Sakuga: Tales of Zestiria The X Episode 3 – A (Not So) Small Analysis

With Tales of Zestiria the X, studio ufotable once again impresses quite the chunk of the anime community with their visual design and rises to quite a popularity, even among people who don’t know anything about the “Tales of” series, like me for example. So after especially episode 3 impressed me animation-wise I decided to analyze the fight between Alisha and the assassin, only to notice a lot more details which were put into these cuts…with both negative and positive results

First Scene

Source: Sakugabooru

First, some clearance: This scene was presumably animated by Go Kimura, which comes from the similarities to his (also presumably) scene in episode 0. I concur with this assumption, mainly because of the way the sparks are drawn and because of a stronger presence of a fight choreography, which stands in great contrast to Masayuki Kunihiro’s  scene in episode 2

For the analysis, we’re going to skip right to 0:02, the first 2 seconds are pretty nice, but they only are the intro to the fight and there isn’t anything special to it. What’s more important is the initial attack and that an attack pattern exists.

Strike 1
First attack with the knife in her left hand….
Strike 2
…Then the right knife….
Strike 3
…followed by another one with the right knife

We once again see these typical “ufo-trails” with each weapon swing, they’ve kinda become a classic trait of ufotable animation and is part of their lighting effects, arguable one of the biggest strengths of ufotable.

Alisha (the blonde girl, in case you don’t watch the anime) evades these 3 initial strikes with no real problems, there is no real panic in her movement and she is moving in a more composed and calm manner. After that the offense from the assassin ends for the moment and Alisha backs off. The assassin has to recover his stance, while Alisha takes the downtime to get her hands on her weapon.

A friend of mine criticized this particular moment: The Downtime of the assassin is too long, the moment where Alisha draws the weapon lasts for so long that the assasin could have easily attacked her during that. However, I do not agree with that, because I don’t see the drawing of her weapon as part of the assassins downtime anymore. I personally think something different: The draw of the weapon is a reaction, not part of the break which was given to Alisha due to the recovery of the Assassin.

Draw.jpg
This is the last frame of the cut where she gets her hands on the weapon, if you watch this in motion, you should notice: she only pulls out the weapon a bit, then stops.

If that was already the complete draw of the weapon, I’m pretty sure there would be additional frames in which we can see more of the blade drawn out of the sheath.

However, I see a different point of criticism here. This cut in particular is a bit odd, since there is not moving background, as if Alisha just lost every momentum from that last evade of hers. In the cut afterwards she has the momentum again then which makes this a bit awkward.

Back to the matter of Alisha drawing her weapon…

Counter.jpg
The next frame, the attack is already incoming from the assassin, Alisha now draws the weapon…
Counter 2.jpg
…and uses it directly to fend of the assassin’s attack. No stance first, just a direct swing, that’s why I refer to the draw as a “reaction”.

In the offensive movement from 0:07 – 0:10, the assassin attacks four times, let’s take a look at the first three attacks again, where you should notice something again…

Slash 1
Left Hand attacks…
Slash 2
…followed by the right hand….
Slash 3
….and the right hand again (it took me some time to identify that this was the right hand)

I think you can already guess what I’m getting at here. While the movements are difference, there is a pattern on which hand is used for which direct attack:

  • First strike: Left hand
  • Second strike: Right hand
  • Third strike: Right hand

Some of you might call this coincidence, however, I still want you to remember that pattern for now, because it happens again later.

There is another aspect about this scene I want to point out first and this is about Alisha’s defense with her short sword. Let’s look at specifically one thing: Her stance after she fends of a strike.

Stance 1
First attack: Alisha stands stable after parrying.
Stance 2
Second attack: Alisha still has a strong posture.
Stance 3
Third attack: She doesn’t fend off that attack as strong as before here and her stance is broken, it’s more clearer when in motion: she is stumbling after this attack!
Stance 4
Fourth attack: Alisha already was unstable after attack number 3, and the fourth attack pushes her back further, making her almost fall over.
Stance 5.jpg
Furthermore: The aggressor falls back after the fourth attack, maybe implying that something irregular has happened…

There are 3 things that have to be noted here:

1. During this cut, there is a clear distribution on Aggressor and Defender, with Alisha being the defender.

2. Alisha’s guard is getting broken as the result of the third attack, she can parry the first 2 attacks though.

3. The aggressor backs off after attack number 4.  In the offensive before, the Assassin only attacks 3 times till she takes a break. The additional attack here might be due to the fact that Alisha’s unstable guard after attack number 3 leaves her open for an attack.

