Fate / Zero – 01 (First Impressions)

“Your Dad and I are just going to slowly orbit you for a while. You don’t mind, right?”

I have watched the UBW anime, but not the original Fate/stay night. I intend to watch and assess stay night’s prequel Fate/Zero on its own merits, forgetting/disregarding wherever possible what transpired before or after, since. That being said, having watched UBW I’m not a complete novice to the Fate franchise, so I know the basics of the Holy Grail War and its Servants.

Zero takes all of the limited information I know and recontextualizes it and expands my understanding of its players, all of them operating ten years before the events of night. Things obviously feel familiar to UBW for the most part, but they are still, in fact, quite different. Dare I say, more significant…and more emotionally resonant?

“Hey Rin! Here’s hoping the next time we meet I don’t have white hair and a face full of bugs!”

I’ll admit I was a little lost in the woods as I watched flashback after flashback to the present day of Zero, in which Irisviel von Einzbern and Emiya Kiritsugu’s newborn child Illyasviel, or Kotomine Kirei’s father Risei and Toosaka Tokiomi informing Kirei that he’s to ensure Tokiomi’s victory.

But as I carefully watched and took a few notes, the complex network of characters and relationships—both good and deeply troubled—gradually took shape. Rin, Sakura, and Illyasviel are all players I’ve known and seen, but this is the story of how their older relatives assembled and summoned their Servants to fight the Fourth Holy Grail War.

I thus found myself gaining lots of insights into the kind of families and personalities those familiar faces came from. For instance, I had no idea Shirou and Illyasviel have the same dad…or that Sakura and Rin are biological sisters.

“What is this bullshit…A5? I wanted LEGAL.”

Watching this epic introduction jump from one party to another as they begin to circle one another and size each other up is, in a word, thrilling (I say that despite the mundane-ness of the image above). And without exception, I found myself invested in everyone for very different reasons, even though I know they’ll all be at each others’ throats and most of them will have to lose and/or die.

Kirei and Kiritsugu may think each other the most underhanded, dangerous men alive (in a masterful dual-monologue in which the two shit on each other for what seemed like five solid minutes), but I never felt the compulsion to take a side, because both men have their reasons. I also never felt like the show was trying to make me take a side.

The exception to that is, of course, the clearly demented Matou Zouken, who needs go fuck off immediately to hell with Sugou Nobuyuki and/or some similar assholes. It’s good to see Kariya sacrifice his freedom, health, and maybe life to keep poor Sakura out of the fighting. I also appreciated the layered characters of both Rins’ dad Tokiomi and apparent wild card Waiver Velvet.

“I like what you’ve done with the lighting in this place.”

This episode is long and talky, but it’s length well spent and talks that kept me interested. Call it a crash course in Fate, only with a little bit of prior knowledge, and far more comfortable and entertaining than a crash course has any right to be. This is setting the stage done right.

Speaking of that stage: once all the talking and sizing up ceases in this first episode, it’s time to start summoning some Servants, and the inter-cut scenes between Saber, Archer, Berserker, and Rider’s awakenings form a compound momentousness (just as Assassin’s intro was stealthy and low-key, as befits an assassin).

In short, I was pleased with this opening. The fact that nobody so much as laid a finger on anybody for nearly an hour only reinforces my confidence in this show’s narrative chops. Timelines and venues may jump around, but it’s just people talking-talking-talking in rooms, to one another, to themselves, about each other…then summoning some Servants. It just…worked.

Captions by sesameacrylic

Author: braverade

Hannah Brave is a staff writer for RABUJOI.

6 thoughts on “Fate / Zero – 01 (First Impressions)”

  1. Fate Zero was my introduction to the Fate World and it remains my favourite followed by the much maligned 2006 Fate Stay Night. Whilst characters do spend their time in a fair amount of dialogue in Zero, it’s economical and advances our understanding of both the story and the characters, something the wordy often self important monologues of Fate Unlimited Blade Works Series failed to do in my opinion. The UBW Series (to differentiate it from the earlier even worse UBW movie) gets a lot of marks from fans due to its Ufotable style but it’s one of the weakest of the Fate vehicles so far I feel. I even prefer Apocrypha to it so far as it seems closer in tone to Zero which I quite like. You’ve quite a ride coming up across 24 more Fate Zero episodes coming up, so sit back and enjoy. :)

