Saturday, March 30, 2013

Zetsuen no Tempest - Review

Year: 2012 - 2013
Studio: Bones
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Drama

Synopsis: [ANN: Zetsuen no Tempest]
"Mahiro Fuwa, a teenager whose family was mysteriously murdered a year ago, is contacted by Hakaze Kusaribe, a young woman who stands against her clan since they left her stranded on a deserted island. As the two decide to help each other, Hakase's quest to oppose her clan brings to light that the Kusaribe clan intends to awaken the "Tree of Exodus" whose power can bring chaos upon the entire world."

Like holy moly studio Bones, you really found a perfect outlet for your vision, Zetsuen no Tempest could not have been more Bones if it tried. And for the record, this is a series that proves once again Bones has no qualms about throwing the audience off the track, not once but multiple times in a single show. It has been a fun ride with Zetsuen no Tempest, albeit one that's difficult to articulate on paper. What started off as a generic story turned into something of its own beast packed with operatic grandiosity and florid dialogue quoting shakespeare. Interestingly enough, for such a dramatic narrative, the characters in ZnT are not mere actors on stage, they are nuanced and self-reflective, especially in the second half of its run. At the end of the day, this is very much a character driven show dressed in complex and often convoluted concepts, not unlike many other Bones works, original or otherwise. Oh did I mention I do love the series? Yes, I have my gripes, but they are outweighed by what ZnT was able to achieve.   

Again, it's not a easy show to talk about it, I'm having trouble just to find a starting point for this review. You would be hard pressed to find another show where the second half of story deviates so significantly from the first in terms of narrative style and overall atmosphere, but still comes through as a coherent piece. You would also be hard pressed to find another show in which a character who has been dead even before the story began exerts more influence over the events than perhaps anyone on screen, or where it can go four episodes supported by little more than argumentative dialogues and dramatic character expressions (Samon, I'm looking at you). To be honest, if I was to reference any plot point without given you the framework to contextualize it,  you would probably dismiss it as ridiculously absurd. Yet it is precisely how dexterous ZnT has been at dealing with ridiculously absurd ideas that it emerges as something truly memorable. And the best part? It understands the mentality of the audience quite well, to the point that it knows exactly where to throw you off the track. If there was an award for red herring, then ZnT wins it hands down. I can't even began to count the number of times my expectation was overturned. 

For starters, both Mahiro and Yoshino came off as somewhat suspicious characters, with Mahiro being the short-fused older brother recklessly seeking revenge regardless of consequences, and Yoshino, the secret boyfriend whose demeanour is eerily calm and collected for his age. Neither of them was very relatable or even likeable in the first couple episodes. Bones made a good call in inserting the anime original flashback episode of the first meeting between Yoshino and Mahiro. It strengthened a weak link in the manga where the initial chapters progressed way too fast for any real character development and was effective in bringing me emotionally closer to our two male leads without revealing their intentions in the present time. But even then, I felt there was underlying tension, and perhaps even a degree of mistrust between the two. The story leads us to perceive them as very different people with clashing ideologies and it is implied that there would come a day when their friendship may not stand the test against the revelation potentially detrimental to their trust. There is even a moment in the series that embodies the very intention to mislead – at the end of the episode before their confrontation with Samon, Mahiro actually points the gun at Yoshino, you really can't say it wasn't foreshadowing in one sense or another. But of course, ZnT likes to prove how misplaced my speculation was, as the series progressed, we begin to see and appreciate the depth of their mutual trust. Through their shared love for Aika, they are joined on a level that allows them to understand each other in a way that no one else could, and it is not something that needs to be voiced. The revelation not only left their friendship intact, in some way, it actually solidified their bond. By the end of the series, we are left with a vastly different impression of the two from the time of their introduction as they became mature and genuinely respectable characters. 

