I praised the last episode for sort of being the ideal mix of what people like about Fate episodes when they are firing on all cylinders. You have a good mixture of lore, characterization, and action that all complement each other in a way that makes the whole stronger than its parts. They all help prevent the show from either feeling ponderous or vapid. When people praise Type-Moon shows it is for episodes like that one. The problem is when people slag on Type-Moon shows they usually bring up episodes like this one.
This is entirely a setup episode for the first full on Red vs. Black battle. That means a lot of people having chats in throne rooms and gardens or while eating food. The small amount of combat that occurs is just to wrap up the interesting parts of the last episode. As a die-hard Type-Moon fan, I tend to get a good deal of enjoyment out of episodes like this while I admit they are far less exciting. They are the workmen episodes of Fate/Apocrypha.
In the defense of episodes like this, I would point at the current season of Game of Thrones. In previous seasons people loved the writing but often complained that pace seemed a bit too glacial. While there were major plot developments and shocking events it often seemed they were too few and far between in the sea of setup. Season Seven of Game of Thrones is blazing by at a breakneck pace. Every episode is nothing but plot point after plot point. The problem is to get that rapid pace of development characters all seem to have gained either the ability to teleport or found Seven-league boots off-screen. In return for their amazing speed, they make some silly and out of character decisions. The complaints about the pace being too deliberate have disappeared but a whole slew of new complaints have taken their place.
Episodes like this are important connecting tissue. They are far from glamorous but they enhance the flashy episodes when they appear. When they are done correctly they make the big fights and the huge reveals far more compelling. The best of these episodes can stand eye to eye with an action filled episode but even when they are not in the top form they have an important job of holding together the show in a rather thankless fashion.
The battle from the last episode ends in a draw as both sides realize the fight is almost guaranteed to end in a pointless mutual knockout. That triggers the end of the little probing attacks as Shiro unveils the Red Faction’s counter to the fortified castle of the Yggdmillennia. At the same time, Sieg decides that he can no longer just sit passively on the sidelines. Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.
Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.
The battle between Kairi and Fiore seesaws several times as both mages are extremely formidable. But the balance is initially tipped in Kairi’s favor since he is an experienced mercenary and is a bit more capable of using his environment in his favor in some unconventional ways. Caules’ appearance not only saves his sister’s life but also tips the balance in the favor of the Yggdmillennia. Kairi holds his own but his advantage slowly dissolves in a two on one battle.
This is an excellent dynamic example of how Kairi and Mordred work so well together while still being very vulnerable. Mordred is an ultra-powerful blunt instrument but not any sort of strategist. Kairi is the brains but can be overwhelmed if cornered. This time Mordred’s onslaught is what forces a withdrawal despite the fact that Fiore and Caules had the advantage. This battle also gives the impression that maybe Kairi and Mordred are not as invincible as lone wolves as they would like to believe. If Caules has also brought Frankenstein’s monster this would have gone very differently.
It is also a good insight into the relationship between Fiore and Caules. It is clear that the difference in power as mages has made sure they are not the closest of siblings. Fiore is supposed to be the boss and Caules is the minor subordinate. So much of their conversation is like an officer chewing out a private for breaking military protocol despite the fact his insubordination had positive results. Despite all of that a bit of genuine appreciation and familial affection peaks through at the end. There are still the faint lines connecting them as kith and kin despite the mechanisms of magical society.
The conversation between the old man and Sieg really show that he is really a victim of the curse of Shiny Luminous. The old man has all these sweeping arguments about the tricky power of free will, the binding chains of obligation, and the balance between both of them for happiness and safety. You get the feeling he has made countless choices in regards to this. He does not really have an answer for Sieg but he showed the thought processes and philosophical frameworks of when he made similar choices. You get the sense me made hard choices (although less world shattering ones) and sees Sieg having to do the same thing.
The problem is you don’t get the direct sense that Sieg is anywhere as conflicted as the story wants you to feel that he is. All the dialog from the old man and some of what Sieg says makes this seem like a vital choice but everything else about Sieg is far less convincing. Since we hardly know Seig and he comes off as very milquetoast so it is a bit hard to get invested in his conflict. It more seems like a perfunctory part of his Hero’s Journey more than an exciting piece of character development. The Call to Adventure. Check. Refusal of the Call. Check. Crossing the First Threshold. Check. It is mechanically sound but does not feel satisfying.
