One might be forgiven for thinking that blogging Fate is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition. On the one hand, if those at both extremes think you’re wrong maybe you’re doing something right. But one unassailable fact I’ve seen is that when I write glowing reviews of a Fate episode (which I’ve done on several occasions) I get almost no feedback. When I do what I did last week, I get the Rains of Castamere.
So why keep doing it? Well, because I don’t like to be bullied off of blogging a show by purists who think only those as devout as they are should be allowed to talk about it, for one. But mostly because I think it’s a show worth talking about. I’m not indifferent to Fate – if I was, I certainly wouldn’t still be watching it, never mind blogging it – but I do have mixed feelings. And those are completely different things, which is something a lot of folks don’t seem to want to accept or understand. Mixed feelings are still feelings, and I started this blog to talk about anime that I have feelings about, whether they be positive or not. It is more fun to talk about the ones I love unreservedly, but they don’t come around too often.
I think Fate is interesting because as a phenomenon, its breadth and reach is truly impressive. This is not SAO or Nisio Isin we’re talking about here – there’s a germ of something truly complicated and difficult at the heart of this mythology, and it still manages to be incredibly popular. I won’t deny that I think it was only in Urobuchi Gen’s hands that the anime side managed to really be special – much more so in the first cour of Fate/Zero than the second – but there are moments in UBW that stand out, too. I just wish there were more of them, but I’m not going to pretend to be swept off my feet when I’m vexed and conflicted.
If you take this episode, I think we see what makes Fate – especially when it tries to be faithful to the VNs, which are a very different medium – a vexing anime. The entire first half of the episode seems completely targeted at the guys who wait in line for three hours in 100-degree heat at Comiket to buy whatever new revenue generator TYPE-MOON has come up with for the current half-year. It’s not essential or even important to the grail mythology – it’s just a pretense to trot TsundeRin out in all her pandering glory. Yet buried underneath all that pancake makeup is a pretty on-point bit (which seems to try and set the record for most eye close-ups in a single scene) about the merits (and practicality) of Shirou’s personal philosophy (for the record, I mostly agree with Rin here) – which can be argued to be the central conflict of this entire series. But if a girl wears three inches of makeup, can you really see the face underneath? Fate makes you squint pretty hard to – and I really wish that wasn’t the case.
As usual with UBW, it’s when the servants (apart from Saber) take center-stage that it seems as if the writing says “OK – we’ve sold the Dakimakura, now let’s squeeze a few minutes of story in.” True, Lancer (oh how I miss F/Z’s Lancer) is used mostly in the Rin sideshow here, but he and Archer have a very interesting showdown on several different levels. It’s also rather interesting to try and get inside Lancer and Archer’s heads as they talk about the other servants, each other and the general state of affairs – and to try and parse the lies from the facts. There’s also a rather intriguing chat between Archer and Kuzuki (who’s by far the most compelling human character in this route, and criminally underused) which continues to flesh out the deceptively complicated Caster story that’s one of the most interesting elements of this cour.
While Fate/Zero started out strongly and sputtered as it neared the finish line, I think that was more of a function of Urobuchi’s usual M.O. than anything else. My hope is that the opposite will happen here, and as the series by necessity trims back the fluff and focuses on the grit and gristle of the story, it will offer up its best material. But either way, I have no intention of ceding the field to those who want only like-minded viewers as part of the conversation. If a series is strong enough and one’s affection for it strong enough, they can certainly hold up to a little objective criticism.