Author Archives: rmiller1656

Review: Tales of Zestiria the X, Episode 5: Dawn of Chaos

Review:

Episode 4 may have ended with a cliffhanger, but episode 5 does not offer to resolve that for us. Instead, we open on a completely different scene featuring Velvet, the protagonist of the upcoming Tales of Berseria. I had previously commented on Velvet’s appearance in the opening credits of the show, so it seemed to be only a matter of time before she showed up. Unfortunately, without the context of the game, it’s hard to say what relevance this episode has to the overall story of Tales of Zestiria. We know that the two games are connected by previous information released, but to my knowledge the extend of the connection has never been revealed, which means that this episode is mostly shrouded in mystery. We are met with characters, terms, and locations that are completely foreign to us, and the episode does not do much to make the connections for us. Perhaps this will happen later, but for now we’re left scratching our heads. Hopefully this isn’t just an attempt to shoehorn some Berseria scenes in for marketing and instead an actual attempt at deepening the story of Zestiria. From what I recall, the only thing this episode mentioned that even connects the two is malevolence; other than that, there are no mentions of Seraphim, Shepherds, or anything else associated with Zestiria.

Connections to Zestiria aside, the episode itself is quite intense. More than likely, we are watching the beginning of the game animated, since it starts out with Velvet imprisoned, breaking out with the help of a mysterious visitor, and then attempting to escape off the island. New terms are thrown at us fairly quickly, but it becomes easy enough to at least gain a basic grasp of what’s going on. Again, hopefully all of this will serve to connect to the Zestiria story in a way that will make some elements of that story clearer and easier to understand. Unfortunately, as of this writing, we have no way of knowing that, so all that can really be said at this point is that this is an exciting episode, but it feels awkward and out of place since it was inserted right into the center of an ongoing story without any context or apparent reason.

A Christian Perspective:

My experience with the Tales series may not be extensive (my completed games include Graces F, Xillia, Xilla 2, Hearts R, and Zestiria), but one thing I have noticed is that the main characters tend to fall into a sort of “nice guy” trope, with Milla falling into more of a “naive girl” trope. It is usually easy to pull some kind of Christian message from these types of characters, if only because they generally don’t hesitate to help people. While I don’t have much knowledge of Berseria, this first introduction to Velvet may suggest a deviation from that pattern, as she doesn’t exactly seem warm, friendly, or nice. In fact, we’re introduced to her as she makes a break from prison with the help of a stranger. Granted, we don’t know her backstory yet, but based on first impressions she doesn’t seem to be a character with traits worth emulating. Perhaps this will change as we learn more about her character (which likely won’t be until Berseria releases), but as of now it is hard to pull any positive messages from this episode. That’s not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable episode, just that Velvet as a character didn’t present any traits that I felt were admirable or praiseworthy.

Content Guide:

Language: None

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: Velvet’s top covers her breasts pretty much just in the front; another woman’s top shows ample cleavage

Violence: Velvet kills some werewolves; Velvet attacks a woman; Velvet and a woman fight several guards; Velvet and another character cut down several guards

Blood/Gore: Noticeable blood splatter as Velvet kills the werewolves

Other: Velvet uses some kind of monstrous hand to kill; monsters are referred to as daemons; Velvet is referred to as a Daemoneater; a woman uses magic

Review: Tales of Zestiria the X, Episode 4: The Shepherd’s Destiny

Review:

The story in this episode seems to deviate down its own path for its latter portion. While the first half seems to stay pretty faithful to the game (Sorey wakes up in the inn and then proceeds to visit Alisha, where she is able to communicate with the Seraphim using Sorey as a conduit), the first foray into the Subterranean Aqueduct is replaced with Sorey, Lailah, and Mikleo discovering some ruins within Ladylake, which ultimately appear to be a dumping ground for those killed in secret by the ruling powers. The episode’s ending, which features the reappearance of the giant storm from episode 0, is another new addition not found in the game (in fact, I don’t recall the giant storm being in the game at all, although there is something similar when the Lord of Calamity appears).

That said, certain deviations are to be expected. While playing the game, you are essentially moving from cutscene to cutscene for the plot, with bits of exposition and banter among the characters being thrown in during your travels. It works in the game setting because there are plenty of other things to do in between the story progression, such as leveling up or improving your weapons. For an anime adaptation, though, there has to be something to connect the plot points together, and watching the cast run across large fields (or through labyrinthine dungeons) for extended periods of time doesn’t work for an anime adaptation. That said, it does seem that there will be changes to the plot itself (or at least in how it unfolds), as opposed to just having original content to connect the major points. On the one hand, this kind of hurts the concept of the anime as an adaptation, since deviations from the source material don’t exactly fit the definition; on the other hand, it does help to make the anime more entertaining for those who have played the game, as we can’t simply bank on our game knowledge to know what happens next.

Accolades must be given to the battle scenes in this episode. Though only contributing to a minor portion of the episode, the fight scenes themselves were intense, and did a great job of showcasing the characters’ fighting styles within a “live battle”, versus the combat system of the game. The inclusion of the in-game battle music was a nice touch, and keeps in line with the anime’s history of using the game’s BGM at the appropriate points. My only point of confusion is that, in the anime, Mikleo seems to be capable of defeating hellions, which I don’t believe was possible until a certain point in the game (no spoilers from this writer!). At this point, it’s not like the writers haven’t made other changes, so it’s not exactly surprising, although it does sort of diminish the importance of the Shepherd if Mikleo is already capable of killing hellions. Time will tell, I suppose.

