This was originally a video review, but if you wish to read the transcript I have made it reader friendly!
The Fate Franchise is a series of games and novels made by Japanese game developer type moon, whose most notable works include kara no kyokai, tsukihime and of course the fate series – with Fate/stay night being the most popular of the series. So popular in fact that it spawned an anime adaptation in 2006 despite the original source material actually being an electronic Japanese adult visual novel.
My first run in with fate series was with the Fate Stay/Night anime – a solid action show set in modern times starring a red headed protagonists so full of shit, he could have taken the award for worlds most cliched dickriding hero if not for him spouting out epic inspirational speeches about how PEOPLE DIE IF THEY ARE KILLED. The whole anime was entertaining but mediocre at best with nothing really standing out except an interesting concept and an exceptionally naïve main character. So when I first heard of Fate/Zero, I was rather reluctant to give it a go in fear of encountering more mediocre characters, predictable stories and cheesy heroic philosophy that at times borders heroic retardedness. Oh how wrong I was.
Fate Zero is the prequel of Fate Stay/Night made by Ufotable and is set 10 years before the events of that anime. It follows the stories of seven different mages as they battle each other in a conflict dubbed the holy grail war. Each mage in the war is able to summon a single servant to assist in battle– a legendary hero that has become famous through the ages either from real historic events or through notable legends. The winner of the holy grail war is able to obtain the holy grail, a magical vessel that is able to grant any wish for both the winning master and servant. That's right it’s a seven on seven tag team battle royal with historic heroes passed down through legends.
The main characters in this anime come in two categories, the 7 mages ranging from an assassin to a priest to a serial killer to a pussy and the 7 servants including such heroes as king Arthur and Alexander the great - they are split into 7 classes called Caster, Assassin, lancer, berserker, saber, rider and archer, each with their own personalities and special abilities that they can use in battle.
Yes there are many battles throughout the series ranging from all out free for all’s to one on one duels to complex mind games which all look absolutely fantastic considering this series seems to be made with a budget that could buy Belgium resulting in near cinematic quality animation, but the one thing that makes the tournament work so well is the lack of an obvious main character and thus final winner - and this is why I'm avoiding any character descriptions. Ok, characters will die off as PEOPLE DIE IF THEY ARE KILLED and some characters get more focus as the story progresses with this being a battle royal, but on the outset careful attention is given with each character - everyone has different agenda’s, motivations along with a multitude of tactics to win the war, and show does well to portray that there is no right way to win the war.
It becomes less of a clash between good and evil as we are so used to seeing but it’s more of a clash of ideology, where every character has different ideals including all the masters and their servants. A big theme with the series is the concept of chivalry and what it means to be a hero. Do you become a hero of justice, upholding your codes of honor and fighting for the good of...well good, do you take all the blood shed on your own shoulders as a dark lone wolf and become the hero that Gotham deserves or do you simply sit around being an arrogant prick in your glowing gold armor like the worlds most glamorous douche bag.
Because all the characters are so well written it’s entertaining to see the relationships and interactions of the cast due to everyones own ideals. Some Master – Servant combo’s become instant BFFs, some hate each other when they are forced to work together, others form secret alliances with each other and one involves the worlds first bromance between enemies where one of the bros is a errr.... Girl. Every character is given a purpose and becomes part of the intricate web of relations with every other character that just makes every interaction all the more interesting, not to mention the way they develop over the course of the show.
Of course there are some stand out characters in the show - most notably being rider who's charisma steals every moment he's on screen and has more awesome stored in his beard alone than any character to come out of recent anime (most interesting man). Not to demerits the battle scenes in the show as the action in fate zero is a thrilling spectacle in it's own right, and for those looking just for some awesome action scenes will not be disappointed with some of the amazing set pieces in fate zero.
The soundtrack is also great getting your heart racing during action scenes and of course doing an amazing job of giving the entire series a grand scale and epic feel during its high points, which it does by using the oldest trick in the book of adding EPIC CHOIRS to everything which is a trick which works so well you could basically add the soundtrack to basically brawl and it’ll sound epic.
It’s a rare anime indeed breaking out of a lot of the tropes set by recent anime - redefining what it means to be a hero, having basically minimal fan service and being an anime set in modern times, where no single character has anything to do with highschool.
No seriously. If there’s one word you could use to describe fate zero is that it’s mature - all the characters baring one are adults and it never assumes the audience is stupid. The tactics used are actually smarter than anything portrayed in other shows such as Code Geass, but is done in a much subtler way and is not so obviously spelt out for the audience to fawn over it – but is definitely smart enough to make this series feel like a 7 way mind game with an exciting story full of twist and turns. Couple this with the scales of the battles and you have yourself an epic. Yes this series is epic, a word that has been lost in the internet generation ever since some kid with a keyboard decided that anything more entertaining than a fucking cat could be dubbed epic.
Fate Zero excels in basically every aspect with animation and action out of this world, a great soundtrack, an engaging story with memorable characters and clever writing that it almost reaches its ambitious scale and becomes the perfect anime….almost. While the series could have been a complete masterpiece there is one glaring fault that cannot be overlooked especially considering everything that it’s trying to achieve – and that is its unfortunate shackle to the fate series itself. The entire world of the of the holy grail war is a complex deep backdrop with enough rules to make the death note look like a colouring book and it can get quite confusing at times for those not already familiar with the franchise.
Each character has enough back story to warrant a lecture and because fate zero tried to appeal to newbies of the franchise, they take the term story telling quite literally as the first episode is a 40 minute boring exposition where the series so unsubtly tells you the entire back story, they might as well have just hired david attenbourough and made a bloody documentary of the holy grail war.Even then that wasn't enough since there were times in the latter part of the show where I couldn't fully appreciate everything that was happening on screen and didn't know the full backstory of some of the servants which the series assumes you should know.
This shackle unfortunately also transfers to the ending since the show is forced to set things up for the pre-existing sequel fate stay/night rather than having an awesome climactic ending of it's own, which is a shame because i thought it would benefit from being a stand alone project. It's as if during the final episode the series was trying to tell us "guys I know we made something amazing here but in case you've forgotten - we're still related to that retarded half brother of ours k thx bye" leaving us with quite an anti-climactic ending.
Overall fate zero is not only one of the best anime to come out in recent years, but is one of the most all around balanced anime I've ever seen. It has such a wide appeal i could recommend it to basically anyone sine almost every aspect of it gets top marks baring the info dump of a first episode and the anti-climactic last episode which could prevent it from getting a perfect score, but it dances so close to perfection with such an ambitious and difficult series to pull of that I could almost forgive it.