Genres: Action, Fantasy, Thriller, Supernatural;
Episodes: 13 + 12 (two seasons);
Personal Rating: 8/10 (Season 1) and 9/10 (Season 2);
I decided to rewrite my F/Z review, as it was outdated.
Fate/Zero is a prequel to the popular visual novel Fate/Stay Night. As such, it should preferably be watched after either playing the visual novel or watching the recent adaptation by Ufotable.
The battle royal genre is a very mixed one when it comes to reactions from the fans. Some shows like Mirai Nikki turn the supposedly battle royal into an “everyone vs the protagonist” kind of anime, while Btooom! is a decent attempt at creating one, but lacked the right mood. However, Fate/Zero managed to not only pull it off in a unique and great way, as it also did a pretty good job exploring some of the characters’ motives, and the reasons why they were fighting in the first place. Starting off as a light novel written by Gen Urobuchi (with the help of Nasu, the author of Fate/Stay Night), it was animated by Ufotable in 2011, and spawned two seasons. Let’s analyze it for a bit and see what sets it apart from its brethren:
The story is about a war, fought by seven people, with the reward to the winner being the Holy Grail, a device that can supposedly fulfill any wish of the person who touches it. The only way to summon the grail is through a ritual that summons seven historical figures, referred to as servants, and have them battle to the death. Each servant makes a contract with the master who summoned them, resulting in the war being fought in teams of two (or more in some cases). When only one servant remains, that servant and his/her master receive the Holy Grail, and their wishes will be fulfilled. The Holy Grail War shown in Fate/Zero is the fourth one to take place in Fuyuki City, and these wars are said to take place every sixty years or so. The masters are also given three command seals – these can be used to force the servant to do something even if it goes against their will, so spending all three means losing control of the servant.
The first thing that comes to mind is that the way the battle royal works sounds pretty straightforward, and that’s how it should be. Fortunately, instead of showing a lot of people going after the protagonist, Fate/Zero works wonderfully because it switches the perspectives between all seven masters, erasing the idea that only one of them is the protagonist – its main goal is to show the development of the war, not the way one of the characters overcomes all the given challenges throughout it. Unlike Fate/Stay Night, where the battle royal is just a setting and is not the most important aspect of the show, in Fate/Zero the themes are developed while in the battlefield. It questions many things we might take for granted, and it adds some twists to the story along the way, keeping it interesting and fresh. There are also several interactions between enemy masters and servants, where we see battles of ideologies take place, like the meaning of being a king.
The show, because it is a prequel, has an open ending, and it leaves a lot of loose ends if not taken into account its sequel. This disappointed a lot of people who weren’t familiar with Fate/Stay Night, but isn’t necessarily a flaw of the show – it’s just that there was no other way around it. However, it still manages to wrap up everything it meant to, and gives closure to the fourth Holy Grail War at least.
The production values are excellent: the visuals look great throughout the entire anime, the consistency is great, and the animation is beautiful to look at, especially during the action scenes. Speaking of the action scenes, more than just being for entertainment, the show actually uses them to develop some of its themes, like honor and ideals, and the choreography is astonishing. The character designs are also good and varied, and appealing to look at. The soundtrack, while definitely not memorable, is good for setting the mood of its various scenes, whether it’s to build up tension or to add an epic feel into a battle. The opening themes are good, especially the second, sung by Kalafina, with the ending themes being somewhat underwhelming, but still decent. The sound effects are also spot on, and we get to hear a lot of them, including explosions, guns shooting, and it shows how much work went into making them. Finally, the voice actors did a fairly good job throughout the show as well, as they managed to improve the monologues and ideology dialogues by adding conviction to them, which helps taking the characters more seriously. It’s definitely Ufotable at its finest!
The characters are very interesting for the most part, but the cast is very inconsistent. Kiritsugu and Kirei get most of the screen time, and their personalities and issues are explored in many ways, but then there are other masters who unfortunately fail to impress, and they’re badly written for the most part. One of these masters is Ryuunosuke, who only says stuff like “I want to kill children” every time he is on screen, and is given no backstory or anything to add to his character other than that. Waver is one of the masters who is really interesting, and is given a lot of personality and good interactions with his own servant. As for the servants, Saber, Gilgamesh and Rider definitely have the spotlight, and they’re well written, but unfortunately most of the other servants just lack something that makes them feel unmemorable. Lancer, for instance, is given a personality, and his ideals of honor are well explored in the anime, but then Assassin doesn’t even get any exposure or anything, he’s just there. Berserker had a backstory and a connection to the story, but he felt bland for the most part, mostly because he was just rampaging every time he appeared. Caster is just a means to show more gore, and to add a dark element to the series by having a guy who likes to torture and kill children, much like his master, and his delusions are really a mess.
Kiritsugu is the most fascinating character of the show, as his utilitarianism is constantly shown, including how he developed his ideals, and he feels really humane after the story is over. He is a flawed character but that’s also what makes him so interesting to watch. After all, if a character is perfect and has no inner conflicts, there’s no room for development, nor any interest in watching how the character behaves in certain scenarios. Kirei, on the other hand, is someone who is looking for a purpose in life, and sees something in Kiritsugu which makes him think they’re the same. The constant dialogues and battles between these two are really interesting, especially if you can grasp the depth of their characters.
Overall, the characters are good, but as a cast, they lack the consistency that we see in some other shows. Fortunately, the characters don’t go crazy when things go wrong for them, like in Mirai Nikki, so taking them seriously shouldn’t be an issue for the most part, and the development is there for all to see.
Everything said, it was definitely a very enjoyable show, with season 2 having my favorite scenes of the anime. Fate/Zero definitely did a great job delivering a mature story and keeping the audience engaged and interested in its story throughout the duration of the show, with appealing main characters, interesting inner conflicts and an overall good battle royal concept that’s developed in the correct way, something that is unfortunately rare nowadays. The action scenes are also very good, enough to keep someone entertained because of the flashy visuals or the epic soundtracks. It also does a good job at balancing the exploration of its themes with the development and exposure of the characters, and while it ends a bit abruptly and in an underwhelming way, it also leaves a memorable feeling behind. I recommend this show to everyone who likes survival games, ideology-heavy shows and action, though everyone can watch and enjoy it – it’s that kind of show. Thanks for reading!