Anime Breakdown: Fate/Zero (2011 – 2012) Series Review

It was rather hectic this month as I aimed to pump out three of these anime breakdown reviews due to the chaos that occurred in May that prevented me from writing with a clear mind. The most difficult and certainly not the last was Fate/Zero. I love the show and it easily earns the score that it does. As I slowly become accustomed to reviewing anime determining a hierarchy of quality becomes clearer in my mind. For now, I won’t consider myself as a part of the anime community (or an Otaku as some in community refer to themselves) due to my lack of knowledge and lack of understanding of its culture, but I can be an outside admirer that too can support good works. Fate/Zero is a series that regardless of your exposure to anime I would easily recommend for anyone who enjoys visually gorgeous and terrifically written shows.

Basic Information

Episodes: 25

Available English Dub: Yes

Animation Studio: Ufotable

Premise:

After being defeated in three successive wars for the Holy Grail, the Einzbern family is determined to win the next one at any cost and elects to hire the notorious Magus Killer, Kiritsugu Emiya, to become their representative in spite of his reputation as an unconventional and ruthless hitman. For the next eight years, he prepares the war in the Einzbern stronghold while unexpectedly forming a family with Irisviel von Einzbern, who is to become the vessel for the Grail, and their daughter, Illyasviel. However, Kiritsugu must contend with six formidable opponents, all participating in the war for their own reasons.

Good: The Setup

The first episode of Fate/Zero is both the longest and the most daunting in the series. You get introduced to a large cast, get their background, a hint of their complex motivations, the stakes for the families involved, and other information for the framework. Once it has the framework set up the only thing left is to build upon it. This is the great benefit of episode one, since all the basics are taken care of first. It won’t hinder the flow of the series. For example, there’s this whole working of how the “Holy Grail War” is fought. It is explained in a way that you can take it as magicians summoning legendary historical heroes to do battles with each other. That’s the basic way to interpret how the whole battle structures work. Add on top that special abilities, fighting classification, and strengths and weaknesses brings depths to the “Holy Grail War” like a game of chess. Participants test each other, probing defences, and trying feints and sly attacks like an opening gambit. Using their brains to outsmart their enemies than simply gaining more strength. Offering battles to be one on one, all out battle royale, and team against team makes a appropriate setup feel as grand as possible.

Beyond adding a level of intelligence in how battle are foughts it also brings that same level of intelligence to its participants. All of which are introduced in a nice manner with a good glimpse of who they are when we start out with them. By solidifying some strong first impressions on the characters through their ideologies and background allows leeway in how characters interact. Some coming from prestigious family or either in a status that makes them comes across as no threat to others. Becoming very broad in the themes it brings up later on with ideas that support or goes against a view. These themes and the characters positions on them which for all serves a good purpose from beginning to end. Once all the ingredients are in place you have a framework that’s easy to understand on a basic level, but given room for depths to grow from what’s established. From then on, it only keeps getting better and better.

Good: High Brow Writing, Easy To Follow Structure

When Fate/Zero first begins you are going to have to take in a lot of the who’s, why’s, and how’s of the “Holy Grail War” which is quite daunting and risky. It also demonstrates the amount of respect it has for the audience entrusting them with so much right out of the gate. After that point, the series becomes easier to follow jumping from character to character and their doings in the “Holy Grail War”. Structuring itself in a way where the focus is always on the most active participants. Though we’re given a main to cast to keep things focused with Kiritsugu Emiya, Irisviel von Einzbern, and Arturia Pendragon/Saber receiving prominent screen time. These characters keep the flow the narrative linear when the stories themselves are anything except conventional. They receive the most screen time out of any participants and also find themselves in trouble quite frequently. However, it doesn’t mean that the show will make them the one the audience will cheer for.

A character’s means for victory will either be something you go along with or find yourself debating. Quickly you realize some characters ideologies are easier to grasp because of what they will do once the Holy Grail is in their hands. For others it could be difficult read what the actual intentions is. Another layer to the series is variety. Variety in themes, variety in backstories, and variety in stories. One such technique that is cleverly used is playing off your expectations. One way is does this is by name. Method for inviting viewers to involve themselves deeper into the story and actively work to understand the characters in which the writers the keep one trait to allow viewers to identify with. Why I would gear my attention towards name when mentioning variety is simple. The names are identifiable building of your expectation in order prevent predictability. A clever method which might go unnoticed when you’re digesting carefully thought out discussions, opposing views, philosophies, history, and working out the meaning behind metaphors. Giving you context to form a solid conclusion, but free enough hold many interpretation. In particular the meaning behind Rider/Iskandar seeing a particular ocean will require the most thought (not even I could figure it out it full meaning).

