Fate / Zero – 17

For Risei and Tokiomi, the greatest blunder they committed in the Holy Grail War was believing they knew and understood who Kirei was, when he seemingly didn’t even know until recently, after a few key conversations with Lady MacGilgabeth.

Risei, who Kirei was probably planning to kill, was murdered by Kayneth, but by the end of this episode, Tokiomi is dead too, by Kirei’s own hand, petty much forced by accelerating events.

Fate/Zero isn’t subtle about death flags, and it sure looked like even Tokiomi himself sensed his end was near when he visited Rin and Aoi one last time. The only thing that escaped him was the means of that end; surely he must’ve thought if he died, it would be fighting against his enemies, not his own student.

But back to forcing Kirei’s hand: with Risei dead, Tokiomi proposes a temporary alliance with Irisviel, who is flanked by Saber and Maiya in the church where they meet (odd choice of venue if you ask me, considering it couldn’t even protect the observer.)

Iri agrees with Tokiomi that they should save the battle between themselves for the end, once Rider and Berserker are dealt with … but only if he expels Kirei from Japan immediately.

It’s not an unreasonable demand, considering Kirei and the Einzberns have “bad blood” Tokiomi didn’t know about, but Kirei is also not a Master anymore, and thus should step away from the war altogether. Upon leaving the meeting, Iri collapses onto Maiya’s shoulder, confiding in her that she’s not just any homonculus, but the Holy Grail itself given human form.

When this Holy Grail War is over, she will die and the grail will take whatever new form the winner desires; only Avalon is keeping her going. Maiya promises she’ll stay by Iri’s side until the end.

With one more one-on-one chat between Tokiomi and Archer, Tokiomi has decided what he’s going to do, and has Archer’s support. Kirei will get to explore his “dark desires”, and Gilgamesh will gain a more entertaining Master.

Kirei helps Gil finalize his choice by saying the Holy Grail can only be activating by sacrificing all seven Servants, meaning Tokiomi was eventually going to use a command seal to force Gil to commit suicide.

So after thanking Kirei for being his loyal student and comrade, Tokiomi presents him with a will leaving his wealth to Rin and appointing Kirei as her guardian. Kirei then takes that newly-gifted dagger and kills Tokiomi with it.

The literal backstabbing, while extensively telegraphed, is still a powerful, disturbing moment. With this betrayal, Kirei becomes Archer’s new Master, and the dynamic of the War is irreparably changed. And I must say, I fear Kirei a hell of a lot more than Tokiomi as an adversary to Kiritsugu and Iri, because, well, Kirei himself fears the guy.

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Fate / Zero – 16

It’s no rest for the weary or hungry in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Caster and his monster. Sola-Ui is hoping her beloved Lancer’s contributions will net her a fresh command seal, but she ends up losing her two remaining seals when Maiya sneaks up and cuts her fucking arm off before calmly reporting to Kiritsugu.

Sola-Ui’s fiancee Kayneth seems to fare better, as he manages to convince Risei to bestow upon him a new seal as a reward, then shoots Risei before peaceing out of the church, though if I were him I’d have checked to see if the brakes weren’t stuck on; he seemed to have some trouble with the wheelchair.

When Lancer returns to report that Sola-Ui is alive but missing, a particularly revitalized Kayneth really lays into his Servant, even accusing him of seducing his fiancee, just like he seduced that of his commander of yore. Lancer has to break into the endless berating, because someone has arrived.

That someone is Saber, with Iri in tow. While everyone is exhausted from the battle, there is yet some time before the dawn, so she (probably wisely) suggests there will be no better time to get their chivalrous duel out of the way.

Lancer assents, and the two have at it with a kind of infectious glee, finally able to fight nobly one-on-one after such a distasteful monster battle. If ever there was a ‘heromance’ on Fate/Zero (not a one-sided one like Caster), it’s these two. Which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see their noble duel cruelly cut short by the implementation of Kiritsugu’s underhanded but ruinously effective gambit to take Lancer and Kayneth off the board for good.

The dueling Saber and Lancer are essentially distracting themselves from the fact their masters are in the shadows, “negotiating.” I use quotes because Kiritsugu has all the leverage and Kayneth has none. Kiritsugu has Sola-Ui, and makes Kay sign a contract of geis in which Kiritsugu will be unable to kill or even harm him or Sola-Ui. In exchange, Kay has to use his final command seal to force Lancer to run himself through with his own single remaining lance.

Kay takes the deal, and the impaled Lancer is disgusted and enraged, cursing everyone—including Saber, whom he assumes is in on it—as he slowly dies and evaporates into the either. Then Kiritsugu holds up his end of the bargain: he can’t kill Kayneth or Sola-Ui…so he has Maiya do it for him, and when Kayneth is begging for death, Kiritsugu must decline due to the contract. Ice. Cold.