After the attacker backs off, she spins around herself while recovering and goes in for another attack. One might argue that this is a clear “Style over Substance” moment, and that is to some extent true. Though, I dislike the thought of “Style over Substance” being something bad. I do like the spinning of the assassin, it’s showing off agility even IF it is a kind of unnecessary movement and that’s kind of what I like about it.

Talking about Substance,  when the aggressor goes into the offensive at 0:12 again, Alisha has different approach now on how to defend and this is how:

Dualwield 1.jpg
1. She two-hands her weapon now!
Catch.jpg
2. She catches her enemy’s hand during the third attack.

This led me to believe one thing: Alisha learns about her enemy during the progression of the fight. I have observed reasons for why Alisha two-hands her weapon and why she can catch her enemy’s hand, both lie in what has already happened.

Alisha Two-handing her weapon has more than one reason. First, if the enemy can break your guard when you only one-hand your weapon, it might be wise to go for a more solid guard. When you two-hand your weapon, it’s way less shaky in your hand and is more stable so it would be natural to try to go for this.

Secondly, Two-handing her weapon has already benefited Alisha before, but it’s not nearly as obvious as it might seem. Please go back to the offensive on 0:07 to 0:10 and look through every frame during the fourth attack:

Two-Hand!.jpg
She’s two-handing her weapon! (also the sparks of the clash appear BEFORE the clash actually happens which is kinda funny)

If you remember, the attacker fell back after the fourth attack, which might imply that something irregular happened during the fourth attack. If that is the case: This was why, the now two-handed sword caught the assassin off guard and interrupted her barrage of attacks! Knowing that this worked before, Alisha decided to now constantly two-hand her weapon during the rest of the fight.

Alisha catching her enemy’s hand seemed first a bit odd to me, is it really the right thing to do with an aggressor like that? This question almost answered by itself, after I noticed the attack pattern of the aggressor. In the two offensive moves of the assassin always the attack pattern is always the same on which hand directly attacks Alisha: First attack by the left hand and Second and Third attack by the right hand.

First Strike.jpg
This is the last frame before the scene cuts to Alisha parrying this attack. It’s the Assassins left hand going in for the attack!

In other words, the same pattern is most likely to occur again, mainly because the aggressor didn’t have any real problems so far, not to mention, the third attack broke her guard before, so this could work again…

Unfortunately, we can not see which hand performs the second attack, since we have the camera fixed on Alisha fending off the attacks. However, the third attack is catched by Alisha now, and when we look closely…

Catch.jpg
This is the right hand which was catched!

In other words, Alisha learned the attack pattern of the enemy throughout the fight and used it to her advantage! Otherwise I could not explain on how and why Alisha would let one hand go off her weapon, which is very dangerous because she lets that guard advantage from two-handing her weapon go, especially since it was the third attack was the one that broke her guard before!

Escape.jpg
The last cut is the assassin escaping from Alisha, after she catched the right hand. Getting caught like that is a big deal, which the assassin will remember for the next scene…

To conclude the first scene, Alisha shows a clear learning curve in that fight in which she gets to know her enemy and her own options better. Two-handing and Catching her opponents hand especially show that Alisha took advantage from critical moments throughout the progression of the fight. There was indeed quite a lot of thought put into the fight!



Second Scene

Source: Sakugabooru

The second scene was also presumably animated by Go Kimura, but has a fundamentally different feel right from the get-go. The cut begins with Alisha and the Assassin coming from the direction of the camera where the Assassin is still on the offense. However, Alisha is still two handing from the last scene and uses it consecutively to defend against her enemy.

One-handed.jpg
Sometimes she lets go with one hand, I think this is due to the impact of the incoming strike throwing her off.
Offense.jpg
Alisha even takes the Offensive herself at some point, rising confidence through succesfully handling her enemies attacks might have led to that.
Sparks.jpg
The effects in this fight are stronger than in it was in the first scene, more and bigger sparks and more screenfilling.

The animation in itself feels way more fluent than in the first scene, this is present through more active camera movement, and that the movement of the characters during the encounter is more 3-dimensional… What do I mean with that?

Let’s go back to the first scene, 0:07-0:10 again and compare it to 0:00 – 0:04 in the second scene. In the second scene, it begins with Alisha moving away from the virtual camera to then fight her opponent on a certain distance and then tries to escape her enemy towards the camera. In the first scene however, the encounter stays on the set distance through the camera, they don’t move a lot towards or away from the viewer.

The movement being like that adds to a fluent feeling of the fight, giving one more dimension of movement besides “up/down” and “left/right”, which is great, but nothing revolutionary and definitely not the best of its kind.

