Tales of Zestiria the X – 12 (Fin)

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This review has been updated to reflect news this anime will have a second season next year.

Things looked a little grim for the good guys last week, but everything ends up working out in the finale. A new, wind-element seraphim ally is introduced, as is a new Big Bad in the Lord of Calamity himself. Yet neither really makes much of an impact, being introduced so late in the game.

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I mention “game” because the reality of the game this show is based on has always loomed in the background. I did not realize (due to not doing any research) that there will indeed be a second cour of the anime. But this first cour still felt more like an extended introduction of the world—a setting of the table—rather than any kind of satisfying narrative.

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It’s taken the length of this series for me to admit that while many of the characters possess admirable traits, none of the elaborately-designed characters ever surpassed the generality of those traits. That wasn’t really much of a problem when I was simply enjoying the exploration of the vast world and the battles within it, but it does leave me feeling a little empty and under-invested when all’s said and done.

The Berseria detour, while a fun interlude, took up time that in hindsight would have been better spent developing the main Zestiria cast, or at least getting them together a little bit faster. Some shows pile on characters too fast; I’d argue Zestiria had the opposite problem, and the characters suffered as a result.

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Even if Zestiria’s characters leave a bit of a bland aftertaste, and that it was content to show us a series of minor skirmishes and only hint at larger conflicts this season, I won’t forget the fun I had watching the last thirteen episodes (0-12), or the excitement and wonder the gradual unfolding of the world evoked, or the satisfaction of watching a technically impeccably well-crafted show. It never failed to look or sound great.

The post-credit previews were always a playful showcase of the characters’ chemistry that was rarely replicated in the actual show. If and when the next season of adventures arrives, I’ll be looking for less introductions (or re-introductions) and more Getting Down To Business. I also hope there’s a bit more to the vaunted Lord of Calamity than “Bwahaha, What Insolence.”

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 11

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Off everyone goes to war…or hopefully (but not realistically), the prevention of war. We meet Ian, a bubby personality who somehow managed not to get killed this week, while Rose takes Alisha up on her offer to witness her actions. Then there is Sorey, who likes Alisha but won’t take a side if there’s war. Instead, he’ll do his job as a Shepherd: purity the malevolence, and try to stop war, not make it.

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Unfortunately the war is already in progress when they arrive, so Sorey has to split off from Alisha and use his three Seraphim to try to do damage control. It’s Alisha’s first taste of large-scale combat, but she’s protected by her honorable underlings.

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No-so-honorable are the Rolance troops who went behind their general’s back to launch a rear suprise attack, while Hyland’s general won’t listen to Alisha’s orders and instead orders his men to capture her, wounding her if necessary.

Bartlow is in full control here, even if he’s nowhere near the actual battle, and Alisha’s reluctance to use violence plays right into his hands. But when the soldiers start coming at her and Rose, they hold their own pretty well, without killing.

Meanwhile, Sorey exerts a good deal of energy to purify an entire battlefield of hellions and malevolence…only to discover there are other battlefields. His task has been made so much harder by the fact everything is already in motion.

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And such is the implacable cowardice and unreasonableness of the Hyland forces under Bartlow’s command, one soldier uses Alisha’s moment of compassion for her own troops, keeping Rose from killing him, to stab her in the back. Things look very bad up until all the troops in the room are swept away by some kind of telekinesis wielded by a mysterious figure floating above them.

So it’s a rough start for Team War Prevention, and with the “Lord of Calamity” superboss on the literal horizon, it’s not getting smoother anytime soon. Though I imagine, with a second season officially coming sometime in 2017, this season’s final episode will feature some kind of resolution.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 10

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I was a lot more into this episode than last week’s, perhaps because it felt like so much more got done. Marlind was a murky mess last week, but here Sorey and Mikleo, now reunited, make quick work of purifying the town’s water.

Of course, those are only the first steps, and the full healing of the town will take the better part of a year, but it’s in far better shape, and Princess Alisha wants to make sure it stays that way, and that her people choose hope over despair.

