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.