Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 10 – The Apex of All Things Good

Gilgamesh assigns Fujimaru his next mission: travel to Eridu to attain the Axe of Marduk, a Divine Tool that can be used against Gorgon. They also have to look out for another stunningly-designed goddess Quetzalcoatl, who shows up unannounced by blasting right through the city gate and killing 100 people. She flirts with Fujimaru but its beyond any of his amassed servants, and in her true form potentially more dangerous than Gorgon. It’s more of a meet-and-greet than a battle, but it doesn’t change Fujimaru’s mission.

Instead, he has an additional objective: defeat Quetzalcoatl. To do so they must travel to her temple, believed to be just south of Eridu, and destroy the symbol that gives her superior divinity. That will even the odds. That means trudging through the jungle, the first night of which is another opportunity for Ishtar to warm up to Fujimaru, even using his name and calling them friends. She also momentarily changes form when she sneezes, but I’m not sure what that’s about.

FGO’s designated comic relief reappears in Jaguarman, after they witnessed her collecting the corpses of the Urukers killed by Quetzalcoatl; as a secondary Divine Spirit Jaggy is apparently bound to serve the big Q. She’s also no match for Ishtar, and when Fujimaru turns on the charm, she agrees to join his party as an additional ally, almost too easily. They then learn the corpses were actually reborn by Q but detained to be used as sacrifices. The episode closes with the party arriving at Q’s temple, with her looking ready to fight.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 09 – Buying Off a Goddess

Upon returning to Gilgamesh with news of their great losses, he concedes that sacrifices are necessary in any war. Losing Ushiwaka and Leonidas wasn’t in vain: Uruk still stands, and they now know that Gorgon is a seething mass of anti-humanity rage can not be bargained with. They also learn that the only thing she fears is the other two goddesses, and Gilgamesh recognizes that as their path to victory.

With Gorgon out and too little known of the Jungle Goddess, that leaves Ishtar, the pseudo-servant who uses a human girl as a vessel. Gilgamesh is amused by the prospect of the alliance crumbling from within, and Ishtar is by far the easiest to turn to their side, because she can be bought off with physical riches. Gilgamesh does not want for those, and is prepared to offer up to 30% of Babylon’s treasury to Isthar in exchange for fighting for them.

When Ritsuka & Co. reach her ostentatious palace atop Mount Ebih, Ishtar rejects the idea of further “collusion” with humans, lest it damage her dignity. But in the middle of battling Mash and Ana (whom it’s strongly implied could be Medusa, the youngest of the Gorgon sisters), Ritsuka tosses a cloud of gems up in the air, dazzling Ishtar, then lays out the arrangement they seek with her.

Unable to resist the lure of the pretty gems, and having never received such a large offering from humans before, Isthar folds, agreeing to join them. After assuaging Dr. Romani’s ethical concerns about who and what she is (essentially, the human girl she was became Ishtar, rather than became possessed by her, and they are now one) her 70-30 personality split is tested when she gets some time alone with Ritsuka just before dawn.

Ishtar presents a much friendlier, more human side with Ritsuka than all their previous interactions, to go along with her already established tsundere nature. At first she asks if it was “love at first sight”, but when Ritsuka doesn’t understand she drops the matter. Simply being with humans has shown her that not all of them hate her, but she’s still skeptical of a world ruled by humans and not gods.

That’s not because it means her power as a goddess will diminish, but because she simply believes humans will have, at the end of the day, easier, less painful lives, compared with a human future of knowing all the answers. It’s not that different from wanting humanity never to leave the Garden of Eden: more knowledge, more problems, more despair…but more freedom and opportunity too.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 08 – A Dark Day for Humanity

Tiamat is by far the toughest boss Ritsuka and Mash have had to face, and they don’t even try to fight her themselves. Ushiwakamaru manages to make it in time and delivers one hell of a fight—with nary a wardrobe malfunction—in the most exciting, best-looking and sounding sustained battles in a show that’s been packed with them. Ushiwaka is utterly devoted not just to protecting humanity, but her friend—not master—Ritsuka, a boy who remembers her tale a thousand years after she left the mortal plane.

