Fate/Zero 2

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"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" - Lord John Dalberg-Acton, 1837.

There are many types of power - financial, military, political, religious, etc - and at one time or another each has been used to further the goals of individuals, organisations, and even nations. The odd thing though, is that even though it has been referenced for thousands of years in everything from legends and myths to folktales and history, magic has rarely been placed in the same category. The problem is that people don't really believe in magic any more, and the subject has been relegated to the realms of fiction and fantasy - even though it was often said that practitioners had the ability to wield primal forces, command spirits, and shake the foundations of heaven.

Everything has a price though, and in order to achieve or seize power of any sort you have to be willing to give up certain ... things. So the question is, what would you sacrifice for the chance to be a god?

The continuation of Fate/Zero opens with two F-15 jets that have been dispatched by the Japanese Air Force with orders to investigate the situation on the Mion River. Archer/Gilgamesh watches with disdain from on high as Sabre, Rider and Lancer continue their temporary alliance, and the pitched battle with the giant creature summoned by Caster/Gille de Rais rages on.

Little do they know that a new player is about to enter the field ...

One of the most noticeable differences between the first and second halves of Fate/Zero is the shift from preparation and planning to all-out action - something that is rather eloquently symbolized by the battle on the Mion River. With much of the preamble over, the storyline is able to place the kid-gloves to one side and ramp-up the tension between the combatants. This is most often achieved by drawing on the conflicting ideologies of each of the characters - with some thoroughly unscrupulous tactics thrown in to drive home the fact that the participants are involved in a war. The plot remains as focused as ever, but there's a palpable change in the atmosphere of the series, and many episodes have a less forgiving, more brutal air about them.

This shift in "attitude" has been handled extremely well by series director Aoki Ei and his writers, and a great deal of attention has been paid to the impact the numerous action scenes have on the characters - something that's becoming a rarity in modern anime. It's an interesting and effective usage of screentime that is markedly different from the patient build-up of the first half of the story, but crafted with the same care and attention to detail that have become a hallmark of Type-Moon/Ufotable collaborations. This prevents the show devolving into a legendary free-for-all, and allows for some very interesting confrontations - several of which have their roots in the layers of subtext that were added during previous series.

With the focus on action instead of intrigue, one might have expected there to be some differences in the visuals. Thankfully there are almost no major alterations present throughout the series - aside from a few cosmetic differences in clothing and apparel. The high production standards have been maintained and character movements are as sharp and crisp as ever. There are a few relatively minor issues with the blending of CG and standard animation, but these are pretty easy to ignore. What does stand out are the rather dazzling visual effects, many of which are bigger and bolder due to the shift from preparation to action. The choreography and timing of these - together with the quality of the character animation - make for some truly stunning combat sequences.

Composer Kajiura Yuki's all-female band Kalafina - the long-time muses of Type-Moon/Ufotable collaborations - open the second season with the operatic rock ballad "To the Beginning", while the main participants in the Holy Grail war are re-introduced in a well-choreographed montage that contains a few hints of things to come. On the other hand the closing sequence is a rather simple yet moving account - told through a series of still images - of the relationship between Emiya Kiritsugu and Irisviel von Einzbern - with Luna Haruna's pop ballad "Sora wa Takaku Kaze wa Utau" adding an uplifting and slightly bittersweet tone. Kalafina also return with the martially themed operatic ballad "Manten" as a special closing track for episodes 18 and 19.

The first season of Fate/Zero featured a very high standard of audio production, and it's nice to see that sound director Iwanami Yoshikazu hasn't allowed anyone to rest on their laurels. The background music is as diverse and atmospheric as ever, and while there are a few tracks that may sound a little off-kilter, this appears to be a purposeful move in order to heighten the mood of certain scenes. That said, there are two areas where this series is arguably superior to its predecessor - both of which have been pushed to the fore by the move to action.