Good: Breaks Away From Common Anime Trends

Some common things non anime viewers usually associate anime with are also things some anime fans can be irritated by. That’s exactly why the direction of the series is damn impressive. Not just on a visual level, but also because things like fan service, emo teenagers, one-dimensional saviors, comic relief, or romantic pretty boys are out of the equation when it comes to this series. Removed from conventions it’s a series that stands proudly with a unique identity. Being unconventional is what it’s all about. Characters can go for minutes literally talking to each other without much complicated movements. There’s an entire episode where three servants discuss kingship and for the majority of it is driven by dialogue. It’s very confident in its delivery of the episode for not using flashbacks. Instead, it left it to our imagination. We get to hear about the characters which in turn learn more about them. It’s not afraid to stray off the main course.

Episode 10 titled Rin’s Adventure is the one that strays off from the main course the most. It’s a an episode entirely dedicated to a character that will not have a big or important role in the series. Now under the wrong hands the detour to such a character would have been disastrous. However, it’s treated with the same importance as any other episode. We get to see through young Rin Tohsaka eyes how training in the field of magic has it wonders and downside. For starter, can you imagine at a young age being able to manipulate your energy to create something physical. Rin has that ability seeing as a way to do good. In contrast you have her father who trains has her train not just on magic, but also school to obtain perfection in nearly everything she sets out to do. Yet does not scold her for failing despite him taking part of an often harsh and unforgiving life of those who participate in the “Holy Grail War”. In a single episode it shows how a mage can grow up in this lifestyle and how they handle living an ordinary life. As an episode in the franchise it provides background of what occurred before Rin Tohsaka took part in the fifth “Holy Grail War”. As an episode in this particular series some might consider pointless. Seeing how it’s often labeled “cute little girl adventure” (well, the cute part is accurate) it has no bearing on the story as a whole, but that added perspective shows the influence to do and how perspective of your abilities can guide your decisions. For that alone displays an average mage life and possibly what they might turn into when they are older. In my definition, that some good world building studio Ufotable is doing.

Good: Large Varied and Rounded Cast

The image above shows all the characters involve in the “Holy Grail War” and never once it feels crowded despite how many characters are involve. This is a large part due to pacing and how it’s doesn’t dwindle time on anything pointless. Every episode has the story moving forward and characterization to grow its cast. While watching you’ll begin to notice it’s more about the growth of the characters than the actual war itself. It’s a war over clashing ideologies from these characters that is the ultimate goal over the “Holy Grail”. Some between masters and their very own servants that inspite of their clear differences have to work together to reach a common goal. If there’s a character this series will get to them and develop to grasp who they truly are.

One of the many themes it tackles in great detail is heroism with it subvert perspective. Challenging if the means to achieve your goal is worth it and if there is such as thing as heroes. This theme is tackle with Kiritsugu Emiya whose life perspective is defined by what he believes heroism is. He is unquestionably skillful being a very careful man and intelligent strategist. Emiya means for accomplishing his goals becomes more challenging when delving in his backstory. Two episodes are dedicated showing what ultimately led to Kiritsugu Emiya to become the man he is now. Simply labeling Emiya as good or evil does him no justice in getting to know the man. At first Emiya intention is to do good which is perceived as good, but what events transpired to made him desired to be a hero can be perceived as evil. There’s many shades to interpreting Emiya as a character and one whose life is define by how he deals with his personal beliefs in heroism when it’s challenge by the world he lives in.

Most of the cast as you’ve seen in the image above are mostly adults. Waver Velvet is one of only two teenagers in the large cast. When Waver begins he is the polar opposite of his servant, Iskandar/Rider, who is physically overbearing, jovial, and impulsive. Compare to his master, Waver Velvet, who is pragmatic, cowardly, and short tempered. These two have traits that contrast each other significantly, yet it’s this same contrast that makes this pair a highlight in the series. Together they must overcome their differences and work together for a common goal. Complementing one another as Waver is the brains and Iskandar is the brawns. However, there’s much more to it than that. The journey itself, like for all the characters is more important than the “Holy Grail War” itself. There’s allot more to Waver Velvet’s growth beyond what you might perceive from the brawns and brains duo. Waver learns more than to have a backbone and Iskandar learns more than his desire for world conquest. They are also the duo that best balances comedy to show the softer sides of our and drama into what’s mostly a serious show. Making them the most versatile in subjects out of the entire cast and the most loose in tone that you can still take serious.

