Fate/Grand Order: First Order – Cú Chulainn is the Eternal Top Dog

hisui_icon_4040_round Mobile Games are big business. I just had to type in the sentence into google and then pick from the dozens of links to find something I wanted to use to verify that last statement. There is a whole WORLD of criticism about the models that free to play games use to monetize their players to be profitable. This is not a video game blog so I will talk instead about the one major potential upsides. When these games do well they can generate a tremendous amount of revenue which in turn is then often funneled into an anime in which to promote the game and hopefully draw in new players. These productions can vary wildly. Rage of Bahamut: Genesis is still the gold standard of what these shows can be. Overall they can be utter drek to surprisingly fun material with most of the titles being middle of the road work for hire material. Neither grand or horrible but utterly serviceable in their complete banal mediocrity.

The main problem is most of these free to play games have a very loose plot. Just enough to propel the story forward but not much more depth than is needed. They use character designs and a loose bit of lore in place of substance and hope that fanon fills in everything else. Fate/Grand Order being a Type-Moon property means that unlike your standard mobile game there is a visual novel’s worth of story in the game alongside the volumes of material surrounding all the established characters in the Nasuverse. It is as if Lord of the Rings or Star Wars made a new full-fledged leg of the series solely told within a mobile game. While this means it has a very substantial feel it cannot escape the fact that it is an anime based on a video game. Anime based on video games have an oh so slightly better track record than movies based on video games but not THAT much better.

Fate/Grand Order: First Order is an adaption of the prelude chapter of the Fate/Grand Order. As it is the opening section it has the most exposition but it also has the most room to maneuver. In many ways, it is the best test of how well an animated Fate/Grand Order would fly. This is the time for Lay-duce to either show that they can make something enjoyable from Fate/Grand Order or add another example of why companies should avoid carelessly pumping out anime based on video games.

Thanks to a series of temporal anomalies human civilization ends in December 2016. The Chaldea Security Organization has gathered dozens of potential Masters in order to send them back in time in hopes that with the use of Servants they can steer history back onto a track where humans are still alive in 2017 and beyond. But after a disaster at the facility a single master and demi-Servant pair are left to repair the past. Can they survive the Holy Grail War of 2004 in Fuyuki City and set right what once went wrong?

Boy meets girl in the classic Fate style. So right off the bat, the anime had to make a choice. Do they pick the male or the female protagonist? As it turned out 80% of the player base of the game is male so the choice to make the protagonist of the series male makes sense. Although Riyo Gudako has become popular thanks to the Learn With Manga! FGO comics I assume they want the heterosexual romance angle with the main character and Shielder. Technically Guako appears as a background potential Master in this episode so it is not as if she is utterly forgotten but that also means that she is either dead or comatose with the rest of the candidates.

Unless you believe that she is the blackhearted Gudako from comic and she faked her own death so she can steal Ritsuka Fujimaru’s Servants after he has built up a nice stable of heroes during his adventures.

Overall this is probably the section of the special that is most likely to bore an audience as it has to do most of the heavy lifting of explaining the premise and Chaldea, introducing Ritsuka Fujimaru, Mashu Kyrielight, and Lev Lainur, plus set up a little romance and mystery. They also don’t have any fights so it is even a bit steeper a climb. At this point hardcore, Type-Moon fans are used to this but there is always a chance this is someone’s first introduction to the universe.

In the manga, Fujimaru fights a mock battle in the simulator with ArtoriaCú Chulainn, and Arash as simulated Servants. On one hand, you don’t want to completely redo the tutorial sections as that is SUPER BORING and not using the medium correctly but on the other hand it might have added a little action into the opening. Plus it might help explain why the main character is passed out in the hallway and not just make it seem like he is inconveniently narcoleptic. The special has a lot to cover so it would not have to be that long but it would help by giving a shot of excitement into the story until the first real fight.

Olga Marie Animusphere is not just a Rin clone nor is she utterly original type of character to the Nasuverse. Nasu distinctly has some archetypes that he likes to modify in his series. The Misaya, AzakaAkiha, RinAlice and Olga Marie lineage is fairly strong. While each is their own woman it also fairly clear that Nasu has a type that he like to use in his game. The rest of his archetypes are nowhere near as common or as similar.

