After a gap of probably a good 7 years, I finally decided to watch the prequel to Fate/Stay Night. Woo. Anyway, I can conclude that
Fate/Zero is a good anime.
And I quite think it’s required viewing for the franchise – whether you’re just looking to get into it or are a previous fan. It offers a lot of context to actions of characters in the following works.
To the plot, then. Long story short, it’s a war between seven two-person teams for the Holy Grail. The teams are made up of a human (more than often this human is a mage) and a heroic spirit. By heroic spirit, I mean an actual historic or fictional hero that is basically reincarnated to help their Master (the human) to win the Grail. The Grail is said to have the power to grant miracles, and allows the winner to have a wish be fulfilled – any wish. Heroic spirits come in seven different classes and only one of each is recruited each war. There’s Saber (knight with a sword), Lancer (spearman), Archer (bowman), Caster (mage), Rider (mounted warrior), Assassin (stealthy bugger) and Berserker (insane warrior). The heroic spirits are called Servants.
While Fate/Stay Night (both game and anime) focus much more on a specific character and the people around him, Fate/Zero plays as more of an ensemble show, with most teams being fleshed out and given their time in the spotlight (even if that time is wildly imbalanced, given story development and themes).
So, who are the teams?
- Emiya Kiritsugu and Saber – Kiritsugu is hired by the famed Einzbern family after they’re unable to produce a capable representative for the war on their own. Kiritsugu is a highly pragmatic man, looking out for the greater good rather than concerning himself with being moral. His methods of fighting have many similarities with guerilla warfare, but he goes to lengths to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. He fights in the hope that the grail can help him achieve world peace. Bears the nickname Mage-Killer, having been a hunter of magi for many years, despite being one himself. The Saber class is taken up by the King of Knights, King Arthur of Britain himself – except he is a she. Yes, in this franchise King Arthur is a lady. Strongly principled, Saber has many complaints about Kiritsugu’s tactics and prefers to fight straight-up, as a knight with a code of honour. She fights with a seemingly-invisible sword.
- Tohsaka Tokiomi and Archer – Tokiomi comes from the famed (in the magical sphere) Tohsaka family, and is one of the shows most capable Masters. He’s very clever and plays out the war very passively from his large estate, and coordinating his actions with his disciple, Kirei. Like Kiritsugu, he’s a very pragmatic man that looks out for his own family and intends to get to the Root (aka, find the centre of the universe – which is a place in the universe the Fate series take place in). He also appears to be quite an awful father, as he’s a mage first and seems rather oblivious towards his family members’ problems. His Servant is Gilgamesh (of the famed Akkadian epic), who is arrogant as can be. Not that hard to believe, as he’s a demigod in his tales. He’s also presented as easily the most powerful of the Servants, which presents a problem to me. I’d rather them all being on roughly the same level, which is what’s true for most of the others. Gilgamesh acts as the primary Servant antagonist, and doesn’t present himself as one might expect a hero to. He fights long-range by launching various weapons from what appears to be a sort of pocked-dimension or whatever (his treasury).
- Waver Velvet and Rider – Waver (who would give their name such an awful name?) is a young mage studying at the Clock Tower, which is basically the big magi-school of the setting. He proposes that magical skills can develop from training and experience, rather than from lineage – which is shot down by his teacher (also a Master, Lord El-Melloi) from whom Waver decides to steal an artefact and becomes a Master himself. Fights to win the Grail so he’ll finally be acknowledged by his peers. He’s joined by Macedonian legendary conqueror, Alexander the Great. Initially portrayed as a bit of a buffoon, Alexander wastes little time in becoming easily the most entertaining and imposing Servant. His clashes of both mind and blade with Saber and Archer are the series’ best moments. Fights by riding a chariot and has a huge ace up his sleeve.
