I’ve said many times about both this series and the studio that produced it that not only would no one else have pulled off some of the stuff it does, but they wouldn’t even have tried. I can’t imagine there are a lot of examples of an episode like this one following the one we got last week – it was the extremes of Zetsuen’s varied personality arc on glorious display. The magic of this series is the way it juxtaposes such radically clashing elements: the preposterously fantastic Samon buying underwear, the all-powerful mage-princess as a stammering schoolgirl, the ridiculous and the sublime. This show is utterly fearless, and more and more I believe it’s the kind of series that will grow steadily in esteem, and only be recognized for its uniqueness years after it’s actually aired.
The news came this week that the Zetsuen no Tempest manga is ending next month, after a relatively brief 44 chapters. That’s interesting on many levels, not least of which that despite poor BD/DVD sales the manga has seen a decent bump since the anime premièred. It also suggests that the timing of this adaptation might not be coincidental, and that we may be headed for a concurrent ending – a relative rarity in anime and manga, but not unheard of. I’m disappointed that the manga is ending because I’d planned to start reading it after the anime ends, but it probably serves as the best thing for the adaptation – we’re going to get the ending the mangaka intended, and that’s probably been the plan all along. And while I give full credit to Okada Mari and BONES for the job they’ve done adapting it, it does help explain why the build-up has been so evenly paced and seemingly on-track for a big finish in six more weeks.
If last week was the pinnacle of Zetsuen’s absurdity, this was the episode where the masks were ripped off and the stark truth was confronted. I confess I may have sold Hanemura a little short – he may be a hapless boob, but he does seemingly possess a common sense that allows him to see what should be obvious to all but isn’t. We saw it with his conclusion that Aika was Yoshino’s girlfriend, and we see it again with his very astute observation that both Yoshino and Mahiro have acted strangely, considering their circumstances. “Numb” is a pretty good word for Yoshino – with his frozen half-smile and detached calm and “Let’s be sure to chew our food properly” nonchalance. Considering all he’s lost – home, family his entire life – his behavior is no less odd than Mahiro’s. He’s simply masked his trauma under a veneer of placidity, but Mahiro has wholly given over his existence to revenge.
Samon’s “I cannot read the future at all” here is rather poignant, I think – the lament of a man hopelessly unable to cope with the vagaries of the human heart. For Hakaze it’s rather different – it’s her own heart she’s unable to cope with, though unlike Samon she’s quite aware of the irrational behavior it’s causing her to engage in. It seems that with the unburdening of his secret at last something breaks in Yoshino, and he crumbles under her somewhat self-absorbed assault on his false front. Mahiro’s way may not be healthy but at least he’s acting on his feelings – for Yoshino, life has been a lie both to himself and to the world. Even as she holds him in her arms as he sobs, it must be clear to Hakaze that Yoshino shows no outward signs that his feelings for her are in any way similar to his feelings for Aika. An acknowledgement of his own pain is one thing – a willingness to love someone else quite another.
There an obvious dilemma for Hakaze in all this – the thing she feared most might happen because of her love for Yoshino may very well have happened already. Even if he professes to forgive her for possibly causing Aika’s death it won’t be so easy for her to forgive herself, and she certainly won’t forgive the Tree of Genesis. There’s a “nothing left to lose” quality to her actions late in the episode (and not just hers). After copping a feel of Yoshino’s earlobe at last she sets out to “test” the Tree of Genesis but I’m with Jun-niisan on this one – it looks as if she’s pretty much decided to take out the Tree one way or the other. Her first step in this is to try and force Hanemura to sack up enough to be able to complete his job, assuming he really is the Mage of Exodus – and she does this by dressing as a sort of Onmyouji and confronting him as he’s about to conduct another staged deforestation in Yokohama (a gorgeously drawn and animated sequence in grand BONES tradition). Her theory clearly is “that which doesn’t kill Hanemura makes him stronger” – we’ll see if that holds up over time.
I would also ascribe the same sort of abandon to Mahiro’s actions at the close of the ep as well. After denying the truth of the matter as long as possible – he may very well have known it subconsciously all along – he appears to finally grasp reality in the end. And of course there’s only one way Mahiro can respond to reality, and that’s with rage. I suspect though that next week’s confrontation may lack the fireworks one might expect – I think there’s enough between Mahiro and Yoshino to get past this. And after all, they do share something very important – they both lost the woman they loved. As for Evangeline’s theory about the possible nature of the Tree of Genesis – the one truly absurdist moment that sneaked through in the episode, coming after a very compelling dissertation on the nature of dragon/snake mythology – I’m tempted to dismiss it as a joke. But with Zetsuen no Tempest, anything is possible, and that’s a big part of its charm. It’s a series that never asked for a suspension of disbelief – it left believability behind from the beginning – but instead celebrates the fantastic with unapologetic exuberance.