The audio effects are as sharp and clear as ever, but the increase in combat means that the production standards need to be pushed even higher and more diversity needs to be added. In addition to this the quality of  the audio/visual choreography - which was already excellent in the previous series - often went unnoticed because of the focus on preparation and planning. Thankfully Iwanami is arguably one of the most experienced sound directors working in the industry, and his skills - developed over many years working on a variety of different anime - really make the difference. The superb effects and remarkable choreography really set the second series of Fate/Zero apart from other shows released this year, and mark it as a front-runner for any potential awards in this department.

Unlike many other anime, the move to an action footing hasn't caused the script to devolve into random shouts, grunts and screams, and the writers have done well to retain the maturity and intelligence of the first season. There is a bit of a change in the delivery though, as with the goal in sight, some of the actors appear to have been encouraged to add more emotion to their roles. This works surprisingly well with characters who were cold or aloof in the first series - Sabre and Archer for example - and the differences in their feelings becomes more pronounced as the story progresses and the battles take their mental toll.

One of the biggest criticisms of Fate/Zero is that it has tried to weave a coherent narrative from too many character and plot threads without relying on a lead role. Now this may seem like an anathema to those who prefer their development to follow a distinct linear progression, but those tales often suffer from an age-old problem in storytelling - every good protagonist needs an equally good antagonist. It's an issue that has affected anime for many years as - contrary to popular belief - creating and developing a good opposite (the antagonist doesn't have to be a villain after all), to a hero/heroine is not an easy task.

Thankfully Fate/Zero takes its cues from shows like Baccano!, and the lack of a lead role is actually a boon to the series as it allows multiple perspectives to come to the fore. Each of the participants in the war for the Holy Grail is effectively the antagonist of one or more of the other combatants, and all of the players bounce around the plot like peas on a drum - colliding into each other and changing their directions, alliances and enemies in the blink of an eye. It's a rarely used and fascinating approach to character development that highlights in particular the ever-changing nature of the battlefield. One big plus is that while the first season was rather staid in its portrayal of the heroes, the second half of the story pulls very few punches - showing clearly the lengths to which several of the combatants will go in order to win, opening the scars of old wounds, and ensuring that the viewer knows exactly what everyone has put on the line for the ultimate prize.

Over the years there have been many anime that have changed focus and tone from one season to the next, but rarely does it happen in the space of one series. The reason for this is because it's often extremely difficult to reconcile what may eventually turn out to be conflicting portrayals of the story and characters - and therein lies the greatest achievement of Type-Moon, Ufotable, and author Urobuchi Gen. The successful blending of two different perspectives has created a remarkable story that isn't afraid to show off its intelligence or maturity, and the second half of Fate/Zero successfully builds upon the carefully laid foundations of the first season - even with the increase in action and combat.

Prequels are often tricky to deal with as they are very easy to get wrong, which is one of the reasons why this series is a little bit special. In addition to shedding new light on the events that occur in Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero is also a singular example of just how good seinen action tales can be, and a testament to the quality that can be achieved through long-term studio collaborations.

9/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
9/10 characters
9/10 overall
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Story:

Quite driven throughout the entire series. Plenty of plot twists in the story that changes the nature of the show.

Animation:

Absolutely strong throughout the series. From interaction between characters, fight scenes, and precious moments, the show does a great job of displaying them with detail.

Sound:

Appropriate settings between the intimate moments among characters. Music is good overall.

Characters:

Perhaps the strongest trait of the show. All characters have the potential to be very relatable and likeable with a well written background and overall character development.

Overall:

The "best" among the entire series for its well developed characters and overall beautiful visual appeal.

8/10 story
9/10 animation
8/10 sound
9/10 characters
9/10 overall
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First, this isn't a review, it's an analysis.  Therefore, there will be a lot of spoilers.  Also, this analysis will cover both seasons.  