- Keyneth Archibald El-Melloi and Lancer – Pretentious dick-bag nobleman and teacher at the Clock Tower, El-Melloi is arguably the most powerful Master of the lot, and has found a way to share his mastery with his arranged wife, Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri (holy wow, that’s an actual name that the creators came up with, wtf), whom he has sort of a distant relationship with but appears to try and prove himself to her while she scolds his efforts. Very healthy marriage, there. El-Malloi aims to win to grow his fame as a mage. His/their Servant is Diarmuid Ua Duibhne from Irish folk-lore, lover of the wife of another folk-legend in Fionn mac Cumhaill, and lethal spearman. Diarmuid is an interesting character, and it would have been interesting to see what would have been done with him if given more screen-time. His central scene (you’ll know it when you see it) is brilliant anime. Lancer fights with two spears (one red, one yellow) that have different gimmicks.
- Matou Kariya and Berserker – Kariya is an estranged member of the Matou family, from which he ran away after being disgusted with his relatives. He decides to compete for the Grail to save the daughter of his childhood friend and object of his affections, Aoi (Tokiomi’s wife, who Kariya gave up chasing). Due to this, he re-enters the Matou-family as their representative in the Grail War, and accepts the “aid” of his grandfather, who implant magical parasitical insects into Kariya to enable him to become a Master. As a result, he grows more end more inhuman as the show carries on, struggling to keep his humanity and stay alive long enough to fulfil his promise and thereby save the little girl. Berserker is a secret character that you’ll have to identify yourselves, but I’ll tempt you with the knowledge that he’s connected to Saber somehow (so if you know your Arthur-lore you can probably venture an accurate guess, as it’s not a big surprise). He’s ridiculously powerful and can basically hi-jack other weapons to use them as his own, as well as using a nasty longsword.
- Uryuu Ryuunosuke and Caster – “Ryu” as I’ll call him for shortness’ sake, is a serial killer that unwittingly summons Caster while murdering a family. He prefers targeting children and young women. Has no real objective in the war, other than to watch Caster creatively kill people. Caster is Gille de Rais, a former comrade in arms to Jeanne d’Arc, whose life ended in depravity, as he was hanged for multiple child murderers (the amount of murders he committed in real life was possibly hundreds). Curiously, Caster believes Saber to be Jeanne d’Arc reborn (if his memory is to believed, the two do look strikingly similar) and sets out to make her mine. Like his Master, Caster is basically devoid of any morality and likes to psychologically and physically torture his victims for maximal terror before he kills them. He also appears to be a cultist of Cthulhu, as he says what I’m pretty sure is “Cthulhu ftagn” before brutally killing a child in his first scene. Yikes. Caster uses a wide variety of magic to combat the other Servants.
- Kotomine Kirei and Assassin – Kirei is the son of the Church’s representative (the one who as a mediator and rule-setter of the war), which makes him a controversial choice for a Master. He’s also a magical disciple of Tokiomi, who he initially intends to win the Grail for. He serves as the series’ primary antagonist, and rival of sorts to Kiritsugu. He is skilled in magic and incredibly gifted in martial combat. His servant is Hassan-i Sabbāh and can take the form of many assassins at once. A stealth attacker that uses poisons and small blades.
Even if I did say that the show is an ensemble show, it still has clear protagonists in Kiritsugu and Saber. His story takes precedent over the ones of the other Masters, with Kirei being the exception, and he has a back-story that is extensively shown to the viewer. Saber has the most of the encounters with other Servants and is set on being the sole survivor to correct her past, which shames her.
The big joy of Fate/Zero is the focus on having a larger cast of characters. I always felt that the Fate franchise needed to use a broader viewpoint on the war, even if the most famous installment, Fate/Stay Night, does very well with a much-more focused story.
Thus, we’re able to be treated to scenes like the wonderful garden drinking session with Arthur, Alexander, and Gilgamesh, regaling their kingly tales and discussing ambitions. It allows for much greater characterisation of the Servants and allows the viewer to pick favourites for other reasons that the initial, “He, that bloke looks cool”.
