Tales of Zestiria the X Review – A breath of fresh air for your eyeballs


  • Episodes : 12
  • Genre : Action, Adventure, Fantasy
  • Airing Date : Jul. 2016 – Sept. 2016
  • Studios : ufotable

Contains Spoilers


Tales of Zestiria the X Introduction and Story (Spoilers)

Tales of Zestiria the X is a Summer 2016 adventure anime adapted from the Japanese role-playing game Tales of Zestiria, the fifteenth title in the long-running Tales of series. Much like the game, the anime focuses on the journey of Sorey, a young human who can see and interact with seraphim. Seraphim are a spiritual race with elemental powers. The story begins with Sorey living with the seraphim in Elysia, a village free from humans. Enamored by legends of a hero called the Shepherd, Sorey enjoys exploring ancient ruins that show a history of humans and seraphim living and working together. It becomes Sorey’s wish that humans and seraphim can live in harmony once again.

While exploring some ruins, Sorey and his best friend Mikleo, a seraph of water, find a lost Alisha Diphda, who happens to be the princess of the Kingdom of Hyland. Alisha is the first human Sorey has ever met. Alisha, who cannot see the seraphim, can only communicate with Sorey in the village. With a shared faith that a hero will appear, Sorey and Alisha quickly become friends. Although Alisha leaves to return to her homeland, a spiritual being born from malevolence, called a hellion, appears and is in pursuit of Alisha. Sorey and Mikleo start on their journey to protect Alisha from danger.

Upon their reunion, a greater malevolence has appeared in Hyland. Sorey makes a contract with Lailah, a powerful seraph of fire, and Sorey thus becomes a Shepherd. As a Shepherd, Sorey has the power to make contracts with seraphim, and use their powers to purify hellions. The main goal of a Shephard is to defeat the Lord of Calamity, so Sorey goes on a journey to learn more about the malevolence that plagues Hyland. It is revealed that humans themselves are the source of much of the malevolence, due to greed and corruption. Although Sorey’s naive and straightforward personality helps him to have a high resonance with seraphim and brings new seraphim to join his team, these traits are also his downfall, making him particularly susceptible to being overcome by malevolence. Will Sorey gain enough power to rid the world of evil and usher in a world where seraphim and humans can live together again? Maybe, we’ll find out in Season 2, due to air in 2017.

What we liked: Tales of Zestiria the X Didn’t Forget Its Roots.

Studio ufotable did not cut any corners and made arguably the best-looking anime of Summer 2016. After just the first couple episodes, viewers would know exactly what to expect for the rest of the season: light-hearted adventuring, impressive landscapes, and drool-inducing fight scenes. Luckily, every episode was dominated by at least one mesmerizing fight sequence that would pull you back for another episode.

The high quality of each and every fight sequence makes it even more difficult to pinpoint which battle would be the best of season, leaving it up to personal opinion. If you’re all about the bromance between Sorey and Mikleo, you may name the scene in which Sorey makes the pact with Mikleo in the midst of a battle and then shots an arrow that literally changes the weather. If you were pleasantly surprised by the Tales of Berseria filler at the beginning of the season, you may be inclined to say that Velvet Crowe’s daemon arm mechanics were nothing less than perfection in her battle against the Exorcists and a powerful dragon. If your fond of small details and technical motions, you may name one of Rose’s fight scenes as your favorite. Seriously, you don’t have to look further than the opening theme to realize, this is simply a visual buffet for your eyeballs.

Unless you missed the reminder at the end of each episode that this show was based on a video game, we all knew Tales of Zestiria the X is coming from a source seeped in battles and character leveling, and we would expect nothing else from its anime adaptation. Frankly, recent fantasy anime, like Re: Zero and Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, regardless if you liked them or not, were emotionally depressing and mentally exhausting. Conversely, Tales of Zestiria the X and similarly Arslan Senki give us fantasy anime that are much more optimistic and hopeful. They come from a place where fantasy is in fact fantasy, an idealistic world with wonder and magic that you want to escape into. Tales of Zestiria the X ended up becoming that anime for which you can sit back and relax and say, “Whoa, that’s cool,” at least once in every episode, and we appreciate it for being that anime for us.

Discussion Time: Should You Watch Tales of Zestiria the X?

Tales of Zestiria the X is easily a watch-worthy show and a perfect time-killer. If you’ve spent your whole day thinking too much and stressing out, this is the show you want to watch in order to unwind. The series as a whole, with minimal fanservice and unburdened dialog, fits into a comfy space. If you happened to be going through Hell Month, Hell Month the Sequel, and Hell Month III this summer, Tales of Zestiria the X is the embodiment of a weekly dose of relax fuel.

