Fate/Zero – 08

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Yawn, another superb episode of Fate/Zero.  It’s getting boring, I know, but what do you want me to do?

In some ways F/Z is like this season’s Steins;Gate – a series that does pretty much everything well.  Each has a big and ambitious story, great production values and does a fine job blending exposition and dialogue-heavy episodes with breathless action and suspense.  There really is no substitute for a great writer like Urobuchi Gen and a top-notch director like Aoki Ei, who’s impressed the hell out of me by doing two dramatically different but great series like this one and Hourou Musuko in the same year.  With it’s patient storytelling style, rich characters and scope this show reminds of an en epic fantasy much more than a traditional anime, but then most of Gen’s work is far outside the realms of anime stock and trade.

The action this week was split among three divergent but fascinating tracks, all of which would converge elegantly by the end of the episode.  Perhaps the best was the battle between Kiritsugu and Kayneth, who in many ways represent the polar opposites of the Grail War combatants.  Kayneth is an arrogant aristocrat of the world of mages, brilliantly trained in the classical arts and as concerned with style as substance.  Kiritsugu is a total pragmatist, always weighing the reasonable sacrifice to achieve the needed end, and completely unconcerned with ethics or honor as long as his ultimate end is achieved.  It’s absolutism vs. relativism at its best, a contrast of superficial style as well as philosophy, and it’s no wonder Kayneth would have died had Lancer not stepped in and saved him when he did.  Merely by offering something outside the realms of traditional magus weaponry Kiritsugu confounded Kayneth.  Now we know, at least, why he looked so confident holding his Thompson Contender in the closing shot last week – though it appears as if he paid a terrible price for the bullets that would have killed Kayneth.  A sacrifice that was justified in his mind, to achieve his ends.

I asked last week why Kiritsugu was so terrified of Kirei, and I think we got out answer this week.  Kirei is far too much like Kiritsugu for the latter’s comfort.  He’s cold, directionless, and not bound by the conventions of the magical elite.  A trick like the magic bullets would never have worked on Kirei – indeed I think Kirei would see through most of Kiritsugu’s stratagems, and he lacks even the anchor of someone like Irisviel and Illyasviel to ground him.  The Executor is a desperately dangerous free agent, and thus the most dangerous opponent for the Magus Killer.  I still think Nakata Jouji was a bad casting choice, and not just because of his vocal similarity to Hayami Sho.  He sounds too old and too self-assured – I think Kirei would have been better served by a younger actor who could express just a bit of inner pain and vulnerability.

But that’s a small complaint really, in the larger scheme of things, and Kirei was a huge and commanding presence here.  He’s been something of a cipher thus far, but his conversation with Gilgamesh seems to have set his mind off on a track of self-reflection.  He was a chilling foe this week as he battled Iris and Maiya, not least because of his fearsome offensive capability but also his cold and relentless cruelty.  Caster’s cruelty is boundless, but makes him somewhat predictable – Kirei is impossible to read, for he neither inflicts pain for pleasure nor hesitates to do so out of sentiment.  He would certainly have killed Iris and perhaps Maiya had the Avalon magic not been present to heal them when Saber reappeared.

The last thread this week has Lancer and Saber joining their forces to finish the fight with Caster.  Saber has the superior analytical skills, but to be honest it seems to be that Lancer is the stronger servant in battle – perhaps that’s due to Saber’s injury but then, it was Lancer that inflicted it.  Their teamwork to mount an attack against Caster’s noble phantasm was fairly straightforward, and it seems likely to me that Caster’s inherent weaknesses will eventually lead to his downfall.  No, the interesting thing for me is watching the two spirits form such a close bond, despite the fact that one will eventually kill the other (I’m assuming she will kill him – Gen has surprised me before, but not that much).  Their chivalry is strong indeed, and it’s fascinating to watch as Saber becomes increasingly aware of just how little chivalry her master has.  In allowing Lancer to go rescue Kayneth unimpeded Saber acted directly against the implicit wishes of her master, who had planned the whole exercise specifically as an opportunity to kill Kayneth.  But – and I’m guessing it was because Kiritsugu never expressly forbade her or stated his intentions – Saber allowed Lancer to go anyway, and it was plain to see she was repulsed by Kiritsugu’s strategy.

