So ends the first half of Fate/Apocrypha. You can tell this for two reasons. The first is that after this they had a recap episode. I really appreciated that because it let me catch up with my posts for this show. But the real halfway moment was Jeanne and Shiro finally meeting face to face. Shiro and the story itself have been keeping the two Rulers from meeting face to face because that is when the shenanigans behind the War are revealed. It also finally pays off all the hints about Shiro that the series has been dropping all this time. It is a signal that the story has shifted to anyone who figured out the truth and finally gives an answer to everyone else who was wondering what was going on with this guy.
Lesson #1: You should not casually fight a mage in his own sanctum. Vlad learns this as he loses his boost from being in Romania while inside the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This prompts Darnic to active the Legend of Dracula as all hell breaks loose and everyone has to team up to stop the vampiric Servant. While the combined might of all the Servants within the Hanging Gardens of Babylon led by Jeanne cannot stop the abomination the holy powers of Shiro can. Now that Shiro has stepped out of the shadows Jeanne sees Shiro’s true nature as the foreign element in the Grail War.
With the big reveal coming at the end of the episode the story begins to lay all of its cards about Shiro out on the table. While it heavily hinted that Shiro was a part of the Third Holy Grail War this little flashback still does not say it outright but give lots of evidence for anyone who was most of the way to that conclusion but just needed a little push.
I do wonder if they will ever go back and do a story about the third Holy Grail War. As time goes on it is a story that has more and more details but still has large bits that are unknown. It is clear that Zouken and a homunculus that looks like Illyasviel participated in the war. They either summon Shirou Kotomine or Angra Mainyu depending on the timeline which is super critical for how everything turns out. The Edelfelt family summon double Sabers with twin Masters. The Tohsaka participate in the war and majorly traumatized the Edelfelt family participants but nothing else is known about them. There was a puppet master Assassin but his Master is unknown. One might assume that the Nazis and Darnic summon Fionn mac Cumhaill in all timelines but it is only known for sure in the Ruler based timeline and not the Avenger one.
It seems like a Fate/Zero situation where there are enough hooks that anyone who is a lore nerd would want to see what the full story was but there is enough room for an author other than Nasu to fill in the blanks. There are already a dozen different Fate spinoff but this one has a bit more of a claim to have a purpose than some of the others.
What a difference a change in location makes. Being inside the Hanging Gardens of Babylon counts as being in Iraq (or more precisely ancient Babylon) so Vlad loses all of his cool bonuses. This is why you never fight a wizard in his home base. More than any other type of character wizards have all the bonuses while giving you all the penalties they can muster on their turf. Karna who was a fair fight becomes an unscalable wall when the tables are turned on the Impaler. It is not that Vlad is super weak without his bonuses. It is just that Karna is godlike and most Servants need a boost to fight him normally.
Darnic proves that he is a complete dick when backed into a corner. He not only complexly betrays his Servant by using his dreaded sealed ability he also basically takes over his body to get back the Greater Grail. At that point potentially unleashing an undead plague upon the planet really just seems like confirmation of what a despicable person he is.
This feels really reminiscent of the fight against Gilles de Rais and the Gigantic Horror in Fate/Zero. A Servant becomes a monster that threatens to become a natural disaster level threat to the civilian population and has to be stopped by everyone. If anything this threat seems to up the stakes a bit. Gilles de Rais was a Godzilla level menace. Vampiric Vlad is a zombie apocalypse level threat in the making.
It was not exactly made clear but vampire Vlad was a threat to Achilles because due to an odd technicality that means his bite does not count as an attack. Since Vlad’s power would make them comrades it does not set off Andreias Amarantos. It is one of those powers that any thinking mind would see as an attack but as with lots of mystic abilities the devil is in the details and wording counts for everything.
It is a meeting of the leftovers. With Darnic dead the head of the Yggdmillennia is gone. Like an army that has lost its general, they could easily fall into utter disarray. Gordes is a waste of space, Celenike is a psychopath and not in a way that facilitates leadership, Roche is 100 percent a support character, and Caules is super passive. Reika Rikudou is only ostensibly allied with them and is not really a “works well with others’ type. Unless one of them has some hidden depths none of them could ever hope to replace Darnic. Darnic may have been a scumbag but he was a monster that knew how to get people to be the best they could be. Sadly he just used it to enrich his twisted desires. Without him, everything is ready to fall apart especially after the ass kicking they have received.
Therefore it is a blessing that the Yggdmillennia still have Fiore. Despite everything that has happened she is able to rally what is left of their faction. It seems that picking her was as the next head of the clan was the correct choice. While it has yet to be seen how effective Fiore will be she seems not only the best choice but a natural fit for the role.
While vampiric Vlad looks very silly he leads to some great fight scenes. Since everyone has a common enemy you get to see all the Servants actually fight together. This really helps Atalanta and Avicebron show off what they can do since they have not been as impressive so far. But Karna really steals the show with his fire-based attacks. If Vlad did not have overpowered Wolverine levels of regeneration would have been defeated by the alliance.
This is just a small scene especially considering the reveal about Shiro’s true nature but it is worth talking about. Shiro has finally taken all of the other Red Masters’ Command Seals (expect for Kairi’s) which has been coming for a while. The critical detail is now he has finally discarded the other Masters. Up until this point, he has been keeping them around so Jeanne could not zero in on him immediately. By utterly discarding them and finally stealing their command seals it shows that he is no longer running from Jeanne. Since he is going after her head on he can throw away all the barriers he had around him at this point and head right towards La Pucelle.
For the longest time, Black Keys have been sort of a joke despite the fact that the lore talks them up quite a bit as weapons against the undead. The problem is they have mostly been used against targets that are not really super effective against. You mostly remember that they did not phase Arcueid in Tsukihime and did less than nothing in previous Fate stories. The fact that they are the junk 3-star craft essences in Grand Order only reinforces that idea. As it turns out assuming Black Keys are ineffective because they don’t work on Arcueid is like assuming a katana is not sharp because it can’t cut a tank in half. Use in on most other humanoids and you will see how sharp it really is.
Admittedly Shiro is enough of a semi-saint that he is like a mixture of Himura Kenshin and Miyamoto Musashi when wielding Black Keys against the undead so that gives them a distinct boost but is in not as if Dracula is some random ghoul. In this form, Vlad has to be somewhere in between a Dead Apostle and a True Ancestor. He is going to wipe the floor with Sacchin but not be able to scratch the White Princess of the True Ancestors. He did fight the combined might of a good deal of both the Red and Black Servants all being supported by Jeanne. So Vlad is no chump. It is just that he is super vulnerable to Church magic.
Jeanne has now found the anomaly that is warping the Holy Grail War. This second Ruler is not only an alternate arbiter of the War but a Servant left over from the last war. The dynamic of the whole affair has now changed and the true menace of the story has revealed himself.
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
Fate/Apocrypha #09: The Battle of Red Cliffs
Fate/Apocrypha #10: Mordred Gets a Kill Streak
Fate/Apocrypha #11: Spartacus is Secretly a Baby Reaper