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 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.)
I loved this anime. It brings into play old classic characters (king arthur, alexander the great) and puts a spin on it to the modern day ( The 90's i mean) i like it cause the character are well developed and some just attatch to you
Fate Zero is many things. It is one of if not the prettiest anime out there. It has some of the best characters. It has an interesting premise with a compelling enough narrative to demand you devour it in one or two sittings. It also, unfortunately, is tethered to a terrible series which holds it back from being a legendary title.
Fate Zero cuts right to the chase: Seven mages with historic, legendary spirits as their servants are competing in an all out battle to the death for the Holy Grail- A relic which can grant the winners wish. It is a fairly simple concept and the plot is entirely limited to the tournament but the series does a magnificent job of conveying the scope of this event so it ends up feeling epic, as it well should.
The beginning is mostly build up, though personally this didnt bother me as I wanted to get to know the characters before they started to drop and there was plenty of action sprinkled in. Anyone who disliked the small bodycount however will be satisfied with the second season which very much resembles a vastly superior Basilisk, where anyone can die at any moment.
The world is pretty interesting and even the most bizarre elements are handled gracefully- Never jarring you into disbelief. However despite how great the story is it is not without its faults. Some of the magical concepts and rules are not properly explained and just thrown in the viewers face which can be confusing such as the rules to maintaining a servant in the world, the concept of a grail vessel, the conditions for winning, and that all the servants dont need to die to activate the grail- Just a particular ritual. In the last two episodes this is particularly apparent as some things that dont even make sense after an internet search occur.
Anyone who sees this and thinks it looks bad is lying.
This is where Fate Zero shines the most. Nearly every character has depth, in some cases surprisingly so, and even those with little prove entertaining or interesting. The pairings of the characters further enhance their qualities- some being paired with individuals utterly unlike themselves, extremely similar, or somewhere inbetween. In some cases the servant steals the show, in others it is the summoner, or they both stand out. In other words the lack of a formula is a huge strength. Furthermore oftentimes the summoners or servants will interact with one another, exchanging their ideals as well as blows- With which this cast is very interesting.
To name a couple of the primary characters we have:
Kirei- A terrible person and a character who if executed with less tact could have come off as completely unbelieveable. As it is his mindset, although very warped is clear and even understandable in that humans do need conflict.
Emiya- The protagonist done right. Too many times does the hero suceed simply by believing in his friends, himself, or simply because he is the good guy. Emiya is a the end justifies the means type guy- And while he isnt as extreme(or sociopathic) as say, Yagami Light, he commands the same attention and operates logically and is comfortable with manipulation as opposed to being the goody two shoes.
Saber- She isnt a great character due to he own merits so much as she is used to break the cliche. It would have been easy to tout her character as the noble and chivalrous archetype- Instead various characters poke her and her ideals full of holes which is a refreshing sight indeed.
Rider- Charismatic and downright awesome- which is amplified by his summoner being lacking. He is a genuinely friendly guy who is also ambitious and not afraid to voice his opinions.
Gilgamesh- Seemingly generic cocky antagonistic individual who proves to actually have an interesting personality and grows on you over time.
I must say that I was pleasantly surprised when I dug into Fate/Zero these last couple weeks. I say this, because from the outside it looks like a cheesy run-of-the-mill deathmatch over some coveted magical artifact. And well, that’s what it was. But this can be somewhat forgiven by its colorful cast of characters, most of whom become thoroughly fleshed out in the long run. *Please note this review covers both seasons (all 25 episodes).
It’s hard to say anything too bad about the show’s visuals. The characters looked great, and were well proportioned. Their costumes and overall designs were interesting enough to give all of the main characters a rather unique look, which is a fair feat for such a large cast of characters. What’s more, is that none of the hairstyles or designs were totally off the wall or implausible. Their looks worked. The backgrounds were nice to look at, and well designed. Every scene seemed to be drawn with care, and us snobbier viewers notice. The animation was great, none of the movements seemed poor or wonky, though the fights seemed to be rather lazy. For a death match, the action in the is show was subpar, and the choreography was lame. There was a lot of WHITE FLASH …the fight is over. The overall production values were great, but there were key moments that just felt lazy in comparison.
The show did well sound-wise as well, for sure. The OT’s were cool, even if not mind-blowing or memorable. The background music seemed a little absent, if I’m being honest. All of my favorite anime series have themes that relentlessly stick to my head even years after watching them, and I finished this show last night – and do not remember any BGM themes. The voice acting was great, though. The characters were very well emoted by their voice actors, and none of them were terribly corny or cheesy. The voice acting helped keep a duly mature feel to the show.
The story to this show was definitely one of its weak points. The premise is essentially absent. I mean, a deathmatch over a wish-granting devise? That’s about as basic and tired as premises get. When you find out more about said wish-granting devise, the story takes a twist, and provides a dubious, yet mature and well-founded ending. The pacing of the show was sometimes insufferable. There were obvious fillers (Rin’s episode, Waver’s Episode on the roof), and obvious gimmicks to draw it out more than it needed to be.
I mean, even though it was a death match, the champions spent more time partying together, stroking each others' egos, and macho talking, than they did actually fighting. And the early fights were all cheesy as hell. It kind of reminded me of the WWF where an outside party would come in and crack a chair over one of the fighter’s heads. Then another party would come in and attack that guy. F/Z did the same thing in the VERY FIRST FIGHT! It went from a Saber/Lancer duel, to a Mexican standoff featuring 6 of the 7 champions… …with none dying. It felt terribly forced. Some people may argue that you don’t want the show to be resolved in only a few episodes… and I agree, however this show did not handle their pacing tricks right. More time could have been spent in a cat-and-mouse, or information gathering, with the masters and servants trying to outmaneuver each other, rather than everyone just hanging out and battling when the writers decided it was damn-well time for them to. The severity of this death match felt harshly gimped by the fact that many of the characters did not even seem to take the match seriously in the least bit.
