Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 20 – Flowers in the Underworld

If you’re going to have a final boss to the final singularity in your narrative universe, go big or go home. F/GO goes monumental, and everyone has a role to play. First in the order of battle against Beast Tiamat is Assassin, who helpfully slashes both its eyes and delivers various other blows. Tiamat responds by unleashing a brood of Divine Spirit-class lahmu.

As Tiamat begins to climb back up to the living world, the quicker and dealier than ever lahmu prove too much for Ritsuka and the Servants, who are riddled with cuts and bruises and are starting to tire. That’s when they’re bailed out by the arrival of Gilgamesh, this time in his Servant form. He doesn’t spare the treasury in unleashing a gold-steel rain upon the lahmu, while Tiamat is forced back down to the ground.

Tiamat’s bonkers response to this setback is to create a Nega-Genesis, an attempt to restart the very universe. A huge bubble forms around the beast, poised to rewrite life itself and negate every Servant in Ritsuka’s stable. Ereshkigal is able to stop this process by using her impressive Noble Phantasm Kur Ki Gal Irkalla, but even this is naught but a time-buying measure.

While Beast is temporarily sealed away, the only person who can enter the Nega-Genesis, Ritsuka, but deliver the killing blow. Gilgamesh provides the blade, while Mash and Merlin will use their Noble Phantasms Lord Camelot and Garden of Avalon simultaneously, creating a path for Ritsuka.

There’s a palpable vulnerability to the prospect of Ritsuka heading to perhaps the most dangerous spot in the universe without his trusty aid—but the two trust in one another to take care of business on their different sides of the battlefield.

Ereshkigal’s gambit turns out to be a sacrifice, as she used up all of her authority to give Ritsuka and the others maximum time to prepare a final assault. She disappears in a distraught Ishtar’s arms, smiling at the sight of so many gorgeous flowers in her underworld (the product of Garden of Avalon).

A victory against Tiamat wasn’t going to be without cost, but it’s surely gutting that Ereshkigal is part of that cost. Ueda Kana does moving work voicing both Servants in the scene, and indeed throughout the two Servants’ interactions. So alike and yet so different.

Her sacrifice isn’t in vain, however; after some effort and a last minute assist by Assassin (who can be in the Nega-Genesis because he’s technically dead…?) keeping the last of the lahmu off his back, Ritsuka is able to reach Tiamat’s head and plunge the dagger in.

The Nega-Genesis begins to collapse, and Gilgamesh breaks out Ea and delivers the coup-de-grace—the good ol’ Enuma Elish, delivered with such unrepentant ferocity I was momentarily worried my speakers would blow out.

In the midst of all the external sturm und drang Ritsuka finds himself in a tranquil oasis where Tiamat’s true form of a horned woman stands alone in a white, soundless void. She quietly laments how her children made a ladder of her and gone far away, and asks if her love for them was mistaken. Ritsuka assures her that all her children love her, which is why she has to get going.

I honestly felt sympathy for Tiamat, so soft and lonesome were her words. A lot of that is down to the stark minimalism of the scene and Yuuki Aoi’s deep yet restrained performance. After she is destroyed by Gilgamesh’s Phantasm, the underworld that was their last battlefield begins to crumble.

Merlin quickly shoots Ritsuka and Mash, hand-in-hand, back up to the surface on a stream of flowers. A stunning victory has been achieved by their hands and those of their friends. Humanity will go on. Hopefully there’s some time to celebrate—and mourn—before the duo heads on home.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 19 – Just Another God

You can go ahead and call this the “Kitchen Sink” episode: everyone who didn’t fight in the previous few episodes fights this week, and I mean everyone. Gorgon basically covers Mash and Ritsuka’s retreat by butting heads with Tiamat. Still, that only slows her down a bit, so with Uruk about to be stamped out by the roving Tiamat, Gilgamesh goes on the offensive, managing to personally fire 360 cannons even with a huge hole in his chest.

Kingu, who’d been telegraphed as a potential turncoat, realizes that potential in the 11th hour by detaining his mother with the Chain of Heaven, because it’s what he, Kingu, not Enkidu, wants to do. Uruk, once so sunny and grand, now looks more like Mordor, and it’s a hell of a setting for a kinda-sorta-final battle. For Gilgamesh, it is the final battle, full stop.

With Tiamat chained down and Ereshkigal’s preparations complete, all Ishtar needs to do is unleash her stored up magical energy, firing her Noble Phantasm Angalta Kigalse, blasting through the earth that separates Uruk from the Underworld and dropping Tiamat down into a domain where the rules are different: Ereshkigal rules, Tiamat is no longer invincible.

