Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

Fate/Zero (review)

Impression – a gilded clod (4/10)

Fall 2011 and spring 2012 (25 episodes)

I think by now I’ve started to solidify my status as the alternative opinion among anime bloggers, but this review of Fate/Zero may be my most controversial so far.  Voicing my opinion at critical times like this is a big part of the reason I started this blog in the first place. I’ve prepared for this by writing at length and in detail the points of contention I have with this series.   Here we go.

Kiritsugu Emiya is a magus who has seen far too much suffering and injustice in the world.  He dreams of being the hero who can rid the world of war and violence and he believes he has found a way to do it.  By entering the Holy Grail War he can pit his skills as a modern assassin against six other magi who are also pursuing the holy relic that can grant the wish of the person who obtains it.  To do this, he must ally himself with a heroic spirit that will fight by his side and share his victory (as must the other participants in this survival game).  With the intention of summoning the spirit of the greatest avatar of justice, King Arthur, Kiritsugu throws his hat into the ring.  But the person who heeds his summons isn’t what he expected.

Inevitably, Fate/Zero has to be compared to Fate/Stay Night since this is a canonical prequel to that story.  And I’m going to be very clear and say that I did not have the same experience with Zero as many other people seem to have had.  The only thing I can see that Zero has going for it is its production values.  Everything else was done much better in Stay Night.

One of my biggest complaints is that the battles are poorly conceived.  Nearly every fight always comes down to some sort of matching of wills pushing towards whoever can level up more, meaning every battle was always a forgone conclusion, possessing nothing dynamic.  Let me compare the action in Fate/Zero to two other recent action series that actually know how to make a fight scene exciting—Shakugan no Shana III and Accel World.  Both of these series understand how to deliver suspense by including strategy that is accomplished either via exploiting weaknesses in the enemy’s plans, or psychological attacks to demoralize the opponent into just giving up.  This kind of intellectual action sequence doesn’t need flashy spectacle to keep your attention because you’re too caught up in the twists of the progression of events to get bored.

There’s two points in this series that solidified for me that the majority of this anime does nothing more than pander to the fans.  The first is in the episode devoted entirely to young Rin that feels completely out of place and ultimately goes absolutely nowhere.  I know Rin is well-liked, but that’s not a good enough reason to just toss her into a filler episode because you know it’ll make people happy.  If you absolutely must do something like that, put it in a bonus episode tucked away on the DVD where it won’t clutter up the main story.

The second point is near the end of the series when Saber chases Rider while riding a motorcycle that she magically enhances to catch up with him.   All I could do during that scene was shake my head and say, “isn’t that something that should have been Rider’s domain?”  There are way too many liberties with what constitutes flavorful powers that needed to be unique to each class.  Otherwise why bother even having them if you’re just going to make the characters’ skills ultimately all up for grabs depending on whatever will tickle the fans?  These beautiful, but empty shenanigans and complete lack of pace that dominate much of the second half could have easily been substituted with watching Saber jump hurtles and taking breaks every once in a while to shoot her sword lasers and miss.

In the absence of Ryuunosuke and Caster, the only two good episodes in Zero are the flashbacks to when Kiritsugu was a child.  Here we are treated to a spectacularly dramatic…or maybe traumatic…procession of unfortunate dilemmas where Kiritsugu must choose between those he loves and respects, or protecting innocent strangers who could never comprehend the danger that he averted or the sacrifice he made to keep them safe.

And as hard as it is to accept (I actually caught myself getting a little choked up) there’s really no room for debate that given the circumstances he made the best decision he possibly could, which serves to only sharpen the pain.  To have Kiritsugu back away from this investment at the final moment, feels completely out of character and devalues everything he had worked for.  Not to mention that you don’t have to watch more than two episodes of Stay Night to see that several key events in the last episode of Zero don’t match.  There’s just no excuse for this kind of oversight from a company that’s in the business of writing stories.  Swiss cheese that’s been blasted with a shotgun has fewer holes in it than Fate/Zero’s conclusion.  Frankly, it’s just disgusting.