  2. Welcome to Fate/Zero, the prequel to Stay Night and the most beloved of Stay Night’s myriad spinoffs, to the point you’ll find plenty of folks who like it just a bit more than SN. You’re in for a wild wild ride in godly ufotable quality. Some of its plot points are things you’ll have seen in UBW, while others are for Stay Night’s other two routes. Rin and Sakura being sisters is a major plot point in the route that follows UBW, Heaven’s Feel (look forward to the ufotable movie adaptation), as is Kirei’s character depth and Illyasviel’s relationship with Kiritsugu (and Zouken fucking Matou). It is a complex web of relationships indeed, and you’ve done a great job at keeping track of all of them (a lot more than most who watched this episode did lmao)

    I’ll just run em down

    Kiritsugu Emiya – Master of Saber, the seemingly completely ruthless and merciless ‘mage killer’ hired by the Einzberns to participate in this 4th Holy Grail War. Father of Illyasviel, and husband of Irisviel, an Einzbern homunculus that he believes he will have to ensure the death of for his goal. Scared of Kirei Kotomine. Has shown something of a softer side.

    Kirei Kotomine – Master of Assassin, Hassan-i-Sabbah. Grim Church executor whose wife recently died. You may notice that he doesn’t smile a single time during this episode, whereas in Stay Night he was smiling constantly and was also evil. At present he is Tokiomi’s loyal pupil, conspiring with him and his father the church overseer to ensure his victory. I wonder I wonder how he becomes the man you see in Stay Night. He’s certainly intrigued by Kiritsugu. Just what is his wish?

    Tokiomi Tohsaka – Master of a certain red eyed OP blonde Archer you may recognize from Stay Night. The elegant head of the Tohsaka family, husband to the demure green haired Aoi Tohsaka and father to Rin and Sakura. Gave Sakura over to the Matous that she would be able to be a mage, but perhaps there are deeper reasons. Determined to win the war, such that he’s conspiring with his father’s friend Risei Kotomine. Teacher of Kirei.

    Kariya Matou – Master of Berserker. Childhood friend of Aoi who ran away from his family responsibility to the Matous, which is pretty fair because the Matous are a bug hellhole, inadvertently opened up a spot for Sakura. Holds a very great fondness for Aoi and her children, if certainly not the person Aoi ended up marrying. Has thrown himself back into hell for the sake of saving Sakura from the Matous.

    Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald – snooty Clock Tower magus; the sort of product you’d expect from a noble society where older is better

    Waver Velvet – Master of Rider. Young upstart with aspirations of glory; he’s only 19 but looking to make his mark. Currently living with an elderly couple he’s hypnotized. Probably in over his head.

    And there’s still one more Master and two more Servants that have yet to take the stage; Zero is a lot of fun.

    Look forward to it!

    As a side note, I’d perhaps recommend giving Apoc at least its third episode, because things only continue to improve as the pieces settle in (and the continuity with Zero and SN increase every episode). Fight quality improves too.

  3. A common argument made by Stay Night purists when someone comments that Fate Zero is a lot stronger than the UBW adaptation is that Gen Urobuchi did nothing of significance for the story since Kinoko Nasu already laid the story as part of FSN’s backstory. I definitely disagree with this, since Urobuchi did a lot in making the Fate-verse lore more accessible to non-fans.
    Most of the adaptations, particularly the UBW series, have this “for fans only” air to them, where you seemed to be required to know the whole Fate mythos before watching (or you’ll have purists screaming “You should play the visual novel to understand it!”_. Zero doesn’t have that and actually uses only the parts of the lore that is directly relevant to its plot. Thus,, the explanations feel more comfortable than the usual convoluted infodump other Fate adaptations and spinoffs are notorious for.
    There is also the added bonus of FZ’s characters being a lot more engaging since Urobuchi was actually able to flesh them out better. Case in point: Gilgamesh in Zero was a lot more interesting in Zero than he was iin the UBW series, since he was presented as more than just a cackling arrogant villain in the former compared to the latter’s portrayal.

    1. Just a couple episodes in and Zero already feels quite accessible, and I definitely agree that the characters are immediately more engaging. I’m able to focus less on keeping the nitty-gritty details of the mythos straight (though my understanding grows organically with each episode) and more on simply enjoying all these different colorful, complex characters bounce off each other.

      I’ll also add that the score by Kajiura Yuki (Noir, Kara no Kyoukai, Madoka Magica) is excellent so far.

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