The plan seems to be going well, and Kigal certainly seems confident in her impending success, fueled as it is by warm praise from Ritsuka and Mash. However, things take a turn when Tiamat covers herself in her primordial mud, and her chaotic sea starts to infect the Underworld itself. More than anything, Ereshkigal is grossed out, but also shocked her authority can be overwritten in such a way.

Fortunately, Merlin returns in his real form to turn all that mud into harmless flowers, but Tiamat is still hanging around, is still ridiculously huge and strong and has not only healed, but transformed into an immense dragon that Merlin somewhat unimaginatively calls Beast II, the culmination of evil borne by mankind’s folly throughout its history.

Tiamat is not getting any weaker, and will only remain mortal while in the Underworld, so she’s gotta be killed before she can escape by air (she regained her flying ability). And if you need someone important killed, who do you call? Why, an Assassin, that’s who. Specifically in the Fate world, you call the first Assassin, Hassan-i Sabbah.

FGO took a week off to sharpen up the animation, and it shows: this episode looks fantastic. It’s just…things are getting awfully ridiculous and BIG now, and Tiamat has now morphed into a comically overwrought CGI final boss. With just two episodes left, I’m hoping this Tiamat business can end sooner rather than later so we have some time for a proper epilogue.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 18 – No Pity

In the final night of rest everyone will get before the decisive battle with Tiamat, Gilgamesh warns Ritsuka and Mash not to blame themselves for Uruks fall, or dare pity the city or its people, but to stand proud of the amazing works they have achieved. That humanity is still here at all is all down to Ritsuka forming the new goddess alliance.

Quetzelcoatl seeks refuge at the Chaldean Embassy, not wanting to upset the cityfolk who considered her a fearsome enemy. She reveals to Ritsuka that she knew Gorgon and Tiamat were seperate entities ahead of time, but couldn’t tell the truth lest Ritsuka or others come to pity Gorgon.

Ishtar and Mash have a nice one-on-one, looking up at the stars of those who came before them, lived, shined, and died. Mash still fears battle, but because she has so many things she cares about and doesn’t want to lose. Leonidas once told her that heart of hers would be an invincible shield as long as that heart doesn’t break from the strain.

Finally, Gilgamesh meets Kingu atop the ziggurat, and has neither hatred nor pity for the one who stole his best friend’s body, which Gil heals using a grail from his treasury. Gil regards Kingu’s current position as an enviable one: his own free will is there to pick up and take. Kingu seems to take that to heart when he shows up for Gil’s final rally to his warriors of Uruk.

With that, Ritsuka, Mash, Ishtar and Quetzalcoatl head towards the rapidly advancing Tiamat, only hours away from a surely doomed Uruk. While en route they hit a cloud of lahmu and a resurrected Dark Ushiwakamaru, who is determined to stop them in their tracks before they do the same to her “Mother.”

Yet it is ultimately Ushiwaka who is stopped, and by her own former subordinate Benkei, returning to make up for the wrongs of his lord. As with her last appearance, there isn’t the slightest hint that Ushi could ever come back from her dark transformation, but Benkei isn’t looking to save her, but give her an honorable death, ending her suffering and anger for good.

He achieves this by holding Ushiwakamaru and her shadow clones in place as the wake of Kuku’s booming Noble Phantasm, Piedra del Sol, washes over them. Ushiwaka and Benkei’s Spirit Origins disappear, but while Tiamat is briefly stopped, she sheds her legs and starts to float above the sea of flame, despite being an earth goddess.

Since the plan was to drag her down into the underworld, the fact she is now airborne jeopardizes everything. Kuku doesn’t stand still, but takes advantage of Tiamat’s pause to throw everything she’s got left at her. Ritsuka fortifies Kuku’s Magical Energy, allowing her to unleash Ultimo Tope: Patada, in an increasingly awesome avant-garde display of destruction.

Essentially transforming herself into a comet (like the one that struck the Yucatan peninsula and decimated the dinosaurs), Kuku is able to destroy a number of Tiamat’s barriers, but once the dust clears, there’s no sign of Kuku remaining—we saw her very flesh cracking and shedding as the launched her attack—but Tiamat is still intact.

The Chaldeans’ options continue to dwindle as Tiamat keeps throwing wrenches into their carefully-laid plans, but it is not over yet. Kuku’s attack left a wound at which they can still scratch. Ishtar is still on the board. Ereshkigal’s underworld is still below if they can only manage to bring Tiamat back down to earth. Finally, the now-healed free agent Kingu still looms on the sidelines. I can’t imagine he’ll stay there.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 17 – Fresh Start

The gang approaches Tiamat, and Ishtar puts everything into her largest attack, which Ritsuka supports with a Command Seal: Angalta Kigalse. Tiamat is defeated in the first five minutes, but I didn’t believe for a second she was gone for good. Why? Because there are four episodes left.