Alexander is the best example for why the show should be presented like this. In F/SN he’d likely not have gotten much attention at all, and gone down as a rowdy fool. In this, he’s able to fully show what he’s like – his desires, his personality, his quirks, likes, etc. His sparring, both verbal and martial, with Saber and Gilgamesh, as well as the effect he has on people around him, makes him the most intriguing character of the entire show. The development of Waver and the relationship between Alexander and his Master is absolutely fantastic.
One of the pairings, while not wholly bad, is very frustrating to me; That pair is Caster and Ryuunosuke. Their screen-time mostly consist of them killing the fuck out of whatever people they manage to and going on crazy rants on why killing is awesome. Caster is also played like a total loonie and doesn’t feel like much of a threat for much of his participation.
The pacing of the entire show is also frustrating and is at times absolutely unbearable. It takes quite some time for some things of actual importance to happen, and the climax of the show doesn’t make up for the looooooooooong build-up. The decision to spend a lot of time on Kiritsugu’s back-story turns out to be a mistake, when you consider what that time could have been spent doing for the rest of the cast.
Kirei is a good antagonist, to be sure, but his character is so frustrating. He’s basically an emotional cold drone who follows orders because why not, and looking for something to engage him mentally and emotionally. This thing turns out to be causing pain to others and just being a horrible person in general. He’s perfectly hate-able, though, which works well for a story like this.
Also, Saber. I might be in the minority here, but I fucking hate that she’s a gender-bent King Arthur. Absolutely nothing against her character, but it feels like a choice only meant for her to be a love interest in her more famous role in Fate/Stay Night. Maybe it’s that I’m partial to the saga of Arthur that I react with hostility to this adaptation. It also makes little sense that she’d be able to rule as a man, being that she’s always noted as being a beautiful girl in F/SN. It just makes little sense that she’d show up as a girl, after being remembered as a man. She should just have been Jeanne d’Arc, in all honesty. That said, her arc in Fate/Zero is awesome, as he’s continually verbally bitch-slapped by Alexander, Gilgamesh and Kiritsugu, and it sets the table well for her part in F/SN, where you can tell her actions are strongly influenced by her experiences in Fate/Zero.
The animations of Fate/Zero is world-fucking-class. It’s especially apparent in battles and other important scenes. Most of the character designs are very nice, with Caster sticking out like an awfully ugly sore thumb.
The voice-acting is absolutely superb all across the board. Naming examples is worthless, as everybody are on top of their game. Kawasumi Ayako can probably play Saber in her sleep at this point.
Now then, we’re headed for spoileriffic territory, so be warned in reading on if you haven’t seen the show yet, as these are big spoilers. So, yeah, they’ll be in white text below. Just highlight that shit and enjoy?
The ending is fucking stupid. The Grail being so limited in eventual execution of Kiritsugu’s wish is fucking pathetic – especially as it states that it’s way is Kiritsugu’s way. According to his portrayal on the show, this is so far from the actual truth. He’s been shown to avoid mass civilian casualties at the pivotal times of his story, so why does the show all of a sudden portray him as someone who’d be okay with slaughtering a huge amount of people to achieve his goals. While it’s true that he will go to great lenghts to survive and win, he’s never shown to be bloodthirsty or be careless with lives. I get that this show had to end a certain way, but the way they went about doing it is stupid.
Also, again on Kirei – This motherfucker is ridiculously powerful. He literally deflects bullets with his blades, and can destroy a human’s heart with one punch. He also blocks bullets with bare skin (or an invisible barrier – but it’s ridiculous in any way. Yeah, it’s action, but come the fuck on. All the stakes and excitement of a scene goes away in just about every action scene he’s in.
In conclusion, Fate/Zero is an excellent anime with a great cast of characters and an engaging story. It has its share of flaws, but it a thoroughly engaging experience. I recommend it to basically anyone.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand done! I’ll probably do Unlimited Blade Works next. Yay. Have a nice day and thanks for reading.