Her own history and legacy is also at stake, so she fights like there’s no tomorrow, giving absolutely everything she has, including her Noble Phantasm. It isn’t enough. Tiamat regenerates all of the severed snake heads and holes Ushiwaka’s attacks made, and she ends up in a heap, spent and exhausted.

King Leonidas sallies forth with his 300 Spartan warriors to spell Ushiwaka, but despite more impressive fireworks and hyper-masculine posturing, he lasts an even briefer time than her, as all of his defenses gradually fall and he is turned to stone by Tiamat’s Mystic Eyes, eventually crumbling to dust.

Ushiwaka gets her second wind after Leonidas, but it’s to no avail. Ultimately it’s “Enkidu”, who reveals himself to actually be Kingu, who stops his mother and gets her to withdraw. If she were to take Uruk, the alliance with the other two goddesses would fall, and she’d have to fight them, draining valuable time and effort. Instead, Kingu is content to leave Ritsuka, Mash, and Merlin alone for the time being.

His big-picture plans include the release of the second generation of Demonic Beasts, which we learn are being grown in Tiamat’s lair. It is where a beaten Ushiwaikamaru finds herself, and because she cannot hold her “cheeky tongue”, Kingu decides to bestow upon her a fate worse than becoming just another run-of-the-mill beast, but a monster born in the primoridal “mud of the holy grail.”

Needless to say, this is awful news for humanity. Leonidas is beaten, Ushiwaka is in the hands of the enemy (and her friends believe her to be gone), and Benkei peaces out. As Lord Elrond once said: “our list of allies grows thin.” How in Babylon are the good guys going to turn this around?

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 07 – Deep Breaths

After dreaming about the Mage King Solomon, whom he and Mash were unable to defeat in London, Ritsuka and Mash head to Uruk’s Northern Wall, under the defense of Leonidas of Sparta. Contact has been lost in the still further-north city of Nippur, and the mission is to find and rescue any survivors.

The night before setting out, two Servants have a heart-to-heart, with Ana wondering if it’s time to tell the others about her true identity, and Merlin recommending she postpone that announcement. As a servant who feeds off of human dreams, he understands human emotions, and knows it would be a shock even to any human even Ritsuka.

Upon setting out at the head of a column of soldiers, the party encounters hordes of Demonic Beasts that are larger than expected. Ushiwakamaru and Benkei stay behind to keep the beasts occupied while Ritsuka, Mash, Ana and Merlin head to Nippur. But Ushiwaka senses something unusual about the situation, realizing it is they, not the beasts, who have fallen for a diversionary attack.

Ritsuka & Co. find Nippur already devoid of all life, with a wide and grisly blood trail leading to the highest structure, where Fake Enkidu awaits. When he notices Ana’s ability to slay immortals, he makes her elimination a priority, summoning the lion demon Ugallu. Merlin uses his magic to buff Ana, and she’s able to bisect the beast.

But Ugallu was just more bait. Ana is restrained by the chain of heaven and stabbed by Enkidu. Merlin sends Fou to do what Fou does, teleporting Ana to safety. However, the disturbance causes the awakening of Enkidu (and Ugallu’s) mother, the Goddess of Demonic Beasts, Tiamat. Massive and terrifying, the ordinary soldiers flee before her.

Even Ritsuka and Mash are briefly paralyzed, but Ritsu remembers Leonida’s advice for when you’re scared (which is always the case in battle, or should be): take a deep breath and the muscles will loosen. Tiamat presents the largest threat yet to the last champions of humanity, but for the moment they’re still standing—and a few avenues of victory yet remain.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 06 – Though Our Battlefields Differ

Other episodes of F/GO have presented bigger earth-(and history)-shattering events, but this was the first one I felt best brought all of the series’ myriad elements together. All the adventure, history, action, comedy, and romance levels were set just right so that they complemented each other rather then got in each others’ way.

This was also the episode in which I most felt the humanity of the characters. It’s apropos the cold open should feature the origin of the current Ishtar. It also had the most one-on-one interaction between Ritsuka and Ushiwakamaru. She’d always seemed drawn to him, and I should have known it was because they’re both Japanese.