A Christian Perspective:

Alisha suffers from something that a lot of people (even Christians) suffer from in the real world: spiritual disconnection. Okay, so that’s my own term for it; I’m sure you’ll find some kind of “official” Christian term out there, but I’m too lazy to Google it, so I’m using my own terminology. Hey, at least I’m honest.

Anyway, we discover in this episode that, although Alisha has a certain sensitivity to the Seraphim, she is ultimately incapable of hearing or communicating with them unless she has a conduit (in this case, Sorey). In the same way, many people in our world—Christians included—are incapable of hearing God’s voice and receiving direction from Him. Regardless of what you believe about this subject (whether you believe that God still directly communicates with people, only does so through His Word, or some where in between), I believe many Christians, if they are honest, will say that they aren’t really sure what God wants from them, personally, and that they don’t hear His voice or feel His hand guiding them. Perhaps it is a form of spiritual apathy, doubt, or something else that blocks our ability to hear His voice, but in this situation we can certainly relate to Alisha.

A more positive spin would be to look at this situation in light of 1 Timothy 2:5 (For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus). I previously established that Sorey is a Christ-figure in this story, so applying this verse to the situation would further the comparison, as it makes Sorey a mediator between Alisha (a human/part of mankind) and the spiritual forces of their world (Seraphim, which are the closest thing to gods that their world seems to have). Previously, Alisha had no access to the Seraphim but now, through Sorey, she has access to them.

Content Guide:

Language: None

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: None

Violence: Sorey, Mikleo, and Lailah do battle with hellions

Blood/Gore: None

Other: Lailah and Mikleo use magic artes; Lailah fights with talismans

Review: Tales of Zestiria the X, Episode 3: The Sacred Blade Festival

Review:

This episode contains the most deviations from the game of any episode thus far (episode 0 notwithstanding, since it was comprised of completely original material). The general plot remains the same, but a lot of the details are different. For example, in the game Sorey and Mikleo have to bribe their way into the Sacred Blade ceremony using Alisha’s knife, where in the anime they appear to have just walked right in. Although Sorey chases Lunarre in the anime, he doesn’t fight him like in the game (and in the game, we encounter the assassin’s for the first time in the post-fight, as opposed to in the midst of the job offer to assassinate Alisha). There’s also the fact that in the anime, Rose attacks Alisha in the midst of the hellion attack, which is completely different from the game. Perhaps the biggest deviation is that in the anime, the shrine is attacked by a single hellion that the people can’t see, while in the game the people themselves begin turning into hellions because of the malevolence, which actually does have some potentially larger consequences for this adaptation. Allow me to explain.

In Tales of Zestiria, people would become hellions if they were filled with too much malevolence. Of course, the average person couldn’t tell the difference from a normal human and a hellion, which is shown during Sorey’s first visit to Ladylake when he encounters a child giving people a hard time. To everyone else, the boy looks like a normal child, but Sorey can see that he is actually a hellion. Thus far, this aspect has not been introduced in the anime, and unlike some of the other changes it could have implications on the anime’s handling of the overall plot, because it removes certain consequences, one of which is the fact that Sorey himself is capable of becoming a hellion, even though he is the Shepherd. In fact—without spoiling anything—it would completely alter the backstory of the story’s main protagonist. With all that said, hopefully the show writers are just putting off introducing this aspect; actually, I do believe we saw Lunarre become a hellion in episode 0, so hopefully that was an indication that this aspect of the story still remains.

Visually, the anime does do a greater job of presenting the amount of traffic that the Sacred Blade ceremony attracts than the game does, since games are a lot more restricted in the number of characters that can realistically be rendered on screen at once. The layout of the city more-or-less remains faithful to the source material, and the background music maintains its faithfulness as usual. Having played the game, Sorey’s meeting with Rose is a lot more significant to me in this episode than it was in the game, since I know where their relationship is going (it’s also helpful for following the plot, because when I played the game many hours went by between first meeting Rose and encountering her again, to the point where I completely forgot who she was). The handling of Rose’s character in this episode should help those who have never played the game remember Rose a lot more readily when the time comes, though.

Overall, Tales of Zestiria the X continues to be an enjoyable adaptation of its game counterpart despite the changes, some of which make sense for a more fluid narrative, and some of which are confusing, though they do not detract from the narrative as a whole. I would recommend playing the game at some point, if only to see the differences between the two.

A Christian Perspective:

Isaiah 53:3 – He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Okay, so I failed in taking down quotes from the show that would have been helpful in relating it to the passage of Scripture above, but essentially if you refer back to Lailah’s warning to Sorey about what he would have to endure as the Shepherd, then you should be able to see where I’m going with this. There is no doubt that the Shepherd is painted as a Christ figure (though an imperfect one, for reasons that I don’t believe the anime has completely divulged yet), and this episode draws those parallels out a bit more. Lailah’s warning to Sorey is essentially that he would gain great power and be able to defeat hellions and drive back the malevolence, but he would be hated by the world and basically ostracized. Jesus, though He was God incarnate, and though He performed many miracles among the Jewish people, was ultimately ostracized and cut off from His own people, treated as a madman, a lunatic, and a blasphemer, when He had truly come to save those who accused Him of such things. The biggest difference here is that the Shepherd is a human granted divine powers, while Jesus was the Divine stepping down into our world and putting on humanity to live among us. In other words, one is imperfect by nature while the other is perfect, hence the Shepherd cannot be a perfect Christ-figure, but the connections are still there, and for Christian viewers (and gamers) they tend to fly right in your face.