Also, the Olga Marie and Rin parallels go deeper. They both come from prominent magical families and are famous for having great magical potential. They both have fathers who fought in a previous Holy Grail and were murdered when they were young. They are both a little haughty and seemingly invincible but secretly a bit vulnerable and clumsy. They both gain villainous guardians who do not have their best interests at heart.

The thing is Rin always rocking like a hurricane and Olga Marie is a bit more of a goofadoof Sacchin also with the luck of Satsuki Yumizuka. Olga Marie wants to project the image of being a Rin but she comes off as much more sound and fury than anything else. Or you could look at it as if Olga Marie is more an alternative version of Rin where all her neuroses were far less in check and weighted her down.

The next up on the new character parade is Dr. Romantic himself. Romani Archaman is an odd duck in regard to fandom’s opinion of him. At first, he mainly seemed like a simple plot tool and quest giver character. I don’t think anyone super loved or hated him. As the game has gone on I feel it has been a bit of a roller coaster. When it was more revealed that he is a super nerd who loves magical girl shows I feel people either felt a sense of comradery or nerd shame after learning his true nature. After awhile he starting getting shipped with Leonardo da Vinci which gained him some fans. Then after some major reveals, he became an intense topic of analysis, discussion, and conspiracy theories. By the end of first Arc of Fate/Grand Order, I feel like there was a surprising amount of love for the good doctor. It is to a level I was I little surprised how much people had come to like his character.

I mainly want to use this section to talk about Shielder since she is the main heroine of the series and one of the few guaranteed characters that everyone has. But before that, it is worth mentioning how everything goes to hell. There is a certain resonance between the fire in the Rayshifting room after the bomb goes off and the fire during the 5th Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City.

Also, I know Ritsuka is just trying to comfort a dying Mashu but asking her if she is alright seems sort of silly considering half of her body is clearly decimated. It is one of those situations where it is hard to find any sort of words but that was still pretty silly.

Oh. Let’s get these fan theory out-of-the-way: Ritsuka Fujimaru died before the game began/Ritsuka Fujimaru died before being transported to 2004/Everything is dream past falling asleep during the first briefing. Those three seem to be the easiest (dare I say laziest) fan theories people would make about Fate/Grand Order. I have not seen anyone propose these but at this point, I feel these are the default theories people propose whenever there is a chance a character could have died or passed out.

But here is arguably the birth of Shielder. Mashu goes from mysterious Rei Ayanami sidekick to the ultimate free tank in the game. The whole intro really needs to sell her because she is the one character that will be a constant companion. She appears as a major character in all the storyline events, most side missions, and weekly master missions. She is the only character who both the game and the anime can’t ignore. Overall much like the main character they make her very safe. She distinctly has bashful kohai cuteness but overall they make her mild. She is not utterly bland but at the same time she is not even a medium level of spicy.

If anything like Rei Ayanami her hook is the mystery surrounding her. The biggest question is supposed to be which Servant is she channeling. Before the game came out the speculation was rampant. Achilles was one of the more popular guesses but there were a whole slew of other ideas. All of that generally ended when the game was released and data miners dug up whose powers she had. Some people wanted for the reveal like Nasu asked but I don’t even think most people even considered it a spoiler to mention the reveal a week after the game came out. In the game, the information was not revealed until the 7th area of the game in Jerusalem. The actual mystery of the game for most players became when would the characters in the game have the same knowledge that the players did.

The anime is trying to keep the sense of mystery by keeping everything about Shielder’s identity a secret. It is one of the few elements I don’t feel like possibly spoiling by discussing it. If you have played the game you almost surely know by now. In fact, even if you don’t play Grand Order there is a good chance you know. The reason is there is enough of an audience that still mostly knows Type-Moon only from the anime iterations that I feel it somewhat counts as a spoiler but only when discussing the anime. Plus the way the story is written it invites the speculation. This first part lays out enough information that you can start coming up with theories but not enough that anything can be declared for certain. While the answer is a super simple Google search away I feel like leaving that up as a voluntary exercise to anyone who still does not know the answer.