Ishtar only destroyed a tiny part of Tiamat; her mammoth body proper rises up, and with it the sea levels. It’s not regular seawater either, but a poisonous red-black substance that means death for anything living. All the gang can do is withdraw to Uruk.

Gilgamesh just manages to save the city by deploying the Fang of Napishtim, which is a one-time thing, like Ishtar’s all-or-nothing attack. He’s glad Ritsuka and Mash are alive, but is open to ideas. Romani doesn’t have any good news for them: Tiamat literally has no weaknesses and can not die as long as there are humans alive on earth.

Oh yeah, and there are only 500 humans left. Things have only managed to get more and more dire, but humanity hasn’t lost as long as there’s even one of them alive, and as long as Gilgamesh and Uruk survive, humanity will be able to endure.

Enter Ereshkigal, who very informally reports to Gilgamesh that a huge number of souls have suddenly been dumped into her lap; far more than the natural balance of things would allow. That’s when it dawns on Ritsuka and Gil at the same time: in order to defeat goddess of life Tiamat, she must be dragged down into the underworld, where there is no life to sustain her.

Ereshkigal has certainly never attempted anything of the sort, but having held a grudge against Uruk for many years, just so happens to have prepared to open a gate to the underworld underneath the city. Thanks to her initiative, the time to prepare such a gate is reduced from ten years to three days.

The problem is, Tiamat is only two days away at her current speed, which means they have to somehow hold her off for twenty-four hours before Ereshkigal’s gate is ready. That’s a tall order, considering even the most powerful entity among them, Quetzalcoatl, doesn’t think anything can be done to even scratch Tiamat.

That’s when Gil turns to Ishtar, assuming she’s been holding back her ace in the hole this whole time. The Bull of Heaven, Gugalanna, will surely be sufficient in keeping Tiamat at bay for the necessary duration. Only one problem: Ishtar doesn’t have Gugalanna; she lost it and has no idea where it is. Following that disappointment, Gil proposes everyone relax and try to get some sleep—it could be the last time they ever have a chance to do so.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 16 – It’s About Family

It’s About Family—It’s a line that became a meme when the late Carrie Fisher used it to describe her journey in the Star Wars saga, and often used mockingly or in jest. I decided to use it here without cynicism, because it fits quite well. Family isn’t just about blood, but shared time and experiences, and being changed by that proximity.

After six singularities and change, Fujimaru and Mash are the brother/sister-esque duo (see also: Valerian and Laureline) responsible for saving the human race, aided by Big Bro Romani and Big Sis da Vinci. Servant “cousins” from far and wide have joined their fight, each with their own unique bond with Ritsuka. As for Gilgamesh? Well, he’s everyone’s Daddy, naturally.

This ragtag fam is up against another kind of family entirely: neither of blood nor circumstance, but mud—the primordial kind. Kingu was the proud firstborn of Mother Tiamat, but as he finds himself stabbed through the heart by a chaotic, impudent younger sibling, he probably longs for the days he was an only child.

The Lahmu who stabs him ends up extracting the Holy Grail, which was Kingu’s heart all along. It uses the Grail’s power to instantly evolve and gain wings with which to fly back to Mother, deliver the grail, and seal humanity’s doom. It’s all Ishtar can do to keep up with it with Maana, and Quetzelcoatl summons her Pterodactyls to join the chase. Neither make much progress slowing the Lahmu down.

Kingu, despite missing his grail-heart, attempts to flee his traitorous, sadistic sibings, who relish hunting him down and laughing at his inferiority and obsolescence. They eventually corner him in the woods, but just as one of them is about to kill him, it is killed instead by one of its own.

Siduri, as it happens, was part of the group chasing him, and decided the time was right to make her move. While she kills the other Lahmu, she suffers a mortal wound herself. Before she turns to dust, she thanks Kingu—referring to him as  Enkidu—for all the good times they had together and with Gilgamesh, and begs him to seek a life of happiness.

Gilgamesh and Siduri were a family Enkidu forgot when Mother used his body as the basis for Kingu. With the grail gone and Siduri managing to resist Tiamat’s authority, the memories come rushing back, and even though he doesn’t consider himself Enkidu, tears stream from his cheeks, mourning the twisting of his once happy family in Uruk.

Thanks to some persistence and teamwork, Kuku and Ishtar manage to ground the flying Lahmu, only for it to vanish without a trace. In its place, the long-awaited DARK USHIWAKAMARU emerges from the sea with one goal: to kill them all for abandoning her to wallow in hell. To his credit, Ritsuka doesn’t waver, and delivers the order to defeat the black sheep of the family.