Among the many servants with whom he interacts, Ushiwakamaru is the only one Ritsuka sang songs of as a kid, something that both astounds and flatters her. He was a real person, after all, and his story is an amazing one. One of the low-key great things about Fate is that it nudges you to learn more about these historical and legendary figures.

As such, wonderful to see these two countrymen assert their bond of friendship as people, not any Master-Servant contract. Ushiwakamaru also sports one of the more awesome costumes in a show positively bursting with them. Like this episode, it’s a satisfying balance of elements—a little cute, a little sexy, all bad-ass. Not to mention Hayami Saori is perfectly cast as Ushi’s voice—warm, caring, and determined.

Another thing I’m enjoying about F/GO is that while there is a larger overarching story arc, it doesn’t get in the way of smaller, more self-contained episodic stories. Last week felt like a road trip with Gilgamesh; this felt more like a good old-fashioned fantasy quest. Their mission couldn’t be simpler: go to the city of Kutha and recover the Tablet of Destinies.

(In a well-placed moment of comedy, Ritsuka asks why Gilgamesh doesn’t remember what he himself wrote on said tablet; Gilgamesh response is Pure Gilgamesh: “Why do I have to retain in my memory a clairvoyant premonition I wrote in a dream?” #DemigodProblems)

Sadly Ushiwakamaru can’t join them, but the party of Ritsuka, Mash, Merlin and Ana is more than adequate. On the way to the city, whose entire population seemingly died peacefully in their sleep, the party encounters the collateral damage caused by Ishtar’s Cautious Hero-style demonic beast extermination, and she’s been making off with the gems of those she “saved.”

The night before they enter the city, Ritsuka has a nice chat with Merlin about how even though he’s just an ordinary human, he has to do what he can to the best of his ability, which means a strict workout routine to stay in shape. From her tent, Mash seems disappointed Ritsuka thinks she only chose him because he was virtually “the last man on earth.”

Once in Kutha, the party splits up to look for the tablet…simple enough, though Mash was weary of Ritsuka going off with only Fou for protection. Turns out her intuition was correct: Ritsuka suddenly strays into the Underworld, which in this age is a very real place people stray into all the time (and in Gilgamesh’s case, even went on a quest there).

The hostile undead who surround Ritsuka are eventually dismissed by a man Ritsuka seems to recognized named Ziusu-dra, who castigates Rituska for entering the Underworld while still alive; a big no-no. Still, he sees Ritsuka is a nice guy and so lets him off this time, sending him back to Kutha.

He awakes to find Mash shedding tears of joy and relief after she shed tears of panic and worry for his safety; going back to what he said to Merlin last night, Ritsuka may well not quite grasp just how much Mash cares for him, and is not merely resigned to serving him. And what do you know, the Tablet of Destinies is in his hands. Looks like he was meant to stray into the Underworld, if only briefly.

Of course, the mission was never going to be quite that simple: Ishtar suddenly arrives like a fighter jet; Chaldea only warns the party four seconds before she attacks. She’s there to “save” them just like she saved the ranchers whose lands she ravaged and pockets she picked, and intends to collect payment in the form of the tablet.

Ritsuka’s not about to fail Gilgamesh, so they must fight. And what a fight. From Ishtar’s concussive kicks to Mash’s shield and her graceful gliding through the sky, to Ana’s decisive chain-assisted counterattack, we’re treated to a beautiful, deadly dance. My only complaint is that it’s over too fast, but I’m also glad it didn’t go on too long.

Going back to the cold open, we learn Ishtar was summoned using ahuman girl as a vessel. Despite nearly all Mesopotamian gods being blonde as a rule, Ishtar retained her vessel’s black hair, since the human girl’s will merged with Ishtar. That goes a ways towards explaining her peculiar behavior that both saves and hurts humans.

It may also explain why she’s willing to cooperate when she wakes up finding herself tied up, surrounded by Ritsuka’s party demanding answers. She explains that the other two goddesses were drawn there by Gilgamesh’s Holy Grail. The three of them decided to enter a competition whereby the first to defeat Gilgamesh and claim the Grail shall rule his lands. They also entered a three-way non-aggression pact, so Ishtar won’t go so far as to tell Ritsuka the true names of the others.