I will also mention that at this point I have heard Rie Takahashi as Shielder long enough in the game that she was the voice I excepted in the anime despite the fact that Risa Taneda had the role for so long. I guess that is the power of always hearing her during the weekly master missions.

So this is yet another version of the 5th Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City. In fact, it is ACTUALLY two new versions of the 5th Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City. There is the original timeline which has many similarities to what was seen in Fate/Stay Night but has some very important key differences. Then there is the broken version. In this world, the change that everything turns on is the fact that Medea is not summoned as Caster in either version. Since Medea is not there it seems that the Hassan of the Cursed Arm is now the main assassin and not an oddity. For some reason, that also translates into Medusa being summoned as a Lancer instead of a Rider. In turn, since the Rider seat is opened it is filled by Darius III. Archer, Berserker, and Saber are still the same as always.

In this “broken” version Cu Chulainn is another character who was class shifted into a job that you do not normally see them in. In the original timeline, there was a different Servant in that position but I will talk more about that soon. The main thing is this is sort of the 5th Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City you know with enough key differences that it is its own thing.

In the game, there is a third set of Servants. Medusa is the Rider and Benkei is the Lancer. Darius III is nowhere to be seen and Medusa is the standard Medusa. It is an interesting change because the two characters added to the anime are also not in the game (yet.) Overall they are changes I can approve of. Darius III being involved automatically signals major changes and the class changes of Cu Chulainn and Medusa drive it home while still grounding it in the familiar. It is also a change that works better than slavishly sticking to what worked in the game.

I am super curious if this was a change that the Type-Moon staff made in reflection, a decision by the Lay-duce staff, or some combination of the two. The answer might important if they adapt more of the game. Septem was by far the least popular part of the game with its story garnering a good deal of criticism. I could easily see that part getting some rewrites when it is adapted. Who decided the changes here will probably shape how that chapter plays out.

A quick blink and you miss it moment. This little scene of exposition about the differences in timelines has a little Easter Egg for anyone who has played the game. They mention that no one knows who won this battle. Then they have Several hands reach for the grail. One of the hands who grabs it is Saber Alter. The other is an unfamiliar hand. That is clear signaling of the differences between the two timelines.

As it stands you can’t figure out from the shot above who this unknown character is. It instead has different purposes for different people. If you played the games then it is a wink and a nod as the viewer has a chance to pick up on their little tip of the hat to the identity of the original Caster. But it is not so obvious that it blows the answer before the big reveal to anyone going in fresh. So if anyone goes back and sees it then it still acts like a bonus but it does not spoil the surprise prematurely.

It is worth mentioning that they still make a good deal of nods to the original game. Caster Cu Chulainn mentions that if they avoid corrupted Hercules they don’t have to worry about fighting him. This is a little nod to the fact that Hercules is an optional boss battle you can go back and fight after you beat this chapter.

I know a lot of people found the scene of Lancer Medusa decapitating some stone seaweed very cathartic. Lancer Medusa maybe corrupted and evil but that does not mean everything she does is terrible.

This is a much more interesting battle than the fights with shadow Benkei. Medusa’s hair snakes being binding chains work really well to differentiate her from other versions of the character. They also have her use her petrification powers much more. It lets her be a reasonable threat to show that Shielder is good but has lots of room to grow but also lets Caster Cu Chulainn show off how powerful he was.

I will be shocked if this adult Lancer medusa does not find her way into Fate Grand Order. There is already a young version of Lancer Medusa but the appeal for the characters is clearly very different. Plus if they can be so many different version of Artoria in the Saber class alone a second Lancer Medusa is hardly an impossibility.

It is also worth noting that when the game debuted it was MUCH harder to level up characters. Now most people can race through Fuyuki without breaking a sweat. But in the first few months, many a player relied on Caster Cu Chulainn to carry them through battles much like what happens here.

