In just a few days Reverse Thieves will officially be a decade old. I swear sometime in those ten years I made a Murray Head’s Chess reference on the blog but I could not find it with a casual search of our posts so I think I can use it and declare no harm, no foul. I just ask for a bit of forgiveness if I say name a post “One Night in Mariejois and the World’s Your Oyster” within the next decade.
Fate/Apocrypha is an odd beast. It began life in back in the day before mobile games were a thing and the game everyone wanted to be was World of Warcraft. If nothing else Type-Moon has been pretty good at adapting their properties to different mediums in order to seize on what is popular. If you have ever seen Fate/Complete Material Volume IV you will see that they had a whole slew of Servants by different artists for the initial release of the game. For various reasons the game was canceled and the designs for the characters and the general premise of a two team Holy Grail War mostly became a bit of trivia for hardcore fans. A few of the Servants from Fate/Apocrypha found their way into other Type-Moon titles like Fate/Extra but overall it was more a case of what could have been.
As time went on light novels became the popular trend swept the otaku markets and Type-Moon has never been a company to ignore such opportunities. In 2011 they took the overall concept of the Great Holy Grail War and with Yuichiro Higashide made some tweaks to the story so it would work as a series of novels. This led to some changes to the background and the Servants involved but the general framework of the plot was adapted fairly straight.
If nothing else each of the Servants who were dropped from the original concept of Fate/Apocrypha have made their way into Fate/Grand Order. At the same time, all but a few notable exception from Fate/Apocrypha have made their way into Fate/Grand Order. With a Fate/Apocrypha event on the horizon, all of them should be in the game by the end of the year. In fact, if they don’t add Semiramis soon there maybe been some riots in the street of Akihabara.
The novels have been popular enough to get a manga and anime adaptation so here we are today. Unlike most of the other Type-Moon anime, I have written about I only know the broad strokes of the plot. I know most of the characters involved, some major plot points, and some big spoilers but details on anything and some major chunks of the plot will be as much of a surprise to me as they are to a good deal of the audience. So this time I will be as much of a tourist as many of the people reading these post. Sometimes even more so if any of you can read Japanese.
So let’s begin our journey together and see where it leads us.
The streets of Trifas are a powderkeg. After the third Holy Grail War goes very differently than it does in the original Fate/Stay Night timeline the next Holy Grail War starts in Romania. Now two teams of Servants each with one of each of the seven classes of Servants face off. The Black Faction is made up of members of the Yggdmillennia clan who have broken away from the Mage’s Association and the Red Faction made of mages from the Mage’s Association and the Church. Both sides begin to place their pieces on the chess board in hopes of being the one to seize the prize of the biggest Holy Grail War yet.
The episode begins with two scenes that will clearly make much more sense in retrospect.There is a woman who I assume is Jeanne d’Arc speaking to a dragon who also seems to have a human male from. No one greets each other by name so I could be wrong about it being Jeanne but considering she is one of the most important blonds in the story so there is little doubt it is anyone else. By the context of what little they say I will also assume it is a flash forward to the end of the story but it could be a flashback. I’m guessing it is also a flash forward because it would let this scene bookend the story and then let you learn what the woman said when she was muted at the end of the scene. If it is a flashback then it will probably just be more of a mid-story reveal or something that is shown near the climax. Either way, this along with the next scene is more of a teaser of things to come than anything else.
The next scene is definitely a flash forward. It is a battle from later in the story. There seems to be an army of golems and Yggdmillennia homunculi fighting an army of Dragon Tooth Warriors. While Medea is not participating in this battle Dragon Tooth Warriors are fairly low-level summoned minions and basically, any decent level Caster or Summoner can whip up an army of them. The real battles are between the other four participants. For all the flash and polish this larger battle is nothing more than the generic troops going against each other in a Dynasty Warriors game. What will decide the winners and losers are the three Servants and the Monster on the field.
It is a battle of Saber vs Saber as Modred faces off against Siegfried in what is clearly one of the signature battles of Fate/Apocrypha since it is always the fight they bring up in any promotional material. Since Mordred is the Saberface of this story it only makes sense for them to play up her role as a combatant. While there is some actual clashing of swords it seems the big battle comes down to whose magical beam is more powerful. The red energy blast of the blue one? Balmung vs. Clarent. If this was Grand Order I would have all my money on Mordred but that is mostly because Siegfried is criminally underpowered in the game. The anime is a different story.
The other big fight is Jeanne d’Arc vs a giant golem. I assume this is the super golem that Avicebron will mention he is working on later in the episode. While the other golems seem only a level or two above cannon fodder this one can go toe to toe with a servant. Unless of course, this is just a warm up golem and the real masterpiece it yet to come. The fight does not go on long enough to get a full idea if either of them is outmatched. All we really know is that the golem is not a complete pushover.
I feel one of the most common complaints about Fate/Zero is that the first episode was a lot of exposition and setting the stage. With two sets of Servants Fate/Apocrypha clearly, cannot avoid at least 2 episodes of setup. Therefore they put in these scenes as a bit of a promise that crazy battles and major myth are coming up but you have to eat your vegetables before you can get your dessert. I actually like the “vegetables” in this case but this is here for everyone who needs a bit of a reassurance of the existence of upcoming action to keep going.
