Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 02

The battlemage whom Satoo saves is one Zena Marientail, who calls off her suspicious comrades and gives Satoo a ride to their mutual destination, Salue City, a lovely walled and terraced town with friendly faces and reputable businesses.

After securing proper papers (denoting him as Lv.1 despite his much higher level), he is snagged by Martha, the daughter of the keeper of the Gate Inn, where Zena’s comrade Iona recommended. Throughout these interactions, Satoo utilizes trickery, persuasion, bartering, and other skills he’s amassed.

The innkeeper tells him about a Demon King that a chosen Hero must defeat, but Satoo settles for some cold quiche and cabbage to sate his hunger. I for one have always lamented the fact one cannot taste all the different foods one finds in an RPG; watching Satoo enjoy it is the next best thing.

While Martha shows him around, Satoo learns about the strict caste system; commoners cannot use the public baths, and there are a good number of slaves, many of them demi-humans whom the other humans fear, distrust, and in some cases outright hate. When Satoo is nice to a couple of young demis, Martha seems confused, but quickly changes gears to other things.

Upon returning to the inn, Satoo happens to spot Arisa—who bears the inauspicious titles “Exiled Witch” and “Crazy Princess”—being ridden on a cart, presumably with other slaves. I’m sure he’ll see her again, but first, he has a hearty supper of veggie soup, wild boar, black bread and mead, which proves so tasty he has seconds against his better judgment.

As he tosses in bed with an upset stomach, he ponders his situation, and concludes it might not actually be a dream, but…something else. After all, the “game” he’s seen so far doesn’t really match any games he knows of or has helped to develop; rather it’s something unique.

As he rushes out into the night to explore the city some more—it’s very pretty at night—he decides that whatever is going on, it behooves him to soak up as much as he can, that he might become a better game developer by what he sees, hears, and experiences in this fantasy world.

I don’t really blame him; he’s flush with cash and overpowered to boot. I wonder how he’d fare right now against that Demon King. Of course, he’s nowhere close to encountering such an overboss; instead, he gets a surprise visit from Zena, who has come on her day off to thank him for saving her life by spending the day with him.

Desumachi continues to be nothing groundbreaking, but I cannot deny it scratches an itch; that of a fantasy slice-of-life that takes its time unveiling its world and not skimping on the details, be it currency, society, cuisine, and relationships. Basically, it’s comfily low-stakes and entertaining enough to keep watching for now, though my socks remain firmly un-knocked-off.

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Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 01 (First Impressions)

Here we go: Another anime about another black-haired dude somehow ending up transported to another fantasy RPG where he’s soon surrounded by another group of ladies. It’s directed by Oonuma Shin, whose resume includes Kokoro Connect and Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, which weren’t bad. And hey, neither is this! But it isn’t what I’d call great, at least not yet. It is merely good.

I won’t say it started bad per se—I actually liked how we spent a good amount of time in the real world to watch Suzuki Ichirou’s “death march” at the game company where he works. But the time there clocks in at nine minutes; personally I would have been fine with a much shorter montage to establish the guy.

That would have given us more time in the the virtual world of War World where Suzuki ends up. But once he’s there, things get much more interesting.

By “interesting”, I mean “a little nerdy”, since the programming jargon of the real-world act is replaced by the clean, smooth heads-up menu interface of the game, which Suzuki, AKA “Satoo” is able to navigate with his mind.

He assumes he’s merely dreaming a very elaborate dream, and since he’s known nothing but RPG programming for 30 hours without sleep, it stands to reason that dream would be about the game. Oh, and he’s also been de-aged to around fifteen. Seiyu Horie Shun raises his voice when he’s talking out loud, while his thoughts remain in 29-year-old Suzuki’s voice.

Satoo starts out at Level 1, but when a horde of Lizardmen numbering 300, all with levels hovering around 50, and he unleashes a Meteor Rain that takes them all out, raising his Level to 310.

Suzuki doesn’t realize this until one last lizardman standing with critical HP tosses him a sword and challenges him to a final duel, and Satoo takes him out without any difficulty.

With the defeat of all those lizardmen, Satoo is suddenly maxed out in all attributes, HP, MP, and Stamina—the kind of levels it would normally take hundreds of hours to reach.

From there, he inspects all of his new skills and loot, tests his Meteor Rain ability again (then promptly turns it off because it’s too damn powerful), then kits himself out and starts to explore War World’s world.

It’s not long before he comes upon a city, which is then attacked by a Wyvern – one he could easily defeat. Instead, he sits back and watches things unfold with the city’s mostly medieval defense force, in which archers direct the beast and mages throw spells at it (nice use of distorted voices to portray the spells being chanted).