If the first half of the series focused on Mahiro and Yoshino to a larger extent, then the second half is where Aika and Hakaze shine. Now Aika is one of those characters you just don't forget easily and considering she's been dead all along with no way to reverse her self-imposed fate, it's quite a feat accomplished by ZnT. In some way, Aika is an enigma even until the curtain fall. I wasn't too far off the mark with regards to her identity as her presence was quite dominant throughout the series for someone who's dead, but I didn't expect her to be such a powerful figure either, largely because of Hanemura's existence. In hindsight, below the surface of her peculiar behaviours, she has always emanated an aura of detachment and melancholy. There was a disconnect between her age and her wisdom, it was almost like she understood more than she wished, which is technically true. Depending on what your perspective is, her action can be judged as either selfless or selfish. I don't entirely empathize with her logic, but I supposed it's consistent with her character, unpredictable and self-determined. With a burden as heavy as the entire world on her shoulder, the chance at experiencing a normal reality is taken away from her. Mahiro and Yoshino have given her a kind of happiness she never thought she could have being who she is and her love for them formed the basis for her action, propelling her to choose the fate that she knew would guarantee their survival. As Aika puts it, she followed the script that was written for her, and all that's left to do is have a beautiful exit, and boy was it ever so beautiful. But we can also see it from a different light, maybe she also defied her pre-determined role in someway – even though she was supposed to be the last hope for humanity, she chose a path that strayed away from her duty and acted on passion and personal devotion instead. She wasn't so much fighting for the world as she was for Mahiro and Yoshino. Her choice was a testament of her love, while we can debate about it forever, we can't deny that she went out with elegance and grace, and left her imprint on the characters as well as the audience. Her final message to the two was something you would expect from her, quirky, unnervingly detached given the implication of the message, but also oddly poignant. She also didn't forget to exude her personality one last time with teasing in her usual perverse fashion. I wouldn't have it any other way, it was a very heartfelt farewell indeed. 

Hakaze is without a doubt more of a normal girl than Aika was ever allowed to be. She's courageous in action and candid in opinions. It was refreshing to see a female character who's so willing to openly declare her love. I doubt we would ever see the human side of Yoshino if Hakaze didn't provoke him to vent his suppressed emotions. So I love her for that. As an interesting speculation, I think if there is any one who genuinely understands Aika's action, it would be Hakaze, as they both love Yoshino. Just like Mahiro and Yoshino are connected in their shared love for Aika, the same thing could be said for Aika and Hakaze with respect to Yoshino. Of course, it doesn't make the scene less heartbreaking when Hakaze was torn apart by her inability to save Aika from the cage of fate. All in all, she's just a character that's hard not to like. 

In regards to the finale, admittedly having the sword arriving at Hemura's rescue at exactly that moment is borderline deus ex machina. However, rather than the method, I see it more as a timing and execution issue. A few episodes back, Aika mentioned that the Tree of Exodus would turn into a sword when the time calls for it, so the method to destroy the Tree of Genesis is never something up for debate. And because Hanemura wasn't at his full potential, he wasn't able to summon the sword until the moment of calamity really befell mankind. But being an infamous shonen plot twist where the hero prevails in the direst situation, it's almost anti-climatic for a show that has been defying conventions as well as expectations at every chance it got. It also occurred to me that it was perhaps a little too convenient for the Tree of Genesis to be eradicated so easily without putting up much of a fight against the Tree of Exodus, which is ultimately powered by Genesis. It makes me questions just exactly what past civilization did wrong to fail over and over again. Well, I don't think it's something to dwell on with rest of the episode beautifully crafted. The majority of this finale is dedicated to offering closure for various characters, all wrapped in lighthearted humor. I like what Bones did with Yoshino and Hakaze in the final scene, it was symbolic of Aika's wish for him to move on and live a happy life. The way manga handled their relationship was too conclusive for my taste and leaves little space for imagination, so I'm glad for the subtle change. But the anime did leave somethings out that I wish were included, such as Samon dating Evangeline and adopting Yoshino and Mahiro. It's pretty ironic considering Samon was actually the antagonist for half the series and Evangeline also had a rough start with the boys that involved getting her face smashed by Mahiro. The prospect of all of them continuing to live together under the same roof as a real family brings a smile to my face. The end is indeed a new beginning. 

The entire soundtrack consists of classical orchestra, which is more than appropriate for a story inspired by Shakespearian works. The music is such a dominant part of the series that contributed in accentuating its theatrical tone. It goes to show what a talented composer Oshima Michiru truly is. As per usual, the animation is of superb quality beginning to end in the Bones style. I know it's getting repetitive at this point, but I just don't find fault with Bones animation, they are a stellar studio that always strives to dishing out work of the highest quality. So no complaint here from a satisfied fan. 

