This review is going to be quick. Episode 18 of Tales of Zestiria the X committed the gravest of sins in my small otaku eyes: It had me waiting for a fierce battle, one that would have redeemed the title for a series of uninteresting episodes. A battle with a mighty dragon who was responsible for the sorry state that the great city of Pendrago was in. Maybe a clash between the church and the state where Sergei and Gouldman reconciled after a brief swordfight. The most disappointing thing? There was a dragon, but there was no battle.
Tales of Zestiria the X suffers from extreme dialogue boredom. The drop in quality was evident from the pre-opening scene: The emperor of Rolance comes out in the rain to greet Shepherd, and the writers thought that the most appropriate way for Sergei to show his concern was to warn him of his health. The opening scene, especially before an upbeat epic song like Minami’s Illuminate, is supposed to build our excitement, make us glad that we are here for yet another epic episode of a fantasy anime based on a popular Jrpg game! Episode 18’s definition of ‘epic’ was the Emperor inviting Sorey inside his mansion. From all the tension-building options, they decided to go with the least interesting, probably because the direction and the writing are on a competition to prove which of the sucks more. Instead, one fine story aspect that could have been explored more and used as a starting point was reduced to a few seconds: Rose being reminded that the Emperor is Prince Konan’s father.
The Emperor, like many supporting characters until now, took the role of the NPC. His mission was to provide Sorey with all the necessary updated information, and even though he acted all high and mighty by accompanying Sorey to the malevolence-infested church, he actually did nothing to help him. He just reminded the, also inconsequential, Pope that he is the Emperor and he commands him to open the gate, only for Dezel to blow the main door down. Back to the updated information, I don’t know if your remember Velvet Crow; she was the protagonist of the mid-season episodes of the first cour, and also the protagonist of the recently released new addition to the Tales of franchise of JRPG games, Tales of Berseria. The story takes place in the distant past of the world we find in Tales of Zestiria. I am still not sure how this information is going to play in the next episodes, but I guess a ‘hero turned to villain’ situation? If this series showed any respect for story continuity, I would have risked an assumption.
The rest of the episode was a merry-go-round of Rose wanting to become a squire and Sorey postponing it until the very last moment. Rose, now a woman transformed by redemption, wants to help Sorey defeat malevolence. That means that we won’t get rid of her soon. My heart ached with disappointment. Rose wants to fight to create a better place for the weak and thus asks Dezel what the best way to fight malevolence is: become a squire to the Shepherd. What could have been a great exchange of ideas about duty, sacrifice, and maybe morality was reduced to a ‘negotiation’ of pros and cons. I’m sure that this approach was due to Rose’s nature as a merchant, but please… that’s the best they could do with the theme? Rose just asked for the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of being a squire, with Lailah stating that the pros include the HIGH HONOUR of helping the Shepherd and gaining some power to be able to do that, and disclosing the cons for the first time: the lives of the Shepherd and the Squire are linked. If the boss dies, so does the squire. ‘No sweat’, says Rose, ‘Count me in’, only to see Sorey ambivalent on whether it’s the right thing to do.
She eventually becomes a squire with the true name WILKIS WILK and helps Sorey purify a DEAD dragon. The whole journey to Pendrago, all that anticipation for a major battle, the ‘we’ll get there’ attitude I had in every episode, led to a dead dragon who stunk of malevolence.
After they ‘defeat’ the dead dragon, Alisha calls Sorey on their personal squire line (I wonder why it didn’t work until now) and calls him back to Ladylake. That was the mighty Pendrago arc. Rain’s over. The end.
Contrast: Great contrast between the world that Sorey sees and the world normal people like Rose see. The malevolence was depicted as a nasty mustard-like aura.
Squire Pact: If you can pass the fact that Rose’s true name is WILKIS WILK, ufotable did an amazing job with the visuals during both the pact and the DEAD DRAGON battle.
Themes & Trivia
Emperor’s Residence: The mansion that the Emperor is living in reminds of 18th century central Europe palaces. The same applies to the royal paintings of the previous Emperors. Both the style and the poses are similar to portraits of French emperors. JRPGs are known for mixing elements of various timelines and cultures in their stories.
Let’s be honest: the first season wasn’t a masterpiece. At times it felt like a very expensive and visually impressive marketing ploy to get the latest Tales of games to more otaku eyes. Yet, ufotable did everything it could to make it look like a quality production. And it is! But the second season (or second cour, since the episode numbers suggest a single season) highlighted its greatest flaw, a lack of quality writing. The dialogues of Episode 18 were not the worse of this cour, but they followed the same motif: they were uninspiring, shallow, repetitive, and more suiting to Dora the Explorer than Sorey the Shepherd.
Back to Ladylake!
Pendrago failed to live to its epic name. The last four episodes kept repeating the mantra ‘We are going to Pendrago’, raising my expectations with each repeat, only to see this and then have Alisha pick up the phone to ask Sorey to go back to Ladylake. Maybe in Ladylake… maybe there… maybe…