Out of all of the games in the 'Tales of-' series, many people were skeptical at Ufotable's choice at adapting Zestiria, which was understandable given how it had one of the weakest stories in the entire series. And honestly, the skepticism backed itself up very well given the final product.
Story: Continuing with its previous season, Tales of Zestiria brings us back to the world plagued by malevolence where we follow our main protagonist, Sorey, as he fully realizes his power as the Shepherd in order to save the world from humanity's own faults and wrongdoings. At least...that's what I think the show's about? It's not really all that clear.
Unfortunately, the muddiness and lack of detail of my own synopsis to me shows just how difficult it is to describe Tales of Zestiria from a story sense. With the entire game adapted into roughly 25 episodes worth of material, many liberties were taken by Ufotable in order to squeeze it into this tiny, tiny runtime. But it's not just that the show was rushed, rather, the show decides to focus more on specific sections of the game (more specifically, the arc about our newest member, Rose) and run with that as the main brunt of the runtime. As an end result, the show ends up being extremely choppy and uneven in pacing, as there's this huge jarring scene transition in the middle that turns it from a character-based story about our females leads, into an overall journey deciding the fate of the world.
The consequences of these actions are both prominent and many in number. The antagonists of the series ultimately have difficult to understand motivation to the point that there might as well not be any, the amount of world building is both laughable and poorly structured, the pacing is horrendous (especially in the last few episodes), and above all, there's no emotional weight or anything to bring us this far. The last one is the biggest problem of them all because I find that there's really no reason for anything the characters do to matter so much. Sure the ending might be predictable, but at least make me feel SOMETHING for the characters when they struggle. I just found it very hard for me to even care with what was going on, let alone understand what was even happening half the time since things go from zero to one hundred in the span of an episode.
Zestiria makes a difficult case for itself because due to its vast number of problems, it becomes very hard to find anything positive to say about its story. A show becomes a trial to watch when the plotline has our heroes try and solve some kind of civil war in one episode, then already at the doorstep of the 'main antagonist' in the next. If it's any consolation, the previews where our characters banter with one another before unveiling the title for the next episode is arguably more entertaining than probably anything else that we get from here.
- Messy writing
- Horrendous pacing
- Choppy scene transitions
- Gives the audience very little reason to care
Characters: Characters fare slightly better than the story mostly because not only is a brunt of the screentime devoted to the characters' stories, but their interactions are for the most part, quite entertaining.
As far as the cast from the first season goes, there's not really much to say. Sorey and his seraphim friends still go about his journey to save the world from malevolence and Alisha is still the princess who's dealing with power struggles in her kingdom. Sure Alisha gets a little bit of expansion to her eventually resolved problems, but the placing of it combined with the lack of the antagonist's motivation for doing anything sort of undercuts any and all tension that would've been had. Sorey however doesn't change. The show doesn't focus on him at all in any way shape or form over the course of season two, so trust me. He's still the same dopey MC with good intentions as he was before.
Despite it being Sorey's journey, the true star of season two is Rose, the spunky merchant girl who literally steals the show by being the only character with ample screentime or devoted story time to. Sure while her story's all well and good, my main gripe with her is the fact that she completely overshadows anything that's going on. The surge of world-ending malevolence is completely ignored in order to devote at least two-thirds of the show's overall runtime the personal trials of one character. While I don't think that Rose is a terrible character, the decision to make her the star of the season two was a bad one at best, especially when last season ended with our main characters meeting the big bad guy for the first time.
Both side characters and antagonists serve only one purpose: background decorations. No one aside from the main characters really have any weight on the flow of the story, as everyone that isn't an elemental seraphim or one of the three colorfully dressed humans serves only to move the story along. This becomes painfully obvious with the villains because even with watching the series in its entirety, it's not really quite clear what all of the antagonists hoped to achieve with all of this. Especially with the "Lord of Calamity" that keeps being brought up.
+ Entertaining main cast
- Very little screentime for the main protagonist
- Rose takes up too much space
- Everyone who's not a main character is background fodder
Art: A general consensus for Ufotable is that they have top-tier animation that blends both hand-drawn animation and computer graphics together to form breathtaking scenes. (This becomes especially clear with their work in the Fate series.) With Zestiria being given that same treatment, that statement rings true once again as Zestiria has Ufotable's signature shine and beautiful animation to make the series a visually pleasing experience to watch. Alright, what's wrong with it?
You know, for being a series based on a JRPG, there's not that much fighting. There really isn't. Zestiria might as well not have any fight scenes because it seems like the show just flat out refuses to show any. Hell, when they show any fight scenes, they're always so short and unmemorable that it feels like it never even happened. The final fight with the last boss lasted THREE MINUTES. Admittedly, actual movement in Ufotable's fights is rare, but at least in other cases, they pad it with the combatants talking to each other to make it seem like the fight goes on longer than it actually is. Zestiria's fights hardly feel like a battle at all.
+ Ufotable-level artwork
- Literally no fight scenes. (You get maybe 10-12 minutes of total fighting in the entire series.)
Sound: Season two sports a brand new OP and ED that in comparison to its season one counterparts, sounds like there's a lot more weight to the entire situation. Both its OP, "Illuminate" and its ED, "Innosense" have a lot more urgency to them and make it feel like that there's a lot more at stake for our protagonists in order to save the world. While that's an utter lie, the tracks give the show that illusion.
Personal Enjoyment: I really wanted to enjoy Tales of Zestiria, I really did. But I for the life of me don't understand what is even happening. One episode there's a hostage situation involving Alisha dealing with her power struggles, then Rose wants to take revenge on someone? And now...they're fighting the big bad guy when just two episodes ago, our characters couldn't even use the game's biggest battle mechanic of armatization like...at all. It came to a point where I sort of threw my hands up in the air and gave up on making any sense with what was going on because the show just made it that difficult to follow what was going on.
Did I like this anime?
I enjoyed the first season, not so much this one. Admittedly, the first season was painfully slow and had its own set of problems, but at least things weren't all over the place like season two.
What didn't I like about this anime?
In terms of specifics, the ending felt like a cop-out. It really feels like a huge cop-out. I wish it wasn't a cop-out.
Would I recommend this anime?
I don't really find much worth in watching Tales of Zestiria. Sure the visuals are nice, the soundtrack is pretty good, and the characters are entertaining, but the story makes everything so difficult to fully appreciate. Ufotable's attempt at pressing everything down to make it fit does a lot of harm to a story that already a lot of people weren't too keen on in the first place. As such, if you do plan on watching this, I would be sure not to keep expectations to high and just sort of go along with it. If you're not planning on watching this, then it's not worth the time.