Fate/Apocrypha #04: Sumanai

hisui_icon_4040_round The major problem with Type-Moon anime coming out in the summer is that the summer also tends to be the busiest part of the year for the blog other than December. The real time sink is Otakon because the month before the convention is nothing but preparation. Then Otakon itself is amazing fun but drains all your energy in a sleep deprived blur. The month after that is con reports and catching up with everything else. That always made starting the Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya posts have a weird period where I had to play catch up with them while also playing catch up with everything else in my life. Therefore it makes it doubly important that I don’t fall behind on anything beforehand because it takes the challenge mode tasks of writing for the blog after Otakon and adds hard mode on top of that.

Basically what I am saying is that I love battle heavy episodes like this one when I am running behind. They tend to require much less writing and analysis since they are more about visual spectacle. There are still elements to unpack but overall they are far simpler besides some notable exceptions.

If they can keep this up for the next few weeks my life will be much simpler.

While multiple Servant battles are hardly unheard in Holy Grail Wars the Great Holy Grail War makes it a commonplace occurrence. Spartacus starts the first major battle of the Holy Grail War beyond the first few skirmishes that had come before. While the Red and Black factions face off Astolfo takes it as a chance to sneak the homunculus he saved out of the castle. Soon enough this leads to tragedy and unexpectedly the first major casualty of the Great Holy Grail War.

Spartacus really feels like a Berserker in these scenes but a different sort of Berserker than previous Servants in that class. Heracles always felt like a machine of war. A Tetsujin 28 of the magical world that followed the orders of his female Shotaro Kaneda. Heracles was something you pointed at an enemy and he made it dead. While Lancelot seemed more of a thinking warrior who just went off the rails when certain triggers went off. Both of them could be a handful to deal with under the right circumstances but their major drawback was their heavy magical cost. Most of the time they were actually dependable weapons in the hands of a powerful Master.

Spartacus, on the other hand, feels like a storm that theoretically has a nominal Master. You can give Spartacus orders but if you’re expecting them to be carried out with anything close to the precision you’re going to be very disappointed. He mostly seems to be a weapon best just dropped near the enemy. He is going to make problems wherever he goes so it is better to have him do that where your enemies are so hopefully one of two of them get caught in the chaos. He also gets more powerful the more damage he takes so it makes even more sense. He is more dangerous if he only takes little wounds that don’t obliterate him.

Shirou Kotomine seems to realize this so he basically uses Spartacus much like a creeping barrage in WWI. He throws out Spartacus with fewer expectations that he will take out an enemy Servant or Master. That would be a wonderful bonus but it is not his main purpose. Since the Yggdmillennia Masters are so dug in with their defenses the Red Faction needs a multilevel strategy to break through them. Since Spartacus can’t be used as a precision weapon it’s best to use him as a powerful bomb that hopefully shows where the enemy is both strong and weak while also hopefully doing some structural damage. If this was the standard single Master and Servant Holy Grail War this would be an incredibly dumb strategy. But with seven Servants on both sides, this is far more viable especially if Spartacus might otherwise be dangerous if left idle. It is better than just having him kill himself.

The Black Faction seems to clue in on this as well. Since Spartacus just seems to be the mindless drone sent at them better to capture him and then lob him back like a grenade that was thrown too soon. Otherwise, you play right into your opponents hands. Also despite all of his power taking out homunculi and golems, Spartacus goes down fairly easily when the Servants come out. Astolfo has a hard time with him but Spartacus goes down when faced with Vlad and Avicebron.

There are also no uncomfortable faux sex scenes between Astolfo and Celenike this week. They are still really awkward around each other but all the weirdness only has very loosely implied sexual tones as opposed to outright disturbing imagery.  Hooray!

While they have mostly been hinted at more than anything the Greek duo of Atalanta and Achilles actually get to step into the light in full. It is clear that Achilles is already super suspicious that something strange going on with the Red Faction situation especially with Shirou Kotomine being their only real point of contact the other Masters. Atalanta also seems to have picked up on this but clearly does not care even a single iota. She is here to win the Holy Grail War and does not seem very interested in anything else. Not having an active Master might be a bonus.

Since the Red Faction servants have had so much less time on-screen this fight has to do a lot to show off  Atalanta and Achilles because while Frankenstein’s monster and Chiron have hardly been the main focus of an episode they have had at least had some time to express themselves as characters. Atalanta and Achilles have to pull double duty as they show off who they are while they fight.

So far Chiron has been able to show off that while Atalanta is an amazing archer she is not up to the Sogeking levels of god archery that Chiron is capable of. Atalanta is the type of Archer who can knock the wings off a fly on the other end of a football field. The only problem is Chiron can counter all of that from a mile away. So every one of Atalanta’s kill shots is deflected by Chiron which means that they spend most of the skirmish countering each other.

That allows Achilles show off as he faces off various Yggdmillennia Servants. Interestingly enough despite that, his actual abilities are a bit vaguer. He has a spear and a chariot and he is a great fighter but other than that it is mostly tough talk. While most Servants have been keeping their big abilities in their back pocket Achilles feels like he fighting with both hands behind his back. He actually expresses a lot more in his conversation with Siegfried. Since Siegfried is stoically prim and proper it gives Achilles’ playful seriousness when in combat a far greater contrast.  Achilles is that sort of guy who is cheerfully murdering people on the battlefield with a quip and a smile for the ladies like he was an 80’s action hero.

