Fate/Zero

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FalseDawn's avatar By FalseDawn on Feb 27, 2012

Story

In the Internet Generation, the word “epic” gets bandied about a lot, but once in a blue moon, a series comes along to remind us of the way we used to use it before computers came along. Odysseus defeated the warriors of Troy, then spent a decade at sea trying to get home; Dante scrabbled around in the nine circles of Hell; a party of hobbits took a gold ring to some volcano somewhere for some reason... and now, the battle lines are drawn for another venture into Fuyuki City as seven mystical titans of history fight for the prize of the Holy Grail, an omnipotent entity that can grant the bearer its deepest desires.

Okay, so that may be overstating it slightly, but ufotable has elevated this storyline from merely interesting (as witnessed in its decidedly inferior predecessors Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works) into an event. The premise is not only outlined at great length for viewers new to the franchise, but also illuminates the setting and mythos for more seasoned fanboys. For instance, before Fate/Zero, I never even suspected that Ilya wasn't actually human but was, at least in part, a created species called a homunculus. With this new information, the endings of both previous Fate incarnations made way more sense. My overall sensation was one of a fog lifting over the whole Type-Moon setting and finally seeing the franchise at its peak. We are now seeing what Fate is truly capable of.

And boy, was it worth the wait. In essence, Fate/Zero is a multi-genred title, peppering scenes bordering on slice of life (usually when Rider's out shopping) with enthralling stratagems, conspiracies and well-choreographed fight scenes. Due to its billing as the battle royale to end all battle royales, a lot of focus is given over to the formation and dissolution of alliances, which again, certainly isn't new to the franchise, but is done a whole lot better in F/Z. And it has to be, because the true strength of this series comes from its diverse characterisation and multi-faceted philosophies. What elevates this above being a simple fighting series are the interludes between battles where the characters interact and grow and create new modi operandi from their situations.

The flaw in this, though, is that Fate/Zero becomes more of a slow-burn action serial. There are times when the conversations seem endless (usually the ones between Tohsaka Tokiomi and Kotomine Kirei) and it's worth noting that by the end of the thirteenth episode, only one Master and Servant have been eliminated from the Grail War, which seems a little unbalanced for the battle royale concept. Luckily, the fight scenes, even though few-and-far-between, are entertaining and the sheer precision of the choreography is striking. Ultimately, the success of Fate/Zero is the way that it hides the fact that there are very few actual “fights-to-the-death” – proving that you don't have to have a colossal seven-way fisticuffs in order to provide a memorable scene. In fact, all it takes is a boisterous giant of a man buying a t-shirt with the words “Master Strategist” plastered across it.


Animation

As with most recent series, this is becoming an increasingly difficult section to score for one important reason: inconsistency. The character designs are well-realised with returning characters taking on new dimensions (such as Saber and the importance of her armour, not to mention the shimmering cloak of air she has around her sword to hide its true form) as well as new characters who are more than a match for their more recognisable counterparts. Caster and his master, Ryuunosuke Uryuu, are notable examples, where the grotesquery of their appearances complements their actions perfectly.

However, in later episodes, the decline in artwork is noticeable, with characters' faces dissolving into the sum of their parts rather than displaying a whole. At one point,Riderlooks more like a Klingon than a human – but later in the same episode, there's an awe-inspiring battle with literally thousands of warriors, seemingly overcoming the earlier art issues. Unfortunately, this is another one of those times where lack of funding has affected the art of a series. This happened in a thirteen episode stint, so ufotable's decision to split the series into two halves (the second airing in April, presumably after more funding has been sought) is nothing short of inspired.

Other than this quibble though, scenes are crisp and the use of noticeable CG (everything's CG these days so I'm talking about the parts that have flying gloop balls known as Reality Marbles) is fairly seamless. There's little variety in setting but when there is a change in environment, we're transported immediately there by the art, whether it's a desert, a sea at the ends of the Earth or simply a garden at night-time. The fight scenes in particular are also well-judged with even the minutest of details and movements being highlighted for the viewers' tantalising enjoyment. The first battle between Saber and Lancer oozes the artistic and you'd have to go a long way to find a better animated battle anywhere in the anime world.


Sound

Each scene in Fate/Zero uses its music to blend in with the action, meaning that, while there's no stand-out tune that becomes synonymous with the series, there's also nothing that seems out of place. There's a variety to the background score that does elevate the series above the usual fare – the use of choral voices, then a thumping techno beat and then a swirling whirlwind of strings within a few minutes should sound schizophrenic but oddly, every switch of genre seems natural. The sheer mix of inspiration from the classical to traditional Japanese music and even stretching into African tribal beats is a true treat for the ears.