The party fails to connect the ease with which Ritsuka entered the Underworld to Kutha’s status as a place where undead congregate and dwell…until they’re surrounded by massive horde of skeletons. With the tablet in hand they make a run for it, but not before Ritsuka frees Ishtar from her binds. Having been treated so kindly despite her hostility (and perhaps motivated by her human half), Ishtar returns the favor by obliterating all of the skeletons with a single all-out arrow burst, sparing the party a tough battle.

When Ritsuka earnestly thanks her before turning back to Uruk, the blonde goddess half of Ishtar wonders if perhaps he’s “a sacrifice too good for the other goddesses.” I enjoyed the ambiguity of that line, just I enjoyed the entirety of this splendidly balanced episode.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 05 – A Rousing Royal Road Trip

King Gilgamesh comes to Ritsuka and Mash’s dwelling in person because he intends for them to serve as his escorts on a journey to the Persian Gulf to inspect the quality of the water keeping his people alive. Watching Gilgamesh, er, mesh with ordinary citizens on the streets of Uruk softens the pompous bastard a bit.

I also found the streamlining of both the cast and plot effective. Aside from occasional check-ins from Romani and Leo, it’s just Ritsuka, Mash, and Gilgamesh on a road trip with a simple objective. I just wish we could have heard (or seen) some of the adventures with which Ritsuka and Mash regale Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh has enough personality for the three of them, which is good, because aside from being generally kind, agreeable, and brave, there’s simply not much to Mash, and even less to Ritsuka (which is, of course, by design). The scenes in which Mash voices her doubts and Ritsuka reassures her have become a bit repetitive.

At least this time we actually catch a glimpse of one Francis Drake from the Okeanos Singularity mission, while the gulf coast makes for a very picturesque setting for their little break. It’s a break rudely interrupted by Enkidu screaming in low and hot like a cruise missile from the ocean horizon.

Annoyed that Ritsuka and Mash are taking it so easy, he unleashes a very Gilgamesh-esque attack upon them, with dozens of mini-dimensional portals opening and launching a torrent of blade-tipped chains. Mash is able to block and dodge a few, but eventually ends up a sitting duck, and Ritsuka just manages to shove her away from a killing blow.

Things look grim for a duo, but thankfully they’re not alone, and Gilgamesh has concluded whatever additional business of which they weren’t aware. He’s able to match Enkidu’s frighteningly powerful attacks with some of his own, opening up his treasury to produce a weapon for each of his opponent’s chain-blades.

The two put on quite a show, but ultimately Enkidu misses and hesitates before retreating, as if some of the old Enkidu were still within him. Gilgamesh warns Ritsuka and Mash that if that fake Enkidu truly wanted him dead, he’d be so. Later, Enkidu has to convince himself compulsively that yes, he can indeed kill Gilgamesh…he just couldn’t do it today.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 04 – What the World Makes of You

“You are what the world makes of you,” not the other way around, is a bit of advice Amadeus (Mozart I assume) once gave Mash, which she shares with Ritsuka during a little pep talk in which she assures him she has faith in the choices he’s made and will always be by his side come what may.

I like the sentiment, and Mash and Ritsuka are cute together, but it’s one of those scenes between the two that would have more emotional impact if a.) we’d seen any of the adventures they’d had to this point and b.) Rituska wasn’t just a cipher, which is all he’s ever supposed to be.

In any case, their month of menial labor pays off, as Gilgamesh summons them back to court with a real mission: investigate the city of Ur. He holds his Holy Grail in his left hand, but both Ritsuka and Merlin notice something odd about it, and conclude that it’s not the grail keeping the seventh singularity open. That grail lies…elsewhere.

The journey to Ur requires traversing lands filled with demonic beasts, which Ana disposes of without any issue. But once they hit the dense, sweltering jungle Merlin even equates to a Reality Marble, the beasts are nowhere to be found.