On a final note, if someone told me Bones commissioned Kyo Shirodaira to write ZnT, I would've believed them. This is essentially a Bones show at heart, so flamboyant and ostentatious, but also so sincere and ernest. I'm not usually into this whole fate business because it can get messy and not necessarily in a good way, but ZnT was able to maintain a steady flow of ideas without getting crushed by its own ambition. There are plot holes of course, but they don't detract from the overall experience.  Comparing to the other top shows of the season, it is not as profound as Shin Sekai Yori or as provocative as Psycho-Pass, but it is inspiring in its own way – humans are the most powerful when they are fighting for each other. I salute both Shrodaira and the creative staff at Bones headed by Ando and Okada for this wonderfully unique show. 

Rating: 9/10 

P.S FLYING PINEAPPLES FTW~ Seriously, it is pretty epic even by ZnT standard. C'mon, I'm sure I'm not the only one who laughed. lol


  1. Really nice, I also found it incredibly hard to talk about this series for my Overall Review. I'm impressed you were able to go so in depth, and so insightful as well. I'm going to miss this; it's a huge shame there's no Bones on the table for the Spring.

  2. Aww thank you for the comment. Yeah, it definitely wasn't an easy show to talk took me a long time to start the review before I was able to collect my thought. The cast as a whole is also very well developed, so it was hard to comment on just a few and leaving out the rest. This is where you episode bloggers should be proud
    And I agree....Bones has been so quiet lately, I mean no new show for two seasons in a row is pretty rare even for Bones.

  3. Not at all, I've added you to my blogroll actually. =) Episodic reviews are fine, but I think it's much more difficult to discuss an entire series in one post, and I think you do a great job at it. Same, I'm pretty behind on the five or so other shows I'm supposed to be blogging because of it, but it was hard to get my thoughts down. I hardly managed to mention anyone myself, haha. Hopefully this means they'll work on something really good next as well. I wish they'd take up Ozaki Kaori's Immortal Rain, though I'd be happy if ANY studio took that on.

    1. I finally edited the threaded comments option..*facepalm*
      Anyways, thank you for the confidence boost and you are in my blogroll too, haha. I've never really thought of myself as a good writer, I agree that being in a science program really does dull your writing skill. After four years of research paper, I've pretty much forsaken all creative writing skills, this blog is my attempt to salvage any I have left. As you can see, my first couple of posts are really clumsy, so much so that I'm a little embarrassed to read

      Immortal Rain looks pretty damn awesome, I think I'll pick it up. It seems to be a shojo manga, a genre Bones hasn't really ventured into save for Ouran. I'd be happy to see it adapted! Bones next project is Space Dandy and we do have some vague and unofficial information on it.

  4. Haha, when I started, I was adding links manually for a month before I realized there's an "add links" button at the top of each window. xD It was SO time consuming. I feel the same. My writing is terrible after just two years of doing astrophysics, and now I'm plagued by run on sentences and so on. I've been improving now that I'm blogging, but it's still a work in progress. It's hard to get into a good rhythm; my first posts were all summaries. xP

    If Eureka Seven is my favorite anime, Immortal Rain is my favorite manga; it's definitely worth a look. It's shoujo but it crosses genres into action and tragedy. Maybe someday soon we shall see someone pick it up.

    I did hear about Space Dandy but I'd forgotten. I'm excited to see it, considering Shinichiro Watanabe is involved as well.

    1. I'm in my final year of Uni, graduating in June! But I think I'll have to apply to grad school after I get some real life experience. Yup...being stuck in research paper mode is not fun....all my sentences sounded like arguments supporting a thesis...

      Ohoho, I don't want to get your hopes up yet, but Dai Sato (don't quote me on it xD) MAY be involved with Space Dandy. According to Thomas Romain, there are some big names associated with it and he tweeted about meeting Dai Sato the day after Bones kickoff party for S.D. But hey, it's all speculation for now.

    2. Congrats! I've still got two years to go, unfortunately. xD Grad school is the best way to avoid the real world for a bit longer; I'm probably doing that. Better to sound like you're arguing a point than sounding like you're drunk. ;p Sometimes I'm so sleepy when I do my posts that I feel I come off as pretty wasted, though I don't drink.

      SWEET HYLIA PLEASE LET THIS HAPPEN. Dai Sato is like, the man who saved my life. xD Sounds incredibly dramatic and ridiculous, but I was considering suicide when I saw E7 for the first time in 2006 as a depressed teen. It seriously became my coping mechanism, especially Eureka, whom I identify a lot with. I love seeing his works, and it's been a while. It'd be nice if this would happen, haha.

