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  • In my own world of autistic imagery
  • Joined Apr 27, 2017
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Jan 8, 2018

Fate/Apocrypha: A Postmortem Review

Now that 2017 is drawing to a close, we can certainly say Fate/Apocrypha lived up to its name, given that this is an entirely unnecessary installment to view due to its poor quality. It is arguably the blandest, most forgettable installment in the Fate series, notable only for current memes and trends in the community, such as traps and the meme of lewding fictional characters, as well as for what it tried and failed to accomplish over the course of its run. Now before I delve into the review proper, allow me to answer some burning questions:

“Can Fate/Apocrypha be watched as a standalone?”
Yes, but I wouldn't recommend doing so, as you want to know the rules of the main Holy Grail Wars first that way you know how this deviates. It doesn't explain all of those rules either nor does it explain all of the new stuff it does despite some attempts. You should at least watch the main timeline installments to avoid possible confusion with this one. So no, do not make this your first, let alone only experience with Fate/ anime.

“Should I watch Fate/Grand Order: First Order beforehand?”
No. Pretend that abomination doesn't exist. It will not give you any insight into Apocrypha’s deviations either. All the entry does is cause confusion, not explain anything it adds or amends, and advertises a mobile game that contains all of the servants in the franchise.

“I'm a guy. Is it gay if I like Astolfo as my waifu?”
Yes it is and yes you are unless you're bi. Thankfully for you, he's bi too.

Fate/Apocrypha, otherwise known by me as Fate/Steak Sauce, was animated primarily by Studio A-1 Pictures, and to be honest, I feel it may have utterly destroyed itself under its lofty ambitions in a variety of ways, resulting in a relatively dull mess full of improperly explained new mechanics, logical errors and holes, a cornucopia of characters that are as bloated as they are uninteresting to the point of even beating out last year’s juggernaut dumpster fire Re:Zero, and lastly, arguably the worst production values ever given to a major A-1 Pictures show. It simply spread itself too thin, leading to a disappointment in nearly all aspects.

Before we really delve into why this show manages to be relatively disappointing in retrospect for me (as I was conditioned by footage and reception over the course of 23 weeks prior to my viewing of this failure to correctly assume this anime would be hovering around the subpar range at all times), how about we look at the one area Fate/Steak Sauce manages to somewhat excel in, that being the music. The composer, Masaru Yokoyama, did a rather decent job with the tracks present here such as its namesake track “Fate/Apocrypha”, among a few other catchy and epic battle tracks. Some of these tracks are rather memorable, for right and wrong reasons. Simply put, these standout tracks get played way too much, particularly “Fate/Apocrypha” and “Jack the Ripper”, the latter of which plays in over ⅔ of the scenes Jack the Ripper and her master, Reina RIkudou, are in. Another issue is that sometimes the music just gets cut off, and while that may work once in a blue moon like in episodes 6 and 17 when a character saves another from a deadly surprise attack, the rest of the time it comes off as sloppy and jarring. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the first OP, where it just cuts off instead of ending and lingering for half a second like it probably should.

Speaking of OPs, while OP1, "Eiyuu Unmei no Uta" is one of the weaker songs done by EGOIST, it is nonetheless as pretty good OP that works well given the nature of this show’s “Great Holy Grail War”. OP 2, "ASH", is one of LiSA’s strongest, rivaling, probably surpassing the band’s immensely popular SAO OP 1. This one feels like the perfect 2nd OP of a Light Novel action anime adaptation, which happens to be what LiSA’s songs are primarily used on with the likes of SAO, Mahouka, and Qualidea Code, and quite frankly, this is easily the catchiest LiSA OP to date for me. ED 1, "Désir" by GARNiDELiA, is a pretty decent track by this group as well, and of all the tracks I heard from her this year, this is arguably my favorite, but it certainly isn’t among my favorites she’s done. ED 2, "KOE" by ASCA, is absolutely astounding! If nothing else, Fate/Apocrypha has easily the best ED theme in the franchise to date, because this song is phenomenal, especially the full version! It fits perfectly for this kind of show as well in its 2nd cour too and the vocals are fantastic. I cannot wait to hear more songs from this group, and with this same studio releasing Grancrest Senki soon at the time of writing, I won’t have to wait too long it seems.

