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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fate/Zero is a strange subject to look at. It has a lot of weird qualities that don’t typically add up to the greatness that this show portrays. First of all, it’s the prequel to a rather poorly reviewed anime from about six years ago. On top of that, it follows a sort of shounen style of fighting where there is quite a bit of yapping when swords should be crossing. It’s also pretty slow to progress, with very few major fights taking place and very little accomplished by the end.
Fate/Zero is being praised highly and I can see why that is, but I don’t feel like it deserves that wholesome praise at this current point in time as it is the first season of what will probably a fairly long franchise (especially if it keeps the rather slow pace that this first season had). The story is about a Holy Grail War, essentially a tournament to get a wish from the holy grail. It’s a fairly generic basis (fighting tournament) but this old plot device is injected with new blood through the use of familiars, or Heroes, who fight for the people going after the grail. These Heroes are all people from history, (examples include King Arthur, Gilgamesh, and Alexander the Great) and fight for their masters in epic clashes.
The familiars are led by mages. Some are from high ranking families, well known for entering the tournaments, some are from the Church (who also referees the tournament), some come from magic school. No matter where they come from though, each character is unique in their magic and their ways of going about things.
There is, as I said, not a lot of fighting in this first season. It’s a lot of character building, which is good and really provides excellent entertainment. The characters are all unique and the takes on history that the show provides are great. I was thoroughly impressed by the idea of King Arthur being a female. Some might think that that is just there to be used to pull horny guys in or for fan service (which, admittedly, I thought King Arthur was looking mighty fine in her armor) but the show doesn’t treat her like some sort of sexual object. She’s actually the best character of the show, believable both in actions and emotions, and the history does back up and assert this idea of a female King Arthur.
The best parts of the story are when some of the Heroes are put together and have discussions about their pasts and their ideologies. These portions also made me feel genuinely bad for some characters and hate others.
That’s the best part of this show is that there is good and evil, but there is also a big gray area where you can either say yes you hate a character, or no you think he or she is great. Many of the characters are in that gray area where you have no idea of their true intentions or whether you should root for them or hate them. Truly, for me, the only clear good guys were Saber (King Arthur’s Heroic name) and Irisviel. And even then, I have my own reservations about Irisviel. The fact that the anime has all these characters and you can have huge discussions with your friends about whether a character is a good guy or a bad guy is a real selling point here.
Some minor problems with the story do include the fact that not a whole lot happens. There are a few deaths, but a lot of the fighting just results in a character being hurt bad, as if the writers are scared of killing someone. The terminology is occasionally silly as well, concerning the Heroic Spirits. It sounds like something out of an RPG. But otherwise there is not a lot of bad things to say about the plot. It’s an overused idea that comes across as fresh thanks to the Heroic Spirits.
One of my favorite parts about the series is the animation. It’s heavily detailed and the characters are easily distinguishable. I mean, look at this single picture:
The level of detail in the background is scary. I can point out the copies of Ringworld and the copy of Cryptonomicon sitting on the shelf. That’s goddam horrifying, and not just because I know the spines of books that well. It’s also horrifying that you can detail animation that well.
As you may have guessed, I loved the variety of characters and the fact that they were hard to guess as either bad or good. I seriously loved Saber, who has to be one of the most badass women ever. My reasoning behind liking Irisviel is due to her seeming innocence and the fact she has a family. But she seems to be hiding something, though what is may be is never discussed. On top of that, her husband, who I found to be pretty badass, seems to cheat on her and treats her like crap. This just goes to prove my point about the characters.
That’s why I love this show so much: because you know who most of these characters are pretty well, but the glaring mysteries of their true intentions makes you scared to like them. There are only a few characters who you can truly say are good or bad. And except for Saber, those characters just aren’t all that exciting. And the fun thing about this, as I said, is you can argue with me or against me and it’s okay because the characters are complex enough that you can have those discussions. You can bond with one or many of the characters.