Kuku jumps at the chance to cross swords with Dark Ushi, but can’t quite take her on alone. When Ishtar fires her last bullet before running out of magical energy, Kuku tag-teams with Mash, in one of the better-animated and most exciting lightning fast hand-to-hand battles in a show packed with ’em. I wouldn’t be surprised if F/GO took a week off in order to make sure scenes like this were done right…and they were.

With so much time passing between Good Ushiwaka’s fall and now, and all the buildup in between and speculation about when she’d return, it was going to be tough to give her the sendoff she deserved. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super-terrifying when she starts laughing maniacally (Hayami Saori’s performance turns wonderfully dark too) and suddenly multiplies into an army of dark Ushiwakas.

Mostly it’s just good to see her again, even if not under the best circumstances. But she’s gone almost as soon as she arrives, as Ishtar uses Ritsuka to recharge her energy stores and blasts all of the Ushiwakas into oblivion.

While I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be coming back around to the good side, I’m a little miffed she didn’t get the same sendoff as, say, Siduri or Merlin…or Ana. Instead, she dies gloating that her mission to act as a diversion was a success. While Ritsuka’s party was fighting her, the flying Lahmu arrived and delivered the grail to Tiamat, a huge setback.

Look at that, a cheeky Star Wars reference from the King of Heroes. Having both analyzed the primordial mud and invented a holo-imager, Papa Gil reports his findings to the team, and it’s not good: the parts of the sea now blackened by Tiamat contain her authority, and sea levels are rising. They threaten to flood humanity’s one and only bastion of civilization, and the forces of Uruk will only hold out another hour or so against the Lahmu.

With Game Over so close, the team’s only play is to head to the Spirit Origin signature in the Persion Gulf that is sporting magical energy of over seven Holy Grails. Ritsuka, Mash, Ishtar, and Kuku will have to be enough, barring the return of Ereshkigal…or a change of alliance by Kingu. Mother Tiamat is waiting in the middle of the gulf, butterfly eyes and all. Which family will win out?

P.S. Driving that family theme home, as well as adding to the special nature of this episode, is a new ending sequence featuring beautifully-rendered snapshots of Enkidu, Siduri, and Gilgamesh during happier days in Uruk, set to a soulful new song by milet, who has one hell of a voice.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 15 – Careful What You Wish For

Thanks to Ana’s immortality-nullifying Harpe, Gorgon/Tiamat is defeated in the episode’s first five minutes, which should have been the herald of good news, were this the final or penultimate episode. Of course, with a whole half-cour remaining in F/GO: ADF-B, the humanity and it’s heroes climb out of one hole only to find themselves at the very bottom of an even larger one.

Depsite Ana’s sacrifice, Gorgon did not possess the grail required to collapse the seventh Singularity and end the war. Kingu still has the grail, and was planning on killing Gorgon all along in order to awaken the real Tiamat, which Merlin calls an “Evil of Humanity” before vanishing after a massive “spacetime quake.” That’s right, Ritsuka, Mash & Co. will have to fight the true boss without Ana or Merlin. Bummer.

The real Tiamat doesn’t awaken immediately (though we do catch her seemingly yawning), but from the epicenter of the quake, an impossible force of 100 million beasts emerge, and thousands of them are already attacking Uruk by the time the heroes get back there. These creatures are apparently the species that will serve as the “New Humanity,” and they’re effectively fearsome, offputting, and implacable.

Those attacking the city suddenly withdraw without explanation, enabling Ritsuka’s party to meet with Gilgamesh. He has no orders for his people but to either fight and die in Uruk now or flee north, and perhaps live a bit longer.

When Ritsuka notices Siduri is missing and hears what happened, he demands to be given leave to rescue her in Eridu, where she was taken by the demented monsters Romani names lahmu. What seemed like an opportunity to raise some spirits in Gilgamesh’s court by rescuing his beloved scribe turns sour almost immediately…this episode is merciless in the crap it throws at the heroes.

Siduri has already been transformed into a lahmu, who are totally indescriminate in their torture, mind-manipulation, maiming and killing of “old” humans. Kingu stops this chaos, disgusted by the behavior of his “siblings” but determined to lead them and whip them into shape. For his trouble, he’s stabbed in the back by a lahmu, who sadistically tells him he’s “boring”.

Allies and villains are dropping like flies, replaced by ever more unreasonably monstrous foes. How Ritsuka is going to be able to salvage this situation short two servants is beyond me. And, as always since her capture, Ushiwakamaru remains an unseen, heartbreaking threat