Content Guide:

Language: None

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: None

Violence: A hellion attack the ceremony; Alisha fights an assassin; Sorey fights a hellion

Blood/Gore: None

Other: Mikleo uses magic artes; spiritual beings fight

Review: Tales of Zestiria the X, Episode 2: Elysium

Review:

This episode continues with a nice mixture of game content and original content, with Sorey and Mikleo taking Alisha back to their village. From here, the show takes time to show scenes of Sorey and Alisha interacting, even going so far as to explore bits of the ruins in which Alisha was found. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe the game went that far into developing a relationship between them prior to Alisha’s departure from the village. Knowing what I know of the story, these scenes are a bit bittersweet, because of where things between the two characters will eventually go. Hopefully the show is considered to be “canon” within the story of Tales of Zestiria, because additions such as this add a new level of depth to the overall plot.

The way the battle between Sorey, Mikleo, and Lunarre was especially satisfying. While the Tales games offer a much more enjoyable RPG battle experience than the typical turn-based combat, there’s still a limit to how much action the system can simulate. This episode’s rendering of the fight may have been brief, but it was undeniably intense, and it makes me excited to see how future fights will be handled, especially when the larger and more dangerous enemies begin to show their fangs. Still, I am a bit apprehensive about the pacing of the show, as the limited number of episodes in comparison to the scope of Zestiria’s story makes it hard to believe that all of the details can be adequately covered, especially when, after three episodes, Sorey is just now leaving his village. Of course, there is still hope that this will only be the first season of more to come, so for now, only time will tell.

A Christian Perspective:

But that is a selfish thought, to think that one’s own safety is the only thing that matters. – Gramps

Philippians 2:4 – Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

“Gramps’” statement in this episode seemed to reflect a very Christian ideal, as expressed by Paul in Philippians 2:4—we should concern ourselves with the wellbeing of others around us, not just with our own wellbeing. When we are concerned only with ourselves, we tend to be selfish and make decisions that are only in our best interests, with little to no concern as to how those decisions will affect others, but Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), which means that we should show concern for the wellbeing and interests (indicated in Paul’s letter) of those around us, and especially those belonging to the Body of Christ. In direct relation to Gramps’ quote, we may find ourselves in situations where it may compromise our safety, comfort, or security to help someone else, but to only think of ourselves would be a selfish endeavor. Instead, when we find others in need of help, let us strive to be like the Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan and lend a helping hand to our fellow man, even if it means a cost to ourselves.

Content Guide:

Language: None

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: None

Violence: Sorey kills a boar; a Hellion chokes a Seraphim; Sorey and Mikleo do battle with a Hellion

Blood/Gore: None

Other: Mikleo uses magic artes

Review: Tales of Zestiria the X, Episode 1: Capital of Seraphim

Review:

This episode begins with more original content, as Alisha stumbles upon some ruins after somehow escaping from the scene at the end of the first episode. While it would have been nice to see those events played out, it is understandable that we might not get to see every little detail; after all, the show is apparently slated for just 13 episodes, with the game being at least 40+ hours of content. Honestly, I can’t see the story concluding in just 13 episodes, unless the story is rushed, minor events are completely removed, or the 13 episodes will only comprise a “first season”. Regardless, let’s look at this episode for now.

Those who have played the game will recognize that a Normin is introduced in this episode, although the show doesn’t identify the creature. This is where us gamers have an edge, because we understand why Alisha isn’t reacting to its presence, even as it defends her from a horde of bugs, whose role I hope is explained later, because they seemed to be coming after her with a purpose. Whatever the case, we now know how she ended up unconscious in the ruins, where we first meet her in the game. This may have also been mentioned within the narrative of the video game, but if it was then I don’t recall. This new content is also intermingled with a new introduction to Sorey and Mikleo, as well. At first I thought they completely changed this portion of the story, but then Sorey discovers the ruins where we first meet him in the game. All of this was greatly enjoyable because it not only gave new information not provided by the game, it also helped ease this gamer into the anime without feeling like I was just watching the same stuff over again. Now that we are in the proper story of the game, this may change, but I am still eager to see how they adapt things.

The art retains its excellent quality from the introductory episode, and the anime continues to utilize background music from the game at the appropriate points, which I still maintain is a nice detail. Some areas appear to be more fleshed out (for example, the interiors of Sorey’s and the Elder’s homes appeared larger in the anime than they do in the game), which helps to better fit the transition from game to show. Overall, I am very pleased with how this adaptation has started and I can’t wait to see how it will progress.

A Christian Perspective:

Okay, I am going to claim some gamer privilege here and utilize knowledge that hasn’t been presented in the anime yet. Forgive me if this is overstepping my bounds.