Fate/Zero moved away from the focus on a single character like the original Fate/Stay Night. While Emiya Kiritsugu is undoubtedly the main character of the story there are large parts that are about Waver Velvet and other masters and are solely from their perspective. The shift away from a very fixed protagonist like Shirou is even greater in Fate/Apocrypha. While Sieg and Jeanne d’Arc are usually listed as the protagonists of the books this scene makes it clear that Kairi Sisigo is also a major perspective character. In fact, most people would assume from this episode that this is the story of Kairi and Mordred and everyone else are just the alternate perspective characters. You have Kairi who gets the lion share of development in this episode and is Darnic seemingly set up as Kairi’s major foil with Shirou Kotomine as a secondary antagonist. Heck Kairi’s partner is a Saberface. In the Type-Moon universe that is THE ticket to main character status.
But overall Kairi will just be an important figure in far more of a Waver Velvet role as far as I can tell. Much like Waver Velvet, I assume many people will follow the exploits of Kairi and Mordred as their main story and everything else is window dressing despite the fact that it is the bulk of the story. But that is what happens when you make a character who is a scarred shotgun wielding necromancer with a leather jacket and then team him up with sukeban Saber with some awesome armor. You have a pair that might make your actual protagonists seem a bit more milquetoast than you would like. Having them be the major focus of the first episode does not help matters.
What I’m saying is expect a lot of salt when Sieg and Jeanne d’Arc are the focus of episodes down the road.
It would not be a Type-Moon series without an extended scene of exposition where characters discuss magical systems and politics. I’m fairly certain Nasu rejects any manuscript by other authors until at least one scene like this has been added.
The main point here is to get the viewer up to speed on how this universe is different from the standard Fate/Stay Night universe. The main difference is that the oddball servant that the Einzbern family snuck in was a Ruler and not an Avenger. This corrupted the ceremony in a very different fashion and this time Darnic was able to steal the Greater Grail which was not tainted by the summoning of Angra Mainyu. This means that all the events of Fate/Zero and beyond did not happen. That then results in Darnic biding his time and waiting 60 years to set up his own version of the Grail War but only when he is completely ready to break away the Mage’s Association. This explains why Darnic is so prepared while the Mage’s Association and the Church seem to have been caught with their pants around their ankles.
Kairi much like Kiritsugu is not only an experienced combat mage but neck-deep in the seedy side of the magical world. Actually, this being Type-Moon universe so the more accurate statement would be the EXTRA seedy side of the magical world. The basic details of the standard Holy Grail War can be skipped over. Since Kairi is well versed in the general mechanics of a Holy Grail War he only needs to be filled the particulars of this aberrant version and the players in it.
By the way, they have that lingering shot on Kairi’s cigarettes is there mostly because they are a famous brand in the Type-Moon universe called Dragon Smoke. Apparently, Touko Aozaki and Natalia Kaminski also smoke them despite being horrifically rare. They are mostly there as a nod and a wink to the super fans who would understand such a refrence.
Since the events of Fate/Zero never happened they had to make up these minor broken Grail Wars to explain how Waver Velvet still becomes Lord El-Melloi II plus still met Iskandar. That seems like a WHOLE LOT of effort for Lord El-Melloi II to make what seems to add up to little more than a casual cameo. I’m not exactly sure why they needed Lord El-Melloi II to give this extra layer of exposition that could have easily been done by Rocco Belfaban. The other odd part is that the person Lord El-Melloi II is talking to is Flat Escardos. While Flat Escardos is an established student of Lord El-Melloi II he is much more significantly known as one of the Masters in Fate/strange fake.
If I had to venture a theory it would be that this is mostly here to cement the idea that Fate/strange fake is in the same timeline as Fate/Apocrypha. At this point especially after Fate/Extella, it would be easy to assume any new Holy Grail War story takes place within its own separate timeline unless something explicitly says otherwise. This scene would be a strong point to explicitly connect the two stories. Otherwise, this just is a big piece of fan service beyond just a background cameo or a single line of dialog.
Say hello to the jobber Masters. The Fate series distinctly have the sort of fantasy series structure that engenders a large cast. Any full Holy Grail War has a minimum of seven Servants and seven Masters alongside a plentiful cast of support characters. The Great Holy Grail War instantly doubles that base number. While people who read series like A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time are super used to having to learn about large casts very quickly for most people it can be a hard skill to learn. I know the cast of Fate/Zero bucked off some viewers with its size alone. So some concessions have to be made for an even larger cast. These quickly mentioned Masters are that concession.
If you found it odd that they seemingly shotgun five masters at you with little more than a screenshot and a quick line of dialog it should be a big clue that this quintet is not going to be the most important characters in the story. There are not just instantly dispatched as if they were the first point of view characters in a Song of Ice and Fire book but they also are going to be written out fairly efficiently. If you can’t tell Rottweil Berzinsky apart from Feend vor Sembren don’t worry. Unless they make some major changes from the novels they are collectively the Atrum Galliasta of Fate/Apocrypha.