It’s accessible to both older and younger viewers without dumbing down its content, keeping its moderate political commentary. Although it sets up a battle of good vs. evil, and then continually blurs that line between good and evil, the subject matter isn’t that heavy and can be easily digested while viewing. The setting of Tales of Zestiria is epically vast, but it doesn’t require heavy world-building in order to get the gist of how this world works. In coordination with that, there aren’t too many characters, and their power is usually revealed through visuals, rather than explained by narration or dialog.

Parallel to an “easy read,” Tales of Zestiria the X is, first and foremost, an “easy watch,” free of superfluous drama and emotion-baiting. While it may not be a frontrunner for your next debate among otaku intellectuals, Tales of Zestiria the X does what it does very well. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about next.

Tales of Zestiria the X Sticks the Landing

1. The Sound and Music

As a fantasy adventure, the soundtrack is fittingly epic. Storytelling and world exploring scenes are matched with pleasant and pensive instrumentals. Battle scenes have blood-pumping music that hits its climatic points at just the right swing of the sword or devastating fall. Likewise, there is a fitting lack of music at moments of anxiety or desperation. This is exactly the type of soundtrack music that JRPGs are famous for. Then there are the songs with words. The upbeat and fun “Kaze no Uta” opening theme song by FLOW is the perfect start to an action-packed adventure. The refreshing “calling” ending theme song by fhána is equally the perfect match to a satisfying episode conclusion. The music, overall, leaves very little to be wanted.

Even though Tales of Zestiria the X is just a video game’s adaptation, the voice cast is also filled with really popular seiyuus (Japanese voice actors). Kayano Ai’s delivery of Alisha reflects the character’s self-confidence but also carries a level of uncertainty that matches the character’s inexperience. Osaka Ryota adds gentleness to Mikleo’s character that is well-known but not often addressed in words. Finally, it’s hard to imagine anyone else voicing Sorey except Kimura Ryouhei. We almost feel sorry for the English voice actor, because this part feel like it was written for no one but Kimura.

2. The Impressive Visuals

Even if the story is uninspired, the visuals take the helm to add freshness to the medium. Unsurprisingly, this may be the exact same reason that the Tales of series is still popular, even as it prepares for the global release of its sixteenth major title. The animation is crisp and ambitious. Lighting effects are at the highest quality, and CG effects are more fitting than distracting. As mentioned before, the fight sequences are some of the best to grace the silver screen this season.

The seraphim, though spiritual beings, look a lot like humans; but then again, they don’t. Even without an obvious character introduction, it’s easy to tell who is a seraph and who is not. Thanks to years of development for the video game, the character designs are very good without being too cliché. Although Lailah is an explosively strong seraph of fire, her design is sweet and elegant. Conversely, the earth seraph Edna is small in stature but when she uses her elemental power, her attacks are overwhelmingly powerful. Much like Toph in Avatar: The Last Airbender, this “dynamite comes in a small package” character is a fan favorite. Then, there are the backgrounds. Expansive, vast, and above all else, beautiful, each area has its own distinct feel and color palette that would make Christopher Nolan proud. Honestly, we could never say enough on how amazing this anime looks.

3. A Real JRPG Experience

Tales of Zestiria the X, being based on a role-playing game with an ESRB rating of “Teen,” carries an air of innocence, compounded by Sorey’s sheltered upbringing. This innocence is particularly important when we go out to journey into the larger world, where the main conflict is easily described as a duel of good and evil. Sense of adventure, after all, is grounded in naiveté and a want to explore and experience the greater world. As viewers, we also get to mature a little along with our protagonists as we learn many of stark realities of the world: namely, many of the “evil” dragons and hellions were once innocent seraphim and humans, much like themselves.

The story, for that matter, follows the story in the actual game. It’s not a prequel, like the recent OVA Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV. It’s also not an after story or alternate timeline, like many other game adaptations. It is the actual story with just a few small tweaks. Considering the recent popularity in anime that use RPG elements, à la Sword Art Online and Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, it makes sense that ufotable would make a full-season RPG anime with the native story. Add in visuals worthy of a major JRPG, and we have the perfect storm of an anime for people, like us, who enjoy watching RPG cutscenes on YouTube.

Finally, as to be expected with a role-playing game, the main character needs to be a bit of a blank slate in at least one way or another. In this case, Sorey is probably best described as a “mask face.” Unlike many anime main characters, Sorey has a laid-back personality and will give a smile or two, but overboard emotionality isn’t in his character design. He can look sad, but he won’t cry. He can feel flustered, but he won’t overreact. He can be really excited, but he will literally have on Pikachu’s battle face. This is so that we, the viewers, can embed our own emotions onto his emotionless mask of a face. Of course, he has a distinct personality: he’s kind-hearted and outgoing. He doesn’t fear defeat but dislikes people taking advantage of him. His hero personality, however, is more or less, why the Tales of fanbase would want to identify with such a character, and his lack of overboard emotion enables that behavior.

