Zetsuen no Tempest is yet another Fall series of sterling quality that’s a complete commercial flop, which is something of a recurring (and depressing) theme. I can understand it to some extent, because Zetsuen took a while to really get under my skin and even now, I sometimes don’t quite feel connected during the A-Part. But somehow this series has a magical quality to it that reaches critical mass somewhere around the episode break, and from that point on I’m usually completely entranced – as indeed happened this week. ZnT definitely isn’t getting any less bizarre, but this arc seems to have found its legs in a big way. It’s radically different from the last in many ways, but I’m beginning to appreciate that this might not be such a bad thing.
Getting Andou Masahiro to direct was clearly a decision of paramount importance, because the sense of sweeping theatricality is the one element that sets Zetsuen apart from almost all TV anime. It’s beautiful, for starters – beautiful to listen to (it’s hard to go wrong with Beethoven as the spine of your soundtrack), beautiful to look at. The dialogue has a rhythm to it that’s quite unique, and the background and facial animations are some of the best of the year. But beyond being beautiful, Zetsuen is big. It’s full of grand words and grand themes, outlandishly cool poses and larger-than life personalities. As I’ve said in the past not only do I doubt any studio but BONES could pull this off with a (mostly) straight face, I sincerely doubt there are many who would even try.
One element I’ve really liked about the last couple of episodes is the way it’s taken the fantastical characters of the first arc like Samon, Hakaze and Natsumura and shown them in mundane situations. These are exotic anime characters in a post-apocalyptic world, and we see them shopping, cooking, talking about high school and being turned into moon-eyed schoolgirls by a crush. Natsamura’s question to Mahiro after mentioning high school brought a surprised reaction – “Just what do you think I am?” – is on-point here. These kinds of radical scene-changes in the middle of two-cour anime don’t always work, but the sheer dichotomy here is appealing.
You might think moving the setting to the isolated village of the Kusaribe would take us back to the vibe of the first cour, but it doesn’t – what we see instead is the villagers as perfectly normal people who happen to be magic-users. I loved this setting with it’s mountain landscapes, deep gorges and rushing rivers – it fits the majestic tone of the show perfectly. As Hanemura is beginning his career as a Genesis-battling superhero, Hakaze and Yoshino are headed to the village to track down rumors of a spy from the outside world. I enjoyed Hakaze’s inner monologues as she becomes more and more hopelessly entranced by Yoshino (“Would I be cuter if I acted scared here?”) more than I have in the past, and there was some interesting back-story about Aika – including Mahiro reading Hamlet and discussing it with Natsumura. It’s still hard to keep track of just who is working with who and why, but it seems pretty obvious that Tetsuma has the strongest antipathy for Yoshino – he seems to interpret everything that happens as a sign that he’s really the Mage of Exodus. Is there a deeper reason for this animosity – such as his own feelings for Hakaze? Hard to say yet.
I see all of this as more less highly entertaining diversion, to be honest. We’re still dancing around the main events – the truth of Yoshino and Aika’s relationship being revealed, Aika’s true fate – the events which will decide whether this series is The Tempest of Hamlet. There was a lot of talk of ghosts this week – about how Mahiro refuses to believe in them, or anything he can’t quantify, and Aika’s comment to Yoshino that he’s “slowly becoming a boring person like Mahiro, who won’t accept irrational things.” And “You’d like to see someone who’s passed on, even as a ghost. Will you deny those feelings, too? What if it were my ghost?” There’ve been so many hints that there’s a huge secret about Aika waiting to be uncovered that I can’t believe for a moment that flashback was anything but highly significant. Even if Zetsuen no Tempest is taking its time getting to the answers I really don’t mind, because with this series it’s really more about the journey than the destination for me.