on the person reading it.
It is surprising how many dark and melancholy stories are featured per volume. Do you ever worry about a story being too dark to fit the tone of the rest of the series?
Not at all. I put in the story of the flower field as the second chapter in order to rid this worry. I made chapter 2 a serious story to declare: "In this tale, it's normal for there to be dark episodes where there is absolutely no salvation."
When you think of a story, are you the kind of author who thinks of the setting or the characters first?
For Wandering Witch, I come up with the setting and world (that is, the country), and then I come up with the characters.
How do you get inspiration for the various situations portrayed in Wandering Witch?
I get inspiration by dipping my toes in stories and materials from across all sorts of genres and formats.
I take a lot of reference in particular from the National Geographic magazine. The ecology of animals and plants is the inspiration behind many of the countries and the unique creatures that appear in the world of Wandering Witch.
Finally, do you have a message for your English-speaking fans?
It's difficult to travel throughout the world right now, so I hope that you can accompany Elaina on her journey through a beautiful fantasy world.
Each country only gets shown for one episode, and I hope that people witness the breathtaking landscapes depicted in every one of them.
An English translation of the novels are available for purchase courtesy of Yen Press.
Cover image credits: Wandering Witch - The Journey of Elaina
©Jougi Shiraishi Illustrations © Azure / SB Creative Corp.