Really the star of this episode is not Fujimaru or Mashu. It is clearly Caster Cu Chulainn. Fujimaru or Mashu do their things and have their moments but the bro of bros is Sétanta. For the longest time, Archer has been the unchallenged king of the male characters. But slowly but surely Cu Chulainn has solidified himself in the secondary spot. He was always there but it mostly went from “I guess I also like Lancer” to “Why is there not more merchandise for the best dog?” Episodes like this only make this more and more the case. The fact that Cu Chulainn is the best 3-Star Servant and his stellar 5-star Berserker version in the game maybe even put him in the running to dethrone his rival.

I am pretty sure this anime launched a few Olga Marie/Cu Chulainn shippers. Obviously, there are some major reasons that people don’t frequently ship Olga Marie with other characters by the end of the episode but that is neither here nor there. I think seeing them interact really helps foster the flames of imagined romance.

I also wanted to point out another good adaptation decision. In the game Cu Chulainn repeatedly attacks Mashu in hope that it will awaken her Noble Phantasm. It does not work and eventually the plot moves and Mashu learns to use her shield in the battle with Saber Alter like in the anime. In the anime, this would have been a filler fight that would have done little other than add some muted action. Instead, they have Cu Chulainn allude to trying this plan but they cut him off and move on. In a special like this, you need to be economical with your time. They wisely put in the important parts of the exchange but no more than that. It makes the story tighter without removing any of the important characterization.

Speaking of the rivalry between EMIYA and Cu Chulainn there is also a return to the classic Lancer vs. Archer with a new spell casting twist. It turns out that when Cu Chulainn is not hampered by having to begrudgingly work for Kirei Kotomine he is far more effective. One has to wonder how dangerous he would have been had Bazett not been betrayed.

Also, I have to say that I wish Caster Cu Chulainn was this good in the game. Or if nothing else they interpret some of his abilities in the game in a way that is far more spectacular than in the game. His Primeval Rune and Protection from Arrows come off far more flashy than a simple buff and dodge when he is creating bounded fields and performing Celtic Substitution Jutsu. I know Cu Chulainn says they should summon him as a Lancer in the future but with all his tricks here I am not sure that is the case. I look forward to seeing an equal amount of visual creativity for other Servants battles.

It was also amusing that the battle does turn into the classic lancer vs. swordsman battle despite the classes of the combatants involved. It would have felt a bit off if EMIYA was not using Kanshou and Bakuya or Cu Chulainn was not wielding a lance even if it was an improvised staff. The new stuff is great but a little taste of the original is always nice.

One last note: I’m sure many a fan squealed with the little mention of Scáthach even if it was in an indirect manner.

At the same time, there is a much more defensive battle going on with Saber Alter and Shielder. Shielder is at a disadvantage in a number of ways. First of all, she has a fledgling Master who is still clearly learning the ropes. Secondly, she is a tank going up against an aggressive warrior. Lastly, while Mashu still can’t use her trump card it seems Saber has a whole deck of them in her back pocket. Saber can’t easily land a killing blow but Shielder is not really someone who can readily act like a wrecking ball. She is far better as support for an aggressive attacker than someone who delivers the coup de grâce herself.

It turned out Shielder did not have to win. What she had to so was last long enough not to lose. Then the Servant with a dangerous Noble Phantasm could do his job.

If it was not your first thought it should have been your second impression that Saber ended up being defeated by the Nicolas Cage attack. When people saw Cu Chulainn’s Wicker Man Noble Phantasm it only took about 4 seconds for him to get a wide variety of nicknames related to the infamous 2006 movie of the same name. Having Saber go out the way that Edward Malus dies (without the face full of bees) almost certainly made sure that this will forever be Wicker Man legacy.

I was shocked when the story originally took out Olga Marie like this. First of all, it is rather brutal. Olga Marie does not die instantly or gently as she makes an inspiring speech to the hero. She dies kicking and screaming with her body and soul being disintegrated after being betrayed by the person she trusted the most. That is horrific. Secondly for all the buildup that she got I just figured she would have lasted longer. She seemed like a character who would have lasted until at least a little past the halfway mark. It was one thing to kill the Initial Protagonist in Fate/Extra. He was practically a mook. Olga Marie seemed like a secondary romantic interest so her death is a little surprising. It is along the lines of the death of Garma in the original Gundam. You knew it was going to happen you just assumed it would be at a later date.

