Since the first episode of Juni Taisen: Zodiac War just came out I just wanted to comment on this before I began the post properly. I think most people’s reaction to the show is the same, “Oh. So this is a Fate Holy Grail War with Chinese Zodiac warriors instead of characters from history. You even have a “you get a wish if you kill off everyone else premise.” If you know anything about Nisio Isin you know that he loves to take a popular genre and twist and subvert the general premise. This leads to his work having a very polarizing effect. More than anything else this is interesting because it means that the magical Battle Royale concept has become popular enough that Nisio Isin felt obligated to make it the focus of his next title. I’m guessing his target was the Battle Royale idea in general but I think it says volumes that he set up his story in an extremely Fate like fashion.
If anything it feels like a sign that Type-Moon has finally made it. (That and all the department store tie-ins for the Heaven’s Feel movies.)
Shiro revealing himself as Amakusa Shiro Tokisada and a Ruler Class Servant changes the entire dynamic of the Great Holy Grail War as the battle between Black and Red quickly breaks down. After some major defections, it seems that the conflict has become Servants loyal to Shiro and his subversive plans and Servants who have sided with Jeanne trying to restore order.
Thank goodness. We are finally free of Celenike. Her whole purpose seemed to be a sadistic creeper that made all of the problematic parts of Astolfo even more uncomfortable. It only makes sense she goes out like a champion class yandere as it was pretty much the only way she could leave the stage. But before then she has to get a final bit of sadistic stalker nonsense out-of-the-way just in case you might have accidentally been sympathetic to her passing. Also if you maybe thought Gordes was hands down the worst Master in the series they make a good case that there is at least someone who can give him a run for his money.
Shiro finally lays out his master plan. Or at least the general gist of it. He is one of those villains who has an admirable goal despite their fiendish actions. He wants to save humanity. But Kiritsugu in Fate/Zero proved a grand but nebulous wish like ending conflict can have a wide variety of interpretations. This also means there are a tremendous number of Monkey’s Paw ways to give people what they want in the worst way possible. It is the classic dilemma anyone who has ever used a wish spell in D&D has learned. Also considering what Shiro has been like so far you get the impression that his interpretation of saving humanity might not in a fashion that most of humanity would have picked given the option. His historical death and experiences in the Third Holy Grail War probably push him towards the darker interpretation of this idea even without a sinister Greater Grail.
Also, it is fairly clear that Jeanne d’Arc is the character we are supposed to be rooting for. Now Jeanne is mainly opposing Shiro is because he is breaking all the rules of being a Ruler class Servant on top of the general rules of a Holy Grail War. There is an interesting story where Shiro’s goals are 100% percent on the up and up and he comes into conflict with Jeanne who is reluctantly enforcing the rules as is her nature. This would be a nuanced battle of two interpretations of good against each other. Fate/Apocrypha does not seem to be that sort of story. Shiro seems the sort of the to have the most assholish version of righteousness. This makes him a sympathetic villain but a villain none the less. It is much more of a good vs. evil hero story. There is nothing wrong with that. It just misses out having some of the complexity that drew some older fans to Fate/Zero who were otherwise unimpressed by Fate/Stay Night.
Mordred comes into this like a champ. You have the classic evil wizard compelling the companions to kill each other and then before the power of friendship and love can save the day Mordred just ends the whole conflict by cutting of Celenike’s head. This really makes the later team up of Mordred and the remaining Yggdmillennia faction Servants much easier. By the end of the episode I’m fairly certain Fiore would have accepted the help of anyone but an outwardly evil Servant and even then it might be a coin flip. This just helps the transition a little more. Sieg or Astolfo might have had more objections to teaming up with Mordred before this point but after this save only sheer stubbornness would prevent them from taking her hand. Caules still might have some resentment over the loss of Frankenstein’s monster but he can easily be shut down by the rest of the surviving Yggdmillennia mages.Gordes might object but no one cares what he has to say.
Also once again it just helps get rid of the annoying Celenike which is always appreciated.
