Romance can create drastic changes in our lives, without us even realizing it’s happening. It’s one of the reasons why the romance genre is so widely diverse in how it’s told throughout media. However, a “successful” romance story is mostly dependent on our own experiences with it throughout our lives. Romance stories can easily resonate with one person, yet just as easily cause an emotional disconnect with another. While each of these stories may contain similar aspects, each one can function innately different from others, either in the setting, delivery, or just the elements used to encapsulate the romantic feelings and relationships between people. Zetsuen no Tempest is no different, with it containing these romantic elements, but is mostly unique in that it subtly uses the romance to drive the core of this action-heavy fantasy series.
At first, the anime may seem less like one of romance and more along the lines of something you’d see out of a weekly shounen magazine. As the story continues to develop though, we learn that many of the romantic elements are directly tied to the events of the story, not to mention that the romance itself has little resemblance to many other popular romance stories such as Toradora! or AnoHana.
Because of this, it may come as a surprise to some that the Zetsuen no Tempest anime was worked on by the primary writer/series comp. Mari Okada, also the primary writer/series comp. of the two aforementioned series. While she’s more well-known within the anime community for her highly controversial use of melodrama, Mari Okada is still a highly praised romance anime writer among many, as her writing of characters and their feelings for one another tend to drive her audience (including me) into tears.
When it comes to Zetsuen no Tempest, there are plenty of uses of the “infamous” melodrama Mari Okada tends to include within her stories, although in a different way than what most people would expect. These instances of drama are ingrained into the plot similarly to how Shakespeare’s plays would instill their drama, featuring the same type of dramatic storytelling that this anime also uses to tell its own modernized story, perhaps explaining the abundance of references to his works within the anime. This is what makes this anime work so well though, as Mari Okada uses this melodramatic storytelling to her advantage and captures this combination of romance and drama that she is known to excel at writing and integrates this into the urban fantasy ideals of the story successfully.
Zetsuen no Tempest may not even come across as a romance anime to most viewers until late into the show, however it would be impossible to not notice how integral the dynamics of the romantic relationships in this show are to its progression. Every event is centered around the decisions of our main duo, Yoshino and Mahiro, and their romantic relationships are a key factor in how they view their world. This also drives their initial reasoning for setting out on their journey to save the world from impending destruction.
Mahiro and Yoshino both use their romantic feelings to drive their desire to save the world and find out who committed the unjust act of murdering Aika, Mahiro’s step-sister, with whom Mahiro’s unknowingly in love with. He states throughout the show that he wouldn’t be attempting to save the world if Aika had never died, but because of his vengeful desire to know who killed her, he sets out upon a journey to enact revenge upon the likely suspects, the mage clan attempting to destroy the world.
Mahiro’s best friend, Yoshino, uses his childhood friendship with Mahiro in order to justify tagging along with him for the long hunt for this killer among the mage clan. However, similarly to Mahiro, Yoshino is also motivated by who the possible killer of Aika might be, as he was secretly in a relationship with her. Therefore, Yoshino is also interested in meeting the mage clan, although only to find out if there was a justifiable reason for her death, unlike Mahiro.
The desires of our main protagonists, both romantically driven by their history and experiences with Aika, change their own perspectives on the world by taking actions that they normally wouldn’t take in order to accomplish their personal goals. Mahiro emphasized throughout the show that he wouldn’t even care about the world being destroyed as long as he could enact revenge upon Aika’s killer. This is even directly stated by Mahiro in an argument with Samon, one of the mage clan leaders suspected of murdering Aika.
In this scene, Mahiro states that he doesn’t care if Yoshino or Samon wins the argument about which ancient magical tree will cause the destruction of the world. As long as he gets to enact his revenge, he’ll side with whoever can grant him that wish. To even further demonstrate this, Mahiro constantly changes sides throughout this scene, siding with whoever provides the most logical argument to explain who Aika’s true killer may be, instead of the more typical scenario of staying sided with whoever will save the world.
As the story progresses, their motivations become increasingly more prominent, revealing twists and turns that cause even the characters to become surprised by how much a single relationship has possibly affected the future of the world. This may sound over-the-top and melodramatic, if not outright ridiculous. It may even seem selfish that these characters would prioritize their own desires stemming from their romantic relationships over attempting to save the world from its inevitable collapse by the mage clan.