    3. It must have been some pretty dark time for you if you thought suicide was an option. I can empathize though, teen was some of the most volatile years of my life too, though it really hasn't been all that long ago if I really think about it...
      But I can see why Eureka would be someone you identify with, she's so fragile but so strong at the same time. She's a reflection of one's tattered self-esteem but also a reminder of the strength in one's soul. I guess the same thing applies to Renton as well, which makes him such a genuine character at the end of the day.
      Haha, I know anime is more than escapism, but at times, that's what it is, a perfect escapism that allow us understand ourselves better.

    4. This was actually the theme I had when I first started blogging, though in aquamarine. ;o Very pretty.

      It was, I had a lot of issues with my family and so on. Growing up is pretty tough no matter who you are. It really wasn't that long ago for me either, but it feels like forever ago.

      I could write books on Eureka, haha. Well, I hold myself back on RRV posts, but she's a really complicated individual. Renton is different but no less complex, and they share some similarities.

      I think that can be said for most methods of escapism, at least the constructive kinds. You can find meaning in anything if you're looking for it.

    5. I was bored of my old theme lol. Is aquamarine your favorite color? I think it looks gorgeous, but I wanted a warmer color after my last theme.

      Issues with family are sometimes the most difficult to resolve. I think it was just a period that we really questioned our own identity, there is just so much confusion and insecurity.

      I bet you could write books on her lol, she's truly a fascinating character and I think she was portrayed really well in AO, still the old Eureka we know but more. Renton's demeanour was so mature that it actually surprised me, but I guess after what they've been through, he really toughened up. I've been trying to find the time to watch it again, maybe in the summer, though some E7 magic sounds good right now with finals coming up. Ugh..

    6. It looks more open like this, I like it. =) It is, haha, I love how it's really calming to look at.

      Family is difficult in general, and it never helps when you're having issues just understanding yourself. I'm not sorry that part of growing up is over, though I miss the hell out of being a child.

      I really liked her in AO; it made me extremely angry when people would say that she and Renton should have just not had Ao. That's all fine and dandy, but the time paradox meant she was aware of his existence way before they tried to conceive again. After losing their daughter, it would be like killing their son (plus it would screw up the paradox, which means she'd never have been rescued). I had to adjust to Renton, but it made sense to me once I'd put myself in their shoes. AO really made me cry for a whole month on end. xD E7 magic is always good; I'm planning on watching and blogging some of it this week, after putting it off for way too long.

    7. I don't think many people understood what actually transpired in AO, at least that's the impression I was getting after reading through a dozen very harsh (and quite misguided) feedbacks. People accepted the paradox in ZnT no problem, but somehow they had difficulty understanding the time paradox in AO, which is essentially very similar in principle even though the circumstances in which it occurred were more complicated. Eureka only realized who AO was after she traveled back to her own timeline, a universe that was never altered by events in AO. Once you get that, the rest just takes patience to sort through.

    8. Yeah, I think part of the reason is that people were ready to hate on it from the start, so they didn't care to make sense of it. I thought it was a pretty simple explanation, barring the extra Nirvash plot hole. I don't know why no one realized these were two separate universes; I had a hell of a time convincing even people who liked the series that this was the case, despite the fact it gets mentioned more than once.

    9. A lot of people, and I do mean A LOT of people seem to think we were only dealing with one universe. o__O..I wonder if they missed the part that explicitly stated Scub corals can travel through dimensions (both time and space). It sure as hell explains a lot of things, including how the scubs solved the limit of questions at the end of E7 and the activation of secrets as part of the defense mechanism in AO's universe. The extra nirvash does some damage to the paradox plot line, but it's not too detrimental, I didn't even notice it until I was writing up my explanation post. I also had to argue with people who complained about the pacing, which I thought was quite alright considering BONES clearly planned that ending since episode one. I suppose people had their brain on autopilot when they watched the show and expected themselves to understand without any conscious effort.

    10. I think it might have been Fleur speculating about time travel that made people think that was the only explanation. I dunno, I'm done trying to help people get it. xD If they want to, they'll find ways to do it on their own. The extra Nirvash is annoying, but hardly the end of the world. The only issue I had with the pacing was in the last two episodes where all the new cast got ignored completely, but it was okay because I wanted to see Renton, Eureka, and Ao. =p I think that's the problem for most series unfortunately, and for any media in general. Few people look for thinking exercises in their enjoyments.

  5. Eh? So at the end of the manga, Yoshino and Mahiro were adopted by Samon and Evangeline?!