I’ve talked about Namco’s Tales franchise twice before. With reviews of the Phantasia and Symphonia anime. Zestiria is one of the more recent games and the first series of its anime ran late last year. It was brought to us by Ufotable. You may recall them as the same studio that worked on the Symphonia OVA I looked at, and Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight. How did they do with the first series of Zestiria? Let’s have a look. Please note, this review includes the one episode prequel: Saiyaku no Jidai.
We open with Princess Alisha sending a soldier to investigate a strange cloud overshadowing a city under her kingdom’s jurisdiction. Just one of many calamitous events. Alisha and others are hoping for the legendary Shepherd to appear. All while preparations for a sword festival are taking place and Chancellor Bartlow is making preparations for a war that she’s trying to prevent. As to why she can’t pull royal rank on him and put him in a position where he has no power, I have no idea. She doesn’t even have to go full Princess Usako and send him to “prison island.” In any case, time passes. She doesn’t hear from the soldier she sent. So she takes several soldiers and goes to investigate herself. This eventually results in her finding her way to a strange land called Elysia where, supposedly, seraphim live. But all she can see are a bunch of buildings and a human boy about her age named Sorey. Sorey wants humans and seraphim to go back to living side by side and seems to see something in Elysia that Alisha can’t.
The biggest issue with this series is just that a lot of the plot points are pretty predictable. Of course, the boy who can see the seraphim goes to the sword festival and turns out to be the Shepherd. But that’s not the extent of it. Nearly every plot point that they resolve in the first series goes exactly where you’d think it would. There’s all of one moment where the narrative might surprise you. And even if that moment does, it’s a very safe surprise. The series seems very hesitant to deviate too far from the conventional, generic path. The politics of the world are kind of unclear too. Now, in all fairness, the game does explain why the monarchy doesn’t wield much power or respect and Bartlow can just be a dick towards the princess, but the anime never really addresses it. The problem being that it’s kind of an important detail for understanding the story. Then we have the Velvet Crowe episodes. They aren’t bad episodes by any metric but they are very much out of place. Basically, we get part of a completely different story inserted into this one for seemingly no reason. Unless the second series decides to have the two plot lines intersect, but that seems unlikely since Velvet is from a different game entirely.
The ending is a bit mixed. On one hand, it has some strong moments for the series and it does do a good job of giving some resolution while opening things up for a second series. However, it also suffers from having one of those “the antagonist has a chance to end the threat presented by the protagonist but decides not to bother for flimsy reasons” moments. And those only really work in media for children. Not so much in something like this that’s aimed at teens.
On the positive side, the series does do a good job at introducing enough plot elements to keep you invested in what’s going on. The random Berseria episodes aside, it is well paced. I will also give them credit for having well executed plot points, even if they are obvious. I also do like the allusions to Arthurian legend.
The characters are pretty decent. The issue that holds them back from being really good is that the main cast is only a step or two above archetypes, at least by the time the series ends. It’s entirely possible that the second series of Zestiria will further develop their characters and make them more interesting. They certainly develop a bit in this one. They have conflicts, motivations and some pretty strong relationships. Particularly betwixt Sorey and Mikleo. The antagonists are just bland with no real sense of personality.
The artwork in this is really good. The action sequences are really well done. The backgrounds are nicely detailed. The character designs can be silly in that JRPG aesthetic but they don’t look bad. About the worst you get are the dumb feathers randomly clipped to Sorey’s ears. In general, the worst thing I can say for the art is that it does feature some highly conspicuous CG moments. Which can be distracting.
The cast in this is really good. Kayano Ai, Koyasu Takehito, Satou Rina, Osaka Ryota & Shitaya Noriko all do really well in their roles. And there aren’t any weak performances. The music is quite good.
There’s not a whole lot. The series has the occasional scene that reads a tiny bit like homo-erotic subtext. Usually involving Alisha.
that’s the first series of Tales of Zestiria the X. It has its strong moments. It has the basics down very well with the sound and art. The story, however, suffers from multiple bizarre decisions. Having a part of Berseria randomly inserted into the narrative. Not explaining the details you need to understand Alisha’s circumstances. The series also really hasn’t done enough to develop its characters at this juncture. Maybe if they’d done that instead of showing us a part of a completely different narrative for no reason. Still, it’s a decent start and I am curious about the second series. I’ll probably review that at some point after it’s finished airing. But, for this one, I give it a 6/10. If you’re a fan of the Tales franchise or even just fantasy works in general, give it a try. Next Week I’ll look at Futari wa Precure Splash Star.