Fate/Zero is a Japanese anime series written by Gen Urobuchi, adapted from a Light Novel series which he also wrote, and produced by Studio Ufotable.  It serves as a prequel to the original Fate/stay night Visual Novel, possessing prequel material for all three routes, but also having plenty of material to be it’s own stand alone work.  My issue with a lot of prequels has always been that they seem to exist solely for the sake of the prequel, without having any merits of their own; however, Fate/Zero stands alone perfectly, so even if you never watch any of the Fate/stay night animes or play the Visual Novel, you’ll still feel like you’ve been given a worthwhile experience.  

Fate/Zero tells the story of the Fourth Holy Grail War, a grand scale conflict where seven Mages, known as Masters, summon seven Servants to do battle for the Holy Grail, a mythical wish granting device said to grant any wish of whichever Servant and/or Master that wields.  The only way to get the Grail to fully manifest, however, if for a battle royale to take place where only the winner prevails, and everyone else dies.  

The main characters in Fate/Zero come in two categories.  The Masters and the Servants.  The Masters are Mages hand picked by the Holy Grail itself to take part in the war, and can range from an assassin, to a priest, to a serial killer.  And there’s the Servants which are the resurrected spirits of such great heroes as King Arthur and Alexander the Great.  Each Heroic Spirit is summoned to one of seven Servant Classes, those being Saber, Rider, Archer, Lancer, Caster, Berserker, and Assassin, and each one possessing certain skills and abilities not only attributed to the class they’ve been given, but also to the specific Heroic Spirit in question, so it works very much like an RPG.  Each Servant also possesses a Noble Phantasm, which works like an ultimate attack; each Noble Phantasm is unique to the Heroic Spirit, and was brought upon because of something they owned in their life, such as King Arthur’s Excalibur.  

There are many battles in Fate/Zero, which to be honest, from the intensity combined with the animation on tier with most anime films, are better than any Shounen action battles I’ve ever seen, but Fate/Zero isn’t about the battles themselves.  One of it’s biggest benefits is the lack of a main character like most anime, and most stories in general.  There are certain characters that are given more focus later on, such as Kiritsugu during episodes 18 and 19, and Saber during episode 11 and during the series finale.  Everyone has different agendas, motivations, and personalities, and the anime makes it clear that there’s no right way to win the war.  It becomes less about a clash between good and evil, like is so common in today’s fiction, and more like a clash between ideologies, with each character having either slightly different or drastically different ideals, including both the Masters and their Servants.  

A big theme in Fate/Zero is the theme of chivalry, and what it means to be a hero.  Do you become a hero of justice, upholding your codes of honor and fight for what’s right?  Do you take all the bloodshed on your own shoulders like a dark lone wolf?  Because the characters are so well written, it’s entertaining enough to see how the cast interacts with each other due to their own opposing ideology.  Some Master Servant combos become instant friends, some hate each other when they’re forced to work together, and others form secret alliances.  Every character is given a purpose and becomes a part of an intricate web of relations with every other character that just makes every interaction all the more interesting, not to mention the way they develop over the course of the show.  

There are some standout characters however, my personal favorite, which seems to be an unpopular opinion, being Saber.  I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t be opposed to watching an anime where she is the main character.  Hell, it could be similar to the hilarity shown during Shirou’s and Rin’s date during Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works and I’d be happy, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.  Don’t worry, there’s plenty more, much deeper reasons why I love Saber’s character, but I’ll get more into that later on int his analysis when I go deep into spoilers.  

Despite the great characters and complex themes, as I stated before, Fate/Zero does have it’s share of heart pounding, epic battle scenes, with some of the best animation I’ve ever seen in TV anime.  The movement never stops during fights, and the fluidity is orgasmic to the eyes.  This is all aided by a sound track by the amazing Yuki Kajura that does great to get your heart racing and helps the tension to rise, especially when it’s clear that a character you like is on the defensive during the fights, and of course does a fantastic job of giving the show a grand scale and epic feel during it’s high points, which it does by using the oldest trick in the book and adding an epic quire to the soundtrack during these moments.  