Instead, they encounter what seems at first like a character in another show: a lively woman in a bulky cat mascot costume and sneakers calling herself Jaguarman, whom Ana isn’t fast enough to catch. She vanishes as soon as she appears, but it’s clear it won’t be their only encounter.

Once they reach Ur, the people seem to be safe, but the jungle is encroaching the city blocks, and once all the townfolk are gathered in the central plaza, Merlin notices the dearth of men and deduces that they’ve made a deal with a goddess to sacrifice a man a day in exchange for safety.

It’s a raw deal, one that is particularly offensive to Ritsuka, but it’s a deal they can’t break when Jaguarman arrives, because despite her goofy appearance and demeanor is a legit Divine Spirit neither Ana nor Mash have a hope of defeating without divine help of their own. The only upside is that she hasn’t killed Ur’s men; but she is using them for hard labor.

Instead, Jaguarman thrashes both of the Servants without breaking a sweat in a scintillatingly fast-paced battle, and Ritsuka must reluctantly call for Merlin to transport them back to the outskirts of Uruk to make their report to the king. Ana asks Ritsuka why he’s not accustomed to such sacrifice by now when he’s sacrificed plenty already (including Olga-Marie Animusphere) to the cause of saving human history.

Ritsuka says simply that he’s never gotten accustomed to it, nor will he ever be, matter how necessary it is. It’s the kind of attitude a hero needs if he’s going to accomplish his ultimate goals. Upon returning to their modest headquarters, the party is shocked when Gilgamesh appears at their doorstep, making a typically unheard-of house call—more of the world trying to make something of the ragtag group of heroes.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 03 – Getting Situated

It doesn’t take long for Gilgamesh to determine that Mash, Ana are a waste of his time, as he easily deflects their attacks. He also reveals that the Holy Grail is already among his treasures, which is why the Three Goddess Alliance is attacking Uruk. But as it’s one of his treasures, Gil is unwilling to give it to anyone; not the goddesses (including Ishtar, who makes a brief appearance) and not to Chaldea.

Merlin suggests they stop asking for now; Gil is a moody man, and leaving him alone could bear fruit later. Gil’s attendant Siduri suggests Mash and Ritsuka gain his favor through achievements not in battle, but simply in soaking up the capital and its people, rhythms, and work. If they play ball and show due deference to the king and his city, maye he’ll be more receptive.

To that end, Siduri shows them their modest but adequate new base of operations, where three additional Servants in Benkei, Ushiwakamaru, and Leonidas come to visit, eat, drink, and be merry with Mash, Ritsuka, Merlin and Ana as part of the larger “Uruk Experience.” Siduri also confirms that Enkidu is indeed dead and has been replaced by a fake who answers to the Alliance; but Gilgamesth has yet to meet him in person.

From there Mash, Ritsuka and Ana make themselves useful performing all manner of tasks that while generally menial and perhaps “above” time travelling warriors, are nevertheless tasks that are crucial to Uruk’s survival.

That means not just making mud bricks, harvesting wheat, shearing sheep, and tending to the children and the sick, but also joining Ana in the caverns below Uruk to dispose of evil spirits she believes are contributing to a wasting epidemic among the populace.

Ana doesn’t initially get why Ritsuka and Mash are interacting so closely with that populace, but Ritsuka very logically explains that getting to actually know the human beings he seeks to save helps to motivate him, as well as to more fully empathize with their fate should they fail. And Fake Enkidu and his goddess mother very much want them to fail.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 02 – He’s Not That Bad?

With the placid Enkidu as their guide, Ritsuka and Mash would seem to be on easy street, but even after several previous excursions to singularities across time, the duo isn’t above someone getting one over on them. Fortunately for them, you can’t kid a kidder—in this case, Grand Caster Merlin, whom they meet in a forest.

Merlin tells Ritsuka and Mash that King Gilgamesh just returned from a quest to attain the herb of immortality—a quest he didn’t begin until after Enkidu died. Exposed as an impostor working against Chaldea, “Enkidu” attacks Ritsuka and Mash, but Merlin’s companion Ana protects them while Merlin creates an illusion to force him to withdraw for the time being.

