Tales of Zestiria the X – 19

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Zestiria can still effortlessly deliver vista after gorgeous vista, but the excitement and urgency came up a bit short this week, and reminded me that it’s rarely been able to satisfying depth beneath its shiny surface. It also has a tendency to be clunky in its pacing, as demonstrated in this Alisha-focused episode filled with perfunctory talking scenes.

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Giant tornadoes are threatening Ladylake…until they aren’t, as they’ve all dissipated so far. Alisha is waiting for the Big One, all while being branded a criminal by the sniveling Lord Baltrow, who is the worst kind of dull wallpaper paste villain. Unable to catch Alisha, he tries to bait her by putting her mentor Maltran on display to starve to death or be picked at by birds. Swell.

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After Zaveid decides to randomly show up to save Alisha and her knights from a giant mud hellion, then leaves to go find and shoot a dragon (see ya Zaveid) Alisha sits by a pond, seemingly for hours, wondering what to do. Lunarre is another random visitor, basically asking her to change up her methods, since, like Ned Stark, her unswerving dedication to high-minded nobility and honor may well get her killed.

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That is, if she didn’t have a Shepherd for a friend. She managed to contact Sorey last week, but he and the others take their sweet time starting off for Ladylake. I know their contact was cut off, but surely her saying “Ladylake is in dire straits” tipped him off that maybe he should hurry to Ladylake, which he, Rose, and the seraphim finally do at the end of the episode.

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I can’t help but think some of the overarching stiffness and vanilla-ness of the show could be pepped up a bit with the kind of light humor in the previews. But those are fourth wall-breaking affairs, and Zestiria isn’t meant to be a comedy.

Still, it’s troubling that the biggest rise I got was from the preview, not from anything in the episode that preceded it. Alisha’s daring stealth raid on Ladylake looks like it might be interesting, but this week was a bit too leisurely getting her there.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 18

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This week Sorey & Co. finally make it to Pendrago, but not before Sorey meets with Emperor Doran of Rolance, who is sympathetic to Sorey’s cause because he’s been informed of the existence of malevolence, just as have all of his predecessors, by storytellers like Mayvin. Sorey even learns about Velvet Crowe, some of whose exploits we saw in the first season.

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While chatting with the emperor, who has decided to accompany Sorey to the capital should there be any problems with access, Rose is wondering what to do next. She’s done so much in the name of justice and righteousness, and yet she’s never seen the malevolence that is the true cause of the world’s ills, nor has she ever seen her “guardian angel” Dezel. She wants to rectify that.

To do so, Dezel tells her she must become the shepherd’s squire, as Alisha has done. Lailah goes over the pros and cons while everyone is en route to Pendrago, and while Sorey seems reluctant to tie his life to Rose’s (if she fails and he dies, she dies too), Rose is pretty adamant, and there’s never any doubt she’ll be Sorey’s squire.

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When she finally does, it’s pretty abrupt, and in the middle of the city’s main church where the malevolence is intense and focused around a dead dragon. It’s a nice transition from what Rose sees before her transformation to after, when she can not only see the malevolence oozing from the dragon, but Dezel and all of Sorey’s seraphim pals.

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When trying to purify the dragon on his own fails, Sorey pairs up with Rose, who takes on some of the malevolence flowing into him, and after some spirited synchronized yelling, and some tactical support from the seraphim, the blue flames overcome the red, the dragon is purified. The rains cease, the clouds part, and the sun returns to Pendrago. Not too tricky a mission, when all’s said and done.

Of course, the next crisis is just around the corner in a tornado-filled Ladylake, as Alisha reports to Sorey using her squire-telepathy skills. Rose is ready for her next mission as his squire, so they seem poised to head out immediately, having proven beyond doubt to the doubters that the shepherd’s power is not only real, but vital.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 15

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If Sorey & Co. stand around and do nothing, Dezel and Rose will be consumed by malevolence, so Sorey goes after Rose while Mikleo, Lailah and Edna go after Dezel. What follows is a good old-fashioned seraphim-v-seraphim battle.

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Dezel’s giant tornado is met by Edna’s earth walls, Mikleo’s ice projectiles, and most powerfully, Lailah’s Great Ball of Fire, which dissipates Dezel’s storm. It’s a grand demonstration of the power these seraphim wield. I’m a little confused as to the level of collateral destruction, but no matter; the city is still standing, Dezel surrenders, and Rose is safe.

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While safe, Rose can now sense Dezel stronger than ever, and is both surprised and not surprised to learn he’s been by her side all along, watching her back. He once went with Brad, the man who took her in and taught her how to fight and deal, but when Brad died, he became Rose’s guardian, devoted to helping her get rid of all the rich, greedy people who parasitize the common folk.

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Now that Sorey has been to many human lands, he’s noticing a common theme: humans are always figuring out ways to fight each other, in an effort to Stay True To Themselves. Pride and principle override the human instinct to cooperated and succeed, stronger together. Wars are the result of a few people leading the many. Tribalism rules.

And so, it’s starting to become clear to him that being a Shepherd can’t jut be about purifying hellions and malevolence and minimizing damage; he must build bridges between the warring and feuding humans, otherwise peace will never be achievable, nor will malevolence ever be totally gone.

