Anime Review: Fate/Zero Season 1

I know, I know I said I would be watching One Punch Man first…but I wasn’t in the mood for a superhero comedy at the time. My schedule for anime is all messed up 😥. I’m sorry! I swear I’ll watch it next!


Summary: With the promise of granting any wish, the omnipotent Holy Grail triggered three wars in the past, each too cruel and fierce to leave a victor. In spite of that, the wealthy Einzbern family is confident that the Fourth Holy Grail War will be different; namely, with a vessel of the Holy Grail now in their grasp. Solely for this reason, the much hated “Magus Killer” Kiritsugu Emiya is hired by the Einzberns, with marriage to their only daughter Irisviel as binding contract. Kiritsugu now stands at the center of a cutthroat game of survival, facing off against six other participants, each armed with an ancient familiar, and fueled by unique desires and ideals. Accompanied by his own familiar, Saber, the notorious mercenary soon finds his greatest opponent in Kirei Kotomine, a priest who seeks salvation from the emptiness within himself in pursuit of Kiritsugu. Based on the light novel written by Gen Urobuchi, Fate/Zero depicts the events of the Fourth Holy Grail War—10 years prior to Fate/stay night. Witness a battle royale in which no one is guaranteed to survive.

Story: 4/5:

This is an interesting story, although it isn’t the plot that drives the series; in truth, it’s the characters. But I still enjoy the idea.

I may not have seen either Fate/Stay Night, or Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Bladeworks, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. Although, maybe watching one of them would’ve helped…eh. Nothing I can do now. If I have to compare Fate/Zero with anything, it would be the Hunger Games, but much more psychological, philosophical, and fantasy-based.

Ultimately, it isn’t the plot that keeps the story moving forward, as odd as that may sound. It’s about Kiritsugu Emiya, an assassin known as the “Mage Killer”, who gets involved with the Holy Grail War, where these families, and sometimes other outside mages (although it’s not only mages that can get involved, sometimes by accident) summon “heroic spirits”, or ghosts of heroes, to fight to ultimately find the Holy Grail. It may be my misinterpretation, but I don’t think it’s the Holy Grail in the Bible….didn’t they say that? I thought they did, but I may be confused.

Characters: 4.5/5: It’s the characters that truly shine here. The plot may be good, but it’s the minds if the people involved that truly make this compelling.

However, I’m kind of surprised that none of the masters of the servants were women. In a way, I feel as though that’s somewhat unrealistic. Although, each of the masters are interesting enough that it doesn’t feel like too much of a logic inconsistenty, but I feel like it would’ve been more realistic if one of the masters was a woman.

Surprisingly, our main character, Kiritsugu, doesn’t get as much screentime as I expected. Although he is Saber’s master, they don’t have a good relationship due to differing ideals and values. That’s why he asks his wife, Irisviel, to be a decoy master for Saber. Kiritsugu comes off as an overly cold and ruthless person, doing whatever it takes to get the Grail. He may appear like a jerk at times, but it’s private moments with his wife and daughter that reveal a softer, kinder part of him that he doesn’t show often. One scene that surprised me was when he was talking to Irisviel, and was seriously contemplating leaving the Grail War with her, getting their daughter, and simply disappearing. That moment definitely stood out to me.  

Irisviel may seem like the typical “submissive wife” type at first, but she has more depth than that. First, she’s a Homunculus, or an artificial human. Second, she possesses incredible emotional strength, resilience, and selflessness; she is often an encouraging and comforting presence for Kiritsugu. But what’s interesting is that she isn’t just emotionally strong; she’s also pretty physically strong, as she’s talented with magic and is able to heal fast. She’s even able to hold her own for a while against Kirei Kotomine! She also has a playful, childish side that comes out when she hangs out with Saber. They have a wonderful friendship.

Saber is probably the most famous member of the cast, as she’s one of the most recurring in all the Fate franchise. She’s revealed to actually be King Arthur, although the “how” of this is likely revealed in Fate/Stay Night. She’s a powerful knight who believes in the honor and chivalry of war, which clashes against Kiritsugu’s views, who believes that there should be no war. As a result, she often appears more often with Irisviel, who is her decoy master. The reason she wants the Grail is to rectify what she feels to be her mistakes that led to England’s downfall. She is probably the most honor bound Servant, along with another…

Kirei Kotomine:

Despite being the antagonist, we don’t know much about this guy yet. He’s an executioner for the Holy Church, and once he knows about Kiritsugu, he knows that they are meant to be enemies. Kiritsugu feels the same way. Kirei seeks to understand why he feels so empty. He starts out as someone I felt kind of neutral on, but as the series goes on, he seems to be listening more and more to one of the servants, which clearly isn’t a good thing. 

