Fate/Zero – 13

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Well – they really didn’t even try to end this in a good spot, did they?

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.

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  1. K

    I didn't know they were taking a season off til the start of the 2nd cour and when it said "see ya in April" I almost had a cow. So far only Assassin is dead and we have been thru 13 episodes.

    When this show started I thought by now at least 3 servants/masters would be defeated. Still lots of good stuff to come once April 2012 gets here.

  2. S

    They really didn’t even try to end this in a good spot, did they? That's my thoughts exactly and I don't think I'm the only who's slightly disappointed. I don't mind the long dialogs and without a doubt, they're part of what makes Fate/Zero interesting. But come on, if you're gonna make us wait 4 months, you should at the very least slipped in 5 minutes of breathless action and end the season with a bang… The way Ufotable ended things was very unsatisfying to say the least

  3. t

    I am actually really glad that they didn't sacrifice the source materia just to spice up the end of the first half and feed the fanboys who only care about action. This episode was very faithful to the novel and i had a feeling they would end the first half here. My only problem was that they did not really show much of Wavers dream. In the novel, it is a vision of Riders life and conquest, and how people began to flock to his charisma and dream. They cut it down greatly, which is understandable, if disappointing. I am glad that they did introduce the concept of "Oceanus" and how it ties into Riders dream and life.

    Once again a minor detail was not really explained, that changes the way the situation is viewed. This isnt Lancer/Saber/Rider VS CAster, this is Lancer/Saber/Rider VS Sea demon. In the novel its explained that Caster has not "powered up" or somehow gotten stronger then before, its just that he's doing something even crazier then previously. Any mage good at summoning can call a super powerful demon like the one Caster has summoned. The reason they don't however, is because only the most incredibly powerful mage would have any chance of controlling it. Caster however doesnt care about controling it. He is just calling the strongest Demon he can and letting it do whatever it wants too with Zero restrictions.

    This detail changes the scene, because it makes it clear that the monster is in control here, not Caster. The only thing that demon will do is kill everything around it, very quickly. That's why the Saber, Rider and Lancer agree to team up, because this is a crisis, not just a new fight with Caster

  4. M

    I also think that the episode was showing the similarity between the Rider and Caster team.They both have young weak masters and that they are the teams with the best master/servant relationship.

  5. A

    >> 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.

    While I don't think it's going to be long, I don't think it's going to be quick, either. The preview seemed to indicate that the first attempt to stop Caster's demon would fail, and they would probably need to pull in Gilgamesh's aid at the least (though I might have mixed up the voices).

    As for the episode, loved the character interactions. Waver seems right on the cusp of either a kick-to-the-head enlightenment, or of giving up entirely. Rider's trying hard to help him along the path, but he's not going to sugar coat anything just to prop up Waver's ego, either. As we see time and time again, he and Waver are just about perfect for each other — not necessarily as a team to win the Grail War, but as a team that may eventually not even need to win the Grail.

    Ryuunosuke may not be a terribly gripping character, but he likewise seems a perfect match for Caster. And his little bit of philosophy, while quite demented, also made an amount of sense rarely seen in psycho characters (or bad guys of any stripe). Caster by himself is merely insane. Caster with Ryuunosuke is serving a higher purpose. I can't think of any other character with this blend of motivations. It's not cliche'd revenge, nor are they either denying the existance of God, or fighting against God. They've come full circle, where their acts are specifically an offering to God, their own form of worship. Deranged and demented, but creepily mirroring vile acts performed throughout history in God's name.

    While it's clear that they must die for narrative purposes, I also expect that they'll take someone down with them. I would not be entirely surprised if that ended up being Rider. The remaining servants still have too much to do within the story, but Rider has very nearly completed his role with respect to Waver.

  6. A

    I don't want to spoil anything but, in regard to the lenght of this battle, it will be shorter than you guys are expecting I believe, but still the longest in the series so far (it beats the first battle with almost every servant involved by just a litte).

    Anyway, as you said, this will kickstart the action, and the next 4 or 5 episodes or so will probably be almost pure action. I won't spoil further than that.

    Also, the emotional side of things will really start to shine now. Remember that episode with Darmuid's story that you said caused a feeling of dread? From now on, almost every episode will make you feel this way, as Urobuchi says in the end of the first Novel:

    "This story is not about happy endings."

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