Hello and welcome to another post of Anime Chop Block.
Today, in light of the release of the Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works anime, I’ll be reviewing one of my new favorite anime:Fate/Zero.
This takes place during the Fourth Holy Grail War: an event where 7 different people, usually mages, become Masters to historical and mythical figures summoned from across time known as Servants to fight and determine who will claim the Holy Grail which is rumored to be an omnipotent wish granted device. Kiritsugu Emiya, an infamous mage killer, is hired to be the representative in the war for the Einzbern family, one of the three big mage families. In the years before the war, he marries the Einzbern homunculus Irisviel and has a child, Illyasviel. In the eve of the war, he summons Saber, the servant embodiment of King Arthur of Britain. As more Master appears, the pieces are in place for the war.
This anime is ultimately a tragedy on many levels: almost all the servants and masters have their own desires and dreams for the grail that are challenged and most of the time broken by the war. Kiritsugu and Saber in particular are the main tragic figures we will be following; both have the same wish for the grail but they have very different methods and ideologies on getting the grail. It is a highly compelling story with many interworking parts as the characters are forced to go to great lengths for their wishes but, by the nature of the war, will be broken and battered with some ultimately dying for their wishes in great tragedy.
The writing for Fate/Zero is on full display here; the dialogue in particular feels natural and human. Aldnoah had the issue of feeling like they were talking to the audience about ideals and views most of the time and while it was delivered well, it felt flat; here, the characters don’t feel like gears turning the plot but fleshed out beings with personalities and ideals without being mouthpieces. During plot unrelated scenes, they talk as friends, rivals, and comrades. They interact with each other based on their personalities and ideals while not feeling stiff and like clockwork. During plot scenes though, the ideals come right out of the gate and clash with the full backing of the person’s history. One particular scene between three servants who were kings in their life felt both like a debate on the nature of kings and a conversation between two people of different views enhanced by the histories they embody. One complaint I do have is that some of the dialogue scenes feel a bit long. While it’s nice to take time off, they felt static with only voices and not much movement and while the voices conveyed the ideals and histories well as I stated, not having the body motion makes it feel long.
Also something that this does better than Aldnoah, the story and action don’t seem separate. In Aldnoah, the fights felt they were moving the plot with everything being in service of the action and the plot suffered since we didn’t know the ideologies of the people behind the cockpit; here, the fights have a weight and purpose to them with emotion and ideals being pitted against each other and the fights are in service to how these characters interact ideologically. The fights were not just of ideals but of people.
Please note that I will be talking about five different characters for this segment though the number of important characters here easily reaches twenty five. All are interlocked and connected so I will go into detail about the ones that we follow to the bitter end and who contribute to Fate/Stay Night the most. My general assessment of the characters here are that they are all well voiced, well written and play off each other in very vital ways.
First is our tragic main lead: Kiritsugu Emiya. A famed mage killer infamous for using methods that mages find unsavory from bombs to sniping to poison, he is a damaged man who tried to be a hero who saves everyone but had to kill so many of the people he cared about that he has become cynical in his methods and ideology. He believes that currently, saving one person requires the sacrifice of another and that one must save the greatest amount of people at the cost of the smallest amount of people. He wants the grail to create a miracle where no one has to die and all are saved. Despite his harsh ideals though, he is not completely heartless; his relationship and love for Irisviel and their daughter Illya is very tender and he cares the world for them. Kiritsugu is a very compelling antihero through his actions and history. He cares for his family and the people around him but know that his actions and goals could cause their deaths. He wants an end to pointless bloodshed but has to main and slaughter to get to that end. Ultimately, his attempts to do right by people and spare them lead to the death of hundreds. His tragedy only end when he saves someone, putting an end to his cycle of constant killing for the sake of humanity. He is a character of great tragedy and one that you will follow through his lows to see his high.
Next is Saber, the servant embodiment of King Arthur. She is a knight who believes in the honor of battle and fighting for the people in a just manner; this puts her in direct odds with Kiritusgu though and they really don’t get along well. Saber wishes to use the grail to save Britain; over the course of the war though, she comes to believe that her emotional distance from the people lead the country to ruin and wishes that she never ruled. Though this story though, she remains strong and resolute willing to take up the sword for her ideals even at the cost of her wellbeing and happiness. In my mind, Saber is both one of the strongest female characters in anime and one of the best written. She has a clear personality defined by ideals and not others and has the inner strength to fight even through great pain and internal suffering. Her arc is one of tragedy and pain but she still stands and fights all the while questioning her own rule. A character of great honor and strength, Saber is an excellent and compelling character.
The last person of the Einzbern group is Irisviel von Einzbern. The homunculus wife to Kiritsugu, she is the proxy master to Saber due to the incompatibility between Kiritsugu and Saber’s ideals. She fully believes in Kiritsugu’s will to change the world and acts as a moderator between Saber and Kiritsugu. She was the foundation for Kiritsugu’s happiness for a time and is willing to help him achieve his goal of saving everyone. At the same time though, she is Saber’s friend during the war and the person who supports Saber in both fights and private. She may not have as complex a backstory as Saber or Kiritsugu but she is a soft warm presence that gives some comfort to the tortured souls of our leads and moderates the interactions between the two leads. She is someone who, while not as complex as Saber or Kiritsugu, is compelling in how she interacts with them and one you wish will see through to the end.
Now, we head to the main villains with Kotomine Kirei. Chosen as a master of the war and put under the mentorship of Tohsaka Tokiomi, he is a priest of the holy church but feels empty in his life never feeling fulfillment in his good deeds. He believes that Kiritsugu has this same emptiness and pursues him to find his purpose. He initially felt that joy was a sin but as time goes on though, he began to fully accept the joy he felt from the misery of others. This character is amazing as a villain; Joji Nakata’s voice lends a heavy weight and manipulative nature to his character and he himself is cunning and merciless. He grows into his role as the villain and is a joy to watch seeing him manipulate the Holy Grail War and his fall into sadism.
Lastly, we talk about the man who helped Kotomine on his path, Archer the servant embodiment of Gilgamesh. He is a man of infinite riches and treasures, one who believes in full pursuit of pleasure even at the cost of what is right. He is arrogant and prideful seeing all other servants as lesser since he was the first hero with all the treasures of the world belonging to him in his eyes. He is a snake tonged man who talks Kirei into embracing his sadism as the purist pleasure of his soul. Again another great villain, Tomokazu Seki delivers the right amount of pride and arrogance for the character while having the charisma to drive a man into sadism. He is a joy to see him put down other heroes from his high perch all the while keeping a smug grin on his face.
The animation for this anime is of high quality. The fights are fast paced and dynamic with a lot of blows flying all over the place and particle effects being scattered with each strike. The set pieces are imaginative from a battle in the high skies to a massive desert full of men to even a giant monster. The colors are bright and varied and basic movement is well animated with no setbacks. In addition, both endings have nice colorful scenes of the servants’ past lives and the meeting between Kiritugu and Irisviel all well drawn and rendered with loving detail
The music in this show is also high quality. The background music gives each fights an ethereal feel but still manages to keep us tense and excited for what’s to come. SFX is well placed with no issues. A particular mention should go to the openings and endings, particular the first ending and second opening as they all have an operatic feel to them that resonates with the heart of the viewer. The other ones though are still very well sung and stick with you to the end.
One of the best anime of the decade, it is a tragedy of great emotion and dreams being crushed. With a cast of very memorable characters and exciting action, I recommend this show to everyone whether you are a fan of Type-Moon, just getting into the Fate Franchise or want something good to watch.