 Gilgamesh:

The main antagonistic servant, Gilgamesh certainly doesn’t fit into the more heroic story of his namesake. He’s got a major God complex, and is incredibly arrogant in his fighting abilities. If that was all there was to the character, I would likely find him incredibly irritating. But he’s also intelligent, especially shown in his conversations with Kirei. He basically psycho-analyzes the guy and digs deep into his mind. He’s surprisingly interesting.

Waver and Rider:

Waver is one of the few masters in the Grail war to not be from one of the families. Despite still being a student, he managed to summon a servant in the form of Rider, or Iskander the Great. Waver is slowly growing on me; I found him to be insufferably bratty and cowardly at first. I understand he joined the war to gain respect, but still… Rider on the other hand, I liked fairly fast. He’s funny and wise in some ways, but completely unable to understand the modern world, which leads to comedic situations. But he’s also an in incredible warrior, and shouldn’t be underestimated. He’s one of my favorites, if not my favorite.

There are other characters who haven’t elaborated on so much, or I just don’t want to use too much imagery for…yet.

There’s Kayneth, his fiancée, Sola-Ui, and Lancer, his servant. I don’t like Kayneth that much…it may be that I’m a student, but oh my gosh is he a horrible teacher. Despite Waver being a brat, I can’t really blame him for stealing Kayneth’s artifact and summoning Rider. Sola-Ui is even worse; I can’t reveal much about her due to spoilers, but let’s just say her infatuation for Lancer is not only irritating, but downright creepy. Who knew the dubbed voice of Nina Fortner from Monster could sound so creepy… 😨 I do like Lancer though. While his curse may sound stupid at first listen (a beauty mark under his eye that causes women to become infatuated with him), his implied backstory is sad because of it. He and Saber have been in a fight for a while because of their codes of honor and chivalry, and have a near amiable relationship because of it.

Tokiomi Tohsaka is the master of Gilgamesh. He is also Kirei’s mentor, and they work together to get the Grail, at least for the time being. He isn’t shown much, so for me at least, his personality doesn’t leave much of an impression. But what I can say is that he’s a terrible judge of character. I mean, he’s Kirei’s mentor, like, that can’t go wrong, and he trusts him so much…Also, he had one of his daughters adopted by this really creepy old man (Zouken Matou) who has been alive for who knows how long. I think they mentioned it was because of some laws of the Magus that meant only one child can become a family heir. Hopefully it was elaborated more in the light novel. But those events lead to another master…

Kariya Matou was the heir to the Matou family, but upon learning their source of power, severed ties and left. He also has unrequited feelings for his old friend Aoi Tohsaka, the wife of Tokiomi. He’s also a surrogate uncle for her kids, Rin and Sakura. When he finds out that Tokiomi gave Sakura to the Matou family, (Zouken is also his uncle) he’s horrified and makes a deal: if he gets the Grail and gives it to Zouken, he’ll return Sakura to her family. However, due to a lack of training, he undergoes some pretty horrific training (it’s horrible. Just…ugh), which degrades his physical health, and likely his mental health. It’s just a sad story that I can’t see ending well.

Ryuunosuke Uryuu isn’t even a magus…he’s a child serial killer who summoned his servant Caster because he thought the summoning spell was for a demon. I think that sums up a lot. I will never look at my least favorite color combination (orange and purple) the same way again, or even be able to say, “Cool!” without weirding myself out because I think of him. Caster is the most bizarre looking servant, and ironically, he and Uryuu have the one of the best master-servant relationships, as they get along well right off the bat and seem to be genuine friends. Caster also has a creepy obsession with Saber, because she looks like someone he knew.

Maiya is Kiritsugu’s partner on the battlefield. She’s very cold and detached, but clearly cares about Kiritsugu and also gets along well with Irisviel.

Animation: 5/5:

OH MY GOODNESS, THIS ANIMATION IS AMAZING. Seriously, it’s some of the best animation I’ve seen in a long time. It is on par with movies, and even surpasses a few of them. Like, how much did this cost? Even if there aren’t as many fight scenes as you would expect, they are the highlight of the series with jaw dropping animation and coloring. But even in the quieter moments, the animation is top notch and gorgeous. And, to use a TV trope name, this has so much “scenery porn”. The backdrops and scenery are absolutely stunning.

Sound: 4.5/5: 

The OP, Oath Sign, is performed by liSa, who also sang Crossing Field for Sword Art Online. She has a good voice with great range. As much as I enjoyed the song, I did feel like it was a little too upbeat for the series; while it isn’t totally “dark” (yet), I still felt like it was a bit too peppy. 