Like last week’s tilt with the demonic beasts, Ana and Mash’s fight with Enkidu provides the action highlight of an otherwise talky episode, with the dense forest providing a new venue for the lightning-fast kinetic combat.

While back at Chaldea Romani is perplexed to find Merlin in Mesopotamia considering he’s supposed to still be alive in Avalon, the fact that the current time period precedes his birth meant he could be summoned there.

Merlin also sports almost zero offensive power, so even Fou—who apparently hates his guts—can fight him on even footing. Merlin claims to have a Master, while Ana is a rogue Servant. They’re there to assist Chaldea in saving humanity.

Merlin and Ana escort Ritsuka and Mash to Uruk without further incident. Ana has a cute human moment with one of the sentries, and they pass through the gates with ease and head to the massive central ziggurat. The size and grandeur of the city surprise the pair from Chaldea, which is saying something considering all the places they’ve seen.

Once in Gilgamesh’s throne room, Ritsuka is equally impressed by how level-headed, detail-oriented, and downright on top of things the king seems to be; far cry from the arrogant tyrant of legend. However, when Merlin interrupts normal business to introduce Ritsuka and Mash, Gilgamesh is done talking, and immediately challenges them to a duel.

It’s just as well. If the two are going to easily fall to the king right then and there, they weren’t going to be of any use to him in the first place—nor could they ever be the true saviors of humanity.

Fate / Zero – 25 (Fin)

Did the Holy Grail know Kiritsugu would reject it? Who can say? But even if it initially chose him to be its bearer, his order to Saber to destroy it flipped the script. It also flipped the cup, as the Grail’s destruction means the black ooze it contained falls upon Fuyuki, destroying everything in sight, to Kiritsugu’s great despair. Even trying to do the right thing at the right time would seem to have backfired on this exceedingly unlucky and tortured soul.

Speaking of tortured souls, Kariya is still barely alive when he returns to the Matou basement, but while his senses tell him he is reuniting Sakura with Rin and Aoi, in reality Sakura is abandoning him to the Crest Worms and accepting the fate he tried in vain to keep her from.

Perhaps it was the contents of the Grail, not the Grail itself, that mattered most, as those contents fell on Archer, but rather than destroy him along with everything else, it gave him physical form (though not clothes). And because Gilgamesh still had a pact with Kirei, it resurrected him, albeit with no heartbeat.

That literal lack of a beating heart is indicative of his departure from humanity, as is his apparently Grail-fulfilled wish for death and destruction around him, and a hunger to “learn more” and explore the depths of his inhumanity. But as I said, the Grail will never fully satiate; at best it can only lock people—Servants and Masters alike—in a perpetual state of searching.

As for Kiritsugu, he’s done searching. Indeed, he seems to be just about done with everything, owing to the curse bestowed on him by a scorned Grail and his entire life’s work burning before him. The last thing he searches for—a single survivor among the scorched rubble—is something he ironically finds immediately.

By saving that single life—a young Shirou—Kiritsugu himself is saved. It’s a concept a sneering Kirei can’t possibly comprehend enough even to envy.

With that, the clock on the Fourth Holy Grail War reaches…Zero and comes to an end, with the official winner in doubt, though more-or-less claimed by Kirei, since the Grail seemingly brought him back.

Back at his “grandparents”, Waver announces he’s going to set aside his magical studies for a bit, get a part-time job, live with them, and save up enough to travel the world his king once conquered a good chunk of.

Kirei has upheld his promise to his master to look after Rin after he’s gone, likely so that he can observe and absorb all of the grief, pain and suffering Rin is likely to experience on the long, hard road all heads of great families must walk.

Rin maintains a stoicsm beyond her years at her father’s futural, even as she wheels her brain-damaged, delusional mom around. What gets her to crack and shed tears is the Azoth dagger; Kiritsugu twisting the blade like the piece of work he is.

And Saber, poor Saber, is back in Britain, on a battlefield strewn with corpses, having led everyone nowhere but to their own deaths. She remembers Lancelot’s last words to her, about how he only ever sought her righteous judgment for betraying her and falling in love win Guinevere.

