Monday, July 27, 2015

[Anime] Fate/Zero Review

Fate/Zero - 8/10

Well, I can see why the series has some renown. I find myself in an odd place trying to judge it, however. The problem, for me, were the final two episodes.

Up to that point, I had viewed the series as essentially an interesting drama with some action, much like Game of Thrones. The ideologies that the characters have (both master and servant) are a driving force in the story, and while there is some solid related dialogue they don't overwhelm events at hand. For instance, I rather liked the way they set Kiritsugu up as somebody viewing the situation in the ultimately logical-moral way, sacrificing the few to save the many. They put some moral obstacles in his way and we saw how he reacted. His verbal bout with Saber over the silliness of "chivalry" in particular was a favorite of mine. This is a good use of the storytelling medium to build characters. But at no point did I feel that the outcome would be decided by ideological merit. It would be whoever out-maneuvered and then out-fought their opponents in the 7-way war.

But this is where I was disappointed in the end. In the final couple of episodes ideologies become the absolute focus. We're treated to an Evangelion-style surreal monologue/dialogue sequence in which Kiritsugu's views are again challenged, except this time he inexplicably falls apart. This leads to his rejection of the Grail, it says "screw you," chooses Kirei/Archer and burns the town down. Close scene. And thus the whole thing is decided by....the Grail's capriciousness? By a philosophical rejection of Kiritsugu? By Kirei's dead body being in the right place? I'm not sure precisely. It just happened independent of so many of the events that came before and left me distinctly unsatisfied.

So in short, I think it would have been better to stay more grounded with the psychology/ideology as the scenery rather than the foreground. But I didn't want to be too obsessed with that either, as it may be purely a matter of opinion.

The Good: Already gone over this tangentially, but I thought the development of the characters was superlative compared to most action anime out there. Every conversation isn't, "Hey, you're strong. I'm strong. Let's fight!" Each of the masters and servants had a distinct personality, with a few that were really quite unique. Their personalities also played into how they handled the Grail War nicely, and made the plot flow naturally from their actions.  A special award goes to Kiritsugu in particular as the quasi-MC; I thought he was a real highlight of the show.

That said, they didn't skimp on the action animation and it looks great (although I was a little disappointed that the Lancer/Saber fight early on was my favorite; the end fights didn't really deliver in the same way).

I also appreciated that they took Saber seriously. At first I was worried because the gender swap of Arthur seemed to open the door to a lot of potentially humiliating tropes (romantic vulnerability, easily embarrassed by crassness, revealing costume design, etc). But they stayed well away from that and Saber was a not a character to take lightly. It reminded me of Claymore in that regard, where the premise worried me but they ended up delivering well despite the oddity of it. She looked really good in a suit, too.

The Bad: The biggest thing that hit me was that the series was unnecessarily brutal, particularly with the children. That is, brutality in fiction is a tool. It can be employed to show how certain characters work or the results of situations play out. But just dwelling on brutality for its own sake is decadent and unnecessary. It only took one scene to establish Ryuu-longname and Caster as remorseless psychopathic killers. That they keep coming back to it over and over, with apparently far more visual detail than I witnessed, is nothing more than vulgar shock value.

Update to review: having now seen Fate/Stay Night (2015) I understand the ending of Fate/Zero far better.  That doesn't entirely remove my complaint that when only viewing the series alone it is a rocky experience, but I can appreciate why some things happened now.

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