I watched the English dub. While I may watch a few episodes subbed, I’m enjoying the dub quite a bit, so I may stick with that in the long run. Sorry, dub haters. I was also surprised with the appearance of many dubbed voices from Durarara, and even two voices from Monster appearing. However, there is some lip lock, which results in some unnaturally long, drawn out sentences. But if that doesn’t bother you, go ahead and watch the dub.  A few standout performances include:

Matthew Mercer as Kiritsugu. He manages to play the dark, cold and distant “Mage Killer” and sound quite intimidating, but in the character’s more emotional moments (mainly shown with Irisviel and Illyasviel), he can still be just as realistic.

Crispin Freeman as Kirei Kotomine. While I’ve only heard him as the one guy on the planet you don’t want mad (Shizuo), he still sounds scary without even raising his voice. No, he sounds scarier. He doesn’t express much, but…he’s chilling.

Kari Wahlgren as Saber. Even if I didn’t find her performance as memorable here as when she portrayed Celty, she still makes a solid impression as the chivalrous and honor bound “King of Knights”.

Liam O’Brien as Kariya Matou. I’m sill ashamed I didn’t recognize him from Monster (he even voiced Tenma, the lead!). Even though he still has a similar voice to earlier roles, he plays a kind man likely going insane really well.

Johnny Yong Bosch as Ryuunosuke Uryuu. We know this guy can play crazy people really well (Izaya), but this ramps the insanity up another level. I mean, he’s a cheerful child serial killer who find guts and blood pretty!

Jamieson Price as Rider. He voices the ancient hero, the king and conqueror, the warrior, and the guy who doesn’t get modern society equally well. He does such a good job, we kind of forget that Rider wants to conquer the entire world. 

World Building: 4/5: This is a really unique world. Again, I feel like doing some research into the rules and laws of the Magus may have helped me out in understanding the rules, but overall, the world is built pretty well.

Pros:

  • Psychological: This gets into the minds and motivations of the masters and servants. I’m happy to see a story that isn’t a thriller that has psychological aspects.
  • Incorporation of different myths and legends: I enjoyed how they put in not just one type of mythology, but several types, like English, Irish, and even some truly ancient ones and “real life” figures.
  • Gorgeous animation: This may be shallow, but I think the animation also helps me like the series even more. The animation is fluid, and the backgrounds are just breathtaking.

Cons:

  • Complicated: I think having experience (or some research) would have helped me, especially in the beginning. It didn’t help that I kept messing up who’s who, and trying to figure out why some characters sound so darn familiar.
  • Can be slow: If you’re looking for an action heavy series, I’m not sure. This fights are amazing, but this is less about the fights and more about the minds of the characters.
  • Artistic license: Oh boy, is there some. King Arthur is a woman who loooks like a teen, Gilgamesh is blonde with red eyes, and Alexander the Great is way too tall and ginger. I see it as an alternate universe thing, but still.

Grade: 4.5/5: This takes a little to get into, but it is worth it. It has a good story, brilliant characters, and some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. This usually isn’t my kind of thng, but I’m enjoying it a lot so far.

But because it’s not only a prequel, but a Gen Urobuchi story, I’m getting concerned with the considerable lack of main character death so far. Something tells me there will be a ton of it in season 2…uh oh. Better prepare my feels…😰

3 thoughts on “Anime Review: Fate/Zero Season 1

  1. I once thought I should watch Fate Stay Night but never did. I didn’t actually know how many there were but it’s interesting to read about the prequel.
    I’m really glad you enjoyed it! And I don’t think it’s shallow at all to take the animation into consideration. I think it’s way too important to leave out, and I would absolutely not watch something, no matter how interesting and deep, if the animation sucked. So I get it.
    I think the cons would turn me off a bit, especially because I need anime/movies/etc. to pull me in right at the start or I’ll become bored. Still, I might give this a chance. Who knows.
    Wonderful review, Kate 🙂 I hope you enjoy the second season just as much! (and that the death count doesn’t suddenly spike, because that would be a bummer)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard that Fate Stay Night isn’t very good, but that the Ufotable productions are good. I don’t know how many there are either, to be honest.

      Okay, that’s good! The animation is absolutely beautiful, not only action scenes but scenery in general is jaw dropping. There are some stories where the animation isn’t my favorite, but the story and characters are interesting enough for me to get into it. Like Monster; it has that 90s anime look which I don’t care for, but it is so interesting!
      Hm. The first episode (for me at least) was fairly confusing, as we were invited into a pretty complex world (and I’d heard a lot of voices from other shows, so I got some characters mixed up). Maybe watching Fate Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works first would’ve helped, but then again, maybe not because of spoilers. But what I meant was that even though this is a very dialogue heavy show at times, they are all interesting conversations, mainly because of how surprisingly psychological they are.
      I think you should check it out, but be prepared to rewatch the first episode to understand everything. Or go on TV Tropes.

      Like

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