Fate/Apocrypha #09: The Battle of Red Cliffs

hisui_icon_4040_round Seeing that this battle has the feel of something you would see in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms I figured I would name this episode after one of the most famous battles in the book. The Battle of Red Cliffs is not the final battle of the Three Kingdoms periods. In fact, it is one of the earliest battles of the Three Kingdoms period proper. But it is a decisive battle that sets much of the tenor of what comes after it. Therefore I think you could pick few titles that set the tone for this episode better. This is hardly the final part of the Great Holy Grail War but it is a huge battle with almost all the major players that will determine how everything else plays out past this point.

With the foot soldiers mostly swept aside, the war becomes a Romance of the Three Kingdoms styled battle of generals. With all the Servants and active Masters (other than Jack) on the battlefield, the fights get serious. Using the battle as cover Seig is able to save his fellow homunculi but is drawn into the fight to save his savior, Astolfo.

Before I begin I should point out that while they never name him in this episode (and I have a feeling they might not name him at all in the anime) Darnic’s Servant in the Third Holy Grail War was Fionn mac Cumhaill. It is clearly one of those points that made all the super fans all when they see it but everyone else just scratches their heads and wonder who the hell that random knight is. It is in that weird territory between an Easter Egg and an in-joke. I think it is amusing but I can easily see how it would be annoying. Then again a constant stream of Legend of the Galactic Heroes styled name subtitles would be odd and clunky expository dialog would have been awkward.

The Fate/Grand Order player in me is EXTREMELY skeptical that Darnic won the Third Holy Grail War with Fionn mac Cumhaill but the history and mythology nerd in me perfectly understands how he could have won with the leader of the Knights of Fianna. It is one of those cases where a character in the game is far weaker than they are in myth and legend. In Irish legend, Fionn is one of the most powerful warriors. In Grand Order, he is one of the worst 4 star characters in the game. It is what I was talking about with Karna in the last post times ten.

The other random Servant in the fire will eventually get an introduction as Shiro but for now, they want to keep it somewhat of a secret. While this episode keeps dropping major hints to Shiro being a Servant they are still hoping that the viewers who are not in the know will pick up on their clues before they state it outright.

Shiro is clearly the enemy of all Fate/Grand Order players as he spams out the Black Keys like he was Kotomine with an extra helping of Ciel. It really lets him stand toe to toe with Frankenstein’s Monster. It is a little unclear if he could kill her if went on the offense but he seems not to be breaking too much of a sweat when he is fighting defensively. This makes him close to Bazett in terms of Masters who can hold their own with Servants if all thing were fair. But they are not. Since Shiro is very deliberately keeping his Servant status on the down low it is hard to tell how powerful he actually is.

Shakespeare is one of those Servants who would not be great in a normal Holy Grail War but really comes into his own in a group dynamic. His powers are great for powering up other Servants and giving them an advantage but he is not really strong enough to take advantage of those items on his own. His ability to escape from harm, create minor Noble Phantasms, and inflict psychological damage are great tools to keep himself alive long enough to create an opening for another Servant but not enough for him to deliver a killing blow.

Then again Alexandre Dumas shows that a totally support centered Caster can work in a standard Holy Grail War but you really need a Master who had the resources and skills to use such a Servant. They could even be a major advantage to someone like Bazett but Masters that can fight on par with as Servant are few and far between. So I guess it is more precise to say that any fool has a chance with a Gilgamesh styled powerhouse but only a select few can triumph with a support Servant.

At this point, while Astolfo has built up a fan following based on personality and design but Astolfo has not really been shown as a powerhouse Servant. So far Astolfo has done very little against Siegfried and Spartacus and basically, both of those fights were interrupted by outside factors. As the weakest of Charlemagne’s paladins I don’t think anyone was expecting Astolfo to be this monstrous threat that everyone tip toes around like a Gilgamesh or a Hercules but at the same time, the character needs some chance to shine otherwise he is completely in the role of a charismatic jobber. Therefore they at least have an Astolfo and his mount kicking some ass in an aerial battle to show off that this Servant has some skills beyond cuteness. His use of La Black Luna shows that he can be dangerous when he wants to be.

In Astolfo’s defense, he is purposely fighting with one hand tied behind his back. He knows that if he goes all out with his most powerful attacks he will be killing Homunculi batteries back in the castle so he has to avoid using anything that would consume a lot of mana. So Astolfo’s true potential is still being hidden even if it is not the same as some of the major power players in the battle.  Astolfo probably would not be able to casually defeat a Vlad or Karna even if he were in tip-top shape with a steady mana flow but he would be doing more than this.

It is worth noting that Semiramis is fighting like a Caster despite the fact she is ostensibly an Assassin. She has a huge flying fortress Bounded Field which shoots out familiars and beam spam as well as has magical walls of protection. She fights much more like Medea than the Cursed Arm Hassan.

There is a camp of Fate fans that really dislike that there are a lot more Berserkers that can speak especially after the release of Fate/Grand Order. In their opinion, the almost bestial examples like Hercules and Lancelot are the REAL Berserkers and ther others are just posers. I feel Spartacus makes an excellent case for a Servant that can speak in full sentences that still really captures the idea of the Class while still having the ability to converse. Spartacus has a cause and he rushes towards it with a sword in hand no matter what. His Berserker nature gives him strength and fortitude beyond that of other Servants but in return, he abandons nuance and strategy. He will attack his supposed allies as quickly as his enemies while he is in a constant fugue state if it is in service of his core ideals. This makes him feel like the Berserkers of lore as much as the animalistic destruction engine sort of Servant.

