Review: Zetsuen noTempest

tumblr_makd03qr4L1qjokttLike most Japanese fables that combine teenagers, magical abilities and world ending paradoxes, Kyo Shirodaira’s manga, and subsequent anime adaptation by the animation studio Bones (Wolf’s Rain, Darker than Black), Zetsuen no Tempest (Blast of Tempest: The Civilisation Breaker) places the fate of the world in the hands of Fuwa Mahiro, a delinquent teenager with a myopic incestuous sister complex and Yoshino Takigawa, his stoic and clever friend, as they search for Mahiro’s sister’s murderer.

Their story, in many ways, pays homage to the works of William Shakespeare, specifically The Tempest and Hamlet – two plays with the similar themes of vengeance and retribution, but with respective endings. There are several plot elements and character dialogues in the series that make direct references to one, and in some cases both, of these works. For instance, Fuwa Aika’s character, Mahiro’s sister, is based on Sycorax from the The Tempest and Ophelia from Hamlet. She is frequently seen quoting Hamlet, ‘Time is out of joint’ during flashbacks. In another example, Hakaze Kusaribe, leader of the Kusaribe clan and most powerful mage of the ‘Tree of Genesis’, carves the name of a prominent character in The Tempest into a barrel, whilst stranded on an island. Her reason for doing so is to help Yoshino win a battle of wits involving Fuwa Aika’s murderer, time travel and teleportation.

The plot starts out by painting one side as clear villains as they try to awaken the ‘Tree of Exodus’, killing an entire city’s inhabitants in the process. However, as they battle the patrons of the ‘Tree of Genesis’ – unmistakably, the ‘good guys’ – the previously clear distinction gradually, and almost imperceptibly becomes murky. The key factor in this moral quandary is the fact that the character ‘Samon’, leading the charge to awaken the ‘Tree of Exodus’, bases his actions on carefully reasoned arguments with a great deal of forethought. Samon, determined and resourceful, manages to convince a large number of his clan that their unwavering faith in the ‘Tree of Genesis’ will ultimately lead to the destruction of civilisation. He and his loyalists then banish their clan leader, Hakaze Kusaribe, to a desert island in a barrel when she refuses to change her stance. Samon chooses to avoid killing Hakaze for a very specific set of reasons, reasons that make sense when he explains them while Hakaze, being equally resourceful, manages to foil a number of his plans from the desert island which results in a number of stunning and enthralling twists and revelations. Zetsuenno Tempest

Fans of Death Note, Spiral and other manga or anime series that place an emphasis on the clash between two clever individuals will find their interest rewarded by this series. The stand-off that dominates episodes 8 and 9 of the anime, despite being an extremely convoluted plot construct, is a good example. The accompanying musical score by Michiru Ishima (Fullmetal Alchemist) has a strong theatrical, dramatic feel which complements these grand developments and helps evoke a heavy, melancholic ambience, albeit a bit excessively. Slick action sequences, good animation and intriguing characters ensure an entertaining experience.