There’s absolutely nothing else like this series, and there hasn’t been for a while. It’s old-school anime for sure, classic BONES, but it’s so old-school that it feels as much like Shakespeare of even Sophocles – and in operatic form, to boot. I think the term “spoken-word opera” still comes closer to capturing the nature of Zetsuen for me than anything else I’ve heard, and this episode was a perfect example of just how it manages to achieve that effect.
I’ve mentioned before how I tend to be a bit detached in the first half of the episode with this show, and then something happens and all of a sudden I’m completely transported into its world and the next thing I know, the end credits are rolling. We seem to get one brilliant scene every week – last week was the confrontation where Samon kept pounding his sword on the rock – and this time it was Yoshino’s recollection of his conversation on the beach with Aika, prompted by Hakaze’s fatalistic observation that she had no lines of “Hamlet” to quote. It was, in a word, spectacular – in every respect, starting with the fact that the whole thing was set to an orchestral arrangement of Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata, which gave the whole thing an operatic sweep and grandeur I’ve rarely seen equaled by any scene in anime.
As beautiful as the scene was – and with the music (which lives as a character in its own right in ZnT) it was pretty damn beautiful – what makes it even better is the breathtaking way it transitioned the story with the introduction of “The Tempest” – this time Shakespeare’s, not Beethoven’s. It never occurred to me that the story was setting “Hamlet” and “The Tempest” off as opposite poles, and that by recalling that moment Yoshino was symbolically trying to change the course of fate. Will “The Tempest” dominate the next phase of the series as “Hamlet” dominated the first? It’s not coincidental that these two plays are quite often measured against each other by critics for their similarities and fascinating differences, and it’s also interesting to note that “The Tempest” is believed by most scholars to be The Bard’s last play, and its ending (which Aika refers to as “everyone lived happily ever after”) speculated by some to be Shakespeare’s statement that he’d gotten all he could out of his pen, and that his life as a writer was effectively over.
The riddle of these two Shakespeare-quoting siblings is still a puzzle, especially Aika’s death and how it fits into the larger picture. But the other element of the episode that stands out is Mahiro’s (Toyonaga Toshiyuki is playing against type here to an astonishing degree) single-minded determination to find Aika’s killer even if it means the world is destroyed, especially the way it impacts Samon. There’s real, genuine humor here – something Zetsuen uses sparingly – in Samon’s flabbergasted facial expressions as first Mahiro and then Yoshino act in stark defiance of logic. I really feel sorry for Samon here – I think his belief that his path is best for the world is sincere, and he’s such a creature of reason and probability that the behavior of the boys – caught in the midst of their own tragedy playing out – utterly baffles him. “How did I get caught in the middle of a fight between children?” indeed.
The pinnacle of all this of course is when Yoshino plays the boyfriend card – surely the most dramatic (and comedic) use of the term since Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein. Samon’s thoughts here again rise to the level of high comedy – “He’s willing to abandon the deal he made with me because he might find out about a boyfriend? Inconceivable!” Even Hakaze is bemused enough by this turn to break out of her stupor a bit – the fate of everything in the world set aside by Mahiro over the chance to learn the identity of his sister’s boyfriend.
In the end, none of the other shoes dropped. Yoshino reserved the biggest secret in his arsenal – the fact that he’s Aika’s boyfriend – and the episode ended on a marvelous cliffhanger just as he was about to reveal his plan to bring Hakaze back from the dead (or back in time, or both). I agree with Mahiro that Samon seemed a little too nervous considering how confident he’d seemed that Hakaze was surely dead, but to be honest I’m not sure that bringing Hakaze back is for the best – at this point, there seems to be more weight to the argument that Samon is right about the world’s fate than the one that Hakaze is, at least based on what we’ve been told. Is Yoshino doing what he’s doing out of a sense of loyalty to Hakaze, a purely idealistic move – which I would argue would be somewhat out of character – or does he truly believe that she’s a better custodian of the world’s fate than Samon is?