Zetsuen no Tempest
One day, a sorceress princess was stuffed into a barrel and banished.
The Kusaribe family is a family of sorcerers under the protection of the "Tree of Origins". Their princess, Hakaze Kusaribe, was the greatest sorceress of their family. But Samon Kusaribe, a member of their family seeking to resurrect the "Tree of World's End", a tree that opposes the "Tree of Origins" and controls the power of destruction, stuffs her into a barrel, and banishes her to a deserted island. From the deserted island, she sends a message out to sea, which is picked up by Mahiro Fuwa, a young man who's sworn vengeance upon the criminal who killed his little sister, Aika. Mahiro agrees to help Hakaze under the condition that she find Aika's killer with her magic. But once Mahiro's best friend and Aika's lover, Yoshino Takigawa is rescued from danger; he too gets dragged into this tale of revenge.
(Source: Aniplex USA)
Zetsuen no Tempest is hard to pin down. Even as I wade my way through sloughs of obvious genre pieces, picking out diamonds from the sludge, I do sometimes come across shows that can’t simply be labeled “slice-of-life”, “harem comedy”, “mecha action”, etc but instead fall into a hard to define area that defies genre labels in a satisfyingly rebellious way. I like it. It predisposes me well towards Zetsuen no Tempest because sometimes it is nice not to confronted by endless shows that are so engrossed in their genre that they are a meta-parody of their own plot, setting and clichés. That is a rant for another time though and Zetsuen no Tempest is not free from the curse of “meta” entirely either but instead of meta-anime this is, in fact, meta-Shakespeare.
One of the most interesting things about Zetsuen no Tempest is that it has happily and openly lifted and used themes and topics from some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays and even frequently discusses these elements in the context of the plays themselves with frequent direct quotations (or at least as direct as a Japanese translation can be). The themes of revenge and forgiveness are compared in the context of Hamlet and The Tempest, leading to a comparison of the plays’ respective endings and the idea of embracing tragedy or avoiding tragedy. It would be so easy to go into great detail about all this and I suspect I would love to do so (I became the assistant teacher for a university Shakespeare class for good reasons) but all this doesn’t matter if the show still sucks and it would not be the first time that ambitious and interesting themes were lost in a deluge of bad scripting, awkward plotting or horrible characters. However, I can happily say that this is not the case in this instance.
Zetsuen no Tempest has problems (some of them quite serious) but it has a lot to recommend it. The characters of Mahiro, Hakaze and Yoshino are all well-rounded and well explored throughout the course of the show, their character arcs are interesting and their personalities are multi-layered and charismatic. Hakaze, for example, displays both intelligence and confidence within her element as a mage but shows naiveté and timidity in the face of her feelings and other things outside her control. Mahiro is impulsive and hot-heated but shows intelligence and prudence in pursuing his revenge. Uniformly, the three leads (and Aika, Mahiro’s sister) are sympathetic and interesting and essentially carry the show through its weaker parts. The visuals are excellent too. The big action and fantasy set pieces are grand, well designed and beautifully realised thanks to the ever competent animators at BONES. The music too is good throughout the series, giving an extra kick of drama to the big crescendo moments.
Where Zetsuen no Tempest falters is when it comes to anime’s age old problem: plot pacing. The plot is almost uniformly good throughout the whole runtime, the twists are a tad predictable but thematically strong so can be tolerated, but the events are spread out across the show in such a lopsided and unsatisfying manner that it almost ruined the show for me. Dramatic moments like the confrontation between Samon and Yoshino are stretched out to obscene lengths that I found myself wondering when or whether they would ever end and that is the last thing you want from the biggest set piece situations whether you are a viewer or creator. I’ll admit, I probably like a dramatic talk-off between enemies more than most but when a conversation stretches onto its third episode even I begin to lose patience. Another problem is that the side characters are weak compared to the main cast and the majority of them add nothing to the plot or the show except the occasional piece of humour. I would comment on them individually but I can’t remember a single one of their names and I think that says everything about how memorable or effective they were.
Those are big flaws but I still recommend Zetsuen no Tempest. It’s true that the plot is stretched too thin over the twenty four episodes, leaving some vicious wrinkles in its plotting, and too many characters are worthless but this novel tale of love, revenge and forgiveness is so well realised in its main cast that I would still give it a (tentative) recommendation. If you’re looking for something a bit harder to label or just want to see some classic Shakespeare themes explored in your anime then give it a go. It is interesting if nothing else.
Not a strong four stars but even for its flaws it has enough quality to stand above the majority of the pack. Take a star away if you hate dialogue heavy shows. This cast likes to talk. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: This is an action series so people fight and people are killed but the violence is never explicit.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source.
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Zetsuen no Tempest © 2012 Kyo Shirodaira,Arihide Sano,Ren Saizaki/Zetsuen Project,MBS
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