I do have to wonder how many people are mad that Sieg basically goes from nothing more than a self-aware magical Duracell battery to an overpowered wunderkind by a series plot convinces and as opposed to being jealous that he becomes the Master of fan favorite Servant Astolfo. Sure it makes sense from a storytelling sense that a rescuer replays his debt by becoming a savior. On the other hand, since Sieg has been getting quite a few perks given to him on a silver platter this only adds insult to injury to anyone who already had an ax to grind with the character. It also adds a layer of potential romantic rivalry since Astolfo’s sexuality seems as flexible as a gold metal gymnast. I know the sillier side material has Jeanne targeting the pink Rider as her rival and I’m sure that joke comes from their interactions henceforth in regards to Sieg. It is moving Sieg into the realm of harem protagonist dude which does not help his case one bit.
There is another complicated standoff with Servants’ loyalty and principles being testing and several Servants defecting left and right. The Yggdmillennia faction was already in dire straights as it was. After Avicebron switches sides it seems that the Black faction is utterly toast. While Avicebron is hardly the most powerful Servant it seems like his defection along with Karna siding with Shiro the nail in the coffin of the Yggdmillennia clan. It is only Mordred’s entrance where she chucks up the deuces to Shiro that lets the Servants allied with Jeanne escape and have any sort of chance at victory.
It was interesting that Atalanta did not give a fudge about the revelation of the fate of the Red Masters. So far she is the most mysterious of the Servants. We don’t really have a good sense of why she is fighting and why she is so willing to go with the flow to get her wish from the grail. I’m guessing she wants to undo the events of her infamous footrace but so far that is just speculation. She will probably get a backstory info dump just before she dies but now her motivation seems murkier especially since she seems not to outwardly react to any of the events occurring before her.
I was expecting Achilles to switch sides at this point. He would probably be much more comfortable fighting alongside Chiron and he does not really seem to be down with Shiro but he stays with him at this point. Then again Shiro has his command seals and there is no one else he can easily make a contract with at this point. Also as a Ruler Shiro probably has Command Spells out the yin-yang. so he could easily just order back any Servants that tried to rebel. So he might make his move at some later point but for now, he is team Ruler Breaker.
This is another episode that seems insistent on proving that not making Mordred the main character was a colossal misstep. While Sieg and Jeanne get some chances to show off their noble characters and leadership abilities but all the memorable cool scenes revolve around Mordred. But maybe that is the point. You give the bland good guys scenes to Sieg, the noble leader roles to Jeanne, and the cool anti-hero scenes to Mordred. Sieg is Luke Skywalker, Jeanne is Princess Leia, and Mordred is Han Solo. With that dynamic, it makes a little more sense when you keep your cooler anti-hero out of the protagonist role but still make them prominent in the story.
Sieg little scene with the dying homunculus maid gives a little time to see the full price and rewards of his rebellion. His fellow homunculi are going to continue to die but at least how they have some hope of freedom and purpose thanks to him. Their lives still might be poor, nasty, brutish, and short but at least some of them have a reason to live even if only for a little while. He is now their savior for better and for worse.
Before this point, it would have been impossible for Sieg to negotiate with Darnic. He was able to escape before because Darnic did not want to waste resources fighting Jeanne but Sieg was not negotiating from a position of power. He was merely not seen as useful enough to get into a fight over. Fiore, on the other hand, is now the one in a position of weakness and therefore has to give into a lot of demands she would not have had to before everything went to hell. Now the Homunculi will go back to fighting for the Yggdmillennia but as free people and not slaves which is no small upgrade.
Also, it looks like Roche is not long for this world. He is going to take the bullet that was meant for Gordes. With Celenike dead I guess Gordes had a prove he was the worst in these last few scenes which makes him avoiding death even worse.
I definitely like this opening more than the first. I don’t think it is my favorite Type-Moon opening but it feels more like a very good second half opening whereas the first seemed like a mediocre second half opening. I will say some Servants like Mordred, Astolfo, and Jack got flashier scenes than less popular Servants but that is just the nature of the beast. I did notice of all the surviving Servants Avicebron did not appear at all which might be a big sign that he is not going to last long this season.
The new ending is equally solid. It has a fairly even tone with a mix of melancholy and hope. They go through all the remaining Servants while in the rain and then have Sieg be the spark that returns the blue skies. If anything it goes out of its way to show that Sieg is now the hero guy protagonist from here on out. It also feels a little more animated than the last opening even if it is mostly still shots.
I apologize for taking so long with this post. I think I burnt myself out a bit when catching up after Otakon and then rolling into NYCC. I will try to pace myself a little better and catch up especially since things are really heating up in the story. Wish me luck.
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
Fate/Apocrypha #12: Someone REALLY Hates Bram Stoker