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Just as Dezel devotes himself to Rose, no matter what methods she decides to use, Mikleo, Lailah and Edna reaffirm their commitment to supporting Sorey, a pure and honest Shepherd they can be proud to serve, and know will choose the right path. Lailah also mentions Sorey has his squire Alisha as well, and in time he may be able to hear her voice, even many lands apart.

Sorey can’t hear Alisha, but after she and a handful of her knights survive an ambush by Lord Bartlow, she hears Sorey’s voice when she asks him what should be done. The answer is to keep getting stronger. Alisha won’t back down. She wants to re-capture the royal residence in Ladylake, and will go from there. One foot in front of the other, backed up by friends and comrades who pledge and entrust everything to her.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 14

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After a night of storming a church, putting knights in the hospital, and assassinating the bishop, Rose plays things super-cool. She’s up early for more Sparrowfeathers trading, and has breakfast laid out for Sorey.

When General Sergei stops by to apologize, she teases him. Sorey saw her trudge home late but says nothing about it, because it’s unlikely he’d get anything from her…so it just hangs there.

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From there, Sergei is called into town when there’s a suspicious sinkhole; Sorey & Co. believe it’s caused by malevolence, and tag along. From the time Sorey uses Lailah to light the way with her flames to his impressive purification ceremony with Mikleo, Sergei is quickly and efficiently brought up to speed on Sorey’s abilities, and has no choice but to believe, even if it’s a lot to take in.

He also mentions to Sorey that the capital of Rolance has been beset by unending rain, which would seem to be this land’s “calamity” the way the dragon was in Hyland. Sorey sees that there’s a similar situation here with malevolence primed to blow, but neither he nor Sergei can get through the Blue Storm knights. The Church has secrets it doesn’t want to reveal to anyone outside their circle.

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Rose and the Bones’ operation last night was meant to save lives by taking out the Bishop, but in the process, a dear friend and comrade was lost, and Rose, rightly so, feels responsible. She’s let her emotions in and they’re running wild, even though she pledged like everyone else in the Bones to put them aside for the good of those who need them.

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It’s perhaps because she allowed he emotions out that Dezel, who it seems has always come to her side at various times in her life, starts to act on his own, either fueled by that emotion or perhaps simply with Rose’s lack of a strong “No.” Dezel has been watching Rose for a long time. He trusts her and knows her to be a virtuous person, so he’s willing to go out there and do the things she can’t do, at least without involving or losing more friends.

So a wind storm arrives around the secret-hoarding Church, poised to crack it open like an egg. That may not be the best approach for the root problem in Rolance – the building malevolence – so we’ll see if Sorey and his seprahim pals are able to stop him and get the job done the right way.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 13

How to they keep up with the news like that?
How to they keep up with the news like that? And I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy…

Ready for more Zest in your life? I am, after getting needlessly concerned that the first twelve episodes were merely an elaborate advertisement for the game it’s based upon. Turns out the anime has more stories to tell, and to its credit, assumes we’re caught up. Only the Fall season separates its cours, after all; not five-plus years like Preston’s Blue Exorcist.

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Jumping right back in to its gorgeous, detailed world, Zest goes right back to building it. The Seraphim usually just sit around this week, only active when Sorey is doing his Shepherd training. But that allows us much more time with Rose, and both we and Sorey watch her present her many facets: trader, negotiator (both with figures and kicks), and allegedly “noble” assassin.

She can not only try to get a good price on herbs, but is able to determine on her own that her trading partners are actually thieves. She also sees the profit in Sorey performing his feats before audiences, though she knows Alisha (also not present here) probably wouldn’t like that.

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Focusing on Rose gives the episode more, well, focused, with the Seraphim more of a subtle spice whose running commentary isn’t overused. As Sorey enters Rose’s home base of Lastonbell, a lively trading city that isn’t yet feeling the Age of Calamity, he’s also introduced to Mayvin, a centenarian and explorer of the world whose goal in life has been to share his experiences and knowledge with the rest of the world – in a way, preserving it from the oblivion of lost memory/history.

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We’re also (re-)introduced to General Sergei Storelka of the Platinum Knights of Rolance, who have been sent to “escort” Sorey; where, they don’t say. Rose confronts him in her own building and brings up the rule of law that says Sorey can’t simply be abducted; the General says Sorey is a unique threat that demands vigilance, and a bending of said laws. Mayvin diffuses the situation with ample amounts of wine, and he, Sorey and Sergei drink and talk peacefully long into the night.

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Mayvin is old enough to remember the last Shepherd, Michael, whom Lailah was contracted with before Sorey. Michael seemed like a broodier, more cynical lad than the bright-eyed Sorey. He spoke of everyone having a heart tainted by malevolence, “slumbering deep inside”, even him. Still, what vexed him most were questions about morality that never seem to have simple answers, or answers at all.

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Questions like sacrificing one or few to save or benefit many, or whethr accepting necessary evil makes people malevolent. The same night Mayvin shares these stories with Sorey, Rose goes into town, meets up with her band of Scattered Bones, and assassinates a bishop who is hoarding a mass fortune and a mass grave beneath his cathedral. Unlike the pure Seraphim (or the pure Alisha), Rose is the personification of those hard questions Sorey, like Michael before him, must wrestle with as Shepherd.

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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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