Reviewby Nick Creamer, Feb 29th 2016
Blast of Tempest (Episodes 1-24 Streaming)
Hakaze Kusaribe is the mage of Genesis, a powerful magic user who embodies the will of the Tree of Genesis. Hakaze Kusaribe is also in trouble - betrayed by her clan, who believe Genesis will actually bring the end of the world, she's been stranded on a desert island, with no way to stop her former allies from summoning the ominous Tree of Exodus. Fortunately, Hakaze was one trump card; her link with the teenage boy Mahiro Fuwa, who she's convinced to help her save the world from her own clan. But Mahiro cares little for the fate of the world - all he wants to know is the name of whoever killed his sister Aika, who died senselessly one year back. But in a world ruled by fate and magic, there is often little logic to be found in the paths we take. And for Hakaze, Mahiro, and his friend Yoshino, the futures we seek may never overcome the roles we are set to play.
You have to admire the confidence of a show that not only names itself after one of Shakespeare's greatest plays, but also quotes the bard directly on an episodic basis. That's about as bold of a choice as you can make - not just subtly riffing on classic tragedies, but actually inviting constant comparisons between the trials of your characters and those of Prospero, Caliban, and Hamlet. Blast of Tempest is perhaps the only style of show that could get away with a trick like that; it is a proud and unabashed melodrama, a high-stakes story of love and revenge that laughingly frames the fate of the world as no more than a reflection of its own adolescent love polygon. It may not actually get away with its conceit, but that's certainly not for lack of trying.
Blast of Tempest weaves two interlocking conflicts against each other. On the one side, there is the young woman Hakaze Kusaribe, the princess of the Kusaribe clan. Hakaze is the mage of Genesis, the one granted power by the Tree of Genesis, which the Kusaribe clan is sworn to protect. But lately, the Kusaribe clan has been experiencing its own winter of discontent, as fellow mage Samon feels certain that the Tree of Genesis's plan to “restore the world” would wipe out civilization entirely. And so Samon plots to summon the Tree of Exodus to destroy Genesis, and traps Hakaze on a desert island in order to fool the order of Genesis into letting her die.
But Hakaze isn't willing to give up without a fight, and the power of Genesis means she has the logic of the world itself on her side. Hakaze sends out a message in a bottle, and makes contact with Mahiro Sawa, a key player in Blast of Tempest's other drama. One year ago, Mahiro's sister Aika was killed, leaving Mahiro and his best friend Yoshino (who was secretly dating Aika) alone to pick up the pieces. While Yoshino tried to return to a normal life, Mahiro dedicated himself to finding Aika's killer - and now, with Hakaze's help, it seems like he'll be able to fulfill his wish. Saving Hakaze from her island prison and keeping either one of the two trees from destroying the world don't really matter to Mahiro, but if that means Hakaze can locate the object of his revenge, he'll do whatever it takes to help her.
Blast of Tempest spins out this tale of betrayal and revenge across a first half full of clashes between Mahiro, Yoshino, and Samon's agents within the Kusaribe clan. As giant fruit of Exodus arise and cause tragedy across the land, Hakaze leads her two allies towards a final confrontation with Samon at the tree itself. Once there, revelation after revelation rock the cast, as Samon and Hakaze match wits over who will truly bring about the end of the world, and Hakaze's recruits struggle against their own feelings and allegiances. And then all hell breaks loose, the world is changed forever, and the show's second half features a rejiggered set of priorities for everyone as the show's cast attempt to pick up the pieces.
In spite of that convoluted explanation, Blast of Tempest actually has a fairly simple core narrative. The relationships between Mahiro, Yoshino, Hakaze, and the absent Aika form the heart of the conflict - Mahiro is driven by revenge more than anything else, and characters like Samon even directly comment on how lines like “I could tell you the name of Aika's boyfriend” seem far more important than they should be in the context of this story. The first half of the story is largely composed of “will they reveal the truth” cliffhangers and introductions to both the world and the show's cast, while the second continues to string along a variety of reveals leading towards a final confrontation with the Tree of Genesis. Blast of Tempest is probably at its weakest when considered as a strict narrative; the show only truly has enough narrative meat to support sixteen to eighteen episodes, and the rest is filled out with a whole bunch of repetitive commentary and dramatic slow-rolling.