Going back to the fight itself, Alisha and the Assassin are both even know, though it is still clear on who the aggressor and who the defender is, however, at 0:04, when the camera cuts away something really awkward happens.

Bullshit.jpg
The Assassin suddenly leaps, however in the frames before, there is no real momentum being build up for that to really work.

This simply can not be shown  like that, because the speed for the jump is coming out of nothing and there is no real indication of the speed coming from anywhere. Please look through the scene again and look especially at the assassin, you should get what I mean.

The jump itself is fine, I like the movement, the smoke around her etc. but the it’s the context of the jump which makes this cut pretty awkward and kinda bad. Something needed to be inbetween the jump and the cut before the jump, like a short cut away from the fight concentrating on something else for example. This would give the assassin time to build up the necessary speed for such a jump to perform, even if it isn’t shown, which would make this scene way better. Unfortunately, this isn’t even the worst, because unlike the following scene, the jump still looked kind of cool….

Light and Heavy.jpg
The attacker comes down on Alisha again, the incoming attack pushes her out of the screen.

This is not a good cut. Something just feels completely wrong here. It is in my opinion a bit difficult to describe it in words, but I am going to try anyway.

  1. The impact feels wrong: Because the attacker is spinning like that and stays like this mid-air after the impact, it feels like the attack wasn’t directed straight into Alisha, which is why it feels even wrong that…
  2. ….Alisha flies out of the screen as if something way heavier hit her. The weapons of the aggressor are very light weapons, do big sword or something along these lines. These aren’t heavy and even the strongest attack should at most just be able to break her guard like in the first scene, not shooting Alisha away like she’s a fly!

It’s kinda sad that I have to finish this analysis on such a negative note. The fight scene just doesn’t end very well, and every thought which was build up through the fight is getting thrown away here, as Alisha one-hands her weapon again at the end for no reason at all , which why I almost think, that 0:07 to 0:09 was not animated by Go Kimura, or at least a different artist than the rest of the fight.


Overall, even with that bad end, I still  enjoyed this encounter between Alisha and the (actually-not-that) mysterious assassin a lot. I like how the animation and the way Alisha handles the fight show how Alisha gets used to the attacker and progressively gets better at this fight, even if it isn’t apparent at first. Details like that just make me appreciate animation even more than it already does, more cuts like this please, ufotable!

With the continuation of Tales of Zestiria the X, I’m going to look more into the animation and once in a while, analyse Sakuga Stuff from specifically this show. It’s not going to happen episodically, but If I found a scene particularly interesting or good, it will be on my blog.

Last but not least, a shoutout to the Hummingbird Sakuga Community, mainly @UsaagiTsun, @RoyalTanki and @Abel_Toy on twitter, the day before wrote this post I had a discussion with these 3 about these two scenes which encouraged me to the analysis!

Till the next time, See ya, Bye-Bye then!

PS: Tales of Zestiria is available for Streaming at Daisuki.net, it’s legal and free, even on 1080p, all you need to do is make a free account and enjoy!

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4 thoughts on “Sakuga: Tales of Zestiria The X Episode 3 – A (Not So) Small Analysis

  1. Pretty good! It did feel clunky at first though it still looked great despite everything. Plus they managed to put a meaning in the fight scene rather than random slashes and thrusts — which is something that we normally miss and certainly deserves more attention.

    P.S. looking forward to more of these posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you like this post!

      This is pretty much the biggest difference between Go Kimura and Masayuki Kunihiro, at least in Tales of Zestiria. If you look at Kunihiro’s cut in episode 2 ( https://sakuga.yshi.org/post/show/24514/animated-effects-fighting-masayuki_kunihiro-presum ) it feels a lot wilder than what Go Kimura animated. Tho, I would not say there is no thought behind these scene, but maybe “less” as the only remarkable thing here is how the Hellion is drawn throughout the entire scene, with his body bending and stretching during the fight, it underlines the crazy and twisted nature of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think the final moment is too bad. Considering the nature of the show, the from-the-air attack showed itself as some fancy, powerful. special move from the assassin which is also made more obvious by the *gasp* reaction from Alisha as she was bracing for it, then the orange trail from the attack which meant to further represent the fact that is a really strong move. And the attacker is supposed to be some awesome ninja capable of impossible moves or something.
    So i don’t think that Alisha being pushed back so far was out of place in the context. If the show was trying to be more “realistic” then this would’ve been really odd as described.

    Also, Alisha two hands the weapon for the actual impact and holds hands together for like 6 frames. She only had released her hand because she didn’t need it before that moment.

    Liked by 1 person

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