Fate/Zero is a rare breed of anime, as it defies the traditional tropes you’ll normally find in the medium such as having one dimensional, archetypal characters, having random, pointless fanservice everywhere, redefining what it means to be a hero, and also being set in a universe where not a single character has anything to do with high school.  No, seriously, if there’s one word that you can use to describe Fate/Zero it’s “mature.”  All the characters, barring one, are fully grown adults--and even the one that isn’t is more mature than you’d probably expect him to be, especially considering his personality--and the show never assumes that you’re stupid.  The tactics used are actually as smart as the ones portrayed in shows like Code Geass, but it’s done in a much more subtle way, and is done in such a way to make the story look like an epic mind game.  

It’s really difficult for me to find genuine faults with this anime.  From the amazing characters, to the interesting themes, to the incredible animation, appealing art, epic music, heart pounding battle scenes, and one of the best finales in anime, Fate/Zero is truly a masterpiece, and is the closest thing to perfection that I’ve ever seen in the medium.  

The are flew flaws I can really pinpoint.  Most people hated the first episode for being primarily a 40 minute info dump, save for the summoning that FINALLY occurred at the end.  However, this didn’t bother ME so much, because I was interested in almost every single line of dialogue uttered.  However, there are a few plot holes in the show that should be mentioned.  First, I’d like to know how Kiritsugu Emiya received his command spells.  We know for a fact that the Holy Grail itself personally chooses each Master for the war, and that a member of the Einzberns is always chosen, being one of the three founding families, but instead Kiritsugu was chosen to represent them.  In the first episode we get a hint that Zouken Matou has a method to train a Mage so the grail will notice certain Mages, which he used on Kariya Matou so that he would be chosen, but we never learn what that method was.  And even so, due to the disputes between the three major families, would the Einzberns even be willing to use the same method as the Matous?  Did the Holy Grail choose Kiritsugu simply because the Einzberns chose him to represent their family?  Did they choose Kiritsugu because he was chosen by the Grail beforehand, and decide to just use that to their benifite, (even then, there’d be the question of how an Einzbern wasn’t chosen in the first place)?  Are there ways to transfer command spells, and thus the right to participate in the war, from one Mage to another?  It brings up so many questions, that were never answered.  

Another plot hole, which is much more of a nitpick than the previous, arose first with an exchange of dialogue in episode 5 and again in episode 11, both times by the characters Saber and Rider.  In episode 5, Rider makes the comment that he never expected the great King of Knights to be a little girl.  In episode 11, Saber makes a comment about Rider’s Kingship.  These two exchanges lead us to believe that both of them knew about each other when they were alive.  It would make sense if King Arthur knew Alexander the Great, because the former lived during the late 5th Century and early 6th Century AD in all his stories and Alexander the Great lived from 356 BC to 323 BC; however, this also means that it wouldn’t make any sense the other way around.  The first thing I thought of was that maybe the Holy Grail gives all Servants information about all other Servants, but that can’t be the case, or else the desire for the Servants to keep their true identities hidden would be meaningless.  The only other thing I can think of would be that, in this universe, they existed during around the same time when they were alive, which would be fine, but it’s never really explained.  But again, a nitpick.  

Normally plot holes can really take me out of a story, this is one of the rare instances where none of them did, for two reasons:  one, because of how much overwhelmingly much that I enjoyed this show, and two, because all of it’s positives highly outweigh the negatives.  In the end, I’d be remissed if I gave this show anything lower than a 10/10.  Fate/Zero isn’t perfect, primarily because I don’t believe in perfection when talking about art, but it’s the closest you could possibly get, and to this day is my favorite anime of all time.  

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
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Best way to get back into anime after a period of HBO binging. Fantastic anime with everything you could ask for in entertianment, storytelling, and character development.  The only downside is realizing this is a sequel to Fate/Stay Night and being INCREDIBLY dissapointed with the original show...I will grind my way through it though. From respect XD. 