I’m not at all surprised Kayneth didn’t die, as it still seems too early for any of the major characters to be written out.  But that armor won’t last forever and it’s obvious that the series is structured with Kiritsugu and Saber as the main characters and likely winners.  That in itself is boring and predictable, but the fact that Saber is so intrinsically opposed to her master’s methods does make it more interesting to watch.  And of course, I’m sure Gen will find a way to make the inevitable ending at least original in the way it’s executed.  In the meantime Fate/Zero remains a pleasure to watch every week, straightforward yet subtle and filled with interesting characters.  I’m very curious to see more of Kariya, who remains almost totally non-existent in the story, and more of my favored pair of Waver and Rider.  And it’s going to be lots of fun to see Kirei turn against Tohsaka, which I figure is going to happen sooner or later. 

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  1. A

    Absolutely amazing episode and series! Did feel like a lot of jargon being tossed around (in the Commie release subs at least) No explanation as to what an 'origin' 'mystic code' or 'conceptual weapon' actually are! Presumably a conceptual weapon means the power of Avalon can be carried without it's form, but as far as I'm concerned the other two were literally magic words!

  2. K

    My take of things
    Origin is the source of life, death , magic and existance.
    There is also an origin in the soul of a person that dictates his/her nature . If I remember correctly it is explained in detail in the Kara no Kyoukai movies because is an important element for that story.

    Conceptual weapon:
    is an object thats inflictr it´s effect regardless of logic (literaly) The concept will win against the world's rules.
    The concept of Avalon is to protect its owner. As a weapon it is supposed to heal Saber from any non wound, but since Irisviel had it the concept of "protection" works.
    Lancer's weapon work the same way (the one that can pierce any defence)

  3. K

    So we are 8 episodes in and no master or servant deaths yet. Not even when all the groups are supposed to be eliminating the psycho twins. I'm really enjoying the series.

    I just hope they don't use near miss bait and switch tactics to have no M/S deaths until the late episodes of the series. Its ok that they did that this week and the week ortwo before it. Just dont drag this out for next 10-12 episodes before we see anyone get picked off.

  4. S

    F/Z is indeed spoiling us with the awesomeness it presents every week. I think Saber's and Lancer's chivalry will be their ultimate downfall. They're just not very adaptable, the holy grail war is not a battle between knights, it's a survival of the fittest game and they don't seemed to get it.

  5. F

    (I’m assuming she will kill him – Gen has surprised me before, but not that much).

    Well, Gen doesn't really have any leeway on this point, what ultimately happens to Saber in the 4th Grail War is rather intimately tied up in the events of the 5th Grail War.

    If you are really curious, I would point you to the very first scene of the first episode of Fate/Stay Night. Though I won't say what it is, out of consideration for those who don't know.

  6. Nope, I'd rather be surprised. And it says something about how little F/SN made an impact on me that I don't recall a single detail from the first couple of eps I tried to watch…

  7. A

    i wish they had just dropped a quick line here or there to keep people from getting confused. For example, mentioning that Kieri's priest uniform(standard outfit for all executors) is lined with kevlar and protection spells that let him take the bullets form maiya's gun unharmed. details like that and how Kierei broke the tree(hee used a chinese martial arts technique that uses force from his legs and stance. if Iri had bound his legs as well it would have been their victory) will help the viewer understand things better.

    I always find myself getting a little irritated with Saber in Fate Zero, despite her being a character i really love. That's because in Fate Zero Saber is the "Shiro" character. What i mean is, in FSN Anime(the VN shows a lot more of Shiro's character, so its not a problem there), lots of people hated Shiro for being so honorable, moral and nice, to the point of stupidity. In Fate Zero, Saber fills that role pretty well, though not to the same level Shiro did.

    I mean really, what exactly did she think she was doing letting Lancer go? The only reason her Master isn't dead, and her out of this war, is because Lancer was a similar kind of fool. Any other servant(bar Rider) would have jumped on that chance. Even with Lancer being honorable it was a dumbass move! As Kiritsugu himself says in his inner monologue(novel only) in this scene, If kyneth had still been even half conscious then he could have used a command spell to force Lancer to attack! Then Saber would have just thrown away her shot in the war, as well as Kiritsugu's life, all for her silly honor. Even though her and Kiritsugu don't get along, i still had to facepalm at Saber stupidly exposing her master to their enemies.