The opening and ending songs are inspirational in the sense that they sound epic, as if they were a call to war, which is all the more impressive when you consider that the vocalist sounds as though she's just graduated J-Pop University. The instrumentation of the opening in particular is technically astounding and as with the rest of the series, is a jumble of different genres melded together to make a successful whole.

Where the series really scores points though are the voice actors. From the insane ramblings of Caster, to the earth-shaking laugh of Rider and the naïve but self-assured voice of Saber, every character has the perfect accompanying voice. The voice actors convey as much emotion (or lack of, in some cases) as any I've seen across the anime spectrum and there is not a single character who can be singled out for letting the side down. In a cast as vast as Fate/Zero's, that's pretty spectacular.


Characters

Good characterisation consists of two qualities: diversity and depth. Fate/Zero has huge vats of both and definitely isn't afraid to show it, with a whole gamut of characters that'd even have Baccano! quaking in its boots. The Fate universe has always had the complicated conundrum of pitting well-known historical figures against each other, and while previous incarnations have failed at this, F/Z raises the bar through the roof. Whole histories are explored and become vital to the characters in a variety of differing ways – the fact that there are three Kings among the Servants, for instance, becomes a pivotal nugget of characterisation when all three sit down for a drink and a chat.

But it goes beyond that. I could witter on endlessly about the philosophies thrown up by each character and about their differing moral codes, but the real crux of the matter is that all the characters seem real. Every action they make is realistic. Every character acts and reacts according to their deep-seated beliefs as well as to their stature. Archer is portrayed as being constantly bored, which is consistent with his background as a king who owned pretty much everything. Rider has an innate desire to conquer, unsurprising for a Macedonian king whose empire encompassed most of the known world. Even Ryuunosuke Uryuu, Caster's master, who is fairly anonymous next to his bug-eyed Servant for most of the series, has a crucial moment where he explains his motivations to an extent that we can understand what has driven him to take such pleasure in torturing and killing his victims. This is all done without any false sympathy or overdone dramatics, but simply by understanding the relationship between cause and effect and how a person's mindset affects everything they say and do.

Having said that, some characters are more likeable than others and luckily, the directors spotted what a scene-stealer they had in Rider. His pairing with a wimpy teen with self-confidence issues only heightens his affability factor, and I think it's fair to say that, even among the goliaths inhabiting Fuyuki City, Rider stands head and shoulders above the rest.


Overall

It is my belief that Fate/Zero has set a new standard in the action genre. Never has there been an ensemble as well-developed as this and for that reason, the series is littered with memorable scenes. The fight scenes admittedly take a long time to arrive but when they do, they're stunningly produced. But above all, F/Z understands the concept of consequences: Everything has a consequence – when Saber's arm is injured in a fight with Lancer, it's still a hindrance to her a dozen episodes later. Compare that to Bleach where each energy-sapping fight-to-the-death is followed quickly by another one with the protagonists apparently regaining their strength in the short time between them (at least Dragonball Z had the decency to invent senzu beans) and you quickly see why Fate/Zero comes out on top.

The major point I'll take away from this series though, is the fact that, despite knowing King Arthur is really a guy and despite knowing Alexander the Great is of much shorter stature, the world Fate/Zero invokes is believable in its entirety and considering how important suspension of belief is to both the fantasy genre and the supernatural genre, it just goes to show that this series knows exactly what it's doing.

8/10 story
7/10 animation
8/10 sound
10/10 characters
9/10 overall
Uriel1988's avatar By Uriel1988 on Jan 12, 2012

Fate/Zero had some big shoes to fill. Based on a series of light novels that serve as a prequel to one of the most beloved visual novels of all time, animated by Studio ufotable – which has proven itself deft at adapting Type-Moon material with their fine work on Kara no Kyoukai – and with a soundtrack composed by none other than Yuki Kajiura; it's no surprise that fans were ecstatic in their anticipation. Hype is of course a dangerous thing, known to backlash horribly when it spins out of control.

Which makes it a relief that Fate/Zero is quite good. Great, even.

For the uninitiated: Fate/Zero is an urban fantasy action series set in the fictional Japanese city of Fuyuki. A modern day setting where magecraft exists and is acknowledged. The story chronicles the first half of an event called the 4th Holy Grail War: a contest of elimination where seven mages (dubbed 'Masters') each summon an ancient spirit (dubbed 'Servants') into the physical realm with the objective of fighting other contestants until only one remains. The winner is allowed access to the Holy Grail: an artifact of incredible power said to be capable of granting any wish.

