Zetsuen no Tempest may be last in my my list of tags, but it’s rapidly climbing towards the top echelon of recent anime. I’ll spoil any suspense now – this is going to be in my Top 10 list for 2013. There hasn’t been an anime year with 10 better shows since I’ve been a fan – not even 2007, though it’s close – and there’s pretty much zero chance 2013 will come near that mark. I don’t value uniqueness above all other qualities – I’ll take a great formula series over a good trail-blazer any day – but the fact that Zetsuen is so unlike any other series of the last few years is undeniably another feather in its cap.
What we see in this episode is really a celebration of the BONES way of doing business – although as I’ve said in the past, this is also a show that reminds me a lot of the ones Gonzo used to do when they were at the height of their powers (it’s become fashionable to forget just how great Gonzo was in the early-to-mid 2000’s). This is very much a series of that time, which was a very strong period indeed for anime; yet it’s also timeless, a celebration of Shakespeare and opera and any artist who dares to dream big and credit the audience enough to trust that they’ll let the grandiosity wash over them and embrace it. That’s a good encapsulation of the BONES creative philosophy in general terms, and this is a series that proves to my satisfaction (along with the criminally underappreciated Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean) that BONES is still among the very best in the business at being themselves.
The philosophical struggle between The Tempest and Hamlet continues apace as the spine that runs through Zetsuen no Tempest, and more than ever it becomes clear just how much everyone has been dancing to Aika’s tune from the beginning. She’s the one who introduced those plays into the mix in the first place, after all. From the comedy, she offers the following words:
What a magnificence the battle – if you can call it that – between the two mages was. Truth be told, there are holes I could pick in this scenario’s consistency if I wanted to – the logic of this world really isn’t 100% foolproof. But what would be the purpose of that, when we’re given such a marvelous display of theatrics? The music, the stunning hand-drawn animation in the duel, Aika’s preposterously grandiose behavior – as always, Zetsuen is not a show to be watched so much as one to be experienced. BONES always packs too much plot and too many ideas into their more ambitious series, but rarely have they had material so well-suited to it as they do here. And even if Aika’s reasoning doesn’t really hold up (and I have some serious issues with her theory on why her death is the only way the Tree of Genesis can be defeated) I don’t much care, because of the seemingly endless supply of style and atmosphere the series provides.
The fact is, of course, that Aika pretty much owns Hakaze in every way possible. Reading between the lines of her side of the conversation with Hakaze, it seems as if Evangeline’s alien theory might be pretty close to the mark. In any event it does seem as if the Tree of Genesis’ primary function is to test civilizations’s fitness to survive, and the Tree of Exodus’ is a sort of field-leveller to give the humans a chance to prove they’re worthy of continuing on. Seen through this lens, the power of Exodus is merely an extension of the power of Genesis – two sides of the same coin – and Aika is free to access it more or less at will, while Hakaze plays under a very strict set of rules (if so, why can’t Aika just defeat the Tree of Genesis under his own powers? Oh well, why even ask…). That of course gives Aika an insurmountable advantage over Hakaze, an after their fascinating conversation in which she plays the role of detective, murderer and victim in her own case, she puts Hakaze to sleep and returns to her mansion to set the stage for the future. In the painful moment of discovering that she’s too late, Hakaze fittingly turns to the words of the tragedy:
The time is out of joint. / O cursed spite!
That ever I was born to set it right!
The tug of war continues, and Hamlet’s words reflect Hakaze’s frustration – the realization that all along she’s been nothing but a tool of fate, a cog in a machine within which the power to change events is seemingly only illusory, even for one as powerful as she. A theme we see, over and over, is the irrationality of the human animal – time and time agin characters proclaim that they don’t give a fig for the fate of the species, only their selfish feelings about those they love. Aika is by no means immune to this: she states as her primary reason for killing herself that she doesn’t want Yoshino and Mashiro to suffer the fate that will befall civilisation if the Tree of Genesis isn’t defeated. Samon stands out as the one character who seems to at least try and see the forest for the trees (I apologize for that), but in every instance he’s helpless against a tide of impulsiveness and passion that he seems quite unable to understand.
There’s something to be said for the notion that in the end, the power of love might just trump all the world’s logic and those who try and act based on it. Aika’s letter to Mashiro and Yoshino contains information that hasn’t been disclosed to us yet, but it seems indisputable from her inner monologues that she sincerely loves both Yoshino and Mashiro (especially the former) and there’s something rather touching about the lengths the characters in this series are willing to go to for those they care about – even if I quite sympathize with Samon’s perspective in the larger sense. I’m not remotely convinced, though, that Aika is irrevocably dead (if indeed at all), given her powers and the degree of nonchalance she showed about the prospect. Not to mention the matter of Hanamura’s still unseen girlfriend, and what a convenient position that would be from which to influence events from beyond the grave (and the fact that Hakaze has conveniently given Aika the knowledge of who the “backup” Mage of Exodus is to be). There’s still a lot of hell to be paid before we find out once and for all whether Zetsuen no Tempest is a tragedy or a comedy, and given what we know of Fuwa Aika I can’t imagine she isn’t going to be directly involved in dishing it out.