Fate/Zero is a somewhat slow start to the series, but it does provide a cadre of characters that are so exciting and fun to watch, a plot that is old yet new, writing that is fresh, intelligent, and entertaining. It’s the start of something big, something I personally hope won’t end, especially if it keeps the quality that is being displayed in this first season. There is so much to love here, it’s hard to explain to a T just how well done this first season is. If I were to categorize it, I would probably call it Intelligent Shounen. It has all those shounen elements, but maintains a level of class that very rarely displayed in other shows of its genre.
Give Fate/Zero a watch. I think you’ll like it.
*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.
Overall I am very satisfied with Fate/Zero. I have been looking for a solid anime with an interesting story and complex characters.
Ever since I watched FMAB I have been looking for something with the same type of "substance" and Fate/Zero did not disappoint.
Type-Moon have made a habit of finding success with their dark blend of magic and supernatural elements in modern day settings, but with the release of the Fate/Stay Night visual novel on the PC in 2004, the developer seemed to have found its flagship title. Unfortunately things never really work out the way people expect, and while Studio Deen's 2006 anime adaptation of the "Fate" storyline was well received by fans, many who were unfamiliar with the source material found it all a bit ... juvenile.
At the end of 2006 the developer began collaborating with Nitroplus in order to create a prequel light novel series, but this time the story was penned by the relatively unknown Urobuchi Gen (with Type-Moon co-founder Takeuchi Takashi providing illustrations). Set ten years before the events in the visual novel, Fate/Zero chronicles the events leading up to and during the fourth Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City, Japan - the same place where the battle will be held in Fate/Stay Night. After three successive failures in the contest, the Einzbern family recruits the notorious mercenary Emiya Kiritsugu, also known as the "Mage Killer" - a man who is willing to use whatever means are necessary to realise his goals.
Meanwhile, the other principal magic families - Matou and Tohsaka - are preparing for the coming conflict, and although the church is taking part as well, they have also sent someone to assist the Tohsaka family - Kotomine Kirei.
At first glance it may seem as though Fate/Zero is just another action anime, but nothing could be further from the truth. The series has a very different tone than either Fate/Stay Night or Unlimited Blade Works, and in many ways it has more in common with the dark, brooding atmosphere of the Kara no Kyoukai movies. That said, the series does assume that the viewer has some familiarity with the franchise, but this is balanced by a much tighter plot than that of either of its predecessors, and more focus on preparation, planning, and even dialogue between the different parties. The result is that the narrative has far more depth and structure than one might expect in a supernatural action anime, and there are layers of subtext that are gradually added as the series progresses.
One of the most noticeable aspects of Fate/Zero is that it's a far more mature story than the original visual novel or its adaptations, and unlike many other shows, there are very few occasions where the characters engage in pointless conflicts or endeavours. The series carefully tries to avoid insulting the viewer's intelligence by adopting a patient, methodical build-up to the action set pieces, and on many occasions the story focuses on information gathering and planning. In addition to this, the battle lines shift constantly as the combatants form short-term alliances in order to counter the moves of other opponents, but there's always the understanding that the foundation of these is nothing more than "the enemy of my enemy".
In truth, this anime has far better examples of tactics and strategy than anything found in Code Geass, and certain plots are Machiavellian enough to give Death Note a run for its money.
When it comes to production values, Fate/Zero could be considered the final evolution of everything Type-Moon and Ufotable have learned from each other during their long collaboration on the Kara no Kyoukai franchise. The series looks every bit as good as one might expect, and the darker colour palette is offset by the high standard of animation. That said, although the action sequences are fluid and very well choreographed, the real testament to the quality of Ufotable's work are the subtle differences in the way the characters move.
While there are plenty of new faces in this prequel, it's actually the design of recurring characters like Sabre that really sets the standard. Fate/Stay Night's popularity turned her into one of the most iconic female leads in anime, but while she may appear to be exactly the same in Fate/Zero, there's an edge to her features and a preciseness to her movements that was missing in the original series. This fact is also true for the characters that are unique to this show, and even Tohsaka Rin's "adventure" has been given the same level of care and attention to detail.
