Zetsuen no Tempest – Esoteric snowflakes and wistful glances to the sky
October 11, 2012 Leave a comment
Zetsuen no Tempest (strictly speaking it is Zetsuen no Tempest: The Civilisation Blaster) is Shakespeare The Tempest in anime form with the various sprinklings of insanity and potential genius that the Japanese seem to add to any series with this sort of plot. Now I don’t have the best of relationships with series like Zetsuen no Tempest, often finding that the philosophy and quotes from classic literature are used to cover up inherent flaws in the plot and characters. A recent (and in my case much used) example of this would be Fate/Zero, a series with the mistaken belief that musings about humanity and the universe in general could take the place of a meaningful plot and characters that had an impact upon it. There does appear to be a tendency amongst writers involved with anime to write scripts that turn out to be rather pretentious, and as such largely put me off the series. Zetsuen no Tempest however, while still suffering from some of the same problems that many other anime suffer from got off to a good start, and may well be the exception to the rule.
As mentioned it is essentially The Tempest only done in an anime style, so it is more of a loose adaptation or more simply a series influenced by Shakespeare. Having elements of Shakespeare does not automatically mean that the series will be good and Zetsuen no Tempest gets off to a slightly difficult start, although it does pick up during the second half when things start to be explained and the story starts to make itself known. There is something about a character, having been beaten up and wallet taken starring wistfully off into the sky while a single snowflake falls onto his hand that just seems a little forced. The angst that is present during this first half, coupled with the grey and dreary surroundings, along with a bombastic, and frankly preposterous score that simply didn’t work. In this respect Zetsuen no Tempest feels as if it is trying to hard to create a feeling of blankness, of being emotionally empty.
The plot setup including the characters continues to allude to specific Shakespeare plays, with Hakaze (the stranded witch) as Prospero from The Tempest, Mahiro as Prince Hamlet and Yoshino as Romeo. Their circumstances and characterisations help to create a fascinating set of personalities and exchanges between them. The relationship between the main characters is actually rather intriguing. They both have their own issues, but it is the way that they work together and act around each other that helps to create a feeling of close friendship. Mahiro may be the most obvious character with brash behaviour and a thirst for vengeance, but Yoshino comes across as far more dangerous. His almost completely detached nature suggests a far deeper darkness than Mahiro’s fiery quest for vengeance could ever compete with. The presence of Hakaze, marooned on a deserted island by her former aide Samon for reasons that are clearly yet to be made clear.
The first half of this episode was largely given over to the angst of Yoshino, but it really got going as soon as the Iron sickness made itself know, along with the sudden appearance of Mahiro. The action in the second half really helped to move things forward, whereas during the first half there was the feeling of the plot plodding along, dragging its feet and in no hurry to get anywhere particularly fast. The animation is both slick and stylish, and when all these supernatural phenomenon start occurring the big, bombastic score is finally given a chance to stretch its legs. Such scores are great to listen to, but in the context of Zetsuen no Tempest there were times in this first episode were it felt out of place and merely added to that feeling that it was trying far too hard. In other areas it really helped to create an atmospheric feeling that pointed towards the importance of what Mahiro and Yoshino were witnessing.
This coupled with the appearance of butterflies (an almost literal use of the butterfly effect from chaos theory) further emphasises the importance of their meeting and the quest that they will be embarking on, whether they like it or not. In many respects Zetsuen no Tempest shares similarities with No. 6, however in this case there are specific plot points that make things far clearer at the beginning than No. 6 was ever capable of doing. The presence of magic and the sudden appearance of Evangeline Yamamoto at the very beginning of this episode points to another society that resides below the surface. With the curious disease that apparently turns all it touches into metal statues, along with the governments attempts to conceal it through training exercises points to a global conspiracy involving the arcane and perhaps even the very forces of the world itself.
However, the mystery tag may also be somewhat of a misnomer since the basic plot is rather obvious, with a clash of ideals imminent. What does remain a mystery is Aika’s (Mahiro’s sister) role in all of this – she is quite clearly dead, however, as the secret girlfriend of Yoshino (something that neither of them mentioned to him) she has left an indelible mark on these characters that clearly cannot be so readily erased. Furthermore, her character appears to have some other significance to the story of Zetsuen no Tempest other than being related to the main characters. There are certain pretentious elements about Zetsuen no Tempest that made me cringe a little (random Shakespeare quotes for example), but the overall story looks to be fascinating and really pulled me in towards the end.
While there are problems with the bombastic score, I have a soft sport for such over the top music (thus my love of certain scenes in Guilty Crown, despite that series being an utter mess), it helps to create atmosphere and bring everything together, and in many respects is a far better way of covering up plot faults than random and exhaustive dialogue. The dynamic between Yoshino and Mahiro is also fascinating, with Yoshino coming across as the far more dangerous character – thus echoing Aika’s thoughts that he is the kind of character who can smile on the surface, but hides a deeper and far more dangerous darkness underneath. I am also intrigued by Samon’s plans, in such stories the antagonist is often misunderstood, and his actions are usually designed to prevent disaster rather than cause it. Which also feeds into the role of Hakaze and her connection to the ‘Tree of Beginnings’ (essentially Yggdrasil that links earth to the heavens).
It is this interconnectedness between the characters, the story and various other plot elements, along with the beautiful animation and excellent score that make me want to watch more and find out what exactly is going on. I may have some misgivings about the use of philosophy and mythology in anime (I have simply had too many bad experiences with it) but in the case of Zetsuen no Tempest it did not detract from the first episode. On a final stylistic note, I really like having the theme song and credits at the end of an episode, with the series simply jumping right into the story. This helps with the flow and instead of chopping up the plot with title scenes, it is placed at the end and melds very smoothly with the overall score and flow of the story, if only more series did this.