Rose is also back in the picture, and her presence as friendly merchant early on meant she’d likely show up as a deadly merchant later.

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Like Sorey the Shepherd, Alisha really needs to be everywhere at once in order to be the most effective, but she can’t be, and when the cat’s away the mice will play. The most troublesome rodent is Lord Bartlow, who is sending troops to the buffer zone between Highland and Rolance for war and plunder. She has loyal soldiers to follow her, but little time: she has to leave Marlind at first light to have a chance to stop Bartlow.

Meanwhile, after kicking some baby dragon ass and receiving quite a bit of praise from the town for his hard work, the other shoe finally drops on Sorey’s role when he must purify a hellion who was once a human. He must bear all the malevolence he pulls out of the hellion, something the Seraphim can’t help him with. It’s a lonely, painful duty, and it’s sure to alter Sorey’s demeanor over time.

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Just as Sorey must bear the malevolence born of the despair of ordinary folk, Alisha also understands that choosing not to fight has a cost she’s prepared to bear. When the assassins surround and attack her once more, they are there to prevent the “senseless deaths” from Alisha’s ideals. But even I think they have it all wrong. If Alisha were to give in to Bartlow and allow a free-for-all, it will only worsen global malevolence and hasten calamity.

Alisha tells the leader of the assassins that she doesn’t believe she’ll stop Bartlow; she will, and if they want to stop her, they’ll have to kill her. The masked leader is moved by those words and by Alisha putting her foe’s knife to her throat without the slightest hesitation. The assassin stands down, and Alisha cuts their mask off, revealing Rose. Alisha asks her to accompany her to Glaivend to bear witness to her actions; Rose agrees.

This solid outing of Zestiria aptly illustrated just how awesomely badass Alisha is, how heavy are the burdens she and Sorey (and only they) must bear moving forward, elaborated on the nature of malevolence (hint: it starts with despair over loss), and finally brought Rose into the party.

Even the next ep preview shined, as Rose playfully attempts to swindle Alisha on some beauty sundries, only for Alisha to turn the tables using Rose’s guilt. I’m looking forward to these two interacting not as acquaintances, or opponents, but as comrades.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 09

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This week’s Zestiria still shined in the technical and aesthetic sense, but it felt a bit mechanical, perfunctory, and inevitable, like very practically moving pieces on the board closer together. In this case, it was uniting Sorey/Lailah/Edna with Alisha, and then with Mikleo and his new mascot-like friend Atakk, a Normin Seraphim specializing in powering up other Seraphim like Mikleo.

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We learn of the cause of the storm that blew out the bridges (an Ouroboros) but that boss is soon usurped by a drake (or baby dragon) who is the cause of the malevolence that is sickening and killing the people of Marlind.

Alisha isn’t particularly useful this week, as her attempts to heal the townsfolk with medicine have no effect, to her frustration. However, sometimes it’s about who you know, not what you can personally do…and Alisha knows Sorey, who is happy to help.

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Edna and Lailah aren’t enough to help Sorey rid the city of the drake’s reign of terror; it takes the sudden arrival of Mikleo, whom Sorey can sense and knows everything will work out. Forming a quick sub bond with Sorey and Lailah, Mikleo’s power turns Super-Sorey blue, and they take out the drake with a purifying water-based arrow.

The drake is toast, and the clouds around the city part. It’s good to see everyone back together, and the episode looked and sounded great as usual…but it also felt very neat and tidy, and after last week’s scrap with Eizen, the enemies seemed like pushovers.

There’s also the looming certainty that if this series wraps in three weeks, a satisfying solution worthy of all the buildup won’t be forthcoming. I’m hoping, as with F/s n, the story will continue after a season or two off.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 08

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As Sorey explores the Galahad Ruins for the means to fight beside Sorey, Sorey and Lailah encounter another seraphim, the Earth-aligned Edna, battling a large hellion among Rayfalke’s malevolent fog-covered crags. Edna’s almost bored manner of speaking is in sharp contrast to the expressive Sorey and the rest of his “party members.”

