Happy Independence Day to everyone in the States! While it’s two days before at the time of this writing, I’m going to be out of town on the 4th. I do hope to write more frequently than I have been as of late as well. So, onto the review!
Studio/years released: ufotable, 2011-2012
Alright, so I returned to the Fate franchise not long after writing a piece of my mind about it, and the subsequent go-round turned out to be a lot more fruitful. In fact, I finished not only this show, but also its sister show, Fate: Unlimited Blade Works right after it, and while an argument can be made that I did these in a reverse order, I’d argue Zero followed by UBW is the ideal way to approach it, particularly as an anime. Zero is designed to set up relevant plot threads in the next show (or any other routes, as Fate is a VN adaptation), and as such, it actually raises the tension and excitement in the viewer’s mind as several important characters and story points carry over. In turn, it effectively makes the narrative that much more compelling.
The various reasons why Fate/Zero didn’t sit well with me the first time wound up being remedied by a fresh start and a renewed outlook on the franchise, thanks in no small part from the comments of readers on here. The first, most notable difference was simply being able to understand the fast-moving plot a lot better because I’d had some time to digest the basic mechanics of the Fate system (the Master-Servant pacts, classes, and so on.) As a result, it was much easier to focus in on the usual aspects that compose a typical evaluation of a show- and in Fate/Zero the strongest of them is the characters, against which Fuyuki City and the Grail War gives them a backdrop.
Zero was an anime-original adaptation/prequel from ufotable that primarily focuses on Kiritsugu Emiya, and the events of the Fourth Grail War that set up stay/night and its various routes. Curiously, depending on your previous background with this franchise, your experience will be entirely different with Zero. If you’re anything like me, you would have started from well…zero and been surprised at the many twists and turns that occurred. However, if you’d been a previous VN player or watched another adaptation first based on stay/night, you’re liable to recognize a good number of these characters, and the complexion of the show changes. The effect is a bit similar to the Star Wars prequels and the original movies. If you were like most people and started with the original films, the prequels are a tale of “how did we get there?” Likewise, if one were to start with the prequels earlier in life, I suppose it would be a great surprise in some ways how things unfolded. Despite this, neither way is incorrect to experience it, and the same could be said for Fate/Zero and something like Unlimited Blade Works.
So what is my recommendation? I say pick what works for you, but for my animation-only readers, Fate/Zero’s a fine place to begin, and really deepens the tension in anything related to it, such as Unlimited Blade Works. As a standalone effort though, Fate/Zero is a strong character tale with a lot of interesting implications, and the character of Kiritsugu Emiya in particular proves to be a strong lead, who faces a variety of difficult decisions in a battle wrought with danger. There’s really a lot of aspects within this show or greater franchise that could be discussed at further length, but as a general review, keeping it simple is probably the best way to go.
Animation: Modern 2-D computer animation. Zero was praised at the time for its animation, which is still stunning. The battles really pop in this show, and character design here works, even on the more fantastical Servants (also called Heroic Spirits.) Narratively, the animation does what it sets out to do, and brings the vivid portrait of the 4th Grail War to life in a most satisfactory manner.
Characterization: There’s a lot of moving parts in Fate/Zero, with 7 Masters and Servants, not even counting various allies they may have in the fight. Chances are a different piece could cover all of the intricacies going on between this cast (and I don’t doubt someone has done a piece exactly like what I’m suggesting, given this franchise’s popularity). However, the essentials are about Kiritsugu Emiya and those most linked to him in the story and its plot.
Kiritsugu himself is a man with a mysterious, sordid past; despite this he still fervently holds an important dream he never was able to realize. To that end, he entered the Grail War in alliance with the Einzbern family heir, Irisviel- who is also his wife, and with her bore a daughter, Illya. With a reputation as a “magus killer,” he works in the shadows with his assistant Maiya.
As for Kiritsugu’s Servant, he summons the brave and noble Saber, whose identity is of a certain legendary king and his holy sword. Saber however, is female (not an entirely uncommon subversion Fate does on certain characters.) Said to be the strongest Servant, her ideals find themselves often in contention with those of her master. Saber too harbors a dream and a wish, and this wish finds itself often juxtaposed against Kiritsugu’s ideals and the other hopes of Grail War masters and servants.
Of course, every good story needs a great villain and Zero provides it between its themes and the form of a certain Master and Servant. While who I’m referring to will be abundantly clear to anyone who’s seen this show, for anyone reading who has not, it’s a very good development that takes place.
Also worth mentioning is a unique character in Fate/Zero: Waver Velvet. A third-generation magus determined to make his mark in the world, he’s enrolled at a prestigious academy for mages. He sets out to prove his teacher (Kayneth Archibald el-Melloi) wrong on his views, and in doing so, stumbles into becoming a Grail War participant by some lucky fortune. Paired with Rider, the duo serves as an unlikely but compelling undercard story to the main one unfolding with Kiritsugu, even crossing paths as such tales inexplicably do.
Story: Principally, this show is about the “Holy Grail War” and the mages who battle through the Master-Servant system to win the Grail- said to be an “omnipotent wish granting device.” Of course, this is merely the backdrop and mechanic to the real meat of the show, which is the characters and their interaction, but despite that basic framing, it’s rather effective and compelling.
Themes: A great deal happens in this show, but it can be boiled down in essence to “ideals clash.” Characters in this show work to find the way to achieving what they desire most fervently, and in doing so, their ways of doing things, and their approaches clash, masters against masters, servants against servants, and everything in-between. There’s a great search for the path forward in everyone’s circumstances- not a bad analog to life itself- and perhaps the old adage “the decisions we make seal our fate” is most applicable here.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: There’s a very good orchestral score in this show, and this series focuses seriously on its storytelling, avoiding fanservice and the like. It can be very intense at certain points, so I wouldn’t advise anyone under 17 to pick this show up, and the Fate core system, while elegant, is dense and difficult to pick up initially with no real background.
Total: 22.25/25 (89%). A launching point into the Fate franchise, the show also stands on its own merit, with a compelling cast of characters, an interesting setting and intriguing motivations that play out over the course of the series. While a information-dense series, the merits of the show shine through once one digests the VN-inspired system present. This is also a fairly intense watch, so be warned!
Like what you see? Pleased I returned to Fate/Zero? Leave a comment!