To think that Gen Urobachi wrote both the incredible, gritty epic that is Madoka Magica and the teaspoon shallow, sparkling flop that is Fate/Zero is a sad state of affairs. I would never have guessed these two series to have been written by the same person.  I’m going to throw at least some of the blame on Type-Moon for probably restricting his creativity to follow whatever happened in the visual novel this series took its source from.

All things considered, the heavily weighted majority of Fate/Zero is nothing more than a string of uninvested deepities punctuated by some very nice-looking, substanceless spectacle. Unless you’re the kind of person who gets easily distracted by shiny objects, stick with Fate/Stay Night and don’t ruin your experience with this spoiled, vacuous prequel.  Probably the most I’ve ever been disappointed by an anime.

Advertisements

7 responses to “Fate/Zero (review)

  1. Elliot G June 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I pretty much disagree across the board. Fate/Zero excels because of its attention to character work and choreography that makes sense and better reflects the personality of each master. It also does a significantly better job of actually characterizing the servants, which was something that the Fate/Stay Night anime failed remarkably at. I’d be hard pressed to tell you anything I remember about Lancer from F/SN if it weren’t for the fact that I played the VN.

    F/SN pretty much sacrifices all characters for the purpose of focusing on Saber and Shiro, which is fine, but everybody else simply came off as just being there. In F/Z, one of the best character arcs was Waver’s growth and reasons for seeking the goal, leading to his own acceptance of the fact that trying to find some kind of self worth through such petty logic was never going to give him what he wanted to begin with.

    Sequences such as Saber and Lancer’s various battles did much to develop the latter, creating a likable warrior who didn’t come off as just being so blood thirsty killer for whatever reason that F/SN did (save for UBW, which took his characterization more from the VN).

    Kiritsugu’s decision at the end was clear. His goal in seeking the grail in the first place was so that he could avoid having to make those hard decisions and continue to sacrifice innocent people just to save the greater numbers. He was basically confronted with a reality that would ultimately lead to the end of civilization, and decided that it wasn’t worth it. I’m not sure what’s so hard to understand about that choice.

    And I’m not sure what elements you’re talking about when you mention plot holes in F/Z, but I will comment that F/SN makes quite a few random changes from the visual novel, which would make any plot hole faults rest with that series as opposed to F/Z, which was a prequel to the VN, not the anime.

    F/SN also suffers from being a bit vapid due to all of the Grail competitors being teenagers or younger, save for a couple. This is a grand war that happens to win the most powerful object in the existence of humanity, and a bunch of kids are fighting for it? Really? The Holy Grail War never quite felt like a war in F/SN, and this is coming from someone who actually enjoyed it.

    Nonetheless, while I disagree with you almost entirely, I will say those were solid write ups and your opinion is completely valid.

    Well done!

  2. Marlin-sama June 27, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I could have written more for sure, but I want to keep my style concise. For a longer 25 episode series like this one, I’m ok with going longer like this. Especially when it involves something that goes against the flow of the rest of the anime community in general.

    While yes, I liked that Fate/Zero had an older, more mature cast and I liked that they tried to give all the characters more personality, but they spread themselves too thin. Nobody aside from Kiritsugu felt like a main character and even then his presence wasn’t all that strong. Berserker and Kariya have almost no screen time… they are the F/Z version of F/SN’s Lancer. Archibold’s relationship with Lancer is an uncomplicated, “you’re my pawn, now stay away from my wife and do what you’re told.” Lancer and Saber’s chivalry makes me question whether they really had any reason to fight anyways if not for something stupid like pride. Caster, Lancer, Gilgamesh, Rider and to a lesser extent Berserker all want something from Saber. To me this is too much overlap in motive. Tokiomi is Gilgamesh’s little bitch…so much for the Tohsaka sense of resolve. I agree that Waver was interesting, but I also think he was a bit boring. My impression is that he went from slightly misguided to ordinary. Not the most impressive transformation.

