Blast of Tempest opens with three high school students – Aika, Yoshino, and Mashiro. Aika and Mashiro are siblings, and Aika seems to harbor some sort of resentment towards Yoshino. She immediately calls him a “con artist,” and then all three of them seem to turn to the same script, speaking of how “the time is out of joint.” Their dialect shifts from generic teenager to Shakespearian embellishment as the three alternate the final lines: “O, cursed spite. That ever I was born to set it right!”
This affectation is very intentional; the show is called “Blast of Tempest,” after all, and the very next scene features a mage finding herself marooned on a desert island, echoing the actual plot of Shakespeare’s final play. It’s an overtly theatrical setup, and the framing supports this – the mage Kusaribe’s inglorious arrival is framed alternately through majestically broad and invasively intimate shots, the picture completed with weeping strings in the background. It feels evocative and portentious, like this is a story that knows it is acting larger than life, and is perfectly comfortable with that fact.
This self-consciously theatrical framing and overt Shakespeare motif are about as good a fit as you could imagine for the show’s writer, Mari Okada. Okada’s catalog is very mixed, but she can pull off an excellent series from time to time – and one of the things that defines her as a writer is her clear love for self-conscious melodrama. In fan discourse, we tend to define melodrama as “drama that doesn’t work for us” – but a work being melodramatic isn’t inherently a failing. I mean, people are generally pretty fond of Revolutionary Girl Utena, right?
A heightened, larger-than-life dramatic affectation is common in venues like opera or theater more generally; it’s just not something we tend to associate with anime specifically. We accept that naturalism isn’t a necessity in fiction, but outright embracing drama that feels false or “performed” is a trickier step – and when done poorly, it can lose the audience entirely. But from Gosick to Anohana to Wixoss and beyond, Okada is a legitimate proponent of drama that hits all the hard notes and aims for the fences, and in the context of a show that’s an intentional takeoff on theatrical framing and Shakespearian drama, that just might work.
In this first episode, that sense of melodrama is mostly conveyed through the show’s deliberately ostentatious framing and character blocking. A shot of Aika’s billowing hair forms a consistent scene transition, and characters rarely look towards each other even in conversation, instead staring towards the murky horizon. Butterflies that seem to herald an incurable affliction flutter across eyes and faces and roiling seas, and when Mashiro curses his sister’s death, he does it by tossing flowers that pirouette gleefully across the screen. Everything about Blast of Tempest is big so far.
That said, this first episode honestly isn’t very good. It’s a first episode – if not for the unique shot framing and Shakespearian touchstones, you might even confuse it for a light novel adaptation. None of the characters have much personality yet, and the character designs and backgrounds are much less strong than the underlying shot composition. The episode moves very ploddingly, offering few hooks, and the fact that it exists within such an overtly melodramatic space means there’s not really a human element to hold onto and care about (always one of the biggest dangers of this style). The time-jumping structure assumes too much audience investment for too little payoff, and lines like “isn’t the absurdity of life the human condition?” feel more like freshman poetry knockoffs than Deep Thoughts. It debuts its world by offering a broad summary of factions explained through exposition, instead of dropping you into an existing story and giving you a reason to care. It feels both archetypal and dry so far – it offers a number of things to talk about, but not very much to enjoy.
So. I’m told this is a compelling show in the end, but it also seems to be a divisive one – it has dedicated fans, but not all that many of them. Fortunately for you all, I don’t intend on trying to write episodic posts about Tempest; it’s essentially the only potentially good 2013 show I missed, so I’m going to just marathon it and see where I’m at. Congratulations Tempest, you got very lucky!
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