Fate/Zero: A Review

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I recently finished watching Fate/Zero, an anime series by Type-Moon.  The series both impressed and depressed me.

I have been considering how to write this post for the past two or three weeks.  How does one sum up a series of this depth and magnitude in a post short enough to be reasonable?  Eventually I decided that I should spread the wealth over two or three posts.

To sum up the plot, I’ll borrow from Wikipedia

Plot Summary:

Fate/Zero takes place 10 years prior to the events of Fate/stay night, detailing the events of the 4th Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City.[2]. The War of the Holy Grail is a contest in which seven mages summon seven Heroic Spirits to compete to obtain the power of the “Holy Grail,” which grants a miracle. After three inconclusive wars for the elusive Holy Grail, the Fourth War commences.

Founded by the Einzbern, Makiri, and Tōsaka families centuries ago, the Einzbern family is determined to achieve success after three successive failures, no matter the cost. As a result, they have elected to bring the hated magus killer, Kiritsugu Emiya, into their ranks, despite his methods and reputation as a skilled mercenary and a hitman who employs whatever he can use to accomplish his goals. Though Kiritsugu had once wanted to become a hero who could save everyone, he has long since abandoned this ideal upon realizing that saving one person comes at the cost of another’s life. For the sake of humanity, he will ruthlessly destroy anything and anyone who threatens the peace of others.

However, Kiritsugu finds himself deeply torn between the love he has found for his new family – his wife Irisviel and their daughter Illya – and what he must do to obtain the Holy Grail. Meanwhile, Kiritsugu’s greatest opponent appears in the form of Kirei Kotomine, a priest who cannot find any sense of fulfillment in his life and sets his sights on Kiritsugu as the possible answer to the emptiness he feels.

Plot 

As far as plot management, Fate/Zero is crisp and tight, which I found refreshing.  I’m no otaku, so I’m not exactly a compendium of anime knowledge, but it has been my experience that many anime, while they may start off great, the storyline falters such that I eventually stop understanding what’s going on.  I attribute that to, perhaps a language barrier, wherein it made sense in Japanese but the translation is lacking, or a cultural barrier wherein some things in Japan are considered “normal” but to the average westerner it is not, or my absolute ignorance, or all of the above.  Needless to say, Fate/Zero obviously has solid writing behind it.

Character depth, motivation and development 

This is something that can make or break an anime experience for me.  (Not just anime but I feel the same way when it comes to movies and books.)  In Fate/Zero we have seven mages all of whom are of different ages and experiences and come from different walks of life.  The heroic spirits are also unique.  Each mage and spirit is motivated to seek the grail and the power it bestows for different reasons, and each one of them is willing to go to certain personal lengths to reach that goal.  Their motivations as a whole seem reasonable, even if simplistic.  For example, Rider or Iskander a.k.a. Alexander the Great wants to see the sea.  Apparently in his lifetime he tried through conquering to reach the sea but never made it.

We also have Waver Valet who is a teen-ager and student.  He wants to use the grail to gain recognition his gift as a mage.  He becomes the master of Rider after summoning him to be his heroic spirit. Waver Valet appears to be a bit of a weakling and he has a difficult time controlling Rider.  But, Waver isn’t as much of a weakling as he initially appears.  He actually stole the ancient artifact needed to summon the heroic spirit that should have never been his in the first place.  This shows real verve and by extension great character depth.  I like that.

Kirei Kotomine is another mage, who in my opinion, is a bit warped.  He is a Catholic priest who works for one of the other mages, Tokiomi Tohsaka, who is also competing in the grail war.  Kirei Kotomine is a rather dour character who doesn’t really have a clear understanding of what he wants in life.  His heroic spirit(s) is the Assassin, which are actually many assassins, I expect due to their innate weakness.