    Plot holes are plentiful. Big one is UBW Kirei not remembering who he gave the dagger to. The Holy Grail grants wishes but exacts a price. Then why did Kirei and Gilgamesh get their wishes granted without drawbacks? And Gilgamesh’s wish was to become an eternal being, but he’s naked…did he become human losing his powers which is why he can no longer summon his armor? Then why does he have his powers again in F/SN? And if he’s still a heroic spirit where has he been getting his mana from? Has he been killing people to take their mana or is he still the servant of Kirei…the problems go on.

    Kiritsugu completely forgets to mention to Shiro in the five years they lived together… “oh, by the way, I was married and you have a stepsister.” Then Illya doesn’t make any connection between her father’s name and Shiro’s name? Kiritsugu didn’t bring the Grail back to Einzbern castle and can’t see Illya ever again… but he was never going to bring it back to the Einzberns anyways because he was going to use it for his own wish and it’s questionable whether it’s a real object that can be brought to another location in the first place. When Gilgamesh and Saber meet in F/SN she knows that he’s Archer, but doesn’t remember his noble phantasm or even his identity. But somehow remembers his class from the previous holy grail war, but also doesn’t remember Kiritsugu… which is it? Do servants remember what happened in the previous grail war or not?

    But after talking reading your thought and writing this response, I think I can see more clearly why I liked F/SN better and that’s because it was more focused.

  3. TWWK June 27, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Since we’ve chatted about the series before, you know my thoughts on it. Not everything was perfect (though I think it was admirable in how well it was done – it’s not easy to make a good prequel when the groundwork has already been laid), but I thought the series was a cut above most. It was very literary, unlike almost any other anime I’ve seen adapted from a light novel.

    9/10 for me.

    • Marlin-sama June 27, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      I think it had literary moments (which is why I didn’t rate it lower), but I don’t think the whole can be considered a well-read style when so much of the action was handled with the same level of care as Dragonball Z.

  4. Cheshire_Ocelot June 27, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    >“I think by now I’ve started to solidify my status as the alternative opinion among anime bloggers,”
    Nothing wrong with that, and though this review’s well-written, I have to say your criticisms are off the mark here. Elliot G above already addressed a couple of my objections, so I’ll just add a few short comments:

    >“Nearly every fight always comes down to some sort of matching of wills pushing towards whoever can level up more[…]”
    I’ll grant that this is true for the big mid-series fight against Caster, but it doesn’t seem true for any other fight I can think of.

    >“There are way too many liberties with what constitutes flavorful powers that needed to be unique to each class.”
    They each do have unique weapons, fighting styles, and noble phantasms, so I don’t know how much more you need. Yeah, abilities overlap sometimes, as with the motorcycle scene you mention, but this example just comes across as nitpicking.

    >“Not to mention that you don’t have to watch more than two episodes of Stay Night to see that several key events in the last episode of Zero don’t match.”
    Are these really that important? It’s fairly common for adaptations to take liberties with the source material, and as long the end result is entertaining and its mostly internally consistent, I’m fine with that approach. The examples you give are, I’ll admit, annoying, but again this seems like a minor criticism.

    From the comments:
    >“Lancer and Saber’s chivalry makes me question whether they really had any reason to fight anyways if not for something stupid like pride.”
    Is it so surprising that two knights take chivalry rather seriously? Saber’s motive is made pretty clear; Lancer may indeed be fighting to redeem his honour, which again is perfectly understandable for a knight, but it’s implied after Kayneth’s dream about Lancer’s past that he has something else to wish for, as well.

    >“Tokiomi is Gilgamesh’s little bitch…so much for the Tohsaka sense of resolve.”
    He was keeping Gilgamesh content so he could stab him in the back at the end of the Grail War.