Early in the episode, we see Alisha stumble into some ruins, where a strange creature is seen hanging around her. Though not named in the episode, this creature is known as a “Normin”, and it is a spiritual being, like the Seraphim who are mentioned later. As the context of the scene suggests, Alisha cannot see the Normin,and as you will find out if you haven’t played the game, the majority of people are unable to see or sense spiritual beings in the world of Zestiria, whether Seraphim or Normin. If I recall correctly, it is basically due to unbelief, though I believe some people are also more attuned to seeing them than others. Nevertheless, this is reminiscent of the world in which we currently live, where so many people are numb to the spiritual forces around us due to their unbelief. Even worse, some seek out the wrong spiritual forces through demonic practices, such as Tarot cards, Ouija boards, seances, etc. I guess this isn’t strictly a “Christian” perspective, but as we know the only spiritual force worth knowing is God through His Son, Jesus Christ, for He is the only source of good in the universe. All other spiritual forces (angels notwithstanding, though we don’t seek to know them, and to do so could constitute idolatry) are evil and seek to lead us astray from God, so while we should be aware of them (for our own protection and for the sake of discernment so we know from what to flee), we should not seek to know them; however, many people would deny their very existence right along with God’s, opening themselves up to manipulation by demonic forces while simultaneously rejecting the only One who could save them.

Content Guide:

Spiritual Content: Characters use magical Artes; there is discussion about an “era of the gods”, as well as the beings known as Seraphim who would receive worship from humans and bless them in exchange

Language: None

Alcohol/Drug Use: Dezel and Zexceed may be drinking alcohol in the closing credits

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: None

Violence: A Normin fights off some bugs; characters are thrown around by lightning

Blood/Gore: None

Review: Sailor Moon Crystal, Episode 33: INFINITY 6 Three Guardians

Review:

In the aftermath of Pluto’s arrival, Usagi finds herself taking her Princess Serenity form, at which point the three Outer Senshi pledge their loyalty to her and explain their purpose; however, they blatantly refuse to work with the Inner Senshi and intend to conquer the enemy on their own. Mugen Academy is closed down due to Hotaru’s father’s connection to it, and his past crimes. In an effort to spy on him, Chibi-usa reaches out to Hotaru to get together with her and see a movie; however, Hotaru is unable to make the meeting due to a sudden surgery that her father performs on her. Concerned, Chibi-usa visits Hotaru’s home and accidentally stumbles upon Hotaru post-surgery, at which point she becomes scared and flees. Elsewhere Cyprine, the last of the Witches 5 is called into action, using hail to drain the Hostes of the people in the city and turn them violent. She also hunts down Haruka and engages her in battle. Neptune and Pluto arrive to help. Eventually, Usagi figures out that they are under attack, and she urges the rest of the Senshi to help. They arrive just in time to deflect an attack by Cyprine, who then unleashes a new move that turns the Inner and Outer Senshi against each other. As the only one unaffected, Sailor Moon attempts to defeat Cyprine; however, she only succeeds in revealing that Cyprine has a second “half” known as Ptilol. Tuxedo Mask and Chibi-usa arrive on the scene and, together with Sailor Moon, summon the holy grail.

This episode was another example of how the show manages to do both good and bad story telling at the same time. The plot points that have been developed over time are great: Chibi-usa’s friendship with Hotaru would understandably lead to her eventually discovering the darker parts of Hotaru’s life as she did in this episode, for example. On the other hand, the show’s need for an episodic monster kind of drags the whole pacing down. True, Sailor Moon has always been about a “monster of the week”, but generally speaking there is usually some build up. The monster is disguised as a seemingly normal person, and the audience is generally in on it. There is some sort of simplistic plot device revolving around the monster’s actions, the Senshi somehow get drawn into it, and then they defeat the monster. Simple, redundant, but fleshed out. Cyprine, on the other hand, kind of just bursts into the scene out of nowhere (right after Chibi-usa sees Hotaru’s bionic arm, no less) and begins sapping people’s energy. Yes, I know, she was introduced in the little pool of water, but there was no build up to her attack. It just happened.

Storywise, perhaps it would have been better if we didn’t have Cyprine attack this week. Chibi-usa could have stumbled upon Hotaru’s secret, run away, but be noticed by Professor Tomoe or Kaolinite. Cyprine could have captured Chibi-usa and used her as bait. This is just a quick idea, but the point is it would have tied everything together a lot nicer. I get that Cyprine’s primary targets were the Outer Senshi (and specifically Neptune and Uranus, since they revealed their identities), but these aspects of the plot just don’t flow together well. More time could have been spent drawing out the tensions between the Inner and Outer Senshi (which would have made their clash all the more climatic) on top of the aforementioned possibility of fleshing out the scenes with Chibi-usa and Hotaru. It just feels like the writers are insistent upon sticking to the age old formula, and it feels really forced in this case. And yes, I get it, this is all ultimately based on the original manga, but it’s not unheard of for an anime to take certain liberties or deviations from the source material. Certainly this would be acceptable if it meant delivering a more solid, cohesive story. Alas, such is not the case. They don’t even give us the benefit of suspense until the next episode: the preview clearly shows Sailor Moon gaining new powers (and they add it to the next episode’s title, to boot), which I called in the previous episode’s review, so we pretty much know that things will quickly resolve themselves! Conflicts resolve themselves in this series as quickly as they present, and the show ultimately suffers for it.