It is within the Holy Grail War that we follow a wide range of characters: seven Masters, seven Servants as well as a number of supporting characters, most of whom with a connection to the Masters, be it spouse, mentor or assistant. The show handles its large cast of characters remarkably well: there's a lot of diversity and complexity in the personalities, motivations, designs and abilities showcased. Furthermore, the characters feel human: meaning that they can sometimes do terrible or stupid things, but there's always an idea of where they're coming from. This is because of solid world building in the earlier episodes where it's shown that the mage culture is highly elitist and traditional. Especially emphasized is the treatment of women: they're seen as little more than tools to produce heirs, and arranged marriages are very common. Some might view this as misogynistic, but the show does not glorify or endorse these practices in the slightest, though some women are happier in the circumstances than others.

The great characters inhabit an equally stellar narrative. Magic battles and Highlander-esque contests of elimination are certainly nothing new, but the plot twists tired conventions in clever and often brutal ways. Noteworthy is how Fate/Zero handles the action. Battles are not won by believing in your friends or having willpower, instead victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat through planning, cunning and intelligent use of one's abilities and resources. Kiritsugu Emiya, protagonist and anti-hero to the core, embodies this; and his stunningly vicious pragmatism – which masks a sadness of a man who wishes to better the world by any means necessary - is just one of Fate/Zero's many deviations on the usual clichés. The storyline and characters work in tandem to create a truly gripping action series. One that drives home a very important point: action scenes get better when characters you care about are in the fight, and you can understand why they're fighting.*

Not everything about the storytelling is wonderful, though. The show ends on a massive cliffhanger  and has no continuation at the time of writing though it is in production. A bigger problem is that there's a lot of exposition in the story's calmer periods. While helpful, it's often delivered in a clunky way. The show is often guilty of something that's referred to as ''As You Know''-dialogue, where one characters reiterates information to another that both of them already know. Moreover, the composition of these scenes is awkward at times. Absolute low point is the first episode in which a Master in training is receiving instructions from 2 people who, while doing so, are walking in circles. One could make a case for how it's supposed to symbolize the fact that they're trying to indoctrinate him, but the whole thing just looks incredibly silly. The saving grace is that the dialogue itself is consistently interesting, be it a discussion about how society defines one's ethics, a character expressing his self-doubt or a Servant's thunderous proclamation of superiority before annihilating an opponent.

 Those familiar with ufotable's work on Kara no Kyoukai were confident that they would turn in good work for Fate/Zero, and these hopes weren't in vain. The visuals are of excellent quality across the board. The atmospheric environments and stunning action sequences in particular are a sight to behold. Though there are some visual blemishes in the form of conspicuous CGI here and there, including an entire character rendered in it. This last bit was supposedly an artistic choice on ufotable's part seeing as the character in question is described as feeling fundamentally alien, and while the actual CGI isn't bad but it's definitely not as fluidly animated as the hand-drawn visuals. The soundtrack isn't so extraordinary. Yuki Kajiura isn't quite as diverse as other acclaimed Japanese composers and it doesn't help that she didn't seem to bring her A-game for Fate/Zero. It's not a bad, but nothing that will have people itching to download it. The opening and ending themes, however, are both stellar.

 Fate/Zero has a lot to like in spite of a few downsides, and it comes together so marvelously that liking it is all the easier. The fascinating characters, gripping plot, wonderful animation and stunning battles make this an easy sell not just to action-junkies or Type-Moon fans, but to anyone craving an intense thrill-ride with a bit of extra bite to it.

 

 

* (It's almost sad that it bears mentioning that caring about characters and having a feel for what's at stake for them makes fights better. But hey, 'Gurren Lagann' and 'Baccano!' got away with lacking them so there you have it.) 

9/10 story
8/10 animation
7/10 sound
9/10 characters
8/10 overall
TheAnimeChick's avatar By TheAnimeChick on Aug 17, 2014

*This review is for the first season eps. (1-13)*

Because I have not watched Fate/Staynight or any others, I have nothing to compare Fate/Zero with and did not have any expectations for this show. It is fortunate that I did not have high expectations because I would have been seriously dissapointed.