  8. I admit I did wonder how Kirei was doing all that, but I assumed it was some sort of generic "magus power" he had going for him, like when he pulled the blades out of thin air.

    Respectfully, I don't think "silly honor" is doing Saber and Lancer justice. In the code of chivalry, honor is everything – and it isn't optional. Obviously in this world that kind of idealistic rigidity is an anchor in the long run, and it'll probably get you Ned Stark'd. But for the people involved, I don't think they can exist any other way. It's like telling a dog to breathe underwater.

  9. A

    The blades Kirei uses are called Black Keys. He carries the hilts on him, with dozens hidden on his person. The blades are materialized by the wielders magic energy, which makes it easy to carry plenty of them despite the length of the blades.

    As to the honor, I see your point. I do see how big it is to there characters. However, it is still a bit much when she puts the guy feeding her prana and keeping in this world into the line of fire just cause she feels that his methods are unfair don't you think?

  10. F

    Saber is completely incapable of not acting that way. She just can't. Its intimately tied up in who and what she is.

    The major conflict between Saber and Kiritsugu is their drastically different ideals, the major conflict between Saber and Shirou is their nearly identical ideals.

  11. d

    Too much talking. Too much waiting. If you can shoot a guy, shoot him! e.g. Maiya should not wait till kirei breaks the tree before you pull the gun. Kiritsugu should shoot Kayneth instead of hearing him scream.
    And Saber let Lancer go to Kayneth without supporting her master. What happened if Kayneth managed to use his command seal and say kill that man. Saber is masterless. Saber = useless red herring of a hero

  12. b

    Kotomine is breaking a tree just through sheer force alone and no magecraft. That would have surprised anyone there, even Maiya.
    And Kiritsugu assumed Kayneth would die immediately after he overloaded and spewed blood but he didnt. And so he changed the Calico to full auto to deal the final blow but Lancer appeared.
    And that's the precise thoughts of Kiritsugu in the novels after Lancer left: Saber fully trusting an enemy while not her own Master, not even considering Lancer might go back on his worsds and kill Kiritsugu or Kayneth may force Lancer.
    Though it doesnt lessen my view of Saber. It makes an interesting view though of the relationships of the Emiya camp and how this will affect the story 🙂

  13. In the end, I wonder if Rider & Waver might just have the best servant-master relationship of all…

  14. P

    I think Ryunosuke and Caster get well along pretty well. Assassin and Kirei seem to have very similar views on life too, if you catch my drift. :p

  15. I agree, but Kirei seems to have interest in actually winning, and Caster and Ryuunosuke have pretty much exactly the same weaknesses that make them vulnerable. They're too alike.

  16. A

    In fairness, to Maiya, I think she was also kind of busy trying not to die… I know the anime doesn't go into detail about her injuries, but she Kirei essentially pulverized her ribs.

    I also really liked the growing friendship and respect between Maiya and Iri. Very nice to see a series sidestep an obvious love triangle and show two women who can actually become, if not best friends, at least confidants.

    I think the next few episodes (leading up to the season break) will address a lot of people's points regarding Saber's character and ideals. But I think one of the people above me said it best, really–Saber is pretty much incapable of acting differently. To do so would betray everything she stood for in life and, apparently, in uh, non-life.

    The questions of what honor is, what ends justify what means, etc. are all really interestingly developed in this series, though. I can't wait to see it all animated.

    I think, though, that to say that Kiritsugu is merely practicality isn't really fair. Remember, as already stated in the series, his wish for the Holy Grail is to save the world. None of the others, Servants or Masters, can boast such an unselfish wish. The contrast between that Saber-worthy idealism and the methods he's willing to use to realize it is what makes his character interesting to me (though if I'm honest, I still have trouble telling him apart from Kirei at times).

    Nice review, as always. Thanks for the thoughtful commentary!

  17. Great post Anon. I'd argue that Kiritsugu's plan is actually the ultimate exercise in practicality. His whole MO seems to be that the end justifies the means, and any sacrifice is acceptable if the payoff is bigger. Well, if the payoff is saving the world, just about any sacrifice would be acceptable, wouldn't it?

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