I would not be mean enough to call them the utterly nameless dude that was originally supposed to be the Master of Assassin before Medea super murders him. You have to die off-screen before the story starts to get that level of disgrace.
Since Darnic is the leader of Yggdmillennia clan it only makes sense for him to get a good deal of the screen time since he is going to be the major foil for so much of the cast.He definitely comes off as a cold and calculating plotter. While he may have big and you can even say romantic ambitions his methodology is very mechanical and utilitarian. He is also the sort of man who would team up with Nazis and create homunculi to act as disposable batteries and foot soldiers. He does not come off as deliberately evil as much as completely devoid of morals.
It is also a good way to get to know Avicebron since he is not really going to be doing a lot of combat in the field as he is much more of a support Servant. It also means learning about Roche and Avicebron’s master and student relationship. Roche is far more his Servant’s lab assistant than his commander.
Shirou Kotomine has always been a bit of a mean trick played on the fans. If you have ever read anything about Fate/Extra you will know that Nero was very specifically designed so that people would think she was Artoria and then be utterly confused the moment they actually saw what she was like. Type-Moon clearly enjoyed that so they doubled down on the idea with Shirou Kotomine.
Everything about his character design and name is clearly supposed to imply that this a version of Shirou Emiya that was raised by Kirei Kotomine instead of Kiritsugu due to the change in the timeline. I know I saw several people throw out that idea when the novels were first coming out. It turns out that this is not the case but it is proof that the trick worked.
I think people were also a little saddened because they wanted to see Shirou Emiya as a dastardly villain. Or more accurately they wanted to see him acknowledged “as the villain they always knew he was.”
Some people really dislike Shirou.
Magical girls and mecha shows have their transformation sequences, sport and fighting shows have their fancy special moves, and Fate stories always have at least one big Servant summoning scene. You don’t see the summoning of every Servant since each version so far has had several Servants summoned before the start and this is no exception. That said you always get two or three of the Servants getting summoned because that is just something you have to do. This time you get four of the Black Servants.
As I mentioned before this is a fairly large cast so a little efficiency is needed to get as many characters a little time to shine in this first episode as they can. This scene at least lets four Masters and four Servants get introduced in quick succession with a bookmark that says, “Look. We don’t have the time to go in-depth with all these people so here is a little taste of what they are like. We will come back to them when we get some other important stuff out-of-the-way. We promise.”
Since the members of the Yggdmillennia clan are not just going to become Pannacotta Fugo in Vento Aureo they should get some amount of intro. While we see them summon their Servants they not only all have to share screen time with each other they also have to play against the solo Kairi. The few brief flash of who they mostly have to be conveyed on how they react to their newly summoned Servants and other little bits of body language. It is more than the five unimportant Red Masters get but not by much.
The Servants get even less but even the most underdeveloped Servant gets more time to shine than all but the most important Masters so their big intros can wait. Plus you have to sell Masters more. The mind automatically races to bold and cool ideas with Servants. If you don’t already know who they are you automatically start guessing their historical identities and powers. If you know who they are you still try to figure out how their most notable and infamous pieces of lore will translate into a Servant. Servants can get away with minimum information being shown about them and still get huge fan bases. Watch when they tease a new Servant for Fate/Grand Order and see it all unfold before your eyes as a fandom is created with just the smallest scraps of information. When it comes to Masters there are a few exceptions and there are people who will gravitate to Masters just on character design you still need more to sell a magus.
Mordred has always had some cool armor but seeing it in action gives you an all new appreciation for its design. Seeing how her helmet goes on and off is like discovering ice cream is a cure for cancer. You probably already loved it but now you have an even better reason to need it in your life. I think people would pay good money for a Mordred figure that has a helmet that works like the one in the anime. I know my roommate would buy it without a second thought.
I do wonder how the English-speaking fans will take to Mordred now that she has made her way to a series that they can easily experience. While she has been a fairly strong presence in the Japanese material not much with her has been officially brought over here. She is a very known quantity to me but she might be a little more unfamiliar to more casual Type-Moon fans.
I actually have a feeling people might like her more. She has almost all the same character design points that make Artoria popular with a bunch of extra features like her cool armor and casual clothing to catch people’s interest. Also, I think Mordred’s personality is far more suited to a Western audience than her father’s.
It would be a little odd for the main heroine of the series not to formally appear at all in the first episode. She did appear in the little flash forward at the beginning but for the rest of the episode goes without her. While her appearance in the flash forward is probably enough they decided that a proper formal appearance of Jeanne d’Arc in the story was warranted even if it is just for a few seconds. While she is not in her full armor or even seen head on she at least been introduced.
Fate/Apocrypha is definitely an ambitious tale. It has more moving parts than any previous Fate story. But more does not necessarily mean better. In each version of the Holy Grail War, there are Servants and Masters who distinctly feel underdeveloped as compared to everyone else. When you create a cast this large you can easily get a case where no one gets enough time to be fully developed or worse yet the wrong characters get too much time in the spotlight making the time feel even more squandered. Even after the first episodes and a fairly sizable cast reveal there are still many major positions that have not been filled.
What I am saying is that I look forward to seeing what comes next but am fully aware of what could go wrong.