That said two things should also be mentioned. The Animusphere family is very important to the story. In fact, her father might be one of the most important secondary characters to the overall shaping of the plot who is not a Servant. While Olga Marie is gone her legacy still survives.

Secondly, for all that was said about her being gone forever it might still be a little too early to say never. She has appeared in the Melty Blood Back Alley Alliance – Nightmare manga so she already has popped up as not totally dead. With a half season already on the way and that just being preparation for the next big arc, there is plenty of time to bring back Olga Marie.

I just wonder if they regret killer her so soon.

I also just realized my first draft of the post did not have an entry on Lev. In a way, I think that says a lot. First of all, he looks like a mustachio-twirling villain. Kotomine sees this guy and sighs about how this guy tips his hand far too soon. But then again this is something par the course for the series. It is not like the villains of any Type-Moon property have ever been a big surprise. No one has ever accidentally mistaken Zouken for a jolly doting grandfather, Souren Araya as a peaceful transcendent monk, or Nrvnqsr Chaos as a kindly animal lover. You might not know their plan but you know they are up to no good. There is the occasional Kohaku curve ball but they are certainly the exception and not the rule.

Secondly, Nasu did write Clock Tower 2015 which spells out that Lev has a demonic third personality and even lays out that his suicide in that story is what keeps the original Stay/Stay Night timeline from becoming Fate/Grand Order. In the end, Lev is the opening villain. He is there to start problems and introduce the conflict. That is why he is killed so early into the story so the true villains can start to step out of the shadows.

Weird nitpicky nerd point: When they are discussing their future adventures in the various singularities they mention how they are going to have to fight various Servants from throughout history while flashing some very prominent figures. The problem is Jeanne d’Arc, Nero, and Drake are all characters who help you on your way. Don’t talk about future antagonists and then overlay with future allies. It just seems like bad cinematic messaging.

Oh for anyone who was curious the shadowy servants in the scene above are (from left to right): Attila, Mordred, Stheno, Marie Antoinette, Scáthach, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, Arjuna, Enkidu, Alexander, Asterios, Bedivere, Sakata Kintoki, and who I assume is Spartacus. And now you know.

Overall I think Fate/Grand Order: First Order was better than it had a right to be. It is not even close to the best Type-Moon adaptation. Ufotable is still hands down the primary choice for any Type-Moon title. Ufotable still has the best animation and sense of style.  They GET Type-Moon and are supremely adept at translating that concept into animation. But for an anime based on a mobile game, this felt like it knew what to do. They cut parts of the game that don’t make good TV and added parts that made things flow better. I don’t agree with every choice but they know what they are doing far more than most animation studios working on a game property.

I should be clear that this is hardly the most original or exciting Fate story. Ritsuka Fujimaru by purposeful design is generic, Mashu is deliberately prototypical, and you see Lev’s betrayal a mile away. Also, they go back to the most well-worn area of the Holy Grail War. Fate/Extra goes to the moon with a Holy Grail super computer and Fate/Apocrypha is set in Romania. But the return to Fuyuki City seems deliberate. It is a touchstone that gives some exposition to experienced fans so they can transition into the new material. The real exciting part of each singularity going forward is exploring the setting’s time and location as well as the Servants that are in conflict there. Fujimaru and Mashu are mostly just the utensils used to serve you the more interesting meal.

That basically means this is probably not the best place for newbies to enter the franchise. It is not that it requires too much deep lore to understand. It is more that I think Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works make a better first impression. This is more the next step for someone who has some experience with Fate Universe and is hungry for more. If anything it is the hyper smorgasbord of the Fate idea. It has everything people like about the idea but in larger and more intense portions but without the artisanal qualities of the other adaptations.

By the way remember: What is dead may never die.


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