A Christian Perspective:

Proverbs 16:18 – Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Let’s be blunt: the Outer Senshi are pretty prideful. They completely brush off any offer of help from the Inner Senshi and act as if they don’t need any assistance. The depth of their feelings is revealed in the fact that Cyprine’s powers are able to draw out the feelings deep inside a person, which in this case sets the Inner and Outer Senshi against each other. While it also reveals the hostility within the Inner Senshi, we know that the Inner Senshi wanted to help the Outer, but the Outer were the ones to refuse that help. The pride of the Outer Senshi not only put them in a bad place where they were attacked and overpowered by the enemy, it also put them in a position to be susceptible to Cyprine’s powers, and it caused hostilities that would not have otherwise been there. It goes to show that one little act of pride can have some pretty big consequences, so the next time you’re feeling prideful, as yourself if it is worth it.

Content Guide:

Language: 1 “h*ll”

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: Usagi’s dress shows cleavage; two enemies show cleavage; Hotaru is shown in her night clothes; Hotaru is shown on a hospital bed seemingly only covered by a sheet (some slight cleavage is visible); Haruka’s top shows cleavage; Uranus transformation sequence

Violence: People attack each other in the streets and riot; the Senshi battle a member of Witches 5 and then each other

Blood/Gore: Hotaru is shown with a grotesque arm and later all of her arms and legs are shown the same (they look as though they are stripped to the muscle)

Other: A flashback to Uranus kissing Sailor Moon; Uranus is said to be both a man and a woman; magic powers

Review: Tales of Zestiria the X, Episode 0: Age of Chaos

Review:

Normally I would start my reviews with a summary of the episode; however, I’m going to try to move away from that. We’ll see how it goes. Anyway, here we have the first installment of the Tales of Zestiria anime adaptation, dubbed “Tales of Zestiria the X”. What does “the X” mean? I don’t know. Maybe it’s answered somewhere out in the infosphere, but I didn’t go looking. In any event, the first thing you’ll notice about this episode is that it contains content that is completely original from the game. The entire episode follows Alisha, a princess of the Hyland kingdom, as she and a few companions search for one of her subordinates that she had sent out to do some investigating. A little flashback section reveals that she was butting heads with some of the nobility who wanted to conscript civilians into military service during a festival, which Alicia adamantly opposed, as well as showing some discoveries and concerns that are arising throughout the kingdom. This little bit of backstory helps to flesh out Alisha’s character a bit, and it gives those who haven’t played the game an immediate clue into Alisha’s clash with the nobility. Admittedly, the story is a bit confusing though, even for someone who has played the game, because all of the material is new! I’m not sure how this will tie into the story of Tales of Zestiria, but from what I’ve seen elsewhere, the anime is supposed to answer questions that were left unanswered by the game. There were certainly terms mentioned that I don’t remember (ley lines, specifically), and the whole concept of the giant mist is new from what I can recall. Those who have played the game will recognize certain faces that pop up in this introductory episode.

Artistically, the show is beautiful. The moments where CG is used are fairly obvious, but the scenes themselves are still well done, so the use of CG doesn’t come off as cheesy or cheap. Those who have played the game will recognize the use of the game’s BGM during certain scenes, and the layout of Hyland is faithful to its in-game counterpart. In that respect, the show manages to throw some fanservice (the good kind) to the gamers while also being inclusive to those who are just now being exposed to the world of Zestiria. I suspect those of us who played the game are also in for some new treats, as the intro (which is played at the end of this episode, as is the case with many anime first episodes) shows a few scenes of Velvet, the protagonist of the upcoming Tales of Bersaria, which is said to take place in the same world as Zestiria. How she will be incorporated and how much of a role she will play should be interesting to see, as giving her too big a role would seem to disrupt the established story, I would think.

One of the biggest criticisms I had of the game (you can read my review here) was how certain characters were handled. Specific to this episode is the character of Symonne, who is not introduced until late in the game (though she makes a few shadowy appearances earlier on), making her role feel more shoe-horned than anything. While her appearance here doesn’t necessarily mean that she will play a larger role in the anime, it is at least nice to see her make an appearance early on so that viewers can immediately identify her as an enemy, if nothing more. Overall, Zestiria was not my favorite Tales game out of the ones I’ve played, but I still enjoyed it well enough, and so far the anime has my interest, even though I know the crux of the story. The new content in this episode, as well as Velvet’s appearance in the intro, make me think that I (and my fellow gamers) will still be in for a few surprises. Tales of Zestiria the X can be watched either at Daisuki.net or via Funimation Now. This review and all subsequent reviews will be using Funimation Now, as I have a subscription to the service, which means I get to see the episodes as soon as they are released.