Kirei Kotomine is complex and one of the most subversive character because he is a Catholic priest. Kirei Kotomine is a rather dour char­ac­ter who doesn’t really have a clear under­stand­ing of what he wants in life. His heroic spirit(s) is the Assas­sin, which are actu­ally many assas­sins. Like everyone else, Kotomine changes through the course of the series, but what makes him noteworthy is his background. He’s a Catholic priest whose actions are anything, but righteous utilizing methods that are out of lines with his background teachings. Fate/Zero has a vividly complex and multidimensional take on one’s true faith over a falsely accepted one. It’s how he transforms into the man he becomes by the series a significant deal of depth. No matter how holy one might proclaim to be even they might not resist temptation regardless of a position that points them in a holy light.

With a large cast you’ll easily find a character to gravitate too. For me that character was Arturia Pendragon/Saber who hands down was my favorite character of the series. Saber is formal, honorable, determined, sympathetic, intelligent, and strong willed. For me, she’s basically the ultimate feminine character who has all the characteristics for a compelling character. She might be a goody two shoe, but the way she is written never makes it come across that way. Her ideals are constantly challenged especially when interacting with those who views her reign of a kingdom as a disappointment. Saber is a strong character who never hides an ounce of her personality. While I only discussed specific ones to certain extent all the other characters are worthwhile as the ones I’ve delved into. I definitely have a favorite among the cast with Saber/Arturia Pendragon and the best part is Fate/Zero has a huge selection of three dimensional characters to choose as your favorite.

Good: Everything Technical Is Stellar

Animation studio Ufotable is responsible for making the series as gorgeous as it looks. The artwork is quite appealing with wonderfully ambient background art and detailed character designs, while the animation is spectacularly smooth and nuanced. It has such fluidity to it it’s like near cinematic quality animation. The action scenes are breath taking and are a feast for the eyes with its intensity and grit. In most anime, the actual animation of the show never matches up to the opening, but here, it’s a pretty accurate representation. The art is always that evocative and the animation is always fluid and exciting, especially during some of the more intense combat scenes later on. Ufotable’s style certainly compliments the character designs especially with the use of gradients. Rather than using solid colour they incorporate gradients which bring objects and characters to life in unforetold beauty and depth.

The soundtrack is suitably bold and dramatically sound unique style and providing (with Kalafina) the second opener “To The Beginning,” a strong song paired with very fitting visuals which replaces the equally strong “Oath Sign” by LiSA used for the first half. These two opening tracks setup the mood properly. Second series closer “Up in the Sky, the Wind Sings” is also a strong effort, one which replaces the first season’s montage of adapted historical images of the Servants with a montage chronicling the meeting and love of Kiritsugu and Irisviel. Some of the images from that are compelling enough to make one wish that their story might eventually be told in more detail in some future OVA release. However, the original soundtrack in general is spectacular that sculpt an atmosphere that leaves the listener feeling unsettled being evocative and engaging the melody shifts in a way that lets you explore the many facets of a given mood, scene, or character.

Voice acting is phenomenal regardless of your preferences. Personally though, I would suggest the English dubbed simply because the amount detail put into its animation can be missed when reading subtitles. The cast for the English dubbed is well chosen and carefully selective. Kari Wahlgren voices Saber/Arturia Pendragon who is strong, confident, and hinting of a tragic past. After looking at her resume I was surprised in what she was in. The fact I couldn’t recognize her is a testament to her vocal range if she can distinctly change her tone of voice so easily. Plus, she fits the characters so perfectly. Another stand out is Jamieson Price as Rider/Iskandar is most the energetic of the cast. He’s freely range to high volume goofiness to steal most scenes he’s in. Either way you decide to watch it all the technical aspects are checked and of high standard.

Final Thoughts:

Fate/Zero is an excellent series that contains everything you could possibly want from a great anime. Gripping stories, engaging characters, and exciting action all culminate in a intelligent series. It’s easily one best anime you could possibly see regardless of your knowledge of the historical figures or position when it comes to viewing anime.

Framework: 2/2

Writing: 2/2

Direction: 2/2

Characters: 2/2

Production Values: 2/2

Possible Complaints (no points value)

  • Uneven pacing in the middle
  • Narrative has no problem jumping around time
  • Some still images, though very detail ones

Rating: 10/10 – Fate/Zero is a benchmark series that combines gripping stories and engaging, complex characters. There’s no area it doesn’t excel in from it’s intricate character designs that move smoothly in a already detailed looking series. Containing a host of well developed themes and ideologies that’ll get you thinking long after it ends. It has everything you could possibly crave from a great series. Everything it sets out to do it accomplishes it. This is one I highly recommend anyone to check out.

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