One of those mages is Zena, who fires off a particularly big spell at the wyvern, but gets tossed high into the sky. One of her comrades slows her fall, but it’s Satoo who leaps up to catch her in midair. Now that he’s rescued a fair maiden, Suzuki’s checked off another box in the stuck-in-an-RPG conventions.

Who Zena is or how she’ll react to being saved is a question for next week; again, blame the nine-minute prologue if you must. I must also report that this show did not impress with its visuals (the wyvern was particularly iffy compared to, say, Bahamut or  Zestiria), and aside from the piece that played while Satoo traversed the overworld, the music was also unremarkable. If you’d told me this was made five or even ten years ago, I’d believe you.

Despite its technical shortcomings I honestly enjoyed following Suzuki/Satoo around as he gathered his bearings, and will be back to see what he gets up to, and who he meets, next week.

 

Granblue Fantasy the Animation – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Granblue Fantasy is the story of Lyria, a abused special magic weapon on the run from The Empire, and Gran, a friendly knight, who comes to her rescue in the woods. Gran is killed along the way and Lyria must resurrect him and unleash the power of Bowmut to defeat the evil-face villain and escape.

I literally spent 40 minutes laughing with hatred at this show, which contains exactly zero drops of joy, artistic expression, nor professional craft.

It may be tempting to watch Granblue to witness its profoundly generic and overwhelmingly slow structure, which are impossible to capture in stills. It may be tempting to watch if you enjoy the game, which has lovely character designs, with vivid color and shading, absolutely not captured here.

Please, in the name of the 40 minutes of life I can never get back, do not. This is a profoundly terrible show.

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There is an unfortunate dialog convention in Fantasy RPGs, which I refer to as “Question, answer, answer repeated as question, answer.” (QAARAQA for short) It is usually reserved for the protagonist, to reinforce information that absolutely does not need to be reinforced for the viewer/player, which results in a mentally limited protagonist and disrupted narrative flow.

“Who’s chasing us?” “The Empire.” “The Empire!? They’re dangerous!” “Yes. We must escape them!” “Escape them!?” – Oh just shut up!

GranBlue Fantasy the Animation QAARAQAs frequently, often while characters are standing around before and after its brief action scenes. Not only does this result in a repetitive cycle that adds nothing to our understanding of the world or the characters, as they are only restating obvious plot points we’ve seen or can infer without emotional nuance, it totally derails the flow of action.

Of course that would matter more if GranBlue contained action in the first place. While characters do run around, occasionally launch shimmery attacks, and there are 2 CGI dragons, the animation is lethargic or lacking narrative tension or hilariously adherent to RPG battle conventions, or all three at once.

In one scene, after a few seconds running away from a long conversation, Katalina stops and walks up angrily to four imperial knights harassing villagers in the forest …and swats them to the ground with her rapier. She doesn’t run, she just walks up to them and splat, they fall over, with exactly the same sword-swing and fall-down impact you would expect from a broad sword. The only thing missing was red damage point numbers appearing above the knights’ bodies.

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While the character design is quite detailed, that level of detail limits shading. The result looks flat, lacking volume, and the line quality, which is best described as ‘sketchy pencil’ looks sloppy, unfinished. Other visual notes like Vyrn not flapping her wings, rather bobbing up and down in the frame, and that 20 minutes of the episode are spent running aimlessly through the same muddy-colored forest, gives an overall feeling that no effort was put into the production of this show.

Certainly, nothing compared to the lovely rich colors and bold shading in the game. (Don’t even get me started on the audio, the generic high-pitched girl voice dragon, or the laughingly evil faced villain who also has a generic high pitched voice/laugh.)

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The Verdict: Fantasy tropes aside, GranBlue‘s structure is terrible. Scenes are interminably long, often featuring characters standing around expositioning content we know or are smart enough to infer.

11 minutes in, Gran and Katalina spend 4 minutes next to a fallen tree re-explaining the current story. This is immediately after running away from a group of soldiers, without a sense that they’ve ‘gotten away’ or are hiding. They’re just here, nonchalantly talking about the plot. No tension, nothing.

“Gran! Please use my power.” “Your… power?” “Yes” – ARGH!