A Christian Perspective:

Keeping in mind the fact that I have a good grasp of Alisha’s character from playing the game, I will point you to her adamant refusal to conscript unsuspecting citizens into military service in this episode. As you will come to find out (and may have begun to suspect), Alisha holds what could be called a very righteous attitude. She doesn’t deal in deception and underhanded schemes, which puts her at odds with the nobility. Instead, she conducts herself with honor, making it a point to care for the citizens of Hyland, as well as her own subordinates (again, as we see in this episode). This demeanor is reminiscent of what Christians should strive for: rather than doing things deceitfully as the world does (in this case, tricking people into bolstering the military forces), we should do things honestly and with integrity, as Alisha does. As you will come to learn, Alisha’s attitude doesn’t earn her many friends among the powerful nobles, but it does cause her to be loved by those under her (as we see with her subordinates in this episode). Similarly, we can expect that the world won’t love us when we refuse to do things their way, and we may not even gain the love of those underneath us (those who hate the light will hate the light), but if we stand for what is right then we may gain the love and, more importantly, the salvation of those who have been wronged by this world and its systems. Not that we ourselves gain their salvation, but our conduct may be the path that leads them to knowing Christ and his saving grace.

Content Guide:

Language: None

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: Maltran’s top shows cleavage; Velvet’s outfit in the intro (outro in this episode) shows cleavage; Symonne wears a rather skimpy outfit, although you don’t see anything inappropriate

Violence: A band of assassin’s attack Alisha and her group; two beings battle with what appears to be magic; characters are sucked into a giant whirlwind

Blood/Gore: None

Other: Characters appear to use magic

Review: Sailor Moon Crystal, Episode 31: INFINITY 4 Haruka Tenoh, Michiru Kaioh – SAILOR URANUS, SAILOR NEPTUNE

Review:

Uranus and Neptune may have bailed the other Senshi out of a hard place, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to team up and play ally. After saying as much, they then proceed to attack the Senshi, knocking Usagi unconscious. After she awakens in the Senshi’s base, the girls resolve that they will fight the two newcomers if necessary. Distraught over this, Usagi later encounters Haruka while waiting for Mamoru, resulting in Haruka putting her in another questionable position just in time for Mamoru to show up. This creates tension between Usagi and Mamoru, until Chibi-usa shows up to break the tension by convincing the angry lovers to “help” her with her clay project. Her plan succeeds, and the three spend the night together. On the B-side, Ami is recruited to be a temporary student at Mugen Academy, where her identity as a Senshi is uncovered by the Witches 5. After disabling a security camera, Ami flees and finds herself in a room full of experimental animals, where she is ultimately captured. With her Hostes about to be stolen, she is saved at the last moment by Haruka and Michiru, leading to battle with the latest member of the Witches 5. Outclassed on her own, Ami is rescued by her friends, with Uranus and Neptune joining the fray to ultimately defeat the enemy.

One of the most endearing aspects of this episode is the difference between this incarnation of Chibi-usa and the original 90’s incarnation. While the Crystal version retains some elements (namely, her clinging to Mamoru in season two), this version actually seems to care about the relationship between Usagi and Mamoru—a wise investment, given that her existence depends upon them staying together! It has been quite some time since I’ve watched this portion of the 90’s anime, so it’s possible that Chibi-usa may not have been as bad at this point even in that version, but I don’t remember her having very many redeeming qualities. Of course, the fight itself seems a bit silly as a whole, especially since Haruka was the one forcing herself on Usagi; then again, Usagi did get jealous when she saw Mamoru with Michiru, so perhaps this is a sign that the two of them need to work on their trust issues.

In regards to the second half of the episode, the Ami fan in me was certainly happy to have a focus on her, although the revelation that Mugen Academy is behind all of the attacks seems a little to slow in happening, given that Mugen Academy always seemed to be involved in pretty much every attack that the Senshi have dealt with thus far. There is also the fact that the episode chooses this point to introduce a new plot element without explanation; namely, the so-called “Hostes”. The enemy seems to place a high value on whatever this source is, but we have no idea what it is. On the other hand, Uranus and Neptune seem to finally throw their lot in with the rest of the Senshi, so it’s not all bad.

A Christian Perspective:

Genesis 5:2 – He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were crated, he called them “man.”

During her discourse with Usagi, the subject of whether Haruka is a man or a woman is brought up, to which Haruka asks if it really matters. Based on the above verse, I believe it does. If God created us “male” and “female”, then the distinction is important to make, because God Himself felt it important to make that distinction. Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where what people “feel” matters more than what is actually true. A man can simply declare that he doesn’t “feel” like a man, but rather “feels” that he was born as the wrong gender and should actually be a woman. People try to rally around this vain philosophy by declaring things like “sex and gender are different”. Everything comes back to the fact that God created us male and female, though, and our genetics attest to that. A person can say that they “feel” they are a different gender, but their genetics will attest otherwise. If our genetics, our DNA, attests to what God has created us as, then anything else is simply in our minds. Some might argue that God may have created the person this way, but this is wrong, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33a). If God is not a God of confusion, then it would not make sense for Him to create a person with a certain set of genetics and then set that person’s mind on a path to be at odds with the physical evidence of what He created. Such tactics belong to our enemy, Satan, not to God. What all of this “gender confusion” comes down to, then, is at best a state of mental confusion or disorder, and at worst a Satanic deception.

Yes, it really does matter whether someone is a man or a woman, because God so defined it that way. Let’s not be so casual as to discard God’s definitions as “unimportant”.