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Sorey tries to lend a hand, but the hellion is finished off—indeed, killed—by another Seraphim, the wind-aligned, pistol-toting, boisterous Zaveid, whose personality is more similar to the characters we saw in Berseria than “teacher’s pets” like Sorey, Mikleo and Alisha.

Zavied is trying to kill a dragon, who shows up shortly thereafter. Turns out the dragon is Edna’s big brother Eizen. Sorey wants to purify him and bring her brother back, but everyone insists once you’ve turned into a dragon there’s no turning you back.

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Sorey brings up a good point: there’s a lot of legends in this world they sitll don’t know about, and indeed many legends that have yet to be written; it’s only reasonable that one such legend in either column would be the first time someone was brought back from being a dragon.

Eizen is a huge and terrifying dragon, moving about and attacking at will with force and fire, while effortlessly dodging Zaveid’s bullets. The conversion effort is going nowhere, so Sorey fuses with Lailah to try to force the issue.

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Eventually, Edna, only prone to emotional outbursts where her brother is concerned, puts herself in the line of fire to plead with him to stop, if a part of him is even still in there. Turns out, it is; Eizen sees his sister and swallows the fireball he was going to launch.

Sorey plucks her out of the air, saving her, and Eizen flies off, the battle ended in stalemate. Frankly, it would have been to quick and easy to both encounter and free Eizen in a single episode. Instead, the battle to save him continues.

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Zaveid goes his separate way in this regard (Eizen was his friend, after all), but Edna forms a sub-contract with Sorey and Lailah, thus joining his party, both to thank and to help him pursue and one day purify Eizen.

They’ll be one Seraphim stronger when Mikleo joins back up with them, as he successfully secures a sacred bow from the ruins (in a pretty but rote scene). We also see that Alisha is running into issues geting to her destination, as a river swell has knocked out the bridge to Marlind.

I imagine the narrative will shift to her story next week, whether or not Sorey & Co. meet back up with her or continue their own quest. But this was another solid and very attractive episode with gorgeous environments, sleek combat, and a score that evokes awe and adventure.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 07

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And so we return to Sorey, Alisha, and Zestiria, right where we left them: staring down a massive storm with a dragon at its core. But just as soon as it appears, it disappears, and while everyone gives him credit as Shepherd for vanquishing it, Sorey didn’t actually do anything.

It was so anticlimactic, it made me wonder if it was the same dragon Velvet was fighting last week, and it vanished because she vanquished it? Maybe dragons transcend time and place, being the manifestation of malevolence and all?

Anyway, all Sorey can do is accept the gratitude of Alisha, the town, and even Lord Bartlow, who invites him to sup with him. Nobody trusts the guy, but he only seems to want to get the measure of the lad, and lets him go when dinner’s over.

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From there, Sorey, Alisha, and Mikleo’s paths diverge, although Alisha and Sorey travel together for a spell, affording Alisha the opportunity to learn more about the Shepherd. As for Milkeo, he’s starting to feel like Sorey has surpassed him so far, he doesn’t know what to do next.

Lailah steers him in the direction of the Galahad Ruins, where a scred relic similar to the holy sword lies; if he can retrieve and wield whatever it is, she believes he will have amassed the strength to continue standing beside his friend.

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Alisha is headed to the learned city of Mirland to deal with a worsening epidemic, while Sorey is headed to the intimidatingly-named Rayfalke Spiritcrest, where he hopes to find a dragon to slay.

By the episode’s end, everyone has gone their separate ways – an interesting development this far along in the show, considering the OP and ED are so gung-ho about a united party that includes Rose, whom we still barely see, and a few characters we have yet to meet.

