The saying goes that every basic story plot – love, revenge, adventure, you name it – is simply a reworking of a story already told by famous English playwright William Shakespeare several hundred years ago. So, does that mean that original stories just don’t exist any more and we should all just give up trying to write something new? Well, of course not, but it’s obvious that the minds behind Blast of Tempest decided “well, Shakespeare was a brilliant writer, so let’s make an anime that borrows heavily from some of his best works and add some more fantasy fight scenes”.
Like a lot of British people, I had to study a Shakespeare play every year at school and I love his plays. I’m seeing a Japanese production of Hamlet at the Barbican next month, as well Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet, and I have vague memories of playing Sebastian in my school’s production of Twelfth Night and caking my face in ridiculous makeup. In other words, I’m a Shakespeare fan. So, would a Shakepseare fan enjoy or despair at an anime series drawing so heavily on his plays?
The story begins with a powerful mage, Hakaze Kusaribe, washing up on an island in a barrel. Hakaze, who draws her power from the mysterious Tree of Genesis, has been exiled by other members of the Kusaribe clan so that they can resurrect the opposing Tree of Exodus and reshape the world without her interference. Hakaze sends a magic message in a bottle which reaches Mahiro, a rebellious teenager searching for the person who murdered his sister Aika. In return for using Hakaze’s magic to seek out Aika’s killer so he can exact his revenge, Mahiro recruits his best friend Yoshino (Aika’s secret boyfriend) and agrees to help Hakaze and stop the resurrection of the Tree of Exodus.
Blast of Tempest‘s story starts off as a fairly straight-forward ‘save the world’ deal, but as it progresses more secrets are revealed, meaning you end up with a heavily-layered and complex series. With all these twists and turns, you’re constantly on the backfoot and are occasionally thrown when everything you thought you knew so far is suddenly challenged. At times, things do feel a little bit ridiculous and there were one or two occasions where I simply accepted rather than understood what was going on, but if ‘urban fantasy’ is your kind of genre, I recommend it.
As you might expect from a series animated by studio Bones (Full Metal Alchemist, Soul Eater, Darker Than Black), the animation is slick and characters are diverse. My favourite character was the reckless and hot-headed Mahiro, whose volatile friendship with Yoshino is very reminiscent of several Shakespeare plays. The orchestral soundtrack is also powerful and the opening songs are addictive and rocking.
So, where does William Shakespeare come into all of this? Well, you probably recognise the plot points from The Tempest and Hamlet, two very well known plays driven by an obsession for revenge, and the characters regularly discuss amongst themselves whether their own tale will end in tragedy or something happier. Famous lines from the plays are also often randomly quoted during episodes to illustrate certain points or arguments.
I thoroughly enjoyed Blast of Tempest and was sad when it ended. Now, I’m not claiming this series will help with your GCSE revision, but you might as well try persuading your teacher to play an episode in your class. Anything that gets the next generation talking about what a genius Shakespeare was is good in my books.