The following review is essentially a salty rambling involving a show no one’s watched and a particularly egregious cinema sin: “quote dropping”.
Nothing grinds my gears more than a highly superficial anime that pretentiously throws around Shakespeare quotes with no apparent purpose or meaning. No, it doesn’t emphasize the show’s dramatic storytelling, nor does it contribute to the themes (or lack thereof) that the show attempts to present. Rather, shows that arbitrarily drop quotes from popular novelists, psychologists, or philosophers (e.g. Psycho-Pass and Perfect Insider) for no other reason than to feign intelligence are simply insulting.
Zetsuen no Tempest, a 2012 anime purportedly inspired by Shakespeare’s dramas, bases its characters and plot on plays such as The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. However, if you take away the frivolous and out-of-context quote dropping, you wouldn’t recognize the resemblance. Strip away the superficial “homage” entirely and you’re left with a trope-heavy and mediocre “save the world” plot with some far-fetched fantasy elements.
Bear with me for a while as I try to make sense of Zetsuen no Tempest’s cluster**** of a plot. It’s spoiler-free, and one of the most contrived scenarios I’ve ever seen in a shonen title.
From what I gather, there’s a group of magi attempting to bring about the end of the world through a pandemic that turns everything to metal. In order to do so, they’re summoning a giant tree that causes “fruit”, or giant eye-ball covered things attached to chains, to bear from the ground. These mages have exiled their leader, Hakaze, an omnipotent teenage girl with a God-like command of magic, on a desert island. She was opposed to the group’s actions, but one has to beg the question… How did they manage to capture and imprison their leader if she’s shown, on multiple occasions, to overpower them? Hell if I know! In any case, she’s somehow managed to establish contact with the outside world, bestowing her powers in talismans that she’s spread around Japan. Wait… If she was able to do this, doesn’t that mean she foresaw the betrayal? Isn’t there a more effective method of seeking help than throwing magical walkie-talkies across a country? Again, the show doesn’t really explain these conveniences. They’re plot holes, but extremely contrived ones at that.
But wait! That’s not all of it… The main plot actually revolves around the mysterious death of the protagonist’s sister. The viewer follows our two teenage heroes, Yoshino and Mahiro, as they unravel this conspiracy, while the hectic apocalyptic background attempts to brings it all together. Thankfully, the show isn’t as hard to follow as I’ve made it sound. If anything, the slow build-ups and incessant, heavy-handed expositions make the plot seem completely arbitrary in nature. Moreover, the setting is centered around a post-apocalyptic event, but the way Zetsuen no Tempest mishandles and neglects its impact makes everything seem inconsequential. Half of Japan was wiped out by a magical, unknown epidemic and the parents of the main protagonist were in a city known to be affected by said epidemic? Well, we’ll just show a single, 10 second scene of the destruction and be done with it. The action falls under a similar pattern, with the majority of confrontations being entirely mindless and serving no purpose. For example, an entire episode was spent showing the fight between some random henchman with a spear and the main protagonist – almost 20 minutes of senseless fighting without any sort of context. At least the audience can find humour in the fact that the main protagonists constantly used teleportation to fight, but when overpowered, the fight simply ends with the protagonists running away… On foot.
Perhaps the biggest plot hole was the “Romeo and Juliet” forbidden romance between Yoshina and Mahiro’s sister, Aika. Love at first sight is a rather aggravating occurrence that plagues all of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedies, and like many Shakespearean plays, the coupling of Aika and Yoshino was mostly born out of convenience. Despite being Yoshino’s motivation for joining the quest to save the world, his entire relationship with Aika and their attraction was largely unexplained. It’s understandably difficult to establish or depict a relationship with a dead character, but there really needs to be some substance behind the character’s death and their relationship with the living cast if the entire plot is be grounded by it. If the viewer isn’t given any reason to care about the show’s central characters, why should we give a damn about a conflict that’s propelled by them?
One of the few redeeming aspects of the show was the fact that its protagonists had unclear motivations for “playing the hero”. Their relationship with each other isn’t really expanded beyond “childhood friends, one delinquent and his well-reasoned buddy that tries to set him straight”. However, it’s interesting to speculate as to why they’re trying to save the world (beyond the obvious justification of their inevitable destruction). Neither protagonist, Yoshino or Mahiro, seems to have a particular attachment to the world they’re trying to save, but they can’t be accurately characterized as “nihilistic”. Every aspect about the characters beyond this feature, however, was largely uninspired. Mahiro’s characterization is as flat as revenged-crazed siblings come, but Yoshino was particularly disappointing in that he’s introduced and constantly remarked as a sly, manipulative person. Despite all of this exposition, he never appears to be anything more than a well-intentioned, level-headed character for more or less the entirety of the series. Zetsuen no Tempest is a frustrating case where the show continuously tells the viewers about its characters rather than building characterization through the plot and context. In fact, almost all of the character traits revealed throughout the show were given through observations by other characters – Hakaze is revealed to be powerful only through the praise of her followers, Yoshino is supposedly manipulative because Aika introduced him as such, and Mahiro’s brashness comes from all of the characters frequently calling him out on it.
YOU JUST QUOTED HIM 5 MINUTES AGO
Art and Animation
The artwork is passable, but not spectacular by any means. Zetsuen no Tempest does get kudos, however, for a successful depiction of post-apocalyptic environments. The colour palettes were dark and earthy, with most of its settings lying somewhere on the grey scale. Similar to the manga, the pseudo-bishonen/bishoujo design is somewhat hit-or-miss and prevalent on each and every character. Every male character has an overly exaggerated hair style and colour, but it isn’t overly bothersome. What is bothersome, however, is the repeated use of certain scenes. Practically every episode reminds viewers of the overarching “ritual” plot by showing the same scene of robed, chanting figures.
In the sound department, Zetsuen no Tempest mostly relies on dramatic, classical pieces. Befitting, but hardly memorable.The first OP stands out though, being an English rock song sung by an entirely Japanese band. If there’s one thing about the show that I can wholeheartedly recommend, it’d be the music of Nothing’s Carved in Stone’s.
I can’t really recommend this show to anyone, despite the fact that it’s being praised as one of the best mystery/thrillers to recently air. Hell, I could hardly find any reason to finish this show myself. If you’re looking for something thoughtful, then I highly suggest you give this show a pass. There really isn’t any “heavy-dialogue” in a good sense, except the frequent info dumps that result from a really contrived (and ultimately unsuccessful) plot. All in all, Zetsuen no Tempest is a highly mediocre shonen title, with enough inconsistencies and missteps to make any informed viewer scratch their head with frustration.