Tyrannical power and glory are two things which define a sovereign ruler with an iron fist. Many mythologies have been interpreted to fit these notions into their stories to create a different understanding of them. A series which has been long regarded with acclaim by many die-hard enthusiasts, is the Fate series. Starting off as a visual novel series, it eventually shifted its form to animation with very mediocre responses to from general public. It was then that a man named Gen Urobuchi decided to make a prequel light novel series called Fate Zero, and thus a legendary phenomenon was born in animation form four years later.
Though this is the 2nd season of Fate Zero that I’m basing this off of after finishing it, it would be more tempting to critique it as a whole. Due to the fact that it is merely a continuation of the series and nothing else. Do not feel disingenuous if you feel like you want to read the visual novels before going into it, or suffer through the horrible Fate Stay Night adaptation. Fate Zero is, by and large, its own breed and it wouldn’t necessarily warrant a lesser experience had one not experienced any of them. Going through the entire series to the inevitable conclusion, Fate Zero manages to pull off a strong emphasis of technical beauty and wonder; while it falls short on some levels.
I remember when I first got introduced to the Fate series and couldn’t really make heads or tails on what it was about from looking at the plot summaries. Once you dive into it and it starts to explain in great detail about the ongoing war over the holy grail, it does make it more coherent, even if you haven’t followed the visual novel to death. Fate Zero does a great job of explaining it from the first episode alone, which has a running time of an hour. Following the footsteps of several of our protagonists and their goal of achieving the holy grail, they are all given pretty substantial screen-time for us to empathize with their competitive drive against one another.
Now this screen-time I mention comes from the pacing this show has with not only how we are able to identify with the characters, but also to showcase their unique fighting abilities. I’ll give a lot of credit to the animation studio, ufotable, and bringing out their big guns into the production of Fate Zero. It also helps that they worked on a massive budget that they were able to work around, which is a rarity in this day and age. Their attention to detail in the color schemes, especially in the darker moments, is very astounding to look at. It’s one of those instances where it is mandatory to watch this is full high definition in order to really get involved with the creative detail of the art and animation.
With animation comes action scenes, which Fate Zero is not afraid to show, with true greatness. What is quite refreshing to see in an action scene is for characters to actually plan out their attack moves instead of just swinging their weapon until the enemy dies. Even so, it doesn’t needlessly pad out the fighting scenes with constant dialogue in-between, at least most of the time. Visually exciting and epic in its definitive nature, these will not disappoint your average action show fan.
Epic storytelling has its roots in having a large cast of characters in it. The characters in Fate Zero are, unfortunately, hit or miss depending on the progression we get from the development they have. This includes the relationship we have with the human characters and the servants that protect them. The best example is the relationship between Rider and Waver based on the level of chemistry these two have whenever they are bickering between one another. However, the rest didn’t really speak to me as having great chemistry, only because their only purpose is to advance the plot and nothing else. With Rider and Waver, it felt like I was actually rooting for these people more to win the war because they bolster so much lighthearted moments that make them interesting to watch.
Saber constantly gets a lot of praise as being a strong character and I do get that from the perspective that she knows how to protect herself and her master. Other than that, she doesn’t really carry the show all on her own because of her bland personality, and all she really does is tries to get her honor back, which feels so superficial. This is the case for most of the characters, with the exception of Kiritsugu Emiya, in Fate Zero. Style with no substance is what I would generalize my point as for them. It could very well be the problem with adaptations that don’t expand enough for people like me who hadn’t read the visual novel, but that is hardly an excuse if you think about it.
The worst instance I can give for this is the characters Caster and Ryunosuke. Both of them are pure psychopathic murderers that take pleasure in killing children just for the fun of it and nothing else. That should not entail that I take these characters as bad simply on the premise that its completely unnerving or unsettling. What troubles me is that that’s all that we get out of Caster and Ryunosuke. We don’t know what makes Ryunosuke turn into the person that he is, and most of the blame can be put on him since Caster is already based on a real-life serial killer. They’re there just to emit shock value into the mix to make the show somehow more “adult” when it doesn’t in the slightest, not that this was the first for Gen Urobuchi.
Nevertheless, the character development kicks into high gear when we explore Kiritsugu Emiya’s troubled past. The only negative aspect to this is that the two episodes that chronicle his past felt unnecessary in the main broadcast and would’ve fit better in a separate OVA. What makes it less of a criticism is that it is done very well in delving into the psyche of Emiya and shows how different he has changed over the course of his life. So in retrospective, my reactions to Fate Zero’s attempt in constructing a narrative and character story are mixed but they are far from terrible, if not bad.
People wanted to see the epic conclusion to Fate Zero and they sure got it in good proficiency. Even though I felt the ending was a little anti-climatic to some degree, with some sequences feeling a bit rushed, they give at least some closure to the character arcs. Has this officially made me into a Fate series fan? No, not even close. But there are a lot of things to appreciate about Fate Zero and its attention for spectacle over substance. Sometimes that can work and Fate Zero rests on that throne as one of the more enjoyable experiences. Now does this mean that Type-Moon will not stop milking their franchise and driving it into the ground in the future? You bet your ass they will.