Masahiro Ando’s Shakespearean Epic; A Review of Blast of Tempest

Here comes Matthew again, leaping to review another anime by Bones. I suppose that’s all I’m good for, isn’t it? And it’s directed by Masahiro Ando, no less…

Is Masahiro Ando my favorite anime director? He’s certainly up there with blokes like Takuya Igarashi. After all, Ando directed Snow White with the Red Hair, a show that I consider to be an empowering masterpiece of feel-good fantasy romance. Be it a drama or an action show, he is a talented director… though not without some missteps.

What I watched of Canaan never gripped me and reeked of a show whose potential was hurt by low-denominator tropes and poor writing. Under the Dog was an average pilot to a series that will never come out. And Sirius the Jaeger? More like Serious Disappointment (don’t hit me).

I would call Masahiro Ando the Brad Bird of anime. He makes some legendary stuff that will stick with you for ages, but he also tends to bat 50/50. It’s hard to tell why. Maybe it’s the source material on certain shows, maybe it’s other staff members, or maybe Ando is just inconsistent depending on the project.

I’ll cut through some of the snark and assure you of one thing, though. Blast of Tempest (or, Zetsuen no Tempest: The Civilization Blaster) is certainly on the good side of Ando’s batting average.

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Hakaze Kusaribe, the princess of the Kusaribe clan, is marooned on an island by her brother, Samon. Hakaze is in charge of protecting the Tree of Genesis, the source of her clan’s magic, but Samon plans to awaken another tree, the Tree of Exodus, which Hakaze is certain will bring destruction.

With what little magic she has, she sends a doll into the sea, allowing her to communicate with the outside world. It’s none other than Mahiro Fuwa who finds the doll and makes a deal with her. If he helps her stop Samon, she will help him find his sister’s killer. It’s been a year since Mahiro’s sister, Aika, was killed. His best friend, Yoshino Takigawa, mourns her death in silence. Although Mahiro was convinced they hated each other, they were secretly in a relationship.

Aika Fuwa, voiced by Kana Hanazawa

One day, a mysterious object appears from the waters off the coast of their home town, petrifying the citizenry and turning them to iron. This phenomenon is called “Black Iron Syndrome” and is the product of Samon’s efforts to summon the Tree of Exodus. On that day, Mahiro returns, telling Yoshino that he plans to save the world. As the government tries to keep a lid on events and mount an offensive against Samon, Yoshino and Mahiro journey to prevent the world’s destruction with Hakaze’s guidance.

I would compare Blast of Tempest‘s beginning to that of Star Driver, another high-concept series from Bones. Both shows waste no time thrusting the viewer into a complex drama with multiple layers, from interpersonal conflicts to fantastical threats to humanity.

The first episode weaves the establishing scenes of the principal cast elegantly together, grabbing the viewer’s attention even without fully grasping their understanding. Granted, the madness is considerably easier to parse than Star Driver‘s first episode, which felt like sensory overload.

Tempest‘s premiere feels like the curtain opening on something truly grand and hones in on the two most essential hooks: Firstly, the triangle of Mahiro, Yoshino, and Aika. Secondly, the threat against humanity and Hakaze’s place in the struggle.

Evangeline Yamamoto, voiced by Nana Mizuki

The thread weaving together all of these scenes throughout the series is the astonishing score by Michiru Oshima. I’ve praised her work before in shows like Snow White with the Red Hair and the music here ended up feeling familiar but far more epic overall. The best description is “transporting.”

The soundtrack feels out of time, but never out of place. It feels authentic and inspired; grand and consuming. There is a Beethoven influence in Oshima’s score evidenced by the inclusion of Beethoven’s Tempest.

Side-note: It’s a little crazy how many anime Beethoven is credited in as a composer in just for song inserts.

Animation by Keicchi Ishida and Takashi Tomioka

The first half of the show is a dark and dreary quest for revenge through the Japanese countryside. The characters are constantly in pursuit of or pursued by threats that turn each town they touch into quiet graveyards. It is a race against time but it doesn’t go too quickly. The pacing is handled well and offers plenty of well-choreographed action.

The Masahiro Ando Effect is in full motion. For those unaware, no matter what project Ando is attached to, it will almost always have some well-animated action at some point or another. Even in a show like Snow White, a love story relatively light on action, the choreography in what few fights there are is sublime. It is a constant among his work that I will never tire of.

From Snow White with the Red Hair. Animation by Takashi Mukouda

The first arc ends with a prolonged confrontation over several episodes that goes quite differently from how most would expect. While there is action to be had from other characters’ perspectives, the principle trio and the villain, Samon, engage in a heated tug of war in which the balance of power is constantly shifting.

The heroes have weapons that give them the capacity to end the conflict outright. The villains share new revelations that alter some characters’ priorities and cast doubt in others. This mid-season finale is where the characters show their true colors and for the most part, it is awesome to watch unfold.

Unfortunately, it does drag on longer than needed on account of some redundant and wordy dialog that reiterates previously established info. Worse yet, some odd visual design choices and the overall tension dispersal of this ultimatum paints Samon as a somewhat disappointing villain. Despite a strong aesthetic, he ends up feeling like a pushover halfway through the event.