Of course, you cannot properly review an anime without taking the actual visuals into account and woo boy was it...rocky. For starters, it seems like A-1 Pictures tried their own spin on the Ufotable face and artstyle and it often doesn’t work that well. The models quite frequently look off, and I can’t count the number of scenes where a character (or multiple characters) not horribly far from the foreground doesn’t have a face. There's also that time in episode 9 where Frankenstein’s arms and face became a slinky and turned an emotional scene into unintentional hilarity. The CGI is brief here though sometimes it just looks egregious too (Saber plane from episode 19, anyone?). Hell, the character designs pail massively in comparison to those of Zero and F/SN by a mile. The outfits range from meh to absolutely hideous, with some of the worst offenders being Shakespeare and especially Siegfried, who is easily the worst designed character in the franchise to me. Everything about this design feels ugly and wrong, especially the armorless glowing chest. Other bad designs include Jack the Ripper, who is a little girl (or little girl body that happens to carry the spirits of a plethora of souls of unfortunate children) with an outfit that TV tropes would define as “stripperific”.

The fights are probably the most hit and miss aspect. Sometimes the fights look absolutely abysmal with ruthlessly horrendous choreography and shots that are entirely disconnected to the point of the fights becoming beyond incoherent and incomprehensible (see Karna vs Siegfried in episode 3). Not to mention that the frame rate of the fights can be immensely choppy, such as in the main fight of episode 21. Other times, however, many of the fights would actually become tolerable, if not downright wonderful to look at sometimes, such as anytime Karna busts out his fire moves starting from his fight with Vlad the Impaler in episode 8 and pretty much the entirety of episode 22 (yes, the art is less detailed but the animation is bombastic and dynamic, with absolutely wonderful looking flashy art and animation for the imaginative and stellar attacks and newly constructed environments). The actual choreography of nearly all melee is truly terrible, with some of the worst fights this studio has produced, but then we get those exemplary aforementioned examples on occasion and the fact that a lot of the time the flashy visuals are done effectively, and it all sorta averages out even, all things considered.

There are two interesting plotlines in this series, both of which directly involve the main characters, Sieg, Jeanne (and technically Leticia), Astolfo, Shishigo, and Mordred. Those are his journey of learning what it’s like to live and have freedom, and what it really means to be good and find salvation. Over the course of the series, this homunculus, with little knowledge of the world, asks these questions and becomes part of an overarching dialogue with these characters who ask the same and end up coming to their own conclusions of at least one of the two answers, with heartwarming and heartbreaking circumstances and great, terrible, and far more morally ambiguous people fueling or at least playing some influence on said answers, especially for Sieg. He tries to help other homunculi gain freedom just like a select few did for him, and by the end of the series, he comes to his own conclusions just in time to help someone he cares about regain resolve. This, in essence, is one of the two main, interweaving plots of Fate/Apocrypha. To be nice for a moment, Apocrypha does this admittedly well to a degree, and there are a few reasons for this. For one, Sieg starts off weak and with physically no developed personality, as some characters are quick to point out. While he does grow into a more archetypal character akin to what Shirou Emiya from Fate ends up reconstructing in UBW, it is still appreciated development, even if he grows little afterwards, only developing a sense of hate most of his contemporaries (with exception to, oddly enough, Kirito from Sword Art Online), never come close to exhibiting. Another reason this all works is that despite many of the characters not being that well written, more than ⅓ of this sizeable cast plays a major role in his journey through these questions and his final decision towards the end of the series. This means, at least structurally, this all works fine and dandy to some extent, as there are many defining moments in the series for Sieg that influence him in a positive or negative way. There is one problem with the structure to be brought up later but even still, this all sounds pretty good, right?

Oh, if only...

If that were the case, this series would’ve actually been rather poignant and compelling. For one, as mentioned earlier, not that many of the characters are actually well-written, as they don’t have good chemistry with Sieg in the first place, and they’re not interesting in their own right anyway. Given the immense size of this show’s character ensemble, with a grand total of over 30 characters in a 25 episode series with only 23 minutes per episode, inevitably only few would stand out as worthwhile characters. That is, of course, assuming that any character in such a cast was to do so at all, which is unfortunately not really the case here. Sure, thanks to a few spoiler-based reasons, we only actually need to follow around 24 of them. But that’s still too many for such a series to handle. A lot of them are immensely forgettable in their own right, with a few such as Celenike and Atlanta becoming increasingly, crushingly terrible as the story went on. The main 5 mentioned earlier are the closest we get to well-written characters. This, along with the lack of time to really sell the drama related to some of the more minor characters, makes the deaths of some less emotionally impactful than the people behind this show wanted them to be, especially in the second half of the show, where the majority of the characters are killed. There are a few decent character dynamics such as Jack and Reina, Shishigo and Mordred, and Shakespeare and Semiramis, but not enough are explored well enough for me to truly feel for when some of these characters start dying. This also means that characters whose confrontations with Sieg are key to his development are far less effective given their lack of focus or proper characterization in a dismal, bloated roster that gets shredded off over the course of the war. It effectively means that the main plotline of Sieg's story, and the war at hand, are not blended well together. Speaking of Sieg, he somehow comes out as the best character of the show, having to develop into a more archetypal character, which is immensely bizarre and interesting, even if, once again, he doesn’t become that exemplary of a character. There is some nice banter between some of these characters but banter doesn’t automatically make ok at best characters suddenly good and compelling, despite the ambition and drama displayed with many, especially with the main antagonist. I’ll leave it at that though before I go too far. We still have one major subcategory of reasons the writing failed, that of course, being the narrative.

