I don’t know why BONES didn’t decide to take on Shakespeare years ago, because they pair together like wine and cheese. Rarely in anime have I felt so at sea when it comes to overall plot and not really cared, and when I have, BONES has usually been the studio behind it. They’re the masters of the florid and the Byzantine, the studio that never met a plot twist or soliloquy they didn’t like enough to do twice, and Zetsuen no Tempest fits them like a glove.
There seems to come a moment for me in every episode of Zetsuen where a transition happens. I go from being somewhat disconnected and even bored to completely enraptured, and before I know it the episode is over. I think this time it was listening to Aika’s speech to Yoshino about the summer stars, and I was thinking to myself that not only would no other studio get away with preposterous dialogue like that, none would even try – and then I was in the moment and completely hooked. That’s the magic of this series, that it can operate on a level of pure theatre and still manage to connect with the audience as if it were remotely realistic. The soundtrack here is truly wonderful, ridiculously dramatic and old-fashioned, and the series is peppered with absolutely lovely visual images that reflect BONES as its very best. At first it was merely this distinctive sense of style that had me interested, but now it’s the characters as well.
This is the second flashback episode ZnT has used to advance the story, and this one was almost as good as the first. Like everything else about the series it’s not following any kind of conventional anime timeline in terms of exposition, but instead sort of taking the process of character development and putting it in reverse. We’re seeing the results of what’s happened in the past and getting to know the characters as they are today, and only afterwards are we being shown how they got to be that way. It’s an interesting experience watching that play out, and in a way it’s much like real life – we live in the present and only see the impact of the past, and not the past itself. When we meet new people we’re forced to fill in the blanks in our minds, and if we get to know them there’s always an interesting process of finding out if our guesses were right.
The sense of tragedy runs deep in this story, and the foreshadowing of the eventual falling out between Yoshino and Mahiro is foreshadowed in the manner of a Greek tragedy where we already know the ending, and the drama comes in seeing how we get there. My read on this is that while Mahiro is the wild child, it’s Yoshino who’s the truly dangerous one of the two, which is camouflaged by his meek and submissive demeanor. He’s good at everything (add darts to the list this time), always thinking two steps ahead, and seems quite capable of doing whatever he has to do to survive. I don’t see him as a bad person, merely extremely smart and agile – indeed, Aika describes him as having a “high degree of adaptability” and she’s right, though understating dramatically. He’s capable of being many things to many people, and finding a way not just to survive any situation but thrive in it. By contrast Mahiro is transparent – angry and reckless, but ultimately predictable. They’re as different as the summer and winter stars.
Whether you view what happened between Yoshino and Aika as a betrayal will depend on your personal biases – both of them were certainly free to love who they pleased, and she seems to have been the aggressor – but it does increasingly seem as if Yoshino was fully aware of the implications of their relationship as it relates to Mashiro. Despite being dead Aika is very much a player in this story (and who knows, the same might be true of Hakaze) and as a tale of revenge, Zetsuen no Tempest has as many facets as Hamlet. We’ve certainly been told that with the Tree of Genesis and Exodus involved there are no coincidences, and Aika’s murder is one of many elements that haven’t been tied into the main storyline yet, and surely will be. Like the works that inspired it this is very clearly a work about the darkness that lurks in the hearts of men, and the actions the desperate impulse to avoid being consumed by it drives them to.