The Lord El-Melloi II Case Files is such an odd show because it mainly seems to be a show whose audience is pretty much me and maybe a dozen other people. It is a mystery show set in the Type-Moon universe in which lore and magical systems are used to solve crimes. The Type-Moon name is solid enough to sell quite a bit but damn if that does not seem to be a pretty niche pitch to someone who is not me.
I remember discussing the show with my roommate and both of us realize that while everything about this show should make it the one entry that Kate might have liked in the Type-Moon universe there was no chance in hell she would ever enjoy it. It has magic, mystery, style and even an extended case on a train. Even the handsome, nerdy, and snarky detective would not win her over. The fact of the matter that all the solutions revolve around lore and magical systems pretty much makes this one DOA for Kate.
The thing is I would have assumed that would be the case for many people. There is a bit too much magic for the mystery people and not enough action for the Fate fans. Then again this is a fandom that has sat through some long lore dumps and explanations of magical systems with nothing more than a nice pair of Tohsaka legs to help them along so a little scene or two of deductive reasoning is not enough to turn them off.
With that said this is still a story that is seemingly tailor-made for me. The question is did I love it? The obvious answer is of course I did otherwise this post would undoubtedly started very differently. So really this is just an examination of why I did. Let’s go! The game’s afoot!
WARNING: I will drop some spoilers for the show so you probably want to watch the whole thing before you read this.
After the events of Fate/Zero, we see that Waver Velvet has continued on after surviving but failing to win the Holy Grail. He is now a semi-famous lecturer at the Clock Tower after inheriting the El-Melloi title of his former instructor. This also means he is under the thumb of Reines the current head of the El-Melloi family. So as the current head of the Modern Magecraft Theories he finds himself solving mysteries alongside his students and his hooded assistant Gray. But the whole time his heart’s fondest wish is to find a way to see Iskandar once more.
At this point, one of the notable features of the Type-Moon universe is that even with multiple timelines there are almost always several references, cameos, and shout outs in anything Type-Moon related. That means an appearance of an Aozaki sister or someone wielding some Black Keys in any new Nasuverse story is no longer even just surprising it is generally expected. But the Lord El-Melloi II Case Files are still a huge Lore Bomb™ for the series above and beyond the rest of the franchise.
First and foremost is how much the series fleshes out the Clock Tower. Now of the three branches of the Mage’s Association, the Clock Tower has always gotten far more attention than the Atlas Academy or the Wandering Sea. That said it mostly was a place that got visited off-screen or mentioned in passing. This is the first story that really rolls around in its politics and fleshes it out as opposed to using it as either jumping-off point or an epilogue. That means there are a lot of familiar faces but even more new mages and a great insight into how it functions.
But all of the really pales in comparison to the inclusion of the Forest of Ainnash. That is sort of a crazy cameo even for the average Type-Moon cameo. As I mentioned before a Fate series referencing another Fate series is par the course. Also name dropping something from Tsukihime or The Garden of Sinners is fun but usually very minor. On top of that, there are a few world-hopping characters like Zelretch. But this was different. This was a full-on Dead Apostle Ancestor dropping in on a Fate story. Now it was a derivative of a Dead Apostle and hardly one that was the main character of the main story but it is still a big deal. If nothing else it is a nice reminder that Type-Moon has not forgotten about their original visual novel.
The less surprising but still impactful cameo was of Olga Marie Animusphere. Normally I would not make a big deal about a Grand Order character showing up since Grand Order has sort become the 800-pound gorilla of the franchise but she does merit an exception. Olga Marie because she died within the first chapter of Grand Order but still managed to make a decent impression on the fanbase as to generate a sizable interest to learn more about her. So seeing more of her was definitely a highlight of the series. Luvia, Sisigou, and Caules are also some very strong cameos but they are more of your typical Type-Moon guest appearances.
Beyond that, the story is just well crafted. when you do a mystery series you generally have three models you can use. There is the utterly episodic where each episode is a stand-alone story with the occasional reoccurring character. Murder She Wrote is a classic example of this. Then you can have a more Stand Alone formula where most episodes are stand-alone but periodically there are episodes that either tie in wholly or partially into the greater narrative. The last kind is that all (or at least most) of the cases are actually part of a greater mystery. The Lord El-Melloi II Case Files are definitely in the last category. At first, all the cases seem like separate affairs but the all eventually tie into the incident on the train. It definitely makes the series feel like a whole narrative more than a collection of short stories.
The mysteries themselves by their very nature have to break Knox’s Commandments so if you want the traditional fair play mysteries then be prepared to be disappointed. Magic is involved in every case so traditional mystery rules go right out the window. You have to view this as a hybrid story that takes elements for fantasy and mystery and makes its own narrative form. The mysteries here are more examinations of how the magical systems work in Type-Moon work than anything else. Since the mechanics of magical systems is my bag I am 100% on board with this idea but it does scratch a very particular itch.
The characters are pretty solid. Waver Velvet remains one of the most beloved characters from Fate/Zero and remains so in the Lord El-Melloi II Case Files. The intresting thing is his character here is very different from his character in Fate/Zero. The years have definitely had an effect on him, therefore, he is no longer the nieve student trying to prove himself he was in Fate/Zero. He is far more world-weary and jaded and more an established name with more allies and enemies. The thing is all of this feels like the natural progress of Waver Velvet. You see how the boy in Fate/Zero became the man of the Lord El-Melloi II Case Files. That natural flow is essential for the character.
The other major character is Gray. She is an intresting case because she is a Saberface who lies outside of the normal realm of the Saberface. In a way, the average viewer’s response to her depends very much on how much the person is over the idea. I think her whole story on being an artificial Saberface who is desperately trying to retain her own unique identity is an intresting addition to the world but your mileage may vary. She can very much feel a character added to check a box but I feel she hold her own.
The one character who will possibly turn people off is Yvette L. Lehrman. She is the character who feels like she accidentally dropped in from some random harem series. She hardly destroys the flow of the series but she feels the most out of place. Everyone else is a fairly good selection of characters you would see in your typical detective novel given a magical twist. Hishiri Adashino will stand out as one of the most intriguing characters since most of the story is spent discovering what her actual agenda is.
This is truely a title that could only exist when a franchise gets a big as Type-Moon. You to have a big enough fanbase to support a remarkable niche title like this and it not be something that only 12 people ever read. At this point, all they need is a Type-Moon character play a Table Top RPG or a Super Robot Wars crossover and I think they will have covered all their bases. So when you see Tsukihime’s Critical Role where the Melty Blood voice actors play a campagin of Sword World then you know that someone at Type-Moon is clearly just picking titles based on what I would enjoy.