OP: 「風ノ唄」 (Kaze no Uta) by FLOW
「災厄の時代」 (Saiyaku no Jidai)
“Age of Chaos”
I’m never all too sure what to make of an ‘Episode 00’. They’re sometimes prologue episodes, sometimes omake episodes, and rarely justifying the weird numbering. If it’s the first episode chronologically, it’ll do plenty well as episode 01, thank you very much, prologue or not. The 00 is most appropriate, I think, for an offbeat introductory episode, like Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu‘s brilliant pilot. So, what is Tales of Zestiria the X doing with theirs? Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you, and I think most anime-only viewers will be similarly unsure. I haven’t played Tales of Zestiria the videogame, and I come into this anime mostly fresh. Outside of preview material (I hear there’s a site that does excellent ones), the only context I have for this episode is that which it provides itself.
So, let’s assume that I am a viewer of the most ignorant sort, only having stumbled into Tales of Zestiria X while surfing TV channels or browsing around the internet. What’s the setting of this anime? Is it real world, or fictional. There are dragons, but also astronomy; is this a fantasy world, and what kind? They’re waiting for some chump to pull some sword out of some rock, so is this fantasy Britain? Fantasy Britain with youkai? Or, are the elves awaiting the true king to reclaim the sword that was broken because the dwarves dug too greedily, too deep and awakened Smaug? I’m all for derivative fantasy, but at this point, it’s hard to tell from what. It’s even hard to tell what Tales of Zestiria the X is going to be about, because we can only guess at what is important and what is not. Lots of proper nouns are mentioned, but we of course do not know what they mean, and certain strange phenomena are displayed, but we don’t even know whether magic is supposed to be weird, let alone anything else. Things aren’t confusing, I suppose, just undeveloped, a whole heap of ideas without much linking them together.
Usually, an episode ends up like this when there’s a lack of exposition—which I don’t usually mind, because there’s no need to explain everything straight away—but in Tales of Zestiria‘s case I think it’s actually a matter of too much exposition, and not enough development of the drama. Consider how they treated the story of Alisha, Princess of Somewhere (Kayano Ai) and her merry entourage. She mostly just goes from place to place introducing key concepts. Look, old stuff! A fancy book! Blue stuff! A fancy sword! She is much more a vehicle than a character for many portions of the story, and we only have a vague feel for the motivations that drive the events. Why does she get attacked by strange monster people, other than to give us a fight scene, and to show us she can fight? Same with the light show; I suppose they look like probably bad guys, so they do probably bad things. And so when Alisha’s retainers are swallowed up and all she holds dear destroyed it’s unfortunate, even sad, but not exactly moving as all this was more akin to a natural disaster detailed in the logbook of Alisha’s life, rather than a personable tragedy. Don’t worry, she’ll be alright, she’s in the OP.
There’s much worse ways to do exposition, of course; at least they didn’t spend all their time talking, and what we got was rather pretty and filled with effects. This was not a ‘bad’ episode of anime—great popcorn fare at times, even. But I don’t think we needed all this information and backstory (assuming it’s backstory) in one go right now. While ’00’ implies that we should watch this before ’01’, is there a real need to start from the very beginning? I would never, ever recommend anyone start with The Silmarillion before The Hobbit. I imagine that a lot of what we saw this episode could have been shown at a later point, and be more valuable with the extra context. Perhaps there’s no extra context to have; maybe Tales of Zestiria is targeted at those who have already played the game. I suspect, though, that with episode 01 the story will start properly, all we’ve seen here will start falling into place, and then it could be smooth sailing from there.
As is our custom now, Random Curiosity won’t be settling on which shows its writers will be picking up full time until the waters have been tested a few weeks into the season. If you have any particular views about coverage of Tales of Zestiria the X, please be sure to let us know in the comments.