Fate/Zero, or, How to look good in a black suit – First Impressions
November 7, 2011 2 Comments
Fate/Zero is the prequel to Fate/Stay Night, and is supposed to tell the circumstances surrounding the 5th Grail war that Shirou and Saber fought. And it starts off with a bang, with immensely impressive animation quality, a potentially quite interesting plot and at least more depth than some of the other shows this season. This is not to say that this show is without fault, and in fact I do have a few issues with it, but overall I have enjoyed the so far, more or less.
Fate/Zero is being made by Ufotable; a studio that has chosen to work on a single title each year, rather than trying to squeeze as many titles as possible out like some studios. The results of this work ethic are clearly seen in the overall quality of Fate/Zero, while it isn’t universal throughout the show, we can see movie quality animation in many places, especially the fight scenes that really help to bring the series alive.
Fate/zero takes place 10 years prior to the events of Fate/Stay Night detailing the events of the 4th Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City. The War of the Holy Grail is a contest in which seven magi summon seven Heroic Spirits to compete to obtain the power of the “Holy Grail,” which grants a miracle. After three inconclusive wars for the elusive Holy Grail, the Fourth War commences.
Founded by the Einzbern, Matō, and Tōsaka families’ centuries ago, the Einzbern family is determined to achieve success after three successive failures, no matter the cost. As a result, they have elected to bring the hated magus killer, Kiritsugu Emiya, into their ranks, despite his methods and reputation as a skilled mercenary and a hitman who employs whatever he can use to accomplish his goals. Though Kiritsugu had once wanted to become a hero who could save everyone, he has long since abandoned this ideal upon realizing that saving one person comes at the cost of another’s life. For the sake of humanity, he will ruthlessly destroy anything and anyone who threatens the peace of others.
However, Kiritsugu finds himself deeply torn between the love he has found for his new family – his wife Irisviel and their daughter Illya – and what he must do to obtain the Holy Grail. Meanwhile, Kiritsugu’s greatest opponent appears in the form of Kirei Kotomine, a priest who cannot find any sense of fulfillment in his life and sets his sights on Kiritsugu as the possible answer to the emptiness he feels.
The plot is a relatively simplistic one since it is simply about the fight for the ‘Holy Grail’, an object with the ability to grant the winner any wish. Of course those who have watched the original series will know that this Grail is not the holy object that caught Christ’s blood in Christian Myth, but a far darker, demonic presence that is neither Holy, nor good. However, while the story is very simple, we do have a significant amount of mystery and intrigue that adds to the story itself. There are various powerful figures within the magical world, who are all trying to get their hands on the grail for reasons that go from the utterly selfish, to the entirely unselfish, but idealistic, and perhaps impossible. So the plot is pretty dark, the setting is also pretty dark, and in fact most of the action takes place at night, all in all a pretty dark – both physically and metaphorically – series. We also find out that Sakura Matō was pretty much raped by a load of bugs when she was about 5-6 years old, because the Matō family wanted to make sure that they had a strong candiate for the 5th Grail war, quite a shock actually, and it explains a few things.
Thankfully we have some comic relief in the form of Waver and his servant Rider, who goes by the name Iskander aka Alexander the Great (there are a ton of clues that give away his identity, not just the name). This pairing are great, Iskander pays little attention to Waver and spends his time plotting his conquest of the known world. That is not to say that he is arrogant, in fact Iskander does look after Waver, and while he often takes the micky out of him for being a ‘weak master’, Iskander does stand up for Waver. He is essentially the father that Waver never had, lecturing him, giving him a sense of place and purpose and teaching him about the joys of life. Waver, who is quite a pathetic and lonely character finally has someone who recognises him for who he truly is, this coupled with the sheer joy of seeing Rider and Waver making their grand entrance into the battle between Saber and Lancer, only to try and bargain with them has been one of the major draws to the show for me thus far.
This then brings me to one of my main problems with Fate/Zero, the fights. My god the fights drag on, and this is not because there is a lot of action, far from it. In fact I have seen far more talking in the series so far than actual fighting. During the fight at the docks we see the heroes exchanging pleasantries, then exchanging a few blows only to back off have an internal monologue, throw a few jibes and taunts at each other, then rush back in, only to repeat the process all over again. Then we have the exchange of names, talking about their noble phantasms and what they can do to each other, etc, etc. It honestly feels like a shounen show here, reminiscent of the fight scenes in Dragonball Z and Bleach. In general I have no problem with having dialogue in a fight scene, I do not want a simple hack and slash. However, the constant shuffling around, throwing jibes and taunts at each other, while having an internal monologue about what sort of Nobel Phantasm each other has and how it could affect the fight drags on. What makes this worse though, is that when the fight does start properly all we seem to get are a few little action shots then both combatants jump back to continue their monologues. The fight sequences are wonderful, being well animated and quite dynamic, but there are too many pauses where all the tension that had been built up is lost, so by the end of it I didn’t really care who won, who lost and what happened.
And while I enjoy the political intrigue and how this essentially a story of three big families waging war for ultimate power and control over society, reminds me a bit of the various power struggles that happened in Florence during the Renaissance (Look up the Medici on Wikipedia for a good example of a truly ruthless family). Unfortunately this is where another of my issues with the series lies, it takes itself far too seriously. Here, I would point out that there is a difference between a serious story, and taking the story seriously. While I have nothing against the dark story (as it should be), I find the main characters constantly trying to outdo each other in cool poses; cool monologues and cool places to stand while delivering said monologues to be quite frustrating and actually quite dull. Honestly the show needs to lighten up a bit. All the main characters are essentially trying to ‘out-cool’ each other. And while I know some people disagree with me on this, I actually preferred Saber in Fate/Stay Night, she developed a character there, a love interest and actually a meaning to stay in this world. While she has a clear purpose and looks pretty cool in this current series, I feel she is lacking somewhat and so far is simply part of the ‘cool brigade’ which includes everyone but Waver and Rider.
Actually I also quite like Irisviel, she is quite an interesting character, a homonculous created by the Einzbern family in their attempt to assure victory in this Grail war. She dearly loves Kiritsugu, and shows signs of pain at him essentially rejecting love, because as far as I can tell he considers himself undeserving of such a loving family. I have to admire her willingness to act as Saber’s master in place of Kiritsugu in order to draw out other masters. Plus when she is together with Saber that’s a proper all-girls tag team that you can help but love. I also find the relationship of Kiritsugu, Irisviel and Saber to be quite fascinating, and once you through in Kirie and of course Kiritsugu’s partner/lover? Maiya makes for quite a fascinating group of people.
Overall I am enjoying this show so far, unfortunately without Waver and Rider/Iskander I feel this show would have got quite boring for me pretty fast. It all comes back to the idea that it takes itself far to seriously. The story is dark, which I am fine with, but having the main characters constantly trying to out-cool each other, and in some ways out-angst each other is getting quite dull relatively fast. The episodes that have not included Waver and Rider have actually been quite boring, episode 6 in particular was quite boring, with even the political intrigue not saving it for me.
The intrigue and dynamics within individual relationships in Fate/Zero are all fascinating and potentially very enjoyable to watch, unfortunately they are being slightly spoiled because of this ultra-serious element of the show. The fights are wonderful to watch, but the constant talking and internal monologues are ruining it in some way by turning Fate/Zero into something of a Shounen show. I am still enjoying this show and feel that it is one of the best this season, at least in terms of animation quality and potential plot and story, I do however feel that it should lighten up a bit and probably add more Waver and Rider, because when those two are on screen the show becomes just that much better. A good series however, and definitely worth watching.