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?