 Overall the story is basic do to the extreme lack of detail or explanation for any of the events that are occuring. Seven people are chosen by the holy grail to compete in the Holy Grail War. The qualifications for being chosen by the grail are that the chosen have a wish that is worthy to be granted though the qualifications for the worthiness of the wish is never mentioned. Also not mentioned are most of the characters wishes. Each of the characters recieve a magical servant to fight for them in the Holy Grail War and the servants must fight each other for the grail. Each of the servants also have a wish that they want to be granted by the grail; these wishes are also not specified for most of the servants. This consistent lack of detail made the show very boring for me. I love to see a character passionately fighting for a worthy cause. All I really saw was characters fighting and even the fight scenes were less than impressive. Unless you have some prior knowledge (unlike myself), then you really have no idea what's going on until about the tenth episode. The story progressed little from the beginning. In the midst of the war, a servant and his master decide that they no longer care about the Holy Grail and instead just concentrate on getting God's attention by mass homicide of mostly children. The other servants are forced to put the war on hold and form an alliance to destroy the homicidal servant and master.

I must admit that the show had fairly good music for the fight scenes. I mean c'mon who doesn't love a face melting distorted guitar solo while your watching magical servants kill each other for a holy grail? It was very typical action music, but it added a little more intensity. There was also some unique animation on one of the servants named Berserker, which made him ghostly and added dimension to the animation.

However, the music and animation did not make up for what the show lacked in character development. To start there is no real protagonist. So, you didn't really know who you wanted to win. Lack of developement also added to this issue. However, the idea of the servants was very intruiging to me. The servants were spirits of past heroes, conquerors or kings. Among them were Alexander the Great, Gilgamesh, and King Arthur. Most of the servants were portayed very well by their characters, but once again the lack of developement in both the servants and their masters made it hard to pick favorites. 

In conclusion, I gave Fate/Zero season one a 5/10 and I am probably not watching the second season. If you like to watch shows with good music, a simple plot, and no character developement then you will love this show! If that is not what you like, don't waste your time.

5/10 story
10/10 animation
8/10 sound
7.5/10 characters
5/10 overall
noname0302's avatar By noname0302 on Aug 4, 2014

Fate/Zero is not yet one of the most known titles out there. I had nothing to do with the novels and didnt even see Stay Night before it. I just recently stumbled upon Fate/Zero and the story really looked interesting and the animations looked great. So why not?

This review will be at least objective because at the time I saw the series, I didnt have anything to compare is to plus it didnt have to live up to anything.

Story: perfect start. Nothing too special. Usually when the base plot is nothing extreme, just something a little supernatural put in a non-supernatural world, you get a recipe for a good anime. Good story, pretty weak ending though. Yeah, I know, after watching Stay Night its obvious why this is the ending, but still, its weak, its not worthy compared to all the other machinations that occur throughout the series. Also, to be honest, I didnt find the fight between the spirits to be anything special. Not bad, but Kiritsugus plans and background were way more interesting. 8.5/10

Characters: some of them were a bit too cliche, like the knight who kind of went overboard with the whole honor thing. Rider and his master were more so annoying than good for the series. Still, Kiritsugu was a great character and Kotomine the same. The 2 of them raise the quality of the characters portraid form mediocre cliches to awesome. 8.5/10

Animation: top quality. As I said before, I didnt really care much for the battle scenes, but the backgrounds look great! Fate/Zero has one of the best animation I have ever seen. The battles are coreographed weel enough and the magic also looks good. 9.5/10

Overall, were a bit let down by the weak ending, but the series was really interesting and Im probably part of the minority hear, but I found the first season to be way superior. The second season focuses mainly on the battles and those are not what make this anime really good. Its the main characters and their -lets just say the least- really interesting plans and motivations. 8.5/10

PS: Fate/Stay Night is nowhere near this in quality. Apparently they will redo Stay Night and thats a great plan

8.5/10 story
9.5/10 animation
?/10 sound
9.5/10 characters
8.5/10 overall
NatsuguTakeyo's avatar By NatsuguTakeyo on Sep 26, 2014

Hi, so we have anime Fate / zero, so therefore let's do it! :)
Fate / Zero anime is very unique for its story and idea .. The whole anime is actually happening because of the battle for the Holy Grail .. I am very excited about the idea that magicians can cause helpers and famous historical figures, but the more I will not suggest it .. i'm sure after watching the anime to search on film Fate / Stay Night & that this series ended. :) This is a very exciting and action anime but also very funny :). So, it only remains to me to wish you a pleasant spectacle to keep :)
And do not forget to follow me :P

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