It falls to Saber to put Kayneth out of his misery, but no one is more disgusted with Kiritsugu than she, as she openly questions his true motives for winning the HGW, considering the underhanded, dishonorable depths to which he is willing to stoop.

Even Iri, who Kiritsugu points out hadn’t seen “the way he kills” until now, is clearly angry at him and demands he speak to Saber directly and not through her. And Kiritsugu finally explains why he’s been so loath to interact with Saber and so unwilling to heed her council: because she is a knight, imbued with heroic honor and chivalry. And he doesn’t believe a knight can save the world.

Throughout history, knights and other heroes have inspired men to set out, fight, and die. It’s a deadly wheel that Kiritsugu intends to break. If he is victorious, he will see to it the blood shed in the HGW will be the “last blood shed by humanity,” and he doesn’t care what he has to do or how his actions make him look, as long as he gets the job done. It’s the ultimate ends-justify-the-means argument, and it’s hard to argue with it.

Saber’s reaction to Kiritsugu’s passionate rant is to deduce that for someone to speak the way he does, he must have at some point in he past fought nobly and justly, only for something to go horribly wrong to lead to his fall from chivalry. Saber is of the mind that his methods not only won’t break the wheel, but strengthen it by stoking resentment, hatred, and further conflict unbound by any decency.

I can appreciate both viewpoints (a testament to the quality writing and characterization) and while I can’t endorse Kiritsugu’s methods, I can’t argue with their utility and effectiveness thus far: only Rider, Berserker, and Archer remain in the war, and he has all of his command seals.

But I take the collapse of the downright exhausted Iri after Kiritsugu departs as a bad omen; things have been going too smoothly so far. I sense rougher seas ahead.

Fate / Zero – 03

“Oh sorry, did YOU want wine?” | “What channel is He-Man on?”
As Tokiomi apologizes to his Servant Archer (AKA Gilgamesh) and begs him to be patient as the plan unfolds, Waiver celebrates the death of Assassin, but his Servant Rider (AKA Iskandar) doesn’t really care, and is far more concerned with acquiring B-2 Stealth Bombers and other weaponry with which to defeat…Bill Clinton.

I enjoyed the contrast between these two Servant-Master pairs, with Tokiomi exercising the utmost deference to Archer, who abides by his wishes while Rider is more of a constant nuisance to Waiver, who can’t even get him to enter spirit mode. I can’t blame Rider; Waiver may have shown guts in stealing the relic with which to summon him, but he hasn’t done anything to inspire confidence since then.

They’ve already won the Holy Fashion War.
Rider’s not caring about Assassin’s death is just as well, since Assassin isn’t actually dead; he can take the form of many different people. What is dead are Kirei’s chances of winning the War, so he withdraws and is granted asylum in the Church by the observer, his dad Risei, and plans to use his Assassins to spy on all of the remaining Servants for Tokiomi.

Meanwhile, with Saber summoned and ready to go, she accompanies Irisviel to Fuyuki City, her love’s hometown, and the first place she’s ever left Einzbern Castle to visit. While Iri sightsees, Saber is her knight and bodyguard, wearing a stylish, practical black suit that contrasts nicely with Iri’s snow-white garb. They make a stunning pair…even though Iri isn’t Saber’s real Master.

“I sense my man kissing someone…”
That guy, Kiritsugu, arrived in Fuyuki a bit earlier, and enters a hotel room to find his assistant Maiya and a cache of weapons with which he’ll fight the War. When his thoughts turn to his frail daughter and he momentarily despairs, Maiya re-centers him by taking him in her arms and kissing him.

Whatever history those two have, I doubt it’s a threat to the union Kiritsugu and Irisviel, an unexpected pairing, but both a necessary and intriguing one. Their love for and trust for one another is above reproach. Irisviel, meanwhile, enjoys a walk on the beach with her night in black tailored suit, until Saber detects trouble nearby.

“Okay…let’s see what you got.”
The women head to the harbor, where the Servant Lancer is waiting for them, but with no Master in sight. Far from being concerned by a potential attacker in the night, it would seem Irisviel was acting as a faux Master of Saber in order to accomplish what came to pass: luring out the last Servant unaccounted for.

As for who commands Lancy, I’m not ruling out Archibald, who has been curiously absent despite Waiver having stolen his relic for Rider. And as for who will win this duel, I suspect neither party will end up dying, since we’re only three episodes in. A draw, perhaps? Either way, I can’t wait to see it.

Zero continues to excel where often UBW fell down, managing to make virtually every patch of dialogue (or monologue) compelling, integrating just enough comedy to avoid being too stodgy or serious, and most important, making every participant either eminently rootable, deliciously loathable, or a lovely synthesis of the two.

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