Don’t mistake his dour demeanor for weakness though.  Archer or Gilgamesh a.k.a King of Heros, is the heroic spirit belonging to Tokiomi Tohsaka.  He is truly an arrogant, insufferable, and disloyal piece of work and he reads Kotomine like a book and like a snake whispers sedition into Kotomine’s ear.  Kotomine eventually backstabs (and I say that literally) his boss and claims Gilgamesh for himself.  I guess you can tell that I don’t like Gilgamesh over much.  I’ll discuss that in another post.

So, without going into grand detail about each character, I’ll sum it up this way.  They’re well and smartly developed.

But…there are some weakness in my opinion.

Weaknesses 

As I often do, when watching anime, particularly the ones I enjoy, I start asking:

  1. Where are the POC?
  2. Where are the women?

POC 

Sometimes there isn’t much of an expectation that the POC will be anything other than Japanese, which is perfectly fine and quite interesting.  One example of a full out Japanese cast is in my all time favorite anime, Moribito.  That said, Fate/Zero takes place in modern day Japan.  Do I really need to elaborate here?  Well…perhaps I do.

I may be showing a woeful amount of ignorance here but despite a cast of characters ripe with Japanese names, few if any of them actually look Asian.  And this is the case for the casts of the majority of anime.

Can someone tell me why most anime feature characters who, despite having blue or pink or lime green hair, look distinctly European?  Okay, never mind.  I know.  But, really?  Okay, moving on.  Let’s forget the masters and discuss the heroic spirits.

My son and I had a discussion a few days ago about the heroic spirits.  A bit of a history buff, he pointed out that Gilgamesh, who in Fate/Zero is portrayed as thus:

should, according to historical accounts actually be brown with Arab or Asian features.  Hmm…moving on.

Unless I am terribly mistaken, all of the heroic spirits, other than Saber a.k.a. King Arthur (who is portrayed as a woman…I know) and Berserker a.k.a. Lancelot, are genuine people from history.  So I posed the question: Are there no interesting people from history that would fit the seven heroic spirit classes who are also POC?  We started to throw out some possibilities.  These are a few of the potential heroic spirits that we came up with:

  1. Attila the Hun (Rider class)
  2. Shaka Zulu (Lancer class)
  3. Hannibal (Rider or Archer class)
  4. Crazy Horse (Archer or Rider class)

Women 

There are three women in Fate/Zero that I think are worthy of mention.  Irisviel von Einzbern, Saber a.k.a King Arthur, and Maiya Hisau.  Irisviel is the wife of Kiritsugu Emiya.  Saber is the heroic spirit belonging to Kiritsugu Emiya.  And last and sort of least, Maiya Hisau is the hired mercenary assistant to Kiritsugu Emiya.

With the Bechdel Test in mind, I can say that these women frequently have conversations.  These conversations are frequently about things other than men.  I think that the very fact that these three women are not only bound to the same man but are also aligned with his mission (ie. no independent thinking) nullifies everything else.  FAIL.

Lets discuss these women in a more detail.  Irisviel really can’t be considered a woman because she is a homunculus, but let’s pretend she’s normal.  This is the type of woman that makes me want to puke rocks and glass.  Okay, maybe not that bad, but I have difficulty stomaching the kind of ultra-feminine characters that can only be found in anime; simpering, fainting, dependent sissy girls.

Saber or King Arthur…  Okay, I know that there have been some interpretations where King Arthur has been portrayed as a woman but…I’m not sure what to think about this one.  Allow me to say that Saber is a strongly written character but not to my personal liking.  She’s a goody two shoes.  I prefer my characters not be so clear-cut, for their good and evil to be more balanced.  But this is a personal preference of mine.

Maiya Hisau.  Yeah.  She is a bore.  Totally loyal to the dying end to Emiya.  She never questioned him and her emotions and loyalties were completely concretely aligned with his.  She didn’t seem to have a brain of her own.  She was a drone.

So to sum up the women in Fate/Zero: a homunculus, Saber a.k.a. King Arthur who is a woman, and a drone.