Content Guide:

Language: None

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: Cleavage; Uranus and Neptune transformation sequence

Violence: Uranus and Neptune attack the rest of the Senshi; Michiru and Haruka hit two Mugen students; the Senshi do battle with a member of the Witches 5

Blood/Gore: None

Other: Usagi and Chibi-usa are shown sleeping in bed with Mamoru; the magical nature of the Senshi’s attacks

Review: Sailor Moon Crystal, Episode 30: Infinity 3 – Two New Soldiers

Review:

After Sailor Moon’s unexpected encounter with Sailor Uranus, the Senshi meet to discuss the potential implications of the two mysterious figures. Meanwhile, Chibi-usa tracks down Hotaru in order to return her handkerchief, and the two begin to discuss Hotaru’s condition, at which point Hotaru begins to have an episode and asks Chibi-usa for her amulet. After retrieving the amulet, Chibi-usa produces her Silvery Crystal and provides healing to Hotaru, with the two forming a closer friendship as a result. Outside, Haruka and Michiru show up and offer Chibi-usa a helicopter ride home, while trying to press her for information on Hotaru. Usagi and her friends also have encounters with Haruka and Michiru, ultimately ending up with tickets to Michiru’s performance. Minako uses it as an excuse to see a performance by a prominent pop idol who is only performing at Mugen Academy. Unfortunately, the pop idol turns out to be a member of the Witches 5, who attempts to drain energy from the students. Minako transforms and interrupts the witch’s plan, to be ultimately joined by the other four Senshi. The witch summons three additional monsters, which are dispatched by the two mystery Senshi, with Usagi dealing with the witch.

Before I begin, I really do want to emphasize that I am actually a Sailor Moon fan, and that overall I am actually enjoying this arc in Crystal. That said, I keep finding myself noticing small annoyances. First up are the seeming abundance of lesbian undertones to the series. Usagi is quite obsessed with Haruka’s kiss, complete with blushing, and Chibi-usa also seems to blush quite a bit when it comes to Hotaru. It’s possible that I am just reading too much into this given the presence of Haruka and Michiru in this season, but it certainly feels like those are the undertones present in the series. Another criticism comes in the form of the dreams that the Senshi are sharing. Specifically, one scene shows the Senshi lying dead on the battleground; however, this loses its weight when we consider that the Senshi traveled to the future in the previous season. In other words, we’ve already seen that the Senshi are alive past this point, so the current threat to their lives means nothing. Sure there’s the possibility of the future changing, but since Chibi-usa hasn’t disappeared, that would be unlikely. Again, this is probably thinking too much about it, but from a story telling standpoint the threat death seems to diminish when you involve a future arc, especially when you consider all of the paradoxes that would exist. Finally, my previous criticism from the last episode concerning the simplicity of the fights against the Witches 5 still stands.

As for positive points, this season is taking its time to tell its story. I believe I complimented the second season for the same thing. Future paradoxes aside, the writers are taking the time to tease out the story, and although the fights themselves could stand to have a little more tension, the beginning of this season suggests that doing two-part episodes may not be the best approach. At the end of the day, Sailor Moon Crystal is a great entry in the Sailor Moon franchise.

A Christian Perspective:

1 Corinthians 8:4 – So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.”

Yes, I am taking a bit of a cheesy approach here by using the presence of a pop “idol” as a bridge to talk about actual idols; however, much like real idols—false gods that are set up as if they are real—the “idol” in this episode was also a fake, simply an enemy masquerading as a musical performer, rather than an actual performer. As we can see, this came with its own dangers: students were pulled in to hear her performance, which put them in a potentially deadly place. Even Minako, one of the heroines, was not safe from this deception, as she, too, ended up falling prey to the deception. This brings up a good point about how easy it is to fall prey to idols.

While our minds almost immediately conjure up images of crude statues made from wood, stone, gold, etc., the generally accepted principle among Christians is that an idol can literally be anything that takes the place of God in our lives….even anime and/or video games. We get caught up in these things and before we know it we have little interest in God, putting Him off to the side for more time with our favorite games or shows. Truly, these things are “nothing” in the grand scheme of things, whereas God is everything, but our finite human minds are easily distracted and lead astray. We don’t comprehend the concept of eternity and living with it in mind because we are trapped in the reality of living day-to-day, so we think of our immediate gratification more than our eternal souls. And don’t think I speak of any of this as someone who has mastered these things or ascended above these traps—I probably struggle with the concept more most.

That said, I don’t hold to the view that an idol is simply the thing you spend the most time with. I know that some will disagree with me, but we know that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7c) It is completely possible to spend most of our time doing “God stuff”, yet have our hearts be far from Him; conversely, it is also possible to spend little time specifically doing “God stuff”, yet have that small bit of time impact the rest of our day and cause us to reflect on God throughout our various daily activities (perhaps by finding biblical lessons in the anime we watch?). Again, I don’t pretend to even come close to being perfect at this; however, I feel a lot of Christians focus too much on “how much” we do, and not enough about the quality of what we do. Even Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7) That’s not to say that long prayers are inherently bad, but they can be if we are only praying long prayers because we believe we are “supposed” to. If Christianity is indeed a relationship with our Creator, then it stands to reason it would grow like any other relationship: we start out spending some time with someone, and as we get to know them we desire to spend more time with them.

