Final Review: Fate/Zero

You will be missed!

DISCLAIMER: Anime reviews on this blog will attempt minimal to no spoilers unless other noted. If a review seems dull or shallow, it’s because I’m trying to make sure not to go into too detail for those who are actually interested in the show before or after reading the review or those who have yet to finish the title. If you want further details, there are usually tons of reviews that can be found elsewhere on the internet. Furthermore, anime reviews in general are the sole opinion of the author writing it and thus differ across the users. There is no such thing as a “right answer” only a majority agreement. You are free to have your own opinions and thereby free to state and/or argue/debate in the comments section below or on the Fansub TV Forums. The review is not necessarily meant to serve as a recommendation but rather a personal opinion of having completed the series.

Fate/Zero is based off the light novel written by Gen Urobuchi, the mastermind behind Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica and Phantom ~Requiem of the Phantom~. The story tells the tale of the Fourth Holy Grail War and set 10 years before the events of Fate/Stay Night, which received an anime adaptation in 2006 as well as a movie in 2010. A series that when announced for anime adaptation along with its staff lineup many had believe it would take over and reign as the best series of all time. While each season will receive individual scores at the end of the review, the overall review here will focus on the entire 25 episodes presented since Fall 2011.  WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

As said before, Fate/Zero is the prequel series to Fate/Stay Night. With that said, the biggest questions before the anime began for this series were how faithful could the series stay to the source material and how much knowledge of Fate/Stay Night was needed and/or how much of Fate/Stay Night will be spoiled. To put it bluntly, the show does a great job introducing the premise and setup of the story. While dialogue heavy, the story is very much dialogue drive, especially during the initial parts of the series (i.e. season 1). Furthermore, while leaving out certain details, the series brought out the most crucial dialogues enough to explain the core basics of the premise. It’s a deep story overall even at the elementary level, and if you couldn’t understand it at this level, you probably should go play Fate/Stay Night so that they spoon feed it to you. The dialogue itself is also purposely convoluted, which is great for a dark and seinen show like this. Now on to the main problem with this show: season 1 was merely a setup with a ton of teaser fights and as a result only one servant is slain by the end of the first 13 episodes. As far as I’m concerned, they really could have done without the Rin episode, which I had feared would come back and haunt this series in season 2. To some extent it did as a lot more material was dropped in season 2 than season 1. I was really hoping they would have slain Assassin and Caster by the end of season 1. Speaking of Caster, he and his master lived far too long in terms of episode count to the extent they received the first two episodes of season 2 just to finish them. Obviously, this led to Lancer’s and ultimately the other four remaining servant’s fight to be cut down significantly. Lancer’s and Berserker’s fight were two of the biggest highlights in the novels and they both received the short end of the adaptation…or so I thought with Berserker until the finale when the series did the fight justice by inserting the extra scene with Saber reminiscing the fight after she lost the war. So if you had to ask in short did Fate/Zero succeed at its story telling? Absolutely yes. Did it do so perfectly? Unfortunately not. Pacing plagued the show from beginning to end and it’s unfortunate the staff didn’t realize until it was within the last three episodes of the series. Saber’s and Archer’s fight was cut short likely under the assumption that many people would know the results of Fate/Stay Night. Most importantly, Kiritsugu’s death as well as his magic deterioration, while implied, was not explicit enough, especially to those who have not seen/played Fate/Stay Night. It was one of the more tragic moments of the series and the staff I guess assumed people knew? Regardless, the story is put together solidly albeit a little rushed towards the end.

Art and animation in season 1 were gorgeous from beginning to end. At first many questioned whether ufotable would be able to maintain such quality as they have never done a full length TV series before. It turns out ufotable definitely proved many wrong with season 1 at least. Season 2 is when quality began to dip, which is unfortunate due to the heavy amounts of action in this season compared to season 1. Fluidity remained top notch but special effects felt a little cheap. Stunning nonetheless though. Character designs remained top notch as did backgrounds all around. All I can say is with 25 episodes of relatively solid quality in animation that rivals or even bests SHAFT’s and Kyoto Animation’s, we better hope ufotable starts doing more quality works like this instead of their usual OVAs. They may have very well set a new bar in the industry.

Music…should not even be questioned. With Yuki Kajiura on board as the primary composer, this series was basically set. LiSA and Aoi Eir sang the OP/ED theme for season 1 respectively while Kalafina and Luna Haruna sang the main OP/ED themes for season 2. While Memoria by Aoi Eir was certainly the weakest of the set, it was still a decent song. Oath Sign, to the beginning, Manten, and Sora wa Takaku Kaze wa Utau were all solid. Background music matched the Fate franchise themes perfectly even though Yuki Kajiura has never done it before and it brought back a lot of nostalgia from Kenji Kawai’s music composition of Fate/Stay Night in 2006. Sound effects were top notch for the most part and seiyuu cast was great all around to bring out the dark setting Fate/Zero took place in.