All I need to say about this show’s plausibility is that Archer and Berserker had a dog fight with enchanted fighter jets… Yeah. It was also annoyingly cheesy how Kiritsugu constantly recognized in the beginning that Kirei was his ultimate nemesis. If the fact that Crispin Freeman was voicing Kirei wasn’t a dead enough give away, the show repeatedly tells you he is the main antagonist. This automatically trivializes all other contestants, and again, strongly diminishes the severity of the interactions between them.
The class system of the servants seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever. Archer never touched a bow, and Assassin never even tried to assassinate anything. The class system just seemed like a shoddy gimmick to give a layer of depth or character to the servants, but it mostly resulted in just being unnecessary noise – it just didn’t add up to serve any purpose in battle, or in the story telling (except for maybe Berserker, and that felt rushed and out of left field). The characters’ past personalities dominated anything provided by their battle class, and the show probably would have been better off omitting such “classes” all together. Caster was a very simplistic villain who seemed to exist purely as an excuse to kill time, and have the servants work together to gang up on him.
The ending, while having felt a bit rushed, ultimately felt rather pleasing to me. A sort of bittersweet “no one wins” sort of situation felt right in the wake of the events leading up to it. It demonstrates the frailty of the main character’s judgment, and highlights his ignorance even despite the cool, calculated image given him throughout the whole series. Nothing went terribly right, and that suited this story just fine. It felt mature that the few survivors of the war were stuck sorting out their broken futures. I was incredibly disappointed with Kariya Matou’s conclusion. He had by far the most emotionally gripping story line, or at the very least the most tragic… and he becomes written off with little to no effort or meaning. It was horribly predictable writing that he would accomplish absolutely nothing in his endeavors. This fact made one of the better storylines boorish and forlorn.
This story is entirely character driven, for sure. While I think a healthy balance of plot-drives and character drives is ideal, I would say being overly character driven is by far the lesser of evils than stories that are entirely plot driven (like Attack on Titan). At the very least, it makes the story feel less fatalistic, and it makes the decisions made by the characters hold some sort of meaning and impact on the story’s progression.
So the characters had a very strong presence, controlling literally the entire story. What's more, is we are given plenty of details about nearly all of the characters' pasts, and circumstances. Some of it was kind of lame or boring, but it can still be appreciated that the large cast of characters were fleshed out as thoroughly as they were.
It can even be semi-excused that there was not a whole lot of character development. After all, the majority of characters were ancient heroes summoned for battle. It is understandable to not expect a whole lot of development from them. As for the masters, there was a little. Kiritsugu's epihpany at the end was just stupid. For a character so pragmatic, grounded, and clever, it really shouldn't have taken the core of a wish granting device to teach him that you can't save everyone. It just seemed like such a childish offset to the rest of his personality traits, his intellect, and his utilitarianism. It made an otherwise awesome anti-hero a bit of a pussy.
Likewise, Kirei Kotomine shaped up to be an awful villain. Apart from the fact that the show kept telling you he was the villain (despite it being a 7-way deathmatch), he started off very mysterious and interesting. His motives were truly unclear for most of the show (even to he, himself), and his "big" epiphany was just that he wanted to destroy everything? Really? He got off on the simple irony that he was an evil priest? Heck knows we've never seen one of them before. It was an incredibly disappointing development to say the very least.
The rest of the characters have their quirks, but are mostly well-placed in the series. Kariya Matou's story had a lot of untapped potential, but the show was painfully obvious that it was never going to be about him from the get-go. Maybe that's one flaw in the writing: If you're going to have a 7-way death-match, keep the outcome ambiguous, and let the viewer root for the party they choose (instead of ruling out 5 parties in the very beginning).
So Fate/Zero won't live to be one of my all-time favorites, and will honestly be an anime I mostly forget in time. Still, it felt worth my time to watch, though it's lack of action felt painfully dissonant within the premise of a death tournament. Any viewer who likes deep characters, and lots of quirky character interaction will surely find something to enjoy from watching.
Here are some excused scorings (thanks to Roriconfan for the template).
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (solid)
Character Figures 2/2 (well designed)
Backgrounds 2/2 (looks great)
Animation 1/2 (sometimes lazy)
Visual Effects 1/2 (sometimes great, sometimes cheesy flashes to resolve important fights)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (mostly mature and well acted)
Music Themes 2/4 (ok, but not memorable)
Sound Effects 2/3 (fine)
STORY SECTION: 3/10
Premise 0/2 (run of the mill)
Pacing 0/2 (slow)
Complexity 1/2 (some mature themes, but mostly just fighting for a wish-granting cup)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 2/2 (subtly mature)
CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (lots and lots)
Development 1/2 (some)
Catharsis 1/2 (weak, but there)
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 3/3 (very popular series)
Rewatchability 0/3 (pacing is too poor, too much slow and wasted content)
Memorability 2/4 (some interesting characters)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 7/10
Art 1/1 (looks good)
Sound 2/2 (solid)
Story 0/3 (hardly any to speak of)
Characters 3/4 (they are interesting)