9/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
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Fate/Zero 2 is the concluding half to the Fate/Zero saga and one of the most entertaining seasons of any action anime ever. With a cast of fun characters, amazing animation, and some great fight scenes sprinkled throughout, as well as some of the most intense drama you could ask for, Fate/Zero 2 doesn’t screw around with conventions of the genre and instead carves out its own private niche from which many action anime would do good to analylze.

Fate/Zero 2 continues where the last season left off with the big battle between everyone and Caster raging in the river. It’s a visual spectacle, but doesn’t set the perfect tone for the rest of the series. Now, I am not going to detract anything from the tone of the show changing dramatically (the big action scene is the biggest of the series, it mellows out and becomes one on one battles the rest of the show) because this second season was supposed to be part of a single, full season. But the animation department wanted to beef Fate/Zero’s second half up so released it later because of that.

Despite that, the show is not as action heavy as it is made out to be. The series has some excellent action sequences, but hits its stride more so during moments of intense drama than fighting. None of the fight scenes are particularly memorable but for the final one between Kiritsugu and Kirei which I found to be very well done. The rest are good, but never anything you’ll talk about later. Meanwhile, the sequences of intense drama are so much more involving and, especially in later episodes, they leave you at the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen next. These scenes are very brutal both emotionally and violence-wise. Anybody who has seen episode twenty-four concerning Kiritsugu, his wife, and his daughter know exactly what I am talking about and probably had their mouths agape, as did I, during that scene.

This season expands on Kiritsugu’s past through two episodes that don’t really fit in at all. While I appreciate the thought of adding that extra layer to Kiritsugu’s already badass character, the placement in the middle of the season was not particularly smart and broke things up too much. On top of that, the two episodes were probably the weakest of the twelve of the season. They weren’t bad, but they were average. I could see them as OVA’s more so than part of the series proper.

One thing I can appreciate about Fate/Zero as a whole is the fact it is brutal and unapologetic about it. It is a series with a fairly adult tone and kills characters you grow to like without giving us a long drawn out monologue or something of the like to see him/her go. Probably the one episode that will always come to me when I think Fate/Zero is the one where Kayneth is in a wheelchair and has given his command spells to Sola. This was an episode that had the drama down, it had brutal execution, and it reminded me that I was watching a no-nonsense anime. And that is truly what I appreciate from this series is the fact it doesn’t treat me like a child and announce everything going on, it doesn’t slow down to have characters talk about their pasts and teach lessons. While it does have these elements, they aren’t the slow going you expect from action series. The clip is fast enough to keep you interested.

As I said in my previous review of Fate/Zero, I love the wide array of very distinct personalities the series provides and the way they play off each other. That is one of the strong suits of Fate/Zero, if not the greatest strength of the show. No two characters are alike and none are just cookie-cutter or cardboard. While some are weaker than others, they are distinct, and those distinctions are what drives the series forward.

For those looking for a huge finale, you will be sorely disappointed. The final two episodes are very, very good but, other than a maybe five minute fight between Kirei and Kiritsugu, there is no real physical combat. As far as wrapping everything up goes, the series does a great job and, as this is the prequel to Fate/StayNight, it does lead into that series quite nicely.

Overall I find it hard to mention anything new that I did not mention in my previous review. This series is distinct, and that is something that I like. It is not moe, it is not a high school drama. It is something different with a lot of adult tones that gives it that edge that many fans of anime want. While it is not in any way perfect, it--to me--recalls my time watching Ghost in the Shell when I was surrounded by intelligent characters, an interesting world, and a lot of good drama with the occasional sprinkling of action sequences. That’s just me though.

 Dark, haunting, dramatic, and brutal, Fate/Zero is an excellent anime that I’m sure will be popular for many years to come.

?/10 story
?/10 animation
?/10 sound
?/10 characters
8/10 overall
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