To avoid spoilers, let’s just say there are asspulls galore and many things that just appear out of nowhere only for them to appear from a portal the next time in an attempt to make up for not explaining anything beforehand and causing confusion. One of two nasty exceptions is what a certain female character acquires out of nowhere in episode 21, as there is no explanation as to how or where she got it. This instance actually gets somewhat repeated in episode 23 with a serum a certain important duo used to win a major fight. Everything related to Noble Phantasms is wrong, from the fact that they don’t establish the amount one can have here, or the fact that there are legally many one can weird for some reason (they simply show it and only later do they explain after all the confusion caused). A certain character gets struck by the effects of a servant’s Noble Phantasm in episode 10 that was effectively an electric suicide bomb, and then manages to use all of the noble phantasms the servant who accidentally zapped him with hers had, in episode 24. I understand that the holy grail war this time is different and that there are new rules created specifically for this spin-off entry, and they do a reasonable enough job explaining most of these. However, with instances like the above, they still managed to drop the ball. Sometimes the story claims that a character used more command seals than he or she actually did (or at the least, they don’t show all of them being used). Sometimes it seems like characters just teleport from one location at the end of an episode to another that was far away at the beginning of the next, in an instant (not including the times servants actually do). Other times, time seems to have passed by tremendously with nothing having happened during the fights whatsoever (especially in episode 3). I could keep going on, piling all the small details that really tear up the narrative from the inside, as the first half alone gave me 2 whole pages of errors and holes to list, but I think I’ll stop here.

Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed with this entry, not out of the fact that it didn’t meet initial expectations, as it kind of did, but because I saw the potential it ended up having, and found that in an effort to do so much, it failed to make the best out of much of anything. I didn’t even go over the fact that Sieg has a myriad of roles to play in such a short time, including being at the center of a love triangle with Astolfo and Jeanne. I could still list a ton of errors made in both halves, and try to more manually show how this series could’ve been better other than maybe suggesting an increase in length which would obliterate this series’ relatively decent pacing. I didn’t talk about how surprisingly absent Leticia is, or even try to delve into this giant and subpar cast. However, I did expect this series to crumble underneath its own weight, and for what it's worth, it did surprise me at times, and leave me with some enjoyment, intentionally or otherwise. I didn't expect a show's emotional core and its backdrop to be at odds with one another and come up short as a result.

So, with all my negative views on it, and the fact that I advised against viewing it, I still didn’t try to spoil Fate/Apocrypha. For those of you who know how I operate, particularly with bad shows, this must be at least a little baffling. Well, it’s because for all intents and purposes, I really can’t stop anyone from watching it, especially given that it did some interesting things. Though, you shouldn’t expect this to become very common. That said, Fate/Apocrypha is ultimately a sadly dismal entry, both in terms of its contemporaries, and in terms of an anime in its own right. It tried so hard and got so far, but as the lyrics go, in the end, it doesn’t even matter. The fights range from great to terrible, and the narrative, for all it tries to tell and do, manages to be riddled with holes, structural issues, and an inability to properly combine its main storyline with its backdrop. Barring its noble intentions and occasionally impressive fights, the only real saving grace for this anime is the music, which tends to get overplayed in this anime, unfortunately. It merely ended up like a Lancer in any other Fate/entry, out of luck and doomed to fail. So, goodbye Fate/Apocrypha, at least you tried your best, and sparked a new life with some current anime trends, for better or worse…

1.7/10 story
4.4/10 animation
7.3/10 sound
3.4/10 characters
4/10 overall

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