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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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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 – 06

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The two-part Berseria mini-arc comes to a very exciting and promising close, though its greatnss is blunted by the fact this is likely the last we’ll see, as we’ll be returning to Zestiria next week, meaning this is goodbye to Velvet Crowe for now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the Zestiria story so far, but Berseria might just be the better scenario, as evidenced by her showdown with Praetor Exorcist Oscar Dragonia…then with an actual dragon. Velvet is a particularly rootable badass avenging her little brother, and she doesn’t back down from the white cloaks for a second.

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Ufotable puts on its expected clinic when it comes to smoothness and inventiveness of combat, putting the exorcist’s by-the-book style up against Velvet’s more improv style.

We’re also somewhat clunkily introduced to Magilou (real name much longer), the comic relief mage who becomes the third member of Velvet’s party as the two of them plus Rokuro all want the same thing: to get off this island.

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To do so, Velvet must devour a mortally wounded Seres in order to absorb her power and her “Arte” overpowered attack. Seres gives up her life willingly, so that Velvet can continue the good work of opposing Artorius’ ideals.

Seres is putting her faith in Velvet and her new friends to finish the job she started by freeing her from the prison. Velvet also receives the comb that once belongs to the brother she cherished, no doubt an important talisman.

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When Rokuro and Magilou run into some trouble with the dragon, Velvet re-emerges from the dungeon she was thrown into, and proceeds to devour the dragon, gaining even more power. Oscar is pretty powerless to stop her, and she, Rokuro and Magilou take the one surviving ship off the island.

Velvet sets their destination: Loegres, the capital of Midgand, where her quest to defeat Artorius will continue. And that, it seems is where we will leave Velvet and her little band of badasses. I’ll be sad to see them go, but I have no doubt the continuation of Zestiria won’t disappoint either.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 05

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Last week’s TZX left us hanging, with apocalypse apparently upon Ladylake, but this episode made no attempt to arrest that suspense in any way. Indeed, this week’s story may well have been in another world than the adventures of Sorey, Alisha & Co., but I didn’t mind, because it was so goddamn awesome.

TZX has proven adept at embellishing simple scenarios with its imposingly gorgeous production values, and does not stray from that M.O. here. This is a simple prison break for the episode’s protagonist, Velvet Crowe. But it’s a prison break given great weight by how it’s presented and more importantly, why she’s breaking out.

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Trapped in the lowest dungeon for three years fighting and absorbing daemons into her left arm, Velvet receives a sudden visit from an unlikely ally: Seres, a former(?) Malak of her nemesis, Artorius. I loved how Seres would land softly on her feet no matter how hard Velvet tossed her.

Once they’ve climbed out of her vast cell, Velvet and Seres immediately face a group of exorcists, and Velvet demonstrates the results of all that daemon-eating by taking them all out herself.

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The duo reaches a storeroom where Velvet dons her sexy, elaborate armored pirate outfit and finds a gigantic Tempest Blade. Shortly thereafter, the blade’s owner shows up, also breaking out of jail. Velvet claims finders-keepers, but will give the guy his blade back if he joins the party; he agrees, and the duo becomes a trio. There’s a great satisfaction in watching Velvet clear each hurdle and build a party that will facilitate her escape.

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Rather than fight wave after wave of exorcists with no distractions, Velvet has Seres open up all the cells, and the prison becomes a chaotic battleground between the escaped daemons and exorcists, allowing Velvet to reach the top of the tower.

There’s a definite tinge of “badness” to Velvet and her party that’s not present with the innocent goody-two-shoes nature of Alisha, Sorey, and Mikleo. These guys, particularly Velvet, have been through some shit, and they’re going to do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means a big collateral body count.

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TZX also breaks out its “dramatic vista unfolding” to show us how isolated the prison tower is, upon a rocky island surrounded by ocean. Velvet isn’t going to let a steep drop stop her, and she uses her daemon claw to slow her descent. Rather than a pancake, she survives the drop with a dislocated shoulder she nonchalanetly pops back into place, and which Seres (who teleports down) quickly heals.

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So…they’re out of the prison. But how to get off the island? As fortune would have it, a ship is approaching, and it would seem that Velvet’s nemesis is aboard, meaning a huge confrontation is imminent. And thanks to the game-like previews, we learn that we won’t be switching immediately back to Sorey’s story next week. I haven’t mentioned those previews yet, but I like them, because they allow the characters to take a breather and let their hair down a bit.

And despite Velvet looking for all the world like a tortured villain, the fact she’s seeking revenge for a guy who killed a kid to become stronger (and is now considered a savior) is all we need to know her heart is in the right place: seeking to avenge the innocent and week from those whose heads have grown too big to do the same. And as a quick look at her Wiki indicates, she’s the heroine of Berseria.

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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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