Arturia considers herself a failed king who never understood anyone, and considering her surroundings it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

As for Saber’s former Master, he is banned from Einzbern Castle forever, having failed to secure the Grail for them, and never sees his daughter Ilya again. So he adopts Shirou, fixes up the old safe house, and spends the next five years raising his adoptive son and living a quiet but happy life.

One night he tells Shirou how he once wanted and tried to be a hero, but ultimately failed. Shirou confidently promises his dad he’ll become a hero in his place. A heavenly light suddenly shines above Saber; a ray of hope.

Clearly contented by his son’s words, Kiritsugu starts to peacefully pass away, with an answer for his friend Shirley’s question about what he wanted to be when he grew up: he wanted, and still wants, to be a hero.

* * * * *

And that’s it for Fate/Zero! Boy, what a ride it’s been these past five weeks. That was a far better show than I could have imagined…which is why it took so long after UBW to watch it. Burned by previous prequels to beloved works, I was worried knowing pretty much how everything would end would make it difficult for the stakes to matter.

Yeah…I was dead wrong about that. Not only was I far more emotionally invested in Zero, it was a lot more approachable, had a lot more heart, and took a lot more risks than the smoother, shinier UBW. It’s not that UBW is bad, it’s simply a matter of Zero kicking ass in virtually every aspect of the game. It wasn’t just a great anime, it was great television; great storytelling, full stop. So thanks to everyone out there who recommended it to me. It was well worth a look back.

Fate / Zero – 24

Ever since the childhood trauma that set him on his path, Emiya Kiritsugu has striven to be a level-headed, efficient, logical man. It’s partly why he kept Saber at arm’s length: an emotional connection with his Servant isn’t necessary and exposure to her illogical honor can only create inefficiencies in his plans.

So as Saber finds herself struggling with the insane anger and hatred of her former most trusted knight, essentially making her the logical one in her fight, and Iri’s body transforms into the Holy Grail, Kiritsugu never would have imagined it would not only toy with his emotions, but use his beloved logic against him.

But first, by god was I not wrong when I said the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei would be something. It’s quite different and more minimalist than any previous battle in the show, with both participants sizing up their opponents, approaching them with a certain strategy, and switching up tactics on the fly as conditions rapidly change.

Kirei would have surely killed Kiritsugu relatively quickly were it not for Avalon imbuing Kiritsugu with a virtual “Auto-Life” status. In the slight sliver of a moment Kirei’s guard is down, Kiritsugu takes Kirei’s right arm away with Contender, and the odds are evened.

So even is the duel, in fact, that the Grail itself, runnething over with some kind of dark, blood-like ooze directly above the fighters, essentially calls a “timeout” by covering both in that ooze.

That indicates the War is finally at an end, and the Grail has chosen the victor. At the same time, Saber runs Berserker through, killing him, as Kariya also expires; claiming she cannot atone to him without winning the Holy Grail.

In an illusory world created by the Grail, an avatar of Iri representing the will of the Grail names Kiritsugu as the winner, and he need only officially pray for his wish to become reality. The only problem is, the Grail, or at least this Grail, cannot give him the miracle he wants. At least, not in a manner that is acceptable.

The Grail then sets to work taking Kiritsugu’s philosophy to its logical conclusion: killing the smaller percentage of people to save a larger one, thought-experiment style; sacrificing the few to save the many.

But if, like his time-altering battle ability, Kiritsugu would continue to whittle down some humanity in order to save another proportion, before long there will be no one left in the world but him and those he cares about the most, presented to him as Maiya, Iri and Ilya.

To save them, he’ll have to kill everyone else. In other words, “saving the world” means destroying humanity. This is the sum total of Kiritsugu’s wish, according to the Grail.

And the Grail stands ready to grant that wish, even though it is not at all what Kiritsugu wants. He rejects the Grail, unwilling to sacrifice the world for his own few loved ones, symbolically murdering both Iri and Ilya in a thoroughly upsetting scene in an attempt to subvert of the nightmare scenario the Grail put forward. The Grail curses him and he is cast out.