Instead, everyone has their own business and are on their own in radically different (and beautiful) lands. Only Lailah is with Sorey, but he and Mikleo are looking at the same sky. We’ll see everyone fares in their solo missions—and when and how they’ll reunite.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 04

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Sorey wakes up, ReZero-style, in an ornate room, with Lailah and Mikleo by his bedside and a relieved Alisha not far behind. Wanting to provide more than a simple thank you for taking on the mantle of Shepherd, she provides him with some dope Shepherd threads. Now the hero looks the part.

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What continues to be an refreshing twist on the RPG party-gathering is that Alisha can’t see or hear two of the party members. But she does believe, and her faith is affirmed when Lailah sets it up so Sorey, blocking his senses and holding his breath, can serve as a conduit through which she and Mikleo can speak to Alisha, and she an hear them. I loved how her eyes sparkled at this revelation.

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From there, after a brief tour of Ladylake (where everyone has raised flags of the Shepherd in celebration of his rise) Alisha splits off from the other three, to meet with the council and refuse Lord Bartlow’s demand she “hand over” Sorey to them.

Surely she suspects the not-so-good lord had a part in the hiring of that assassin last week, even if there’s no proof. Meanwhile, Sorey, Lailah and Mikleo go down a Zelda-style staircase into a dungeon, towards the source of a large amount of nausea-inducing malevolence.

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There, they encounter a swarm of bats who have turned into hellions, which coalesce into one giant bat that serves as a miniboss. The enemy is frightening, but the battle goes relatively easily for Sorey thanks to backup from his fire-and-ice-aligned Seraphim comrades.

Lailah also shows him that now that they’ve contracted, she can turn into a ball of light and retreat into his body when not needed, and also tells him he’ll be contracting with more Seraphim before long. It’s crucial for him to travel the world in order to gain wisdom and strength to fight the big bad: the Balrogesque Lord of Calamity.

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After discovering a charnel house filled with malevolence-filled bones of defeated rebels, things get a little more hairy, as malevolence starts to seethe from beneath their feet, blowing bits of the dungeon floor into the air, creating action-RPG-style obstacles to avoid.

When they surface, a great dread storm has arrived in the city, complete with a massive swirling twister. Surely the Lord of Calamity hasn’t already arrived? Whether it is or not, it looks like a pretty bad situation.

Sorey will have to hold close to his comrades absent the wisdom and strength he has yet to amass, while Alisha must deal with both political and existential threats to her monarchy.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 03

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Three episodes in (four if you count the prologue) and we still only know three of the eight party members in the OP, so the show largely skips past Sorey and Mikleo’s journey to the point where they’re at Ladylake’s gates, meeting the fourth (future) member. She’s got rosy hair, so I’ll call her Rose for now.

Were it not for Rose, Sorey wouldn’t be able to enter the city. That being said, Mikleo doesn’t do well around so many humans, who excrete a miasma of malevalence due to the worries about a war between Hyland and neighboring Rolance.

Princess Alisha’s non-aggressive stance, refusing to launch a preemptive strike, is only intensified by her experience in Elysia, where she say her dream of mankind (well, one man) coexisting with the Seraphim. Also, the hellion is also in Ladylake, though apparently not to kill Alisha, only to observe.

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The rest of the episode takes place within the confines of a kind of great temple to the sacred blade, which is stuck in a rock smack dab in the center. No pun intended, the relatively close quarters prove a double-edged sword, compared to the more exciting hellion chase last week or earlier this week on Ladylake’s rooftops.

It’s good that things are so compressed in this one room, because it ups the tension. There’s also the sense that the assassin hired by frustrated warmonger Lord Bartlow is closing in and tightening the noose on Alisha.

Of course, there’s no mistaking Komatsu Mikako’s wonderful voice, so it was clear the moment the female assassin started talking that she was Rose, the girl Sorey met. The episode isn’t coy about this, also showing her piercing blue eyes a small glimpse of her rosy hair under the helmet.

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Sorey and Mikleo learn that the Lady of the Lake is a Seraphim who dwells right beside the sacred blade, though no one can see her but them. After Alisha delivers a speech that goes over with the crowd about as well as Ted Cruz’s at the RNC last week, the Malevalence coalesces into a giant hellion in dragon form, at about the same time Rose attacks Alisha.