    Finally:
    >“The first is in the episode devoted entirely to young Rin that feels completely out of place and ultimately goes absolutely nowhere.
    Ending with this one because, yeah, I agree. Rin’s episode was filler, and would’ve been best left out of the series entirely.

    Sorry about the long comment, especially one that’s mostly critical. Discussion is what blogs are for, though, right?

    • Marlin-sama June 28, 2012 at 12:24 am

      Naw, no problem. I’m actually surprised my review hasn’t drawn more contention. But it probably just goes to show I still haven’t yet reached a level of viewership and/or eloquence that would warrant such attention. I guess I can point to a few more examples of things I didn’t care for in the series.

      Perhaps saying that it’s a matching of wills was poorly worded, but the trump cards always feel way too overpowered to me. From Kiritsugu’s bone bullets, Tokiomi’s wall of fire, Saber’s Excalibur and Gilgamesh’s Gate of Babylon, when they want to get serious you can just throw all strategy out the window because one shot is all they need and it’s over. The rest is just wasted time and hot air.

      On the issue of taking too many liberties with abilities, here’s a good one. Why does bronze-age Gilgamesh have a jet?

      You say I’m getting hung up on the little things, but for me, Fate/Zero just had so many minor annoyances that they started to just become too numerous to ignore.

      I’m so fed up with Saber’s stupid wish for the Grail. I guess I’m more accepting of the past than her, but whatever. The big point of contention I have with her motive is that she finally comes to terms with herself in F/SN, making F/Z a massive waste of time as her character undergoes absolutely no growth.

      I would have expected Rin’s father to be a much smarter man, a better tactician than, “I’m going to placate this ancient king who thinks everything in the world is his so I can use him for my own ends.” Tohsaka talked really big at the start, but played almost no role whatsoever in the proceedings of F/Z. I think it goes back to what I said at the end of my first comment. I feel F/Z is spread way too thin. Maybe if this series had more time it could have given all the characters the attention they deserved, but even then I’m not sure that would have solved anything when it lacked so much creativity to start with.

      Looking back I’d have much rather the Fate/Stay Night franchise to have done Heaven’s Feel rather than Fate/Zero.

      • Cheshire_Ocelot June 28, 2012 at 2:18 am

        >”Naw, no problem. I’m actually surprised my review hasn’t drawn more contention.”
        Well, you got two detailed responses, so quality over quantity? 😉

        >”From Kiritsugu’s bone bullets, Tokiomi’s wall of fire, Saber’s Excalibur and Gilgamesh’s Gate of Babylon,[…]”
        Kiritsugu’s bullets didn’t work the first time against Kirei, and took some tactical thinking to succeed against Kayneth. Rider successfully dodged Excalibur. Berserker, and Rider initially, dealt with the Gates of Babylon, though Gil’s “planet-destroying noble phantasm” was a bit much. I only remember Tokiomi’s wall of fire being used against Kariya, and of course bug-type pokemon are weak against fire type (more seriously, Kariya’s a fairly weak mage to begin with).

        >”Why does bronze-age Gilgamesh have a jet?”
        Magic… Well, okay, you got me there.

        >”[Saber] finally comes to terms with herself in F/SN, making F/Z a massive waste of time as her character undergoes absolutely no growth.”
        Didn’t her wish in F/SN change partly because of the events of F/Z, especially the conversations with Rider about kingship, and her realisation of how Lancelot felt about her as king? I could well be wrong here, since my memory of F/SN is rather shaky, but we see at least the beginnings of a change in F/Z because of Rider and Berserker. (I’ll grant that the beginnings of a change aren’t quite satisfying, but it’s also not accurate to say she undergoes “absolutely no growth.”)

        >”I feel F/Z is spread way too thin.”
        Based on the reactions of those who’ve read the novel, I do get the feeling several things were left out, especially near the end, so an extra season or OVA may have helped.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: