There comes a time in every otaku’s life where you watch a particular anime, and something just clicks between you and that show.
You immediately get sucked into the story and the setting, you find the characters very intriguing, as well as all the themes presented, and you enjoy every single moment of it.
Perhaps the show was very action-packed, maybe it was laugh-out-loud HILARIOUS, maybe the romance relates to your own, maybe you’ve experienced the same scenarios that the story presented, maybe it made you cry buckets and experience immense emotional catharsis.
Whatever the scenario, each anime fan, I feel like, has a certain special show that, DESPITE ALL ITS FAULTS, is perfect to them in every single way.
And that show, for me, unsurprisingly, is Fate/Zero, which is an anime that I view to be an epic masterpiece crafted with such care and intricacy that I would even go so far as to say that it is the quintessential PERFECT anime.
Oh, how I wish I can call it that without ruining my credibility.
Anime Title: Fate/Zero
Source: Light Novel (originally by Gen Urobuchi)
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy, Thriller, Action, Drama
Aired from: October 1, 2011 – June 23, 2012
Directed by: Ei Aoki
Music by: Yuki Kajiura
Episode Count: 25
“Set 10 years prior to the events of the original Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero takes place once again in Fuyuki City, where a war is stirring.
And this is not just any old war, it’s the Holy Grail War, where a team of mages, called Masters, compete with each other (and by “compete”, I mean totally try to kill one another) in order to attain the grand prize: the Holy Grail, an omnipotent wish-granting device capable of giving form to the victor’s innermost desires.
Aiding the Masters in this battle are their individual Servants: heroes from either history or legends reincarnated by the Holy Grail.
Trust, allegiances, com-patriotism, and betrayals abound, and only one team can lift the Grail up high when the smoke clears.”
Now, if I haven’t sold you the show yet by this description, then I don’t know what will.
Although, to be fair, the majority of people who are going to watch this show have probably seen Fate/Stay Night 2006 and are already familiar with the premise of the show.
If not, wellllllllll I have some bad news for you if you expect this show to open up with GRAND EPIC ACTION-PACKED BATTLES WITH EXPLOSIONS EVERYWHERE, although there is a fair amount of that.
Fate/Zero’s initial episodes are rather introductory and full of exposition, and this is probably the biggest weakness that this show has, considering that you watch this show without watching the original Fate adaptation. The first episode is the primary example of this, being a 40-minute long talk-fest that tries to frontload the setting, characters, and the story for the viewer. AND EVEN THEN, the next two episodes still do some sort of introduction. For a show as hyped up as Fate/Zero, the first few episodes might end up being a bit of a drag to get through, especially if this is your introduction to the Fate series.
After those initial 3 episodes, however, then that’s when shit hits the fan and the rollercoaster starts going into FULL HIGH SPEED. The pacing of the show is pretty much continually fast, with some minor breaks here and there for exposition, of course. This makes Fate/Zero immensely enjoyable, since it has a marathon-capable pace that keeps you engaged and intrigued with what’s gonna happen next.
But what about the story itself?
Well, to be completely blunt, it’s simply amazing.
Yes, as amazing as Archer himself.
The battle-royale concept was effectively pulled off, in my opinion. Adding some fantasy into that mix was also done well and was not at all overbearing at any point. It creates this sense of intrigue about “Who will win?”, because the battles are all laid out in such a way that ANYONE can pull off some amazing strategy or secret ace and just win. Not just ONE obvious major protagonist is shown: but rather the whole cast has more or less an equal part in the war, which makes it all the more grander in scale.
Individual characters, as well as character interactions and chemistry, were another highlight of the show. Each character, on their own, were interesting to watch and have their own defining personalities. What stands out, however, is the chemistry that those characters have with others, most notable being the ones concerning the Masters and their Servants. Some relationships were very amiable, while others, not so much. But all of them have their own reasons and motivations for acting the way that they do, which allows the viewer to somewhat sympathize with their plight, for the most part.
Now, taking all the positives that I have said into consideration, what really impressed me about the story of Fate/Zero isn’t the lore or the character backgrounds (although those were all impressive in their own rights), but rather the themes that they tackle throughout. Fate/Zero isn’t all about the action: it deals with a lot of dark and often unexplored themes, such as the morality of murder, the act of chivalry, the concept of war as a glorious display vs. a hellish battleground, and nihilistic views about saving humanity, among many other things. It’s the ideals that either clash or compliment each other that make each philosophical discussion so gripping and thought-provoking, and it serves as essentially the main crutch of this show.
Really, I don’t have much to say about the animation for this show apart from the fact that it was made by ufotable. One of the most reputable anime studios in present day, their work in Fate/Zero is one of the many proofs of their accomplishments as a sought-after production studio. The movements are fluid, the designs were great, and the atmosphere really complimented the tone that the series was trying to achieve.
It’s not necessarily perfect, however. The most note-worthy case of this is the way they avoided having some characters talk with their mouths showing in order to avoid having to animate lip-flap. Also there were some rather….uh….questionable usage of CG animation here and there, but nothing too big. In fact, I actually like how Berserker’s initial design was in CG, due to the character’s chaotic and conflicted nature complementing just how unstable he looked physically.
But yeah, other than that, everything else about the animation was brilliantly done and it certainly is something that is ahead of its time.
Now, for the sound section, this is where I’m actually gonna mention a bunch of things.
First of all, of course, is that godly OST, composed by Yuki Kajiura. It has this grandiose and epic feel to it that really brings out the uttermost brilliance of any given moment, making you feel like this isn’t just ANY battle-royale: it’s a battle-royale of LEGENDS. And it doesn’t just excel at the grandiose moments either. Moments of melancholy, dread, and silence were also complimented very beautifully, making sure the viewer takes in as much impact from a particular scene as possible. Truly one of Kajiura’s biggest accomplishments.
The second thing that I’m going to mention is the dub. I originally watched the show in subbed and thought it was great. However, as I rewatched the show in its English-dubbed format, I found myself leaning towards the dub more. Maybe it’s because of the fact that most of these characters aren’t exactly Japanese, but I felt that everyone, with a few exceptions, sounded more natural in English. From Kari Wahlgren’s representation of Saber, to Crispin Freeman’s eerily suave Kotomine Kirei, every one of the dub cast was on-point. Hell, even David Vincent’s Gilgamesh and Bridget Hoffman’s Irisvielle, whom I thought were a bit oddly played at first, eventually grew on me. But that’s just my opinion, of course. It’s up to you guys if you want to watch it dubbed or subbed, because they’re both great anyways.
Special shoutouts go to Jamieson Price for his charismatic interpretation of Rider, and Matthew Mercer for doing Kiritsugu’s English dub justice, being able to represent both his cold-hearted suaveness, as well as his emotional moments. But seriously, I have no complaints about the dub at all and find it to be one of the better dubs to come out in recent years.
Lastly, the OP and ED themes. As I’ve stated before in a list somewhere (go find it, I made a list of Fate and Kalafina songs), both opening and ending themes work very well with the series, the most notable of course were the two openings. Both LiSA and Kalafina perform their pieces really well and both, surprisingly, work beautifully with each of the season’s main tone (i.e. the epicness and scale of the first season and the despair and strife of the second, respectively), though I personally prefer the second one.
Basically, what I’m saying is that, from a production standpoint, Fate/Zero pretty much gets full marks.
I said at the beginning of this article that I wish I could call Fate/Zero the perfect anime.
But, sadly, the perfect anime doesn’t really exist.
Granted, after all that’s said and done, Fate/Zero is an anime that comes pretty darn close to perfection.
The writing is phenomenal, the themes presented were represented with great flair, the characters were all interesting and engaging, the soundtrack is nothing short of amazing, and the animation is just spectacular.
Objectively, Fate/Zero does almost everything right.
The huge cast leaves some characters to be rather underdeveloped.
The story, while being relatively fast-paced, contains a fair bit of exposition.
A lot of the finer nuances in the lore, such as Sir Lancelot’s ties to King Arthur, as well as Diarmuid’s tragedy, among other things, were not necessarily explained, so you might’ve missed on some minor characterization if you didn’t know of these legends beforehand.
There were some episodes that felt like 70% of it was spent on meandering around, which were few and rare in-between the fast pacing of the show, but were still present nonetheless.
The animation still had noticeable skimps in the quality (although VERY VERY minor).
The soundtrack, as EXEMPLARY as it was, was a bit less experimental than what one would expect from a Yuki Kajiura OST.
The ending almost creates nothing new in terms of a final climax if you have already seen Fate/Stay Night, and if you haven’t, then watching either Unlimited Blade Works 2015 or the original Fate/Stay Night may or may not disappoint you, as they do not hold a candle to this show at all.
Well, for the most part, at least. Sure, the execution of how the end happened was great and all, but still it leaves the viewer without much of a surprise if they’ve already seen the 2006 Fate adaptation. Ultimately, this is still a prequel. A brilliant prequel to a crappy series, no less.
But even so, after all that’s said and done, Fate/Zero left me with a lasting impression that I’ve watched something that was masterfully crafted. It’s a mature series that is both enjoyable to watch as well as thought-provoking and tackles a lot of issues that are normally not expressed. It’s one of those rare breed of anime that proves that the medium is able to become more than a childish piece of entertainment with no substance or finesse.
And I can only hope that what I’ve presented today would lead to more people watching, and appreciating, this show as a shining example of what anime can be.
If this review has piqued your interest in the show, then you can pick up a copy on either Blu-Ray or DVD from Aniplex, although the Blu-Ray sets might prove to be quite the toll for your wallet, especially if you’re getting the imported version. I’d advise you to just pick up the domestic release, since it’s cheaper and contains the dub, which is always a good thing. The show is also available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll, and you should really do so right now if you haven’t already.
As per usual, leave a comment down below pertaining to your thoughts on this review, on the show itself, or if you would like me to review anything. And, speaking of liking, give the review a thumbs-up if you enjoyed it and follow me on twitter @tbs_ken for updates and general shitposting, if you feel like doing so.
The ending could be better, but I guess there wasn’t much that could be done given that it is a prequel. I choose to believe that this is the predecessor to Unlimited Blade Works not the Studio Dean series.
fair assumption there
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