I thought a lot about how to categorize this show in terms of my both my normal blogging process and my year-end reviews. Is this a series in and of itself, or are we simply mid-series with a longer than normal hiatus? I was already leaning towards not treating this as a completed work – not doing a full series review this week, and considering the show for my 2012 year-end honors rather than 2011 – but the 13th episode sealed the deal. It’s clear ufotable is making no effort to give this cour any closure and doesn’t consider this a complete series, so neither will I. I’ll consider it for my 2012 Top 10 list and, depending on how good a year it is and how good the second cour is, I’d think it has a pretty good chance. It most likely would have made my 2011 list if I’d considered it.
Love it or hate it, people standing around talking about big concepts is a staple of what Urobuchi Gen does, and Fate/Zero is certainly right in his wheelhouse. I consider his dialogue to be some of the best in anime, so I’m fine with it, but we’ve seen an inordinate amount of it these last few weeks so I wonder if some viewers are getting antsy. Seeing Caster and Ryunosuke in the spotlight is a mixed bad. On the one hand, they’re great characters in that they really make me hate them – but the problem is, I don’t much enjoy their time on-screen. Ryunosuke is especially a problem, because from what we’ve seen he’s a petty sicko and not possessed of any particular intelligence or skill – the only exceptional thing about him is his lack of a moral compass. So his speech to Caster – who is at least a total badass in addition to being a sick f*ck – was interesting. I suppose it’s what passes for high-concept among psychopaths, and his notion of abhorrent crimes being a form of homage to God certainly captured Gille de Rais’ imagination. It also inspired him to power up and seemingly force the major conflict of the series, so it’s obviously an important moment. But while it’s amusing hearing Ryunosuke bemoan the cruelty of those who wrecked his “art”, I find any scene where he’s talking to be interminable.
By contrast, I could listen to the King of Conquerors and Waver go at it all day. Waver is the one character who most feels as if he has hidden depths that have yet to be explored, but this was the first time that notion has really been acknowledged on-screen. Waver complains too much and sometimes doesn’t know how good he has it with Alexander, but he’s proven himself to be clever more than once, and his very presence in the game is a testament to his moxie. He’s too young, too small and not powerful enough as a mage to be in the company he’s in – yet he’s there, just the same, and he’s been the loudest voice to encourage the others to do something about Caster once and for all. For Iskander’s part, he’s proving himself as much a philosopher as a warrior, for all his bluster. I found his comment about trading a thousand years of being remembered by history for a hundredth of that in being alive to be truly profound. It represents the essence of his ideals – you don’t conquer for the sake of conquering, but to feel alive. He’s driven by endless curiosity and never bored because he’s always tackling something – even something as simple as a new game console. He’s adapted to the modern world better than any of the other servants (except for Archer, arguably) because he sees it as just another adventure, and a new unknown to be conquered.
I think there’s a slyly understated respect in Rider’s view of Waver. He’s right, of course, that it’s much easier to be brave if you’re strong and powerful than if you’re small and weak. In some ways their relationship is the deepest of any servant and master, as only Saber and Iris might compare – and Iris isn’t the master there. I sort of expected all along it would be the three honorable servants teaming up to fight Caster, with Rider/Waver leading the charge and Berserker and Gilgamesh on the sidelines. This seems to be a battle apart from the Grail War itself, as Caster’s power-up seems to potentially be a huge threat to the world beyond the war. It was cruel to tease it the way they did, but my hope is that once April rolls around the battle will be decisive and relatively quick, and not be teased for much of the second cour. Hard to see how they avoid dealing with it immediately.
I was worried going into Fate/Zero that I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate it, having dropped F/SN fairly early on. But with a couple of exceptions (last week’s episode most glaringly) that hasn’t really been an issue. ufotable has presented the material in such a way that it was easy for a relative newbie to keep up, and Urobuchi’s writing is so cogent and distinctive that I was immediately hooked. This show, along with UN-GO, has featured the most interesting dialogue of the season, full of the sort of symbolism and subtlety that you don’t often see in anime these days. Couple that with the most consistently impressive production values of any Fall series and you have a real winner, an action series unlike any other. It’s still more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional one for me, but what an intellectual exercise it is. I fully expect the second cour to be more action-driven, and the emotional tone of the series to heat up. It’s going to be a long four months waiting for that second cour.