Yes, it takes discipline to take time from our fleshly desires and focus on God, but that discipline should lead us into a relationship where we eventually want to spend more time with Him, rather than spending a certain amount of time with him for the arbitrary reasons such as “my pastor said I had to pray for at least an hour”. I speak as someone who has, for a long time, spent long amounts of time in prayer because I felt I “had” to. For instance, I once prayed for two hours, and had convinced myself for the longest time that I always had to pray for at least two hours from that point on, or I was telling God He wasn’t worth it. Only recently have I had the presence of mind to ask Him to help me develop a relationship with Him based not on ritualistic rule keeping (reading enough chapters a day, praying long enough, etc.) but rather on who He is and a desire to know Him better. I haven’t gotten there yet. I struggle with a lot of depression and doubt. But as I sit here typing this, I have a sense of hope that one day He will bring me to that place.

Content Guide:

Spiritual Content: A “Deity of Destruction” is mentioned

Language: 1 “j**z”

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: Haruka shows cleavage; Mimi Hanyu’s outfit shows cleavage; multiple female episodes show cleavage

Violence: The Senshi fight monsters

Blood/Gore: None

Other: Haruka kisses Usagi at the beginning of the episode and in a dream; magical nature of Senshi’s attacks

Review: Sailor Moon Crystal, Episode 29: INFINITY 2 Ripples

Review:

In the aftermath of the previous battle, Hotaru heals Chibi-usa’s injury, but does not receive the rejection that she expects for her strange powers and instead finds herself with a new friend. Afterwards, they go their separate ways, although we see that everything isn’t well off for Hotaru, as she returns home and collapses in pain, rejecting the help that her father’s assistant offers her. Worse off is the fact that her father doesn’t exactly seem normal. Elsewhere, the Senshi investigate Mugen Academy and reflect on the appearance of two new Senshi. Mamoru encounters Michiru in town, and Usagi stumbles across the two of them, feeling a tinge of jealousy. Usagi encounters Haruka at the game center, but the other Senshi step up and demand that “he” leave Usagi alone. Despite all of this, the girls still find themselves in a pleasant mood as they discuss having a party for Rei’s 15th birthday, though it turns out that Rei has gone to the mountains to train. Of course, this means the others set off into the mountains to find her, where they also find that Mugen Academy is having some sort of retreat. They encounter Haruka there during the day, where Makoto faces off against “him” in a judo match, and at night both Rei and Makoto notice something weird happening in the Mugen camp. Upon investigating, they find a member of the Witches 5 possessing the students. They launch into battle and are almost defeated until Sailor Moon and the others appear to aid them. They successfully dispatch their enemy, and Sailor Moon takes off after one of the new Senshi who again appears at the conclusion of their battle.

This was a much more satisfying episode than the previous one, with a much deeper and more drawn out episode story. We’re introduced to a little more of Hotaru’s backstory, which will become more important as the series progresses. Meanwhile, we begin to uncover more about Mugen Academy’s secrets (although did any of us not see that it was an evil organization?), and we get an actual excursion into the personal lives of the five main Senshi. Having more time spent watching the Senshi in their normal lives makes the show feel a bit deeper, as we get to see that the girls are more than just warriors.

My main criticism is how quickly the member of the Witches 5 was dispatched. Perhaps it’s because of my primary Sailor Moon experience being from the original anime, but I would expect the evil masterminds to pose a greater challenge than the throw-away, one-off monsters of the week. Then again, since I have very little knowledge of the manga, this may be the way things were originally designed. Still, having the enemies pose a greater challenge (and perhaps having multi-episode fights, a la shonen anime) would give a greater sense of tension to the show. Still, this episode did a much better job of deepening the mystery behind Mugen Academy, Haruka, and Michiru, so the episode managed to serve a greater purpose than its predecessor.

A Christian Perspective:

Ephesians 4:14 – Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

This time I’m reaching way out of the box to make an abstract point, possibly to the point of stretching. If so, please forgive me, but this idea occurred to me, and it was better than the “pride comes before a fall” application I originally had in relation to Mikoto’s match with Haruka.

As for the application of Ephesians 4:14, my inspiration came from Usagi’s decision to chase after the mysterious Senshi at the end of this episode (although her insistence upon investigating everything as commented on by Michiru in the previous episode can also be raised here). Without applying any sort of discernment, Usagi races ahead, hoping to catch the mysterious girl, without any consideration for the fact that she could very well be an enemy. Such a decision could, of course, be dangerous or fatal to her, but her actions are undisciplined and therefore not thought out. This seems like a good metaphor to what Paul mentions as our ultimate goal as Christians in Ephesians 4:14. Without discernment as Christians, we can be blown about by various teachings, chasing after things that are ultimately dangerous to us and our spiritual growth; however, as we mature, we become capable of telling truth from fiction, and won’t be moved by people who wish to harm us with their lies.

Content Guide:

Spiritual Content: Hotaru has healing powers; magical nature of Senshi powers

Language: None

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: Female enemies show cleavage; Sailors Mars and Jupiter transform

Violence: Mars and Jupiter battle an enemy; Sailor Moon destroys an enemy

Blood/Gore: None

Other: Haruka embraces Michiru; Usagi and Chibi-usa are shown sleeping at Mamoru’s place; Sailor Uranus kisses Sailor Moon