The series opens with a well choreographed sequence that blends action with a montage of the main participants in the Holy Grail War, all set to the rather pacey rock song "Oath Sign" by LiSA. Each episode closes with "Memoria" by Eir Aoi, a bittersweet rock ballad that fits well with the images of the heroic spirits as pieces on a game board and at moments in their own history. Fate/Zero also has one of the most diverse scores in a 13 episode anime, with martial themes, operatic pieces, strange little tunes with drums or pianos as the major instrument, and more besides. The audio effects or of a very high quality, and the clash of steel on steel is as sharp and clear as the sound of the lightning whenever Rider makes a dramatic appearance.
One of the areas where Fate/Zero excels is the dialogue, and while there are occasions where conversations go on a bit too long, the script is intelligently written, rational, and insightful. One of the best examples of this is Rider's discourse on the true nature of kingship and Saber's reaction to it, but even that is nothing more than words on paper as everything lies in the delivery - so it's a good thing that the acting is of a high standard.
Kawasumi Ayako reprises her role as the King of Knights (Saber/Arturia) from Fate/Stay Night and Unlimited Blade Works, but her performance here is markedly different. Her portrayal of Saber is colder, deadlier, and far more focused than before, while Tomokazu Seki's performance as the King of Heroes (Archer/Gilgamesh), is more arrogant, more proud. That said, it's Ootsuka Akio in the role of the King of Conquerors (Rider/Iskander), who really steals the show, and his testosterone-fuelled proclamations and battle-born wisdom are one of the pillars that support the series.
When it comes to development, a large group of characters often means that some will undoubtedly fall by the wayside. Fate/Zero neatly sidesteps the entire issue of development because it's first and foremost a prequel of an existing story, but in addition to this the series has created a set of individuals who leave extremely strong impressions on the viewer, and much like Baccano!, there is a distinct lack of a true main character. Because of these factors the series can focus on showing how each of the combatants became what they are, and this plays a major part in one's enjoyment of the anime.
The emphasis on characterisation rather than development allows for a remarkable degree of definition, and although it's ultimately the personalities of each individual that captures the viewer's attention, standing at the top of them all is the King of Conquerors - Rider. His addition to the franchise has been nothing short of a revelation, and while die-hard fans will continue to worship the ground that Saber and Archer (not Gilgamesh, the other one), walk on, Rider's enjoyment of life, his exuberance and almost boyish eagerness for battle and glory, have captured the imaginations of many fans.
In many respects he, more than any other character, is the epitome of the heroes of old, but simply having a bunch of overzealous combat junkies beating each other to a pulp isn't really entertainment (unless you have an IQ equal to your shoe size), so there has to be something to balance it - and there is. Each of the mages taking part in the Holy Grail War is more like a chessmaster, planning as many moves ahead as possible, whilst preparing themselves for anything their opponents may try.
The simple fact is that Fate/Zero wouldn't work as either a story or entertainment if it was just the mages or the heroes, and it's this aspect of the series that separates it from not just its predecessors, but also many other action anime out there.
Unfortunately it's not all sweetness and light.
One of the main criticisms of this series is the episode about the young Tohsaka Rin, which many people found unnecessary. Now although there's some truth to that perception, one could also have the opinion that Rin's actions tie-in to an event in the previous episode, and together they lead up to the end of the series. Both are fair arguments, but in all honesty the whole thing doesn't really fit with the rest of the anime, and it seems like nothing more than an attempt to allow Matou Kariya some long overdue screen-time.
Fate/Zero isn't a perfect show, but while it does have several minor issues (and one "filler" episode), it does exactly what it sets out to do - capture the attention of the audience and make them want more. The story is intelligent, and while conversations and discussions can sometimes feel a little tedious, the dialogue is often quite interesting - moreso than the show's predecessor's anyway. Although the series can boast stylish, fast-aced action set-pieces, it also studiously avoids combat for the sake of gratuitous violence.
That said, Fate/Zero is still a prequel series, and at this point only half of the story has been told. Unfortunately the anime industry has a habit of messing things up, but given the quality of this show, the fact that the original story was written by Urobuchi Gen, and the knowledge that the series is being produced by Type-Moon's long time collaborators - Ufotable, fans can be cautiously optimistic about the second installment.
All we can do is wait and see ...