Back in reality, such as it is, Kiritsugu has the advantage over Kirei, who rages and fumes at him for refusing and wasting the Grail’s wish. But in killing him it seems Kiritsugu is almost doing Kirei a favor.

This Grail is not omnipotent, and thus would be no more able to reveal the nature and meaning of Kirei’s existence than it could grant Kiritsugu a miracle that would end all conflict in the world. In both cases, the one making the wish does not know what it is they seek.

That being said, the Grail is still immensely powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands, and Kiritsugu decides that no one, including him, has the right hands.

So as Saber and Archer descend on the physical Grail, poised to fight the final duel in the War, and Saber rejects Archer’s offer of marriage and servitude, Kiritsugu forsakes Saber once more, hitting her where it hurts most: he uses his two remaining Command Seals to order her to destroy the Grail with Excalibur…and she cannot disobey.

But perhaps Kiritsugu is right that Saber, like Kirei and he himself before, is merely deluding herself into believing the Grail will grant her wish, only offer shallow illusions in exchange for being possessed by someone worthy. The Grail is not an answer.

Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

Fate / Zero – 14

The Alliance to Destroy Caster’s Monster (ADCM) doesn’t net great results: Neither Saber, Rider or Lancer can cause any damage to Caster’s monster, as it possesses extraordinary regenerative abilities, like a flan that can reassemble itself faster than you can cut it up.

Archer watches the battle imperiously from above in his extremely cool aircraft, and expresses his disgust at the “mongrels” futile flailing below. Tokiomi uses all the fancy submissive language he knows to try to get Archer to intervene and bring the monster down, but after four of his swords do no more than the other attacks (and are contaminated in the process), Archer declines to sacrifice any more.

As the monster nears the shore, more and more innocent bystanders bear witness, making this an unmitigated disaster for the Holy Grail War and its backers. A pair of JASDF F-15s join the battle, but have no idea what they’re in for.

One gets plucked out of the air by the monster’s tentacles, then eaten; the second is “commandeered” by the newly-arrived Berserker, who engages in a fantastically wild yet balletic dogfight with Archer—as if possessing a fighter jet wasn’t cool enough.

Berserker’s movements are extremely chaotic and unpredictable (as are his missiles), but Archer is able to counter every attack and stay a little bit ahead, glad that someone is entertaining him.

With their Servants fighting each other instead of the monster, Tokiomi and Kariya decide to have a duel of their own, which had to happen some time.

Kariya asks how Tokiomi can call himself a father for giving Sakura away to the Matous, but Tokiomi not only carries a clear conscience, he’s delighted, for the sake of his illustrious noble family, that both of his daughters have the opportunity to become great mages who find “The Root”; never mind that only one of them can. 

Kariya is sick and tired of future generations suffering due to the cruelty and brutality of mages, so he’ll kill them all. It’s Toosaka magic vs. Matou…bugs.

Finally we have Uryuu Ryuunosuke. Good-looking, cheerful kid; would make a fine protagonist if he wasn’t also a child serial killer. As he laughs and celebrates what her Servant is serving up for God, he leaves himself wide open for Kiritsugu’s sniper round.

But wouldn’t you know it, he’s not upset about being shot in the stomach, he’s delighted as well, lamenting that “what he was always looking for” was right under his nose this whole time, in his own guts. Alas, he had to die to find “it”, and only got to enjoy the realization for a few moments before Kiritsugu takes the headshot.

For all of the flash and impressiveness of the Servants’ and their Masters’ abilities, all it took to grab control of the situation was some stealth, a rifle, and a couple bullets…if only it were that easy. Caster and the monster don’t vanish immediately following Uryuu’s death; and as they’ll reach shore long before they do, there’s a real possibility they’ll be able to “feed” on the gathering crowds, sustaining physical form from the absorbed mana.

Uryuu may be gone, but to get rid of Caster’s monster, Kiritsugu knows they’ll need something only Saber has—an Anti-Fortress Noble Phantasm. The only problem is, she can’t use it with the wound Lancer gave her. In order to defeat the monster, it would seem she and Lancer must duel, and Lancer has to lose.