Samon Kusaribe, voiced by Rikiya Koyama

The narrative borrows heavily from two of Shakespeares’ works: Hamlet and The Tempest. The characters quote both frequently, and the narrative similarities only become more apparent as time goes on. The tragedy of Mahiro, Yoshino, and Aika channels Hamlet. Simultaneously, Hakaze’s isolation on an island is a callback to The Tempest.

In this way, the references are far more meaningful than simply quoting something to make the script sound cooler. Instead, the story is an almost meta-commentary on the two tales where the characters ponder which ending their story will take after. Will their fate be a tragedy like Hamlet, or will it end happily like The Tempest?

This a story about fate. The very nature of magic in this show is itself analogous to destiny, similar to the force from Star Wars. The circumstances of characters coming to be united are too perfect. Unlike other stories that drone on about destiny like a pre-requisite to character progression, the use of destiny here feels integral to the drama between the characters.

Mahiro Fuwa, voiced by Toshiyuki Toyonaga

The literary throwbacks to Shakespeare hit so much better when the cast feels like a Shakespearean play come to life. Mahiro is a vengeful soul, quoting Hamlet with a smile as he charges into fights against mages. His anger and resentment towards his sister’s senseless death cause him to damn the world. If the world is going to end, so be it. All that matters is finding who killed Aika.

On the other side is Yoshino, who seems unassuming at first. However, neither he nor Mahiro acts normal under the circumstances. They are both unnaturally calm in a very dangerous time. Yoshino is much more empathetic to others than Mahiro, but he is also far more cunning and deceptive. He meticulous and doesn’t always express himself.

Yoshino Takigawa, voiced by Kouki Uchiyama

Both protagonists mourn Aika, and both deal with their grief in different ways. One lets his anger out on the world while the other schemes to find the best resolution. But they are both liars and neither one of them expresses themselves fully. As opposed as they seem, they are the perfect pair.

Tempest‘s mid-season climax is a clashing of philosophies and personal motives. When it works, it does so because it isn’t just about good versus evil, but good and evil both trying to convince the character with the most power that it is in their best interest to go to their side. It is a wholly unique kind of climax that was worth the slower pacing.

On the other end of the mid-season finale, the show changes in ways that seem jarring, but make a lot of sense when you consider them in retrospect. The world itself undergoes major change as a result of the previous arc and the characters find themselves in a new normal.

The show’s tone feels lighter and arguably more comedic. The goals of the narrative change and aren’t immediately known. It all can feel comparably less… exciting. However, at a certain point, you have to acknowledge that this is the first time that the characters have had a chance to stop and breathe.

My only complaint is how the second half treats one of the major characters. In the first arc, Hakaze is awesome. She’s fearless, determined, and doesn’t let her circumstances get her down. So what if she’s trapped on an island? She can persevere. Even when we see flashbacks of her off the island, she carries herself with a determination that immediately makes an impression.

Hakaze Kusaribe, voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro

In the second arc, she suddenly develops feelings for Yoshino. There are all kinds of dramatic irony and romantic comedy tropes, and it seems like every character is invested in that relationship for reasons both understandable and odd. The relationship isn’t so much a problem compared to how suddenly and intensely Hakaze feels this way.

She is so uncharacteristically in love to the point that it takes away from aspects of her character I like. On the other hand, though, other characters talk about her feelings as though they are dangerous and could endanger the world. I can’t determine which is worse: her behaving so uncharacteristically or the cast treating her like her feelings are something to be condemned. Overall, there are some very odd writing choices.

Rest assured, all of this gets better with time, as the story becomes more dramatic again, touching on the personal growth (or lack thereof) in Mahiro and Yoshino as they approach the answers to longstanding questions. What the second half lacks in battles it makes up for in character payoff, though that’s not to suggest there aren’t well-animated fights.

One particular new character seemed wasted to me, yet funnily enough, serves as the participant of most battles in the second half. Hanemura enters the story having inherited a special ability that makes them integral to the story’s completion. I almost thought he would become the new protagonist of the show, but… he isn’t. After all, this is still Mahiro and Yoshino’s story.

He’s an enigma of a character. There was one scene where he absolutely stole the show and had me hollering at my screen. A real “oh shit” kinda moment, you know? But after that, he goes back to being… fine. Not bad, just… fine. The conceit of his character alone makes him less of an actor in the story and more of a vehicle for other characters to realize something about themselves. In that way, he serves his purpose, but he’s nothing incredible.

When the finale happens and he plays his role with all the spectacle expected of an action show by Bones, I couldn’t help but wish it was another character in his shoes. Someone like Yoshino or Mahiro should have been the center of such a climactic moment. However, it is a testament to the conclusion that the main duo stills play a role and never feel sidelined themselves.

Up until the end, Blast of Tempest was a spectacle befitting the soul of a theatrical epic. Everything about the story carried a certain weight about it that stuck in my mind. The music, direction, and performances were all incredible. It’s thanks to these things that my limited complaints were remedied somewhat.

Simply put, it was a blast.

Blast of Tempest is available for legal streaming through Hulu and Crunchyroll. For some bizarre reason, the second half is still available for purchase on DVD (not Blu-ray), but the first half is no longer available for sale. So if you enjoy it, I’m afraid it’ll be hard to add it to your collection.

What are your thoughts on Blast of Tempest? Another win for Bones or a disappointment? Leave a comment below and tell me you what about another anime that has changed dramatically in the second half.

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Thanks for reading and as always, I’ll see you next time!

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