Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Tales of Zestiria the X
Season 1 Limited Edition BD/DVD
Long ago, when humans and seraphim dwelled together, a quasi-religious figure known as the Shepherd helped to maintain harmony in the world. But things changed, and not only are humans unable to see seraphim anymore, but the Shepherd has passed into the realm of legend. The world now faces unprecedented calamities, from plagues to tornadoes to dragons, and Princess Alisha of Hyland is trying to find a way to stop them. She meets Sorey, a young man who was raised among the seraphim, who journeys with his seraph friend Mikleo to Alisha's home city of Ladylake to see what she's talking about. Sorey may turn out to be just the hero Alisha's been looking for, but is it already too late to save the world from its own malevolence?
Tales of Zestiria isn't the first game in the long-running “Tales” franchise to be adapted into an anime series, but it is the sole title to have “the X” appended to its name. That's because that “x,” which is meant to be read as “cross,” means that for two utterly random episodes, the story shifts three thousand years in the past to the setting of the prequel game, Tales of Berseria. It's an understandable choice – it's not terribly common for two games to be set in the same fantasy world, and the events of Berseria do eventually lead to the world Zestiria's characters must navigate. But the execution of this shift makes it feel like nothing more than a chance to throw some more advertising at a captive audience, resulting in less of a feeling that we know how the villains of the main story developed and more a disruption in the pacing of the main plot. While it's also not helpful that some game DLC has been incorporated into this linear narrative, Berseria does feel more like the primary culprit of its pacing issues.
Fortunately, the main story is good enough that those two episodes are forgiven and forgotten with relative ease. The plot follows both Alisha Diphda, one of the princesses of the kingdom of Hyland, and Sorey, a young man raised by the seraphim, a race of fey beings with elemental powers. Although Sorey gets most of the story focus and action, it is Alisha who initially drives the story; as a member of the ruling family, she's concerned with the increase in disasters both natural and supernatural, called “calamities.” As a believer in the legends of the Shepherd, a quasi-religious figure from the distant past (the word “messiah” may be one way to understand it), she's looking for a way to restore peace and balance to the world—and if she could find a new Shepherd, that sure would help.
Although Sorey turns out to be that Shepherd, without Alisha it's doubtful he would have realized his potential in the first place. This is partly because because Sorey is a very normal kind of guy. He enjoys exploring ruins and hanging out with his friend Mikleo, a water seraph, and most of what he's got going for him are boundless curiosity and a good heart. It isn't that he's unambitious so much as that he hasn't found a direction for his ambitions until Alisha tells him how bad things are in the human parts of the world. He then throws himself headlong into his new role, somewhat to the consternation of Mikleo and later the earth seraph Edna, although they have different reasons for wishing he'd be less reckless.
The relationships between the characters are a large part of the initial draw, which focuses mostly on setting up the stakes for the world. (We only meet the Lord of Calamity at the end of this set, which marks the end of the first cour.) The maybe-more-than-friendship of Mikleo and Sorey does form a large part of the show's appeal, although you can also perhaps read them as having a close sibling relationship in their concern for each other. That also works with the other sibling pair we meet in this set, Edna and her brother, especially since he has succumbed to what the show terms “malevolence,” the powers of negative human emotions, making it clear that Sorey must avoid a similar fate. If nothing else, it's clear that Sorey and Mikleo understand each other very well, as communicated subtly in their dialogue and body language. Regardless of how you see them, Sorey and Mikleo are each other's support system. Even as their party widens, ultimately the two rely on each other more than anyone else.
That stands in opposition to Alisha and Rose's storylines. Alisha, as the princess, maintains some distance from most of the other people around her, even those she cares about deeply. It's clear that she wants to form close bonds with others, but she isn't comfortable doing so, and we repeatedly see her send others away or retreat into herself rather than become a burden. Rose, on the other hand, actively rejects most overtures with an abrasiveness that seems protective. This may be due to the fact that the wind seraph Dezel seems to have attached himself to her (she can hear but not see him), and she feels powerless in that relationship. We can see both Rose and Alisha beginning to open up to each other, and Alisha to Sorey as well, but at this point it's still a struggle for them both.
The visuals for this series are gorgeous. There is still some awkward CG, mostly involving horses, but the backgrounds are among the most beautiful of the last few years, and the character designs are intricate without feeling overdone. In keeping with both the Arthurian and Shinto themes of the story, there's a medieval feel to the towns and primeval forest, with malevolence being portrayed like pollution – gummy black waters and smoggy brown vapors writhing in the air. While I do have to wonder how Lailah can move in her heels and where Zaveid's shirt has gone, things generally look well-designed, and there are few hiccups in either art or animation.
The English dub is on par with the original Japanese language track in terms of quality, so it's largely a matter of personal preference for which you choose to watch. Both Sorey and Mikleo sound a little younger in English, but not significantly enough to make a major difference. There are many on-disc extras (four art cards and the special box are it for physical LE extras), with two episode commentaries, the “Dawn of the Shepherd” TV special/prequel, and lots of promotional spots and clean songs. The commentary for episode 0 is especially worth mentioning, as it features two of the sound mixers along with Funimation director Tyler Walker – since the series was dubbed in two different states in order to maintain as much of the original game's cast as possible, people interested in the more technical aspects of dubbing will want to listen to this one.
It is striking how many of these first eleven installments (not counting the two Berseria episodes) are essentially setup for the second half of the series. That doesn't make it a less engaging or enjoyable experience, but it doesn't feel like much plot is being covered, despite the deluge of important information. If you don't mind that kind of slow burn (that thankfully doesn't feel slow), this is a beautiful RPG fantasy adventure that's entertaining even if you've never played a “Tales” game before.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Gorgeous backgrounds, interesting character relationships, nice mix of Arthurian elements and more environmental themes
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