Most of us are at least passingly familiar with Type-Moon’s Fate series. For those of you who aren’t the basic premise is that there’s a holy grail war periodically and a group of people are chosen as masters and have to summon legendary/ historical figures to fight for them in order to obtain their wish from the grail. There have been two major anime series based on the games, the first being Fate/Stay Night and the second being what we’re looking at today, Fate/Zero. Although I’ll only be going over the first season. One of the strange things about the Fate anime is that they’re not even handled by the same studio. Fate/Stay was done by studio Deen and this one was handled by Ufotable. Why the change? I don’t know. Maybe Type-Moon didn’t want the studio responsible for Kore wa Zombie desu ka to touch their licence anymore. Which I can’t blame them for. I just hope there aren’t any continuity issues as a result.
The story is pretty much the usual for the Fate franchise, the Holy Grail war is approaching, the masters are chosen and they instantly get to work trying to kill each other. The first season never really gets beyond that. Let’s start with the faults. Like Durarara, the entire first episode is largely wasted on exposition. I won’t lie, it greatly improves after that, but it’s still kind of annoying when they waste a whole episode outlining what’s happening instead of letting it emerge naturally in the narrative. It also bothers me that they inject tragedy into the past’s of several Fate/Stay Night characters. Why? This isn’t stuff that was covered in the original Fate/Stay so there’s really no point. It’s not like any of it helps explain anything about their motivations. A final thing that bothers me is the way it handles the servants’ identities. In the original it was kept as a guarded secret since it could reveal their weaknesses. In this one they barely have any tension with it. Most of the servants just introduce themselves very quickly. That being said, I do have some praise for the series. With prequels it’s easy to lose any tension since the audience already has a basic idea of what happens, but Ufotable actually manages to keep the tension strong in spite of that. I also really like the ending. It’s a cliffhanger, certainly, but it’s an effective one. It makes you want to watch the second season to see what happens.
The characters are really what make the anime work. There are a few boring ones like Tohsaka or the Assassin and there are some who seem interesting but you don’t get enough of to really judge like Kariya and Berserker, who is actually the only servant without his identity revealed in the first season. The majority of the characters, however, are fascinating. The servants tend to be much more interesting but part of what really makes them work is their interactions with the masters. The relationship between master and servant is always interesting to see. Partially because they vary so much and partially because they went out of their way, in most cases, to pick master-servant pairs that would highlight the most interesting aspects of both their personalities. One of the biggest exceptions is Saber. They made her complement Irisviel instead of her master since those two spend so much time together. One thing that kind of bothers me is that they frequently get their history/myths wrong, and no I’m not talking about Saber being a woman. I’m really more bothered by all the glaring inconsistencies involving Alexander the Great (No, that isn’t a spoiler. You find out his identity pretty early on.) I understand that they’re just using that as a starting point and it’s not meant to reflect reality, but it can be pretty disconcerting. I think the main reason it bothers me more is that he’s based off of a real person as opposed to a legendary figure that may or may not have some basis in reality.
The art in this is mostly excellent. The character designs, though not accurate for some of the servants, are really creative. The fight scenes are strong and there are some really good backdrops. That being said, I have some mostly minor issues. The first is that Saber’s hair shape-shifts when she’s in her armour vs civilian clothes. Her civilian hair isn’t long or thick enough for the style she has in her armour. And, while most of the fight scenes are good, some of them are kind of lazy. Particularly the fight between Caster and the duo of Lancer and Saber.
Now we move on to the acting. Most of the actors are really good. Particularly Ishida Akira and Kawasumi Ayako. That being said, there are two exceptions. The first is Tsuruoka Satoshi. His performance is bombastic, overly grandiose and quite grating. Rather like Brian Blessed but less charming. The second is Kadowaki Mai, who plays Illyaviel. She’s actually pretty funny but her voice is just so annoyingly high-pitched that it makes me glad she doesn’t have much of a role. To be fair, she’s playing a little kid but that doesn’t make it less annoying. The music is… I’m hesitant to say epic since it’s a rather over-used term, but it is certainly grand.
The yuri factor is a 4/10. Saber and Irisviel get some pretty homoerotic scenes. Particularly the ones in which Saber refers to herself as Irisviel’s knight.
With all that said, both the good and the bad, my final rating for Fate/Zero season 1 is an 8/10. The character interactions and characters themselves are largely really well done. The story, though nothing new for the franchise, is interesting and the voice acting is largely really well done. When it comes right down to it, the issues it has aren’t significant enough to hurt it too much.