Blast of Tempest
(Zetsuen no Tempest)
Episodes 1 – 4
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Simulcasting on Crunchyroll Thursdays at 2:00 pm CDT. Licensed for home video release by Aniplex of America.
The story revolves around Mahiro Fuwa, a teenager whose family was mysteriously murdered one year before and his friend Yoshino Takigawa. Mahiro is contacted by Hakase Kusaribe, the leader of the Kusaribe clan who was left stranded on an unknown desert island by her followers, and agrees to help Hakase in exchange of her help to find out the culprit for the death of his family. Upon learning of his friend’s intentions, Yoshino joins him on his quest to stand against the Kusaribe clan who intends to awake the “Tree of Zetsuen” whose power can bring ruin to the entire world.
Several dialogues and plot elements in Zetsuen no Tempest pay homage to the works of William Shakespeare.
When I read the initial description of this show, I figured out that they were doing some sort of riff on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. That is one of the works of Shakespeare that I haven’t seen or read, but I seem to know quite a bit about it none the less, as I have seen or read several science fiction stories that have used aspects of it in their plot or as “talking points”, so to speak. The two that come to mind are Dan Simmon’s Illium and Olympos, and an episode of the fan made Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II titled World Enough and Time, which guest starred the original series co-star George Takei. So watching the first episode, I couldn’t help but wonder if the mage on the island wasn’t a combination of Prospero and Miranda or if Mahiro was supposed to be a Caliban analog and his dead sister, who figures prominently in the first few episodes via flash backs and is featured heavily in both the OP and ED as well as the promotional art, was destined to become something along the lines of Ariel. (She is the brown haired girl on the left side of the picture above.) So far, I don’t really know enough about the original to say one way or the other, but there have already been some Shakespearean quotes, from Hamlet, interestingly enough, and a very “classical” tragic feeling to the mood.
[NOTE: I hesitate to go into too much detail in these type of reviews for fear of putting in too many spoilers, so I apologize if I give away anything from the plot that you would rather not have read, but there are some things in the story that just you just can’t write about without mentioning some details. For the most part, the specifics that I will mention are all revealed before the end of the first episode, though, and I wasn’t surprised by them when they were revealed. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t like it was badly done, I just figured it out a bit before the reveal in the episode and smiled and nodded when they made explicit what they had been intimating for a good portion of the episode. That said, on with the review…]
Blast of Tempest shows a great deal of promise. The magical system presented is interesting, with the mages using the “fruits of civilization” to power their magic. The animation, particularly for the action sequences, is very well done and the visuals and characters designs are great too. The story is fairly strong so far, with enough explanation of how the world works and what is going on to make it comprehensible, but leaving enough out that it keeps you wondering why everything is happening the way it is.
One of the key plot points has to do with Mahiro’s sister, Aika, who was killed nearly a year before the “present time” in the anime. We are introduced to her through flashbacks and memory. In the opening, she comments that Yoshino is a con man who can “lie with a straight face” and Mahiro seems to think that she doesn’t like him. However, by the end of the first episode, and much sooner than that, in reality, we come to realize that the text message that Yoshino keeps looking at on his phone that is from his “girlfriend” is actually a message from Aika. While Mahiro is bent on revenge against his sisters unknown killer(s), Yoshino is suffering in silence, since he was in love with her, but for some reason doesn’t want Mahiro to know. (It is fairly clear that Mahiro was rather over protective of his sister and probably wouldn’t look fondly on even his one “friend” being in a relationship with her.
Another strong point to the story is the “friendship” between Mahiro and Yoshino. The two seem to be incompatible to say the least and it is hard to tell why they would be friends. Yoshino frequently says unkind things abut Mahiro, and it is not entirely clear that he actually considers Yoshino, or anyone living, to be his friend. In fact, the enigma that is Yoshino is one of the most fascinating things about the story.
Episodes two and three serve to introduce more of the characters and the world, display how magic works, and provide an opportunity to demonstrate how intelligent, or perhaps how devious, Yoshino is. It also delves a bit into the mystery surrounding Aika (and Mahiro’s parents’) death, and shows a bit about how the Japanese government is handling the strange occurrences that are resulting in people turning into metal. But it is episode 4 that really digs in and lets us get to know the two main characters, with a back story that answers many questions about their relationship, but also brings up new questions, about Yoshino in particular.
Of special note with this series is the music. The OP, Spirit Inspiration by Nothing’s Carved in Stone, which is entirely in English, is a hard driving, powerful piece that sets the tone for the show well. The incidental music is also very strong. The ED, happy endings by Kana Hanazawa, who also does the voice of Aika, who is featured prominently in the ED animation, is a bit of a conundrum. It is a fantastic song, beautifully sung, but many feel that it doesn’t fit the show and breaks the mood that each episode is prone to end with by the change in tone. I am unsure of how I feel about the song at this point, other than the fact that, as a piece of music considered in its own right, it is wonderful and the singer does a fantastic job with it.
All in all, this is one of my favorite shows of the season. It has the potential to go off the rails, as all modern fantasy stories do, if it concentrates too much on flash at the expense of substance, or if the story is not worthy of the very well done set-up. So far, it looks like it will stay on course.