What Tales of Zestiria the X Lacks

1. It’s Basically a Long (and short) Advertisement

Although ufotable does Tales of Zestiria the X solid, they aren’t necessarily bringing anything new to the table. People who have actually played the source game will literally know everything that will happen, and may even be frustrated by how slow it’s moving along (see #2 below). This, however, isn’t considered a great sin the world of anime. Similarly, people will watch the anime of their favorite manga, even if it is completely source-faithful. It’s pretty obvious, though, that the real target audience, much like manga adaptations, is in fact that people who have not played the game yet. What better way to do this but show off the juiciest battles?

“Isn’t that battle amazing? Don’t you want to fight in the battle for yourself, but you know, do it OP-style instead?!” screams the voice behind the aesthetically pleasing screen.

If that weren’t enough, we have a two-episode intermission for Episodes 5 and 6, featuring the characters and story of Tales of Berseria, a totally different title that was released in Japan this year and will be released in North America and Europe after localization in 2017. It may seem really random, except we all know that this anime’s main objective to sell more games, so we’re not surprised at all. In fact, the Tales of Berseria episodes ended up being some of the most liked by gamers, because it was the only new thing in the whole season.

2. Alisha vs. Rose

One of the main reasons the story moved so painstakingly slow was to hold on to dear life to Alisha’s presence. Alisha, who is even featured in the Episode 0 of the anime, is treated as the main female protagonist in the anime adaptation, but that isn’t the case for the game. Heavily used during the marketing for the game before its release, many Japanese players were pretty disappointed when they learned that Alisha is actually absent for most of the game. Instead, the main female protagonist is Rose. This is justified by the fact that Rose has a higher resonance with seraphim. She can communicate with a seraph even before she meets Sorey. Alisha, with her low resonance, is too much of a burden on Sorey after they make the pact with each other. The anime tries to alleviate this problem by reasoning that Alisha has some resonance, which is better than nothing, and then suggests a possible solution for Sorey, who proclaims that Alisha won’t be a burden if he can become strong enough.

Globally, however, marketing for the game was much lower in scale. Thus, many fans outside of Japan didn’t really care that Alisha wasn’t the main female protagonist. If anything, more global players are fond of Rose, who is very absent in the anime’s first season. It’s just a little strange that such an important character would be treated as just a side character. If they are planning on continuing to be faithful to the source in the second season, Rose will definitely need to become the main female protagonist, and Alisha has to go away. It may be true you can’t win over all the fans, but being wishy-washy with the female protagonist is off-putting, at the very least. Maybe they’ll surprise us all, and we’ll have two main female protagonists, but that’s just wishful thinking for now.

3. The Character Development is Limited.

With the plot dragging along so slowly, the character development is also slow. After the first couple episodes, we didn’t really expect lack of character development to be a problem, but here we are. Of course, we can understand the reasons for this slow development, but adding more depth to some scenarios would be much more appreciated. For example, when Mikleo goes looking for a weapon catalyst to be able to make a pact with Sorey, there was a lot of room to give Mikleo more of a story or at least more of a journey. Also, while we loved all the little glimpses into Edna’s past, much more expansion on those glimpses would be amazingly wonderful. A lot of the character development in Tales of Zestiria the X is based on assumptions we have to make as viewers. That’s fun for making theories, but the reason why we make theories is to see if they can be proven in canon. For Tales of Zestiria the X, they may never be addressed.


Honey’s Closing Statement

Tales of Zestiria the X, though a very well-made anime, doesn’t go above and beyond, especially in comparison with many other fantasy anime in recent years. The story is relatively uncomplicated and the advancement of the story is within the realm of the expected. It portrays its story well, however, with high quality animation, solid voice acting, and a perfected soundtrack. Of course, many of its high points are thanks to a long and laborious game development stage for its source material, in which ufotable actually worked with Bandai Namco for the game’s opening and cutscenes. With all of this in mind, ufotable didn’t aim for greatness, but instead relied on its strong source material foundation. The game Tales of Zestiria is not necessarily the greatest of the Tales of series, but it’s a solid addition. Likewise, the anime may not be the most wonderful thing made by ufotable, but it definitely meets a high standard we’ve come to expect from the studio. If we were to compare it to a gymnastics routine, Tales of Zestiria the X didn’t do the highest difficulty routine, but they also didn’t make any big mistakes with the leaps and flips they chose. They might not deserve a standing ovation, but we will clap while nodding in approval to this anime.

Eris

Writer

Author: Eris

I watch a lot of anime. If you do too, we could be friends.

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