Then again there are still fans who are super mad that they have Assassins that are not one of the nineteen Hassan-i-Sabbahs so there are just fans who are persnickety rules lawyers.

At the same time, Atalanta feels under powered when her Phoebus Catastrophe does little to actually stop Spartacus. The Noble Phantam itself is damn impressive. It pretty much destroys most of Spartacus but like Wolverine at his most overpowered as long as a decent sized chunk of his body survives then he can regenerate the damage. It is one of those instances where Atalanta would not look so bad but after doing almost nothing against Vlad she seems more underpowered than she normally would when she is ineffective against Spartacus.

Ok. I was wrong. Apparently, Chiron still has enough divinity that he can damage Achilles despite the invincibility that his Andreias Amarantos normally gives him. That means that Chiron’s normal attacks are actually dangerous without having to strike Achilles’ heel first. It still shows that Chiron is being kinder than he needs to be because Achilles used to be a student of his but it also shows he is not completely throwing the fight.

I really expected this great escape to go much worse. I’m super surprised that Avicebron did not do anything to stop the Homunculi from escaping. I know there is a huge battle going on but Avicebron seems to be hanging back so I assumed he would notice Seig and Toole breaking into the castle. I guess he is too busy controlling all the golems and keeping Spartacus in check but I still assumed a huge disruption like the loss of the Homunculi batteries would be noticed more. I wonder if the plan is to let them go for now and recapture them when the battle is over. Seig will eventually get himself in trouble when he goes to save Astolfo but this went amazingly smoothly.

You have to admire how nonchalant Mordred is arriving on the battlefield. It feels more like she showed up late to a party or a concert than to WWII. It is also an interesting view into her odd mindset. At times she clearly considers herself the noble hero like Artoria. Other times she is a merciless villain who mocks those who hold honor and principle above survival. She is the antihero to the maximum. Also, she kicks Astolfo’s ass without breaking a sweat. You get the impression that even if Astolfo was at full power it would still be a one-sided fight.

This is probably the most experimental part of the episode. When Shakespeare uses The King’s Men the whole style of the episode really shifts. Everything becomes like the 1910’s silent Frankenstein film. The animation is often deliberately sketchy to show the growing madness in Frankenstein’s Monster as the spell draws her further and further into the stage play of her life. I’m not sure it all works but I feel it was an interesting experiment. I’m hoping that they play with the style of the show every time Shakespeare uses The King’s Men. It really enhances the effect of the power and makes it feel like more than just a chance to explore the Servant’s back stories.

There are two interesting things to note about the little series of attack of Semiramis on Jeanne d’Arc. The first is the fact that Jeanne has a literally godly level of magic resistance. She is able to ignore the full onslaught of the Hanging Gardens without breaking a sweat. She can ignore any level of magic that is not related to the church. So Merlin could not touch her but she would easily fall to Ciel. Also, it is amazingly clear that Shiro and Semiramis are going out of their way to make sure that Jeanne does not meet Shiro. They have mostly stayed in the background but they only seem to go into overdrive when Jeanne starts getting close to Shiro. It is clear that Shiro is the source of the disruption in the Grail War and the Red Faction is doing whatever it takes to make sure Jeanne who already has a hunch of where the disruption is coming from does not learn the truth.

This looks like it is going to go super well for Seig. Well actually they are but it is clear he is supposed to be majorly outclassed but will make it through this anyway. I continue to feel that I can’t fully pass judgment on Seig yet. Right now I have a decent image of what the strengths of the character are as well of how he seems riddled with elements that make him a really easy character to hate. It is super clear that a mixture of deus ex machina and interfering characters are going to have to jump in to save Seig from Mordred. The next few episodes are extremely critical to determine how many people just view him as a Gary Stu. At this point, he is locked in as a character that will get the Gary Stu label. It is really just a matter of how commonplace that label will become.

I generally get the impression the staff at A-1 Picture were flexing their muscle a bit in this episode. Overall while they don’t have a Studio Deen utterly bottom of the barrel level reputation they are more just known for being utterly acceptable but nothing more and sometimes a little less. Before this point, I thought the animation was OK. There were some highlight scenes and some underperforming parts but overall the animation did its job but it was never even close to Ufotable on a bad day. I understand why you would want Ufotable all the time but A-1 Picture gets the job done.

This episode felt different. Make no mistake it is, still not anywhere near Ufotable level. Before this point, the animation felt like it was competent but never artistic. This time it felt like the episode director was experimenting a bit more and trying going a little beyond just acceptable. I don’t think everything worked out perfectly but it felt like the episode was not just going through the motions. They of dip their toes into stressing more vibrant motion instead of trying to stay model. They played around with different art styles, went a little jazzy with the fight animation, and overall made this episode feel a bit more unique. I don’t feel this one will get them out of the perception they have about what sort of show this is but I will give the episode respect for trying to rise above just satisfactory.

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?
Fate/Apocrypha #07: Castle Crashers
Fate/Apocrypha #08: Mordred Went to the Yukari Tanizaki School of Driving


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