However, how abstract really is a scenario like this from one that might occur in real life? Sure, obviously the world probably won’t need to be saved from magical trees with eyeball tendrils, and I doubt that you’ll fall in love with your step-sibling, but there is something to be said about our romantic relationships having a sort of “butterfly effect” with the people that we interact with each day of our lives.
Romantic relationships can change how we interact with the world, whether it’s only a slight change to our behavior, or a more drastic one. They can make us defy logic and reason, become angry and vengeful, become sad and heartbroken, or just merely change how we live our daily lives. I’m sure everyone has experienced these moments throughout their lives at some point, however small they might be. I personally remember going through these sorts of changes in the past, whether it was something subtle like a change in my mood for that day, or something larger like cancelling plans with a friend because of a romantic investment. These scenarios aren’t much different than the ones our main cast experiences within Zetsuen no Tempest, although their situations have much higher stakes than just changing one particular day; their situations are life-threatening.
The mage helping Yoshino and Mahiro solve the mystery of Aika’s death, a princess named Hakaze, also goes through a life-changing situation because of her romance, not unsimilar to some friends I’ve known during my life. At first, she’s just someone that assists Mahiro and Yoshino in saving the world and also helps uncovering the mysteries of Aika’s death. Later on though, she becomes less concerned about the world and more concerned about the people she’s close to suffering because of her own magical abilities. Because of the close relationships she develops with her new friends, along with her ever-growing feelings towards Yoshino, she ends up changing the fate of the entire world and her own pre-determined life in order to preserve those relationships around her, even if it means that an entire civilization would have to live with eternal war and suffering because of this decision. Not so different than Mahiro, Hakaze also decided the fate of the world based on her own romantic feelings.
What these characters and we of the real world don’t usually think about is how these interactions with our relationships affect the people around us. What if your friend suddenly decides to have a relationship and it causes awkward tensions in your friend group? Or what if a friend no longer can hang out with you regularly because of their constant preoccupation with their significant other? These situations are not unfamiliar ones to me, as I’m sure they aren’t to others reading this as well.
Because of these sorts of situations, sometimes you have to change your actions in life in order to adapt to their situation, whether if that’s to interact with them on a more consistent basis or to distance yourself away from the situation altogether. However, these relationships can cause strain for both parties. I’ve also found myself changing other people’s lives by placing these sorts of burdens onto my friends and others, whether that’s seeking romantic advice or helping deal with a relationship issue. I’m changing their lives, as well as my own, as the actions of one person cause a cascading effect upon other individuals as well. Yoshino is placed in a similar situation throughout Zetsuen no Tempest, forcing him to adapt to the romantic situations of himself and others.
Throughout the anime, Yoshino had to conceal his relationship with Aika from Mahiro in order to prevent him from potentially destroying any form of trust they had for each other on their journey. Because of this, Yoshino had to hide his emotions to prevent them from ever showing on his face whenever Aika was mentioned by Mahiro, causing him to bottle up any emotions regarding her death in order for them to successfully continue their journey to save the world. As the series progressed, this became harder and harder for Yoshino to do so because of the intervention of other characters, particularly Hakaze.
As Hazake revealed her growing feelings towards Yoshino, she discovered how Aika’s death had both changed her own plan of action to save the world and also changed Yoshino as a person, realizing how differently he acted before Aika’s death. This leads to Yoshino having a mental breakdown, stating that he could never display his true feelings regarding Aika’s death because of his close relationship with Mahiro and also how he concealed his feelings to prevent Mahiro from suffering even more from the trauma of his step-sister’s death. Yoshino had sealed his feelings off from himself in order to protect himself and Mahiro from truly facing the fact of Aika’s death; he was trying to prevent his romantic relationships from having that same sort of effect on himself and the people around him.
Zetsuen no Tempest has many elements and layers to its narrative, and perhaps the romance narrative of the show is one of the harder ones to see since it’s integrated so much into all of the elements of the show, yet isn’t the most apparent until the narrative draws to a close. Some may suggest that the romance narrative of the show wasn’t necessary for the show to be functional in telling its overall story. However, I would say that the the romance narrative behind the characters and their motivations gave the characters an extra layer of problems to deal with in resolving both the conflicts of the story and the conflicts within themselves as characters. Just as in life, romance is a complex feeling to deal with on its own, but when it’s joined with many other situations that life throws at us, it becomes increasingly more difficult to handle.
How we choose to handle the effects of that romance though, is up to the individual it affects the most, us.
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