It is also important to mention that while Achilles is unaware of the Yggdmillennia Archer is the opposite cannot be said for Chiron who clearly recognizes Achilles. Since Achilles has one of the most famous vulnerabilities that is not Superman and kryptonite Chiron definitely has a major advantage now.

Gordes continues to do his best Shinji Matou impression as he just does everything wrong. Much like Shinji we see Gordes do everything in his power to prove he is the person he believes he should be but in turn only prove what a failure he actually is. Each of his failures only exasperates his poor decision-making as makes rasher and rasher decisions to move things back onto the timetable in his head. His fails to defeat Karna which makes him desperate to win over Jeanne. Jeanne’s rejection fuels a madness to prove himself by then defeating Achilles at any cost. No progress with  Achilles makes him assume Siegfried is sabotaging him making him force his Servant to use his Noble Phantasm. This impatient decision makes Darnic force his subordinate to use another command seal to counteract his last action. That humiliation makes him desperate for any success leading him to be extra sloppy when trying to capture the escaped homunculus.

At any point, he simply needed to do one thing to stop all of this. Take a second and reflect. If at any point he stepped back and looked objectively at his situation he might have been able to avoid disaster. A moment of reflection or an appeal for help from another member of his faction might not have guaranteed success but they would have avoided the worst case scenario. In the end, Gordes refused to address his inadequacy which leads to the ultimate death of his Servant.

With all the Servant action going on with the Red Faction Servants it gives Astolfo a chance to escape with the homunculus. It turns out that Avicebron really wants that escaped doll and is not easily distracted. It is easy to see Astolfo as a goofadoof even when he was fighting Spartacus. But that was a cause he was not really invested in. When he is fighting for the homunculus’ freedom he seems much more like a proper paladin of Charlemagne. He might be infamous for being the weakest of the twelve and a bit of a space case but he can do what needs to be done when the chips are down.

It is amusing to see Astolfo giving the fancy sword to the homunculus for protection. Since Astolfo is a character famous for getting magical items and then giving them away just as easily it only makes sense that he would casually give away his sword to someone he barely knows. Such is the unpredictable c’est la vie nature of Astolfo.

Well, that is not how I expected the first Servant in the series to die. I knew that Siegfried eventually gave his life so Sieg could live but I did not realize that happened so soon. The first episode makes it clear that Siegfried is not completely gone but it still feels really fast. With a huge cast of characters like this, you have to be willing to kill off characters but you have to let the audience get to know them before you start pulling the trigger otherwise it feels like Slipknot’s death in Suicide Squad.

I did find it amusing that Siegfried sees his sacrifice as selfish. I get his reasons for his decision. Before this point, all of his good deeds were acts of obligation more than utterly selfless acts. He merely chose never to shirk his obligations when others would have found a way out. This time he defies orders and conventions to aid another. Still, it just feels like someone with a compulsion finding a loophole to do what they normally would have done anyway.  I admire the sacrifice but wonder if he really learned anything.

I would be remiss not to mention the fact Siegfried has become a meme in Fate/Grand Order. For all his power and indestructibility in legend, he is rather middle of the road as an extremely mediocre 4 star servant in the game. Players often get excited that they have rolled a golden Servant only to find it is merely the apologetic Sumanai. I have already seen some people forgive Siegfried for showing up in their rolls thanks to this episode whereas others were just happy to see him die for his perceived slights against them.

So it is beginning to make sense now. Sieg really feels like a Gary Stu after this scene. In fact, he goes from random important side character to the main character in less than five minutes and all by coincidences of circumstance and the happenstance of birth. He goes from an artificial human with all the strength and power of a newborn chick to having the powers of a legendary Servant along with Jeanne as his sworn protector. All because he was the secret chosen one who had free will. It gives him both the feeling of the accidentally chosen one and the position of a wish-fulfillment character. The fact that someone else sacrifices himself so the chosen one can live does not help matters.

The biggest problem with this is that it comes in the fourth episode. All that I mentioned above could easily be picked apart about something like Harry Potter. The thing is Harry Potter pretty much up front tells you that this is going to be the story of how The Boy Who Lived will triumph over evil. The first three episodes make this out to be an ensemble cast story with a little extra emphasis on certain characters. Then after four episodes this character you have barely met jumps up and steals the show. Now they did set this up a bit with the intro but that only makes sense in retrospect.  And it is not as if the ensemble nature is going to completely disappear. It just feels like you were sold a slightly misleading bill of goods.

I’m going to give Sieg a chance. He really has not had too much time to prove his worth or why he is the worst. I’m just saying it is now clicking into place why he has the reputation that he does. Even if he is a wonderful character he was introduced in a way that makes him an easy target for hate.

Previous Fate/Apocrypha posts:

Fate/Apocrypha #01: One Night in Trifas Makes a Hard Magus Humble
Fate/Apocrypha #02: Who Wears Short Shorts?
Fate/Apocrypha #03: Meet Your Real Main Character


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