Suddenly the vast interior of the temple feels like a suffocating braizer in which Alisha is fighting for her live against a very skilled opponent (who uses a very different style than a knight would) and a boss none of the people can fully see causing a right ol’ ruckus.

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Of course, we know what has to happen here: Sorey must take grasp the sacred blade, form a contract with the lady (named Lailah), and pull it out of the stone. Sorey becomes Lailah’s vessel, transforming him into a dazzling dandy of a hero to slay the dragon with the blade.

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The dragon is slain, and the assassin withdraws, but Sorey has been warned: being the Shepherd will be an exhausting, alienating, thankless, lonely job. I’m not so sure about that last bit, especially after seeing that ED featuring Sorey hanging out with Alisha, Rose, Mikleo, and the rest of the party he has yet to assemble.

So far, each episode has set out to progress Sorey’s story by a notch, and has so far succeeded. Alisha’s prologue set the stage. Then Sorey and Mikleo met Alisha. Then Alisha invited Sorey to Ladylake, where he met Lailah and became the Shepherd.

It’s a brisk, efficient pace that manages not to feel too hurried or contrived. The addition of Komatsu Mikako to an already strong voice cast is always welcome. And, as expected, ufotable’s visuals and music continue to be beyond reproach.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 02

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The gorgeous landscapes and stirring score of Zestiria continue to immerse me deeply into its world; in this case, the land of the Seraphim, along with Alisha. Sorey takes her to his home village, Elysia, because he has no other choice; human or not, he can’t just ignore her or leave her there.

In a nice twist, being a human with no prior contact, Ali can’t see Mikleo or any of the other villagers, so it appears at first that Sorey is all alone. But Alisha still believes in the Seraphim, and is convinced that they, and the Shepherd in particular, are humanity’s only hope.

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It’s a good thing Sorey is so nice and neither Gramps or the villagers press for her expulsion; what could she do by going back alone, now? The horrific events that transpired on her particularly bad day are now the stuff of her nightmares, but just when that fear makes her doubt her faith, Sorey shows her the exterior of the grand ruins she found herself in last week, including the mural and glove of the Shepherd (which he gifts to her). It’s not just legends.

I also like how Gramps and the others realize this human has a good heart and isn’t the kind of threat that would invite “calamity”, as they originally feared. You can feel how unwelcome Alisha feels at first, but as their attitude towards her softens, her stay becomes more peaceful.

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Naturally, she can’t just stay in the clouds with the Seraphim forever, so she heads back the way she came to Hyland, hoping there’s enough of her world left to save. I was surprised she wasn’t asking Sorey to accompany her and participate in the Sacred Blade ceremony…until she did just that. If Sorey indeed wants a world where humans (not just him) and Seraphim coexist in peace and harmony again, this could well be the way.

Alisha leaves, her hope and optimism that a hero will rise restored (and likely of the belief it’s a good chance Sorey is that Shepherd), but the moment she’s out of sight, Gramps detects a hellion in his territory, and Sorey and Mikleo rush to meet it.

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The fox-faced hellion injures a Seraphim and then tangles with the two young fighters, showing impressively explosive speed, nimbleness, and strength.

It’s a short but fantastic battle that came out of nowhere, and felt even more fast and chaotic due to my being lulled into placid “village time” to that point. Quiet and still, or frenetic action; this show can do it all.

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After Gramps scares off the hellion, what it said about its “main dish” concerned Sorey, who concludes it was after Alisha all along. So he heads off on his own to catch up to her and protect her from what could well be a foe far out of her league.

To Sorey’s delight, Mikleo appears, and will accompany him on his journey to Alisha’s capital, with wise words from Gramps: be free, find your own path, and live life to the fullest. They strike out as the sun starts to come up, and the entire world seems to unfold before them in all its glorious majesty. This looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.

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