My son and I also speculated about other potential women who could be summoned from the past to be heroic spirits.  We got online and started trying to scratch up women we thought would be suitable.  These are a few of the women we came up with:

  1. Joan of Arc (saber, and potentially berserker or caster class)
  2. Amina Sukera (saber or archer class)
  3. Atlanta (archer)
  4. Sekhmet
  5. Oya (caster class)

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find women from history and legend who would qualify to be a heroic spirit?  We know that they exist but they don’t get as much press or attention as males.  Can someone please do something about that?

Something Refreshing 

I loathe fan service and the out of context weirdo underage sexual innuendo which is present in, is it fair to say?, most anime.  It absolutely disgusts me.  I don’t care how interesting an anime is, once I sense any creepiness, I tune out and turn it off, never to return.  Fate/Zero had no fan service.  Not a single hint.  None!  I love that.

Art 

The art and animation in Fate/Zero is clean, dark, and mature.  I like it.

The End 

Talk about anticlimactic.  I won’t give away the ending here but let me just throw this out there: deus ex machina and predictability.  It’s fairly easy to predict before reaching the half-way mark in this series who will win.  Albeit, it doesn’t happen in quite the expected way, but it does happen.  If I can predict the eventual outcome, then what’s the point of hanging out until the end?  Right, there isn’t much point.

Fate/Zero gets and overall score of: 

Check out these other reviews:

  1. Requires Only Hate
  2. The Notaku Blog
  3. Lost In America – Anime and More

 

  • Peter Richtsmeier

    Hi Khaalidah,

    I enjoyed reading your review of Fate/Zero. I just finished watching the series on Netflix, and I shared your review on facebook. I’ve only read through a couple of your other posts, but I’m looking forward to reading more!

  • Hi there, I’ve actually started watching the Fate Zero anime recently and am doing an episodic review of the series here http://roflmaozedong.wordpress.com/tag/fate-zero/. Found your blog when searching to see if anyone else has done anything similar. I skipped over a bunch as I’m only on episode 5, but would just like to comment on the “POC” and “Women” points you made. The POC one Aliette below has already addressed – apparently to Japanese animation, people are Japanese unless explicitly stated otherwise (or they look stereotypically Asian which means they are Chinese), so blonde white people are actually all Japanese people.

    As far as women go, again, I’m only up to the first battle that starts with Saber vs Lancer and then very quickly gets Rider, Berserker, and Archer involved. But, I didn’t read Irisviel as like “simpering dependent sissy girl”, since she was kind of in the front lines in her opening battle. I think, at this point at least, that she is supposed to be “steel behind silk”, that is, she is supposed to have strength even though she does traditionally feminine things also. And I do rather like the bromance that she and Saber are having thus far.

    Of course, maybe my appraisal will change as the series goes on.

    • khaalidah

      Hi there genghisquan
      Thanks for reading my post.  hope you enjoy FZ as much as I did.
      I can kind of get your point about Irisviel, but not entirely.  Admittedly, I may be a bit sensitive as women in anime tend to annoy me to no end.  I find their portrayal, their voices even, absolutely vomit inducing.  Although there are some female characters in anime that I’ve found impressive. As for Irisviel, I do have to disagree. I do not see her as the “steel” although that may have been what the producers were going for. I don’t see her as being very strong…but again, that may be just me.
      Thanks to Aliette and now you, I understand the racial distinctions…but it is confusing.  I suppose we’re way to hyper-racial here?  I don’t know.
      I’ll check out your posts.

  • Khaalidah, with the provido that I don’t speak for the Japanese, but am regurgitating what I saw online in a bunch of places… Most anime characters are meant to be Japanese for a Japanese audience, ie they’re cartoon versions which don’t require much in the way of definition–it’s implied that if you draw a round head with two dots for the eyes, of course it has to be Japanese! It’s particularly clear in the way that the faces are drawn–very round and “elfin”, which is a shape the Japanese think characteristics of themselves (you can compare those with outright Westerners in anime, which tend to be very blocky), and the way the eyes quirk up and become arches when they smile or laugh–it’s a trait that’s particularly accented when you have an epicanthic fold. 