Enjoyment? It was a great ride from beginning to the end (or should I say to the beginning?). The 25 episodes produced for Fate/Zero, while not the best way they could be produced, still brought out the light of what anime light novel adaptations should be like. I’m no Type-Moon slave/fan despite having played and read most Type-Moon works but Fate/Zero is arguably one of the best titles around if not the best. It was something to look forward to every week even when the series occasionally decided to tread the slippery slope. It’s definitely a series I recommend everyone watching even with the heavy dialogue. It’s not as complicated or implicit as Bakemonogatari’s dialogue and it has enough action to generally compensate those craving for it.

Overall, Fate/Zero is NOT a one-hit wonder. It had flaws that prevent it from being absolutely perfect, most of which began in the first series. The second season did what it could to really rebound off that slip up (or so I think) and still managed to bring together the most important elements of the story. While there was some disconnect with what was produced in the Fate/Stay Night anime…I’m pretty sure no one cares in general since the anime adaptation of the game was absolutely terrible in comparison. However, Fate/Zero is definitely a show that will be missed for eternity. It was a series that captured a variety of elements that many anime series in the last decade had hoped to do yet failed (some miserably).

The cast that made this show epic…

Story and Character:

  • Premise (1/1): Dark theme in contrast to the more happy theme of Fate/Stay Night. Complicated and more strategic battle royale instead of mindless attacking.
  • Character Personalities (1/1): Great characters that defined their ultimate desire for/from the Holy Grail.
  • Character Development (2/2): Surprisingly thorough, especially with Kiritsugu. The back story were from the spin-off novels and I’m surprised to see them incorporate it well into the overarching story.
  • Character Usefulness/Presence (2/2): 7 masters 7 servants always accounted for throughout the series (obviously as each one is picked off they don’t matter anymore)
  • Pacing: (0/1): The biggest flaw of this series. Spends too much dawdling and I guess worrying about the overall pacing due to the 2 cour split approach. Should have killed off Caster in season 1 at the very least. Hoping to see the last 3 episodes of season 2 fixed in the Blu-Rays.
  • Reasonable/Plausible (2/2): If you were able to follow the very convoluted logic and dialogue in this series then everything makes perfect sense in what is being done when and where. The Holy Grail War, while not strategically complicated like Legend of the Galactic Heroes (which worked very well for this show I might add), it’s also not so simple like a typical battle royale show. Fate/Zero does exactly what it needs to do when and where. It’s a show that involves always thinking one step ahead of your opponents.
  • Conclusion (1/1): Fantastic and absolutely spectacular with bringing the Berserker and Saber fight in one more time. Gilgamesh’s and Saber’s conflict is unfortunately cut short as is Kiritsugu’s ultimate death but those are more technical details.
  • Total: 9/10

Art and Animation:

  • Backgrounds (2/2): Nice and detailed everywhere.
  • Character Designs (2/2): Solid and good. Consistent with the rest of the Fate franchise. Quality does slip in season 2 a little bit but will likely be corrected in Blu-Ray.
  • Fluidity (2/2): No comment.
  • Visuals/Special Effects/Flashiness (2/2): Gilgamesh’s Gate of Babylon attacks are a bit too flashy at times but otherwise fantastic. Berserker’s quality dipped in season 2 mostly due to the darker lighting but still outstandingly gorgeous.
  • Art and Animation “Expectation” (2/2): ufotable sends everyone else home crying.
  • Total: 10/10

Sound and Music:

  • OP/ED/Insert Themes (3/3): Loved them all. ED1 wasn’t great but still memorable.
  • Background Music (2/2): Fantastic and filled with nostalgia.
  • Sound Effects (2/2): Good.
  • Seiyuu (3/3): Great with matching characters. Also a huge plus for consistency from the previous Fate anime titles.
  • Total: 10/10

Enjoyment:

  • Amusement (2/2): Gilgamesh and Rider kept this series going for quite some time. Other than that, amusement is defined differently for this series as it’s a much darker and serious setup.
  • Weekly/Next Episode Anticipation (2/2): Looked forward to it every week. Nothing much to say except it was painful waiting for the next episode.
  • Presentation (1/2): Season 1 may be too heavy on explanation for those more interested in the action. People may not be willing to sit through 11 episodes before seeing the first servant killed.
  • Re-watchable (1/1): Most definitely. Having seen the first series 3 times now and it being the more dialogue heavy of the two, there are a lot of times you missed something crucial hidden behind all the confounding text.
  • Recommendation (2/2): A series that definitely deserves a recommendation to all. It has it all from lolis to adults, heavy dialogue to pure action, romance to bromance, etc…
  • Value (1/1): While obviously not an underrated title, it’s definitely valuable and will definitely be a remembered series.
  • Total: 9/10

Season 1:

Preliminary Score: 9/10

Final Score: 9/10

Season 2:

Preliminary Score: 9/10

Final Score: 10/10

Overall: 9.5/10

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