This is not a review. If you want an objective review you can check out ANN or any of several dozen episodic bloggers. This is a love letter to Fate/Zero. I am sure I will complain about one or two things, as is the nature of picky fans, but I’m mostly here to sit back and raise a glass to a series I love. So if you are here to celebrate the prequel to Fate/Stay Night or maybe try to make heads of tails of the fandom pull up a chair and join the celebration. Just remember that most of these people we meet in this series don’t show up in Fate/Stay Night. And it is not because they all decided to run a wacky pizza parlor after the events of Fate/Zero and are too busy getting into hijinks to take part in the 5th Holy Grail war.
Fate/Zero is a prequel to the visual novel Fate/Stay Night written by Gen Urobuchi with Type-Moon and Nitro+. This is the story of the shadow war between mages that ended in an apocalyptic fire in Fuyuki city that would set the stage for the tragedies of the 5th Holy Grail war. Mages from all over the world are being selected by the mysterious Holy Grail system. Those who are chosen are going to Japan to fight alongside legendary heroes in hope of having their wishes granted. Kiritsugu Emiya is a magical assassin who has entered the war along with his wife for supposedly noble goals but 6 other mages stand in their path each with their own agendas and powers.
If the Holy Grail War is a game of very bloody Battle Chess than this is the part were the pieces are set up before the first move is played. We start with Shirou’s old man and his wife giving birth to the little girl who shall be called Illyasviel von Einzbern. Saber was not kidding when she said that the Kiritsugu she knew was not the kindly man who raised Shirou. He is a methodical killer who does whatever it takes to get the job done. But Irisviel von Einzbern seems to believe in his higher ideals that will eventually be revealed in Fate/Stay Night. Irisviel and Kiritsugu are very different people but seem to have a strong bond of trust.
Rin’s father on the other hand seems to be trying to game the system by not only winning over the church official in charge of the war but also recruiting his son to his side when it is discovered that he is also a Master in the war. The thing is as much as I joke that Kirei Kotomine is about as trustworthy as a man paying with 3 dollar bills he does not come off as a mustachio twirling villain. Tokiomi merely sees him as an obedient pawn to the church and by extension to him. But since Gilgamesh is Kirei’s servant in Fate/Stay Night but Tokiomi’s in Fate/Zero it already hints at a future betrayal. I wonder when Kotomine true nature will manifest for the audience. I did find it interesting that Kotomine and Kiritsugu both have their eyes on each other and both have no real understanding of the inner workings of the other. They just know there is more to their enemy and that they are very dangerous. A nice prelude to their later dealings.
Sakura continues to be the bad luck kid with her white knight being Kariya Matou. He is one of the weakest participants as until recently he was totally out of the magical world until he decides to enter into the Holy Grail world to free Sakura from the horrific machinations of Zouken. You can tell that there is nothing but a cloud of misfortune surrounding him. He is willing to sacrifice so much for Sakura but you can just feel the hopelessness of his decisions even if he does not. But that seems to be the Matou family destiny. You are either a doomed fool or a doomed monster but either way there is little happiness in your future. Also those who have played through all of the visual novel will know what a nasty piece of work Zouken is but he is a total wild card if you only watched the anime as he only appears on-screen in the Heaven’s Feel path.
The last pair of masters that we see are Kayneth Archibald El-Melloi and Waver Velvet. It is the classic battle between the arrogant old guard and the brash youth. After being belittled in class Waver steals his professor’s item that he intended to use to summon a servant and runs off to Japan in hopes of besting the man who ridiculed him. Obviously these two are going to have their own little rivalry on top of the normal kill or be killed attitude masters have for one in other. We don’t get much of a sense of who El-Melloi is beyond being a pompous member of the aristocracy. Waver Velvet on the other hand comes off as a bit more likable and clumsy if equally arrogant in his own way.
While we get a look at 6 of the 7 masters we only see most of the servants being summoned at the end of the episode. Kotomine’s Assassin seems to be the first servant summoned and looks much like True Assassin but is clearly not the same servant. Tokiomi has the King of Attempted Rapists on his side, Kariya finds himself confronted with a mysterious black knight, and Waver Velvet summons a bear of a red-headed man. El-Melloi’s second place medal of a summon and the person involved with the caster class are still unseen. Kiritsugu on the other hand is the ultimate winner in the game called life with the King of Knights as his ally. Sadly she only appears in the last few seconds of the episode so we will have to wait until next week for more Ayako Kawasumi goodness.
This anime looks gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. It is pretty much OAV quality animation on TV. Studio Deen Fate/Stay Night and the Unlimited Blade Works movie were sometimes good and even on rare occasion eye-catching but more often workmanlike or just plain sloppy. But ufotable’s work on Fate/Zero is filet mignon compared to the hamburger meat we have been served before. Rich backgrounds, fluid animation, brilliantly realized character designs. My only fear is they cannot keep up this gorgeous level of beauty. This episode was an hour-long but it was mostly people talking to other and reading books. Hardly dynamic fight scenes and thrilling chase sequences. Will time and complexity with hurt later episodes? For now I will hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. I was not super keen on the opening song as it does not really kick into gear until Saber starts to fighter Berserker but the animation was lovely. Curious to see what they pull off with the ending.
If nothing else this Holy Grail war has a much different feel that the one we see in Fate/Stay Night. There are mostly experienced older warriors who are willing to do whatever it takes to make their wishes come to fruition. Also without Shirou running around trying to avoid killing people and only one teenage Master I think some people will have an easier time getting into this series. The Masters this time around have a very gray morality at best unlike the more black and white cast of the original. Also the servants are much more straight forward as opposed to many of the old rule bending servants in the original game. It is time for a very ruthless battle.
It was wise of them to start with an hour-long episode. This was the required setting of the stage and introduction to a majority of the main players. It lets you settle in with the cast so when things start to hit the fan in the next episode you at least have some idea of who is who. I know that some people are going to be turned off by the talking heads nature of this episode but it serves a very important purpose. I myself am all hyped up for the next episode. We have not even seen Saber in a suit riding a motorcycle so the best is yet to come.