But if Blast of Tempest's ultimate narrative is underwhelming, its personality is anything but. The show's first great strength is its cast of characters, who are funny and clever and driven by all manner of unique motivations. Aika's acid tongue is a great counter for Yoshino's constant plotting, while Mahiro's driving anger matches nicely to his cold reliance on logic. And Samon provides a very funny counterpoint to the rest of the cast, playing up the drama of big scenes while consistently commenting on how ridiculous it is that adolescent romance is deciding the fate of the world. The first season's finale is alternately stunning and infuriating, as the cast spend almost a third of the season altogether debating who Mahiro and Yoshino should trust at the foot of the Tree of Exodus. I spent more than a few minutes checking my watch, but also plenty of time just marveling at the idea that any show could get away with full episodes of point-counterpoint logic debates that all actually made sense. Rhetorical device is met by wild theory is countered by strong bluff is upturned by unexpected reveal as Blast of Tempest revels in its own debate-heavy drama.
Blast of Tempest's tone matches the absurd pretensions of its storytelling. Mari Okada was definitely the right choice to handle the composition of the show's adaptation; not only do her stories already tend to spiral the entire universe around the emotional interiority of a few teenagers, but shows like Gosick and Anohana demonstrate she's clearly a fan of outright melodrama. Blast of Tempest's characters announce their feelings in bombastic terms, swearing revenge and comparing themselves to Ophelia and cursing the whims of capricious fate. The show's constant feed of dramatic reversals feel more like a soap opera than a traditional anime drama, which legitimately suits the material. Blast of Tempest is larger than life, and that's perfectly okay.
The show's problems don't really have anything to do with its exuberant style of storytelling; as I said before, they mainly come down to the fact that there isn't enough storytelling. The show often drags for time, and in spite of the steady tone, the overt narrative structure is very disjointed. The story wanders and repeats and loses track of itself, with many characters feeling superfluous and many conflicts feeling redundant. Events are rehashed and commented on to the point of tedium, and narrative turns lack the compelling and investment-earning logic the actual characters swear by. Blast of Tempest has so much personality that I'd actually like for it to be a better show than it is, but its narrative fundamentals are generally too messy for the show to earn dramatic investment worthy of its dramatic affectation. As a story, Blast of Tempest is a beautiful disaster.
The show's aesthetics are a bit more consistent, with the music being the clear highlight. Blast of Tempest has a rich and theatrical soundtrack worthy of its larger-than-life storytelling, full of urgent orchestral tracks and strong melodies. Violins rise in panicked swells as characters attempt to grapple with their fate, and dramatic clashes are buoyed by rich percussion and horns. It's more of a role-player than a set of songs you'd likely listen to on their own, but it's about as appropriate as any soundtrack can be.
The visual design is significantly more measured, though it does try to enhance the show's melodrama in its own ways. The character designs are a little flat, and the animation is very minimal outside of a handful of specific setpieces, but the direction is fairly strong. There are lots of clever match cuts used to draw parallels between characters or elements of the story, and the show is rich with visual motifs that show up in a variety of guises (like the butterfly wings hidden in the recurring shots of Aika's death).
The visual composition also works to enhance the sensation of watching a stage play, with characters being staged in such a way that it often seems like they're directing soliloquies away from their friends and towards the audience. The show's underlying backgrounds and character designs aren't particularly beautiful or appealing, and sequences like the multi-episode debate at the Tree of Exodus have difficulty making themselves visually compelling, but the show overall does a reasonably successful job of visually conveying material that might in truth lend itself more to a stage play.
Overall, while Blast of Tempest is certainly a very interesting show, I can't say it's actually a good one. The show's story is just too poorly composed to maintain interest; there's not enough material here to fill these episodes, and what is here often feels poorly conceived or incoherent. The show has very distinctive strengths that actually make me want to like it more than I did - I'm a sucker for shows with a very strong personality, and it's a rare show that actually seems to earns its constant literary references. But Blast of Tempest is ultimately less than the sum of its parts, a set of very engaging players in search of a worthy play.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : A-
+ Its great cast and strong style end up legitimately earning its constant Shakespearian aspirations, and the soundtrack is a perfect fit for the material.
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