Anime of Tomorrow
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.