Blast of Tempest Review

Blast of Tempest delivers an engaging narrative that, though occasionally plagued by pacing problems, manages to deliver strong entertainment value thanks to a diverse cast of colourful characters, deft directing and poetic execution.

Plot Synopsis: Following the death of their dear friend and the dislocation of the princess of Genesis, the hot headed Mahiro and calculating Yoshino must fight to stop the Kurabise tribe from reawakening the Tree of Exodus. However, things may be more complicated then they seemed at first.

From the very beginning, Blast of Tempest sells itself on character conflict, the justification (and manipulation) of character motivations and diverging from the execution of the standard shounen formula. In Tempest, the question is rarely “how”, and more often “why” and “should”, with both the ends and the means to them being shrouded in thematic core of the narrative and the backstories of the characters. The first few episodes are the lightest in this regard, with physical confrontations between the two leads and the members of the Kurabise clan making up the bulk of the first, and in hindsight least interesting, quarter. The allegations of the princess’s murder, the gripping tension as everyone is crystallised and Mahiro’s seemingly inevitable spiral to vengeance induced self-destruction makes the story seem predictable, but Tempest knows just when to pull out the rug from under its audiences’ feet.

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In the second quarter, which consists almost exclusively of Phoenix Wright style arguments and counter arguments, the layers of Yoshino and Mahiro, and their capabilities, leave the outcome uncertain, and the dialogue regarding the mechanics of magic seems to require a PhD in Magical Lore to be fully understood. Nonetheless, it’s as smart and emotionally intense as the series gets, and this is accomplished with next to no physical action, an accomplishment that few shounen have been able to pull off. Given that one is patient, this portion is rewarding for many characters, and never becomes as unengaging as one might assume based on the events that transpire. It’s in the second half, however, that the general consensus of the audience splits.

Going from sharp and poignant to seemingly relaxed and romantic, Blast of Tempest’s second half presents a whole new world where what is good and evil means more than ever before. The princess plays a much bigger role, and most of the time the characters are either cracking jokes or theorising, sometimes at the same time. However, given that there is no real deadline of which to speak, this allows the cast think about what has happened over their time and how the Logic of Genesis (destiny, essentially) is both influenced by, and decided for, humanity. What follows is some very compelling thematic exploration and thought provoking content that’s grounded by realistic (albeit highly charismatic) characters who have desires but are acutely aware of the impact of selfishness on those around them. This mystery surrounding Aika, in spite of her having died before the series even began, plays what may be the pivotal role in Blast of Tempest, the revelations making her passing all the more tragic and impactful.

Hanemura is a good addition, because his fish out of water scenario both serves as a point of juxtaposition for Mahiro and Yoshino, who’s changes are made greatly apparent in comparison to his naivety and inexperience, and as a comic relief character. He also has some great action sequences, and grows the most out of the cast, with Hanemura at the beginning bearing little resemblance to him at the end. The near complete absence of action in the second half is largely redeemed by the finale, in which smart strategical planning and high stakes makes for one of the most unique endings to a shounen adaptation in ages, with great character moments, strong animation and even some final spurts character development.

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Blast of Tempest treats both its male and female cast with respect, and while they do tend to tilt more to femininity, this does not occur to the extent that they seem unnatural. It’s fairly easy to see why this is; the original manga was written by Ren Saizaki, a relatively rare female shounen mangaka, and composition was handled by Mari Okada, who’s fairly synonymous with melodrama by this point. However, the directing was handled by Masahiro Ando, most notable for his work on hot blooded action galores like Canaan and Sword of the Stranger. As a result, Tempest is a more emotionally complex shounen adaptation than the likes of One Piece and Fairy Tail (which tend to focus heavily on primal emotions), while also having the directorial deftness to make the conversations seem dynamic by a lack of prolonged still frames and generally excellent visual pacing. Ando’s directorial oversight was greatly beneficial to Tempest, as its verbosity can at times rival that of the Monogatari series, especially in the second quarter (which essentially consists of a debate involving magical terminology and emotional manipulation), but it almost never feels forcefully prolonged.

As verbose as they may be, all of these conversations add depth to the characters’ justifications for their actions, and more substance to their personalities in general. Mahiro seems hell bent on revenge against the one who took the person he held closest to his heart, but still is well aware of all that goes on around him; Yoshino seems indecisive and less devoted, but he’s always setting up multiple plans and back up plans, and in some ways is the more dangerous of the two. Samon is a drama queen under the layers of imperial status, Aika is acutely aware of everyone’s emotions, but never flaunts it, and Evangeline’s stone cold action woman façade gradually peels away to reveal her as a lover of fun and make up.

Incredibly, this is done in a way that doesn’t make the characters feel inconsistent, as they never exuded the moustache twirling villainous tendencies to begin with; they’re people who fight when they need to, for reasons they justifiably believe in, but have so much more to them than that. This lends it a great level of relatability, and the characters actions reflect their personalities; they have no reason to engage in a massive final battle, so why not sneak in? Also, though some may find this redundant, the characters propose theories that are completely wrong on several occasions, but instead of feeling like a waste of time, it makes the conclusions feel more ground breaking than if the characters blindly stumbled upon answers. This solidifies Tempest as a Shakespearean style of storytelling much more than the quotes or classic music ever could, but those elements also fit.

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The character designs for Tempest are sharp and distinctive, courtesy of manga creator Ren Saizaki, with the fujoshi undertones not approaching distracting and each character having sufficiently different facial structure and clothing from each other to be visually memorable. The colouring is done effectively, with Mahiro’s burning red, sharp eyes bringing out his bloodlust vividly enough that words aren’t needed the display his anguish and determination, juxtaposed by Yoshino’s more subdued, contemplative and rounded dark green eyes that seem to be observing his surroundings at all times. Samon’s narrowed eyes and stern attitude, Megumu’s slouched posture and constricted facial expression and the way in which Aika’s deep purple eyes and deceptively uneven hair reflect her paradoxical nature bring out the characters’ essences and lends to them. This is all greatly aided by the sharp quality of the characters’ hair and faces, nuanced and effective lighting and the appropriate atmosphere for each scene.

In spite of what the first quarter may lead you to believe, Blast of Tempest is not a particularly action heavy series, with relatively little of it consisting of Bones unusual fluid fare. Being released after the underperformer Eureka AO, Tempest’s fight scenes consisted heavily of well-drawn stills and admittedly impressive effects. However, the climaxes at the middle and end of the series were both spectacles, and the composition of several scenes, namely those pertaining to Aika’s death or the rise of the Trees, was breathtaking. The action sequences at the beginning serve mainly as ways of drawing the audience in and showing the competence of Yoshino and Mahiro, but narratively they are the weakest part of Tempest. The few fights later on, however, are strategically planned and decisive, with players on both sides trying to overcome the other with wit and preconceived planning, making these conflicts far more engaging than the usual ascending ladder approach of other action series.

The musical score for Blast of Tempest is truly a sublime collection of pieces, showcasing Fullmetal Alchemist composer Michiru Oshima’s diverse applications of classic music, though in a more appropriately mythical nature than the aforementioned Alchemist’s militaristic overtones. Dominated by high, clear, sharp violins wrought with tragedy and inevitability, it matches the Shakespearean thematic and story elements so well that it nearly feels overdone. Of the OST, my personal favourite track is “Tsuioku”, which not only serves as the theme for Aika, but the main theme for the series’ logic and one of my outright favourite pieces of anime music.

This brilliant soundtrack is brought to life with strong application, though it’s absent when needed so the tracks don’t feel repetitive. The way in which Tsuioku is used is particularly noteworthy, as it first plays in part when Aika’s death is revealed, and in a larger part when Yoshino and Mahiro’s history with her is revealed in full. It’s played entirely, however, only at the end of the series when the cause of her death, and what it means, is finally unveiled to the audience and the characters, making her tragic end feel even more painful. The tracks don’t quite have the same imperial vibe around Samon as usually accompanies the Big Boss, but this is fitting, as the music follows suite with the narrative and never treats anyone like the villain, but rather people with their own selfish (and selfless) desires. The sound mixing is done well in the dramatic moments, but is played a bit too loudly during the more subdued scenes, which sadly made the discrepancy between them a little less noticeable. It’s a great musical arrangement, as grandiose as the series its attached to, though on occasions it overwhelms the scenes it plays in rather than elevating them.

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The only song that really feels out of place in Tempest’s musical resume is the first opening, Nothing Carved in Stone’s “Spirit Inspiration”. The art work, intensity and editing are all great, and the English pronunciation is easily interpret-able, but with the exception of maybe the first five episodes it contrasts with the verbose nature of Tempest’s first half, and some viewers hearing this song may be somewhat disappointed if they think it’s an accurate representation of the series. Lyrically, it does bare a reasonable relevance to Tempest’s themes, but lines like “Move on with your fist… and your legs!” simply feel out of place in a series where so much emphasis is placed on word choice. The second opening is less pleasant to listen to on its own, but its more conversational and even comedic nature are more fitting to Tempest’s latter half, as is the deliberate framing and lyrics (though it comes dangerously close to spoiling some elements). The singer’s voice impressively keeps up with the high pitched nature of the song, but the instrumentation backing her up isn’t quite as strong. The first ED was sung by voice actress Kana Hanazawa, whose vocal control and soothing inflections match her character’s silhouette strutting through various locations to the sound of classy jazz instruments (it’s even used as a comically effective insert song at one point). The second ED is fairly typical of a boy band, clearly meant to represent Yoshino (as the visuals depict him waling alongside Aika), and the sharp violins back-up singer Sako Tomohisa’s high falsetto very effectively. In spite of how different each of these songs are, they all reflect Blast of Tempest’s nature in some way or another.

Sawashiro Miyuki knocks it out of the park with her portrayal of the Princess of the Tree of Genesis, Hakaze, selling the resourcefulness and romantic nature of the character with a measured blend of strength and dependence. In the earlier parts of the series, when she is convinced that nothing can stand in her way, she exhibits arrogance and self-assuredness, but never allows this to overcome her intrinsically good nature and often underestimated adaptability. When her initially presumed guaranteed victory starts to slowly slide away from her, Sawashiro’s expressions of devastation are genuine, as are her later comedic and romantic sides and rebellious attitude. She’s the most diverse character in the cast, and even manages to be relatable in spite of the fantastic nature of her situation. However, even she can’t take the crown for best performance from Kana Hanazawa, who brings to life the emotional core and strongest character, Aika, with all the grace and finesse that the character deserves. In what may be one of the best performances that she has ever given, Hanazawa succeeds in bringing the posthumous focal point of Tempest to the forefront of the viewers’ minds as much as to Yoshino and Mahiro’s memories, with her multifaceted behaviour increasing, rather than decreasing, as more in learned about her. Depicted as a generally calm and casual girl, yet one with an undercurrent of poeticism and mystique, she respects and is aware of the flaws of both Yoshino and Mahiro. In the end, it is the control that Hanazawa exerts over (almost) every word she speaks that really grounds the character of Aika as the master of her own fate.

The other actors do a serviceable job, though their performances are fairly typical of them. Rikiya Koyama delivers growling, intimidating dialogue as Samon, with his drama queen, pessimistic attitude coming through hilariously, and Junichi Suwabe’s no nonsense approach to Natsumura (these characters are strikingly similar in mannerisms to those they played in the Fate/Series). Aside from the phenomenal performances mentioned above, Toshiyuki Toyonaga’s Mahiro comes off the best, with his careless attitude showing great contrast to his intense expression and betraying his lack of interest in consequences so long as Aika is avenged. On the whole, the Japanese cast is very top heavy in terms of quality performances, but those that stand out rank among the best of their year.

Overall: B+
Story: B
Characters: B+
Visuals: B+
Sound: A-

Blast of Tempest may be bought from Madman or streamed on Crunchyroll.

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