In Precure w hen Shiny Luminous was growing she was able to bounce off of the far more compelling Nagisa and Honoka. They were supporting her lack of character with their overabundance of personality. Hikari still caught a lot of flack but it could have been worse. When Seig was playing off of Astolfo he was playing off a personality that could counteract a dozen underdeveloped players. This old farmer is more of a village NPC than a heroic persona. He would make a good foil for someone like Mordred but it feels more like boiled tofu trying have a dramatic conversation with white rice. It is filling and gets the job done but comes off in some desperate need of spice.
The interesting thing about Shakespeare in real life is despite the fact that he is one of the famous people in history there is far less known about him than you would expect. It is one of the reasons that all of those authorship questions spring up. So it is clear that Fate/Apocrypha decided to interpret him as the king of the scenery chewing hams. They go out of their way to have him steal any scene he appears in. Despite the fact that the main purpose of the scene is discussing the big conflict it mostly just acts as a backdrop for Shakespeare’s antics.
It is worth noting that they actually had to build Hanging Gardens of Babylon as opposed to just having Semiramis snap her fingers and it appearing. It is not like most Servants have to go out to the magical world version of Home Depot to get their Noble Phantasms to work. Apparently, Semiramis is linked enough to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to use it as a Noble Phantasms but since it is not really her Noble Phantasms she has to supply the raw material for a ritual to make it a reality. It lets her use a super high-level Caster class Noble Phantasms despite ostensibly only being an Assassin. It also explains why the Red Faction did not just whip this out the first day.
In a way, this battle needed to happen. With the current set up the Yggdmillennia could just hunker down behind their defenses and slowly snipe the Red Servants until they just had an unbeatable advantage. All things being even the Yggdmillennia are just too well defended for most type of frontal attacks to be sucessful. They would have to actively and repeatedly make major blunders to lose to all but the best guerrilla warfare campaigns. So this flying fortress vs. fortified castle battle is the only way this becomes a fair fight.
Now it might seem like this is going to be a really short series since we have jumped right into the last battle. Red vs. Black in total. The beginning of the end. I’m guessing there will be far fewer causalities than anything to kick the show into the end game. In fact, I would be surprised if anyone important dies here. I see tons of dead homunculi, golems, and skeleton warriors but no Servants or Master deaths. At MOST maybe one death. The real result of this battle would be the Yggdmillennia forced out of their seemingly invulnerable position. When the castle is destroyed the Yggdmillennia will have to become a much more mobile fighting force. It lets both sides randomly run into each and makes it much more likely for both sides to try to lay traps for each other. In other words, it makes it a more standard Holy Grail War. The purpose of this battle is not to have a definitive win for either side but to shake up the status quo.
The most interesting part of the Yggdmillennia preparations is seeing Vlad step up to the plate. So far they have constantly mentioned that he is the head of the Black faction but much like Darnic he seems like the type to lead from the back. This is the first time we see him as a front line general as well. He is not just the boss who gives out order back in his castle. He is the type to be the tip of the spear when the real fighting starts up.
Sieg finally made a decision as an active character. He is going to go back into the fight. So far Sieg has been an almost painfully passive character. While you could argue that he was hand-held towards this decision, especially if you hate the character, it was still a choice that he made on his own. The real question is what will come of it and will the story be able to mold this character into something interesting.
At this point, Sieg has no real alliance. While he has the spirit of Siegfried he does not have an allegiance towards his old partners. In fact, they are still gunning for him and he wants to free his fellow homunculi. At the same time, the Red faction is not that much better and you should never throw in your lot with anyone with the last name Kotomine. That only leaves him on team Jeanne d’Arc which makes the most sense but you then have to wonder what is he going to do there. Jeanne has a very clear job. At best Sieg can be her Watson and occasional mediocre bodyguard. That would firmly place him in the Shiro Emiya position and … the fandom’s reaction to him is becoming crystal clear.
That also means that he has to work really hard to distinguish himself as more than just the dishwater dull Shiro. As he has now stepped into the role of active character he has a limited amount of time to start distinguishing himself as a full personality that people can get behind. The longer he takes to stand out the deeper in the hole he gets. All the flashy fights and cool powers in the world will mean nothing if everyone sees him as a Jeanne’s blando sidekick who just happens to get plot convenient superpowers when needed.
What Sieg does in the next two episodes is going to shape his legacy indefinitely. He is already off to a bad start but this is do or die time for him.
As I implied you let these episodes lay the foundation and if you are patient they will pay off be dividends. The next episode should be some excellent battles between Servants that will pay off all the set up in this episode. Seig might also start paying off all the attention that has been given him so far as well.
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
Fate/Apocrypha #04: Sumanai
Fate/Apocrypha #05: Freedom! Horrible, Horrible Freedom!
Fate/Apocrypha #06: Who Am I?