It’s probably on the strength of watching the Tales of Symphonia animation and feeling it was all so truncated that it was unfair to the story of the game, but I feel it’s just a little unfair to judge this anime adaptation of not one but two Sega JRPGs without playing the games. On the other hand, I like neither the world nor the characters enough to feel any drive to play the games through, and only watched it for the sake of the cosplay group we had going.
From what I surmise, this is really the story of the second game, Shining Wind, but also serves as a sequel to Shining Tears, with the major cast of that game showing up, offering support and key items. In the usual Fushigi-Yuugi-cum-Dog-Days-type plot, a group of students find out about a mysterious fantasy world in a book and are soon teleported there, where they find they have amazing powers and become the centre of attention. Two of the boys, Souma and Kiriya, discover that they can use ‘soul blades’, swords pulled directly from the chests of the girls around them that reflect their hearts – and so decide to fight for good. However, the third boy, the more mature Saionji, with the same power, gets a bit power-mad and tries to take over the world. Of course, there is a bigger baddie, a demonic dark elf, and only the soul bladers’ true ‘holy grail’ swords can stop him.
It’s all very by-the-numbers and formulaic, to be honest. Deen do their usual middle-of-the-road job, providing nice character designs and pretty close-ups but keeping movement to a minimum, letting action scenes get clunky and overall making the whole thing look a bit lazy. Pretty as they are, none of the characters are very likeable or interesting, none have much in the way of memorable character quirks or strong motivation, and Souma is a singularly dull protagonist. I liked Zero, the protagonist of the first game turned into a kind of guardian angel, but he does very little. Towards the end the cast gets huge, with random royalty and interchangeable giant warrior characters everywhere, none of them at all developed, and the problems of trying to please fans of two games in 12 episodes comes to the fore. The final crisis is abrupt, and ends without very much difficulty, giving the impression of not much done at all, and since none of them seem to miss home at all during the adventure, it comes as a surprise that any of them want to return home at all.
The romance is all very awkward as well, and it’s problematic when the most believable relationship here is the creepy one between Saionji and Hiruda. I get the impression that there’s supposed to be a slightly naughty air of homoeroticism to the whole thing, but it just comes over as very awkward and forced, especially when Zero randomly gives Souma a sponge bath, especially as both characters are fairly obviously voiced by the same person. As for Souma finding out who will give him his true holy grail sword in that pseudo-sexual lying-back-with-eyes-closed-and-lips-parted way, well, all I can say is no wonder Mao was crying at the end. None of it is titillating and none of it really works.
What Shining Tears X Wind has going for it is fantastic character designs. They are along traditional fantasy lines, but varied, interesting and very much appealing. Faces look cute, outfits are awesome and weapons are impressive. But that’s really about it – in terms of the world, the characterisation, the story…sadly, Shining Tears X Wind falls well short.