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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