I’ll be the first to say that I’m not the most difficult person to please when it comes to my anime. If you want to rehash a cool concept and use it again and again, I’m usually pretty cool with that as long as it’s well written with some interesting characters. However, every so often I, like most people, hypothesise on what would make for a great story and it was when I was watching Tales of Zestiria the X that an idea last crossed my mind.
Without turning this into a review of the two cour series, suffice it to say, Tales of Zestiria is a 24 episode series that follows the journey of Sorey from country bumpkin to saviour of the world. It’s an emotionally charged, action packed coming-of-age tale with some beautiful animation and a colourful palette that makes for generally enjoyable viewing.
One of the strongest aspects of the show in my opinion though is the side characters, most notably Alisha and Rose. If this was a review of the show I could tell you about the in depth back story given to each of these characters that helps to shape and justify the way in which they interact with the rest of the cast and the story more generally. It is testament to the writing of these characters that, in the first season in particular, you feel that they are necessary to the progression of Sorey’s journey.
However, that’s not really what I want to talk about. Sorey is without doubt a hero who needs to learn and develop so that by the end of the final episode he can save the episode. This is a guy that can communicate with spirits, use magic, slay dragons and take on all of humanity’s evil, so of course it’s natural for the focus of the show to be on him. It occurred to me though that actually, Tales of Zestiria the X might be even better if all of the events pertaining to Sorey’s eventual saving of the world and balancing of malevolence, etc., etc., was seen through the eyes of one of the exceptionally well written side characters.
This approach obviously wouldn’t work with the majority of action fantasy shows as the supporting cast often tend to stick with the main character throughout the majority of the story. This is not the case if Tales of Zestiria. For much of the first and second season Alisha is not actually with Sorey and the seraphim as she is busy trying to save her own little part of the world as forgotten princess of a kingdom.
All of this hit me as I was watching Sorey gain more powers, using his strange kind of magic and never really losing to anyone. This is of course great for my shounen loving tendencies, but it doesn’t particularly make for a unique experiences. Imagine though, if we got, instead, to follow Alisha who hears the story of Sorey the hero Shepherd through fragmented messages that have travelled great distances to get to her, and thus, us the viewer. All the while, we would get to experience Alisha’s equally important story as she fights against the micro-problem of malevolence in the city of Ladylake and all of the associated problems that go with it.
This wouldn’t mean we would never see Sorey and his mythical seraphim saving the world in the same way that in the story’s preferred incarnation we still get to see Alisha when the two cross paths.
My point then is that while the hero of the world is obviously very exciting, important and, typically, powerful, they don’t always have to be the primary focus of a story. Tales of Zestiria the X is one of the best examples to show this because, as many who have also seen it will testify, the threat of Sorey ever losing never feels particularly close in a typical example of shounen plot armour.
What do you think of the hero taking a backseat role in anime? Can you think of any anime where this is the character setup? Let me know what you think in the comments!