    They seem Caucasian to most Westerners (especially Americans) because they’re pale-skinned (which is mistakenly associated with Caucasianness), and do not feature the exaggerated features that are assocaited with Japanese in the Western mindset (ie no apparent epicanthic fold). But to a Japanese, there is no need to exaggerate features unless they want to make it clear they’re talking about another ethnicity (look up Lin Yao in Full Metal Alchemist, for instance, and compare him to Edward Elric–Lin is meant to be Chinese, and Edward is Japanese, and it’s very clear there’s a difference in the way the eyes area is drawn). 

    • khaalidah

      Thanks so much for explaining that to me.  I’ve never thought of it that way nor have I
      heard that explanation, which makes a ton of sense.  BTW, I like Full Metal Alchemist (Brotherhood)
      and love that it is also written by a woman. 
      I have noticed in other anime, as you’ve mentioned, that a character who
      is portrayed as being Chinese is represented as looking far more Asian
      (typically the eyes).  Am I imagining
      things, or is there a good deal of fun made at the expense of such characters?

      • Ha, I don’t know, I haven’t watched enough anime to tell (the only ones I can think of were Lin Yao in FMA, a minor character in a detective manga–Detective Conan?–and a bunch of others in Code Geass, where the tone is much darker).

      •   Am I imagining things, or is there a good deal of fun made at the expense of such characters?

        You’re not imagining things, there is a distinct Chinese stereotype in anime, which is often played for comedic effect. In the same vein there is also the stereotyped white person in anime who is markedly different from the usual anime characters (who are read by Westerners as white, but as Aliette said above, are read by Japanese audiences as Japanese). I don’t seem to be able to find the matching TVTropes page, so I guess this will need a description… Large jaw, tall, exaggeratedly athletic, usually blonde and blue-eyed, very deep voice and ridiculous accent. The jawline – and in women’s case, the accent – is the easiest to spot. They are usually made out to be Americans.

        Example:

        • khaalidah

          Hi there Prez
          I watched the video.  Ha! It’s funny because I was quite distracted by the use of English, which was so heavily accented that I couldn’t concentrate on the action.  I typically watch my anime in Japanese so all I have to do is concentrate on the subtitles and the action.  With this I was trying and failing to concentrate on action, subtitles and interpreting the English. 
          Glad you’ve made this point though because there are many things I’ve noticed but never quite understood in anime, much as I like it as a form of entertainment and an art form.
          The thing that weirds me out more than anything is the fan service, particularly when (as it often does), young/little girls.  I find it disgusting to put it mildly.

  • Lazlo

    The only anime I ever really liked was InuYasha, but even I tired of it’s endless “Naraku is even more unstoppable now than ever!!! He has the power of a ka-jillion super-demons, but instead of squishing all his enemies like ants he’s gonna hide away like a dainty flower and send his useless minions after us, and whatever stupid monster-of-the-week he’s cooked up this time!!” Jeesh! Seal the DEAL already, Naraku, or shut it. I’ll watch Bleach if there’s a cool battle going on, even though I don’t know what the heck is going on half the time. What bugs me about Bleach is that the super-cool warriors will often just float there in mid-air for half the episode’s run time, and stare at each other with snobby snide expressions on their faces as they deliver expository monologues about how awesome they are. Shut up and fight already! 

    Sorry for the rant, K, but I had to get it off my chest. 🙂

    • khaalidah

      No need to apologize. I don’t watch Bleach but I have it from a couple of close sources that in that anime, plot armor abounds.  Ichigo wins all the time even when he’s over powered, out manned and out gunned.  Who wants to see someone who is infallible and hasn’t even earned that the right to be.
      There is a lot right with many anime, but in my opinion, far more wrong in most anime.  I choose mine very carefully and I won’t stick around for disappointment.  Eh.  Why should I wehn I can find better things to occupy my time?