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/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 01 – Humanity’s Last Hope

Six times Master Fujimaru Ritsuka and Demi-Servant Mash Kyrielight have Rayshifted to humanity-threatening singularities throughout history and corrected them. In light of their accomplishments, they have every right to be confident, but it’s clear this isn’t just another day at the office.

The seventh and final singularity is all the way back in 2600 BC, the time of the first king, Gilgamesh, and the beginning of the end of the Gods’ rule over humanity. It’s only fitting that in order to secure the future of civilization, Ritsuka and Mash must return to its cradle.

Employing no small amount of of clinical wizardry, Dr. Romani and da Vinci Rayshift the Ritsuka and Mash to the distant past, but the pair are unexpectedly diverted from their geographic target of the city of Uruk by a bounded field, and instead materialize several thousand feet in mid-air.

Fortunately, Mash has the powers of Sir Galahad at her disposal, and uses a shield to cushion their fall near some ruins. Ritsuka ends up on top of Mash, and lingers there clinging to her just a little longer than she expected, demonstrating at least a modicum of sexual tension between the two.

It’s not long before their presence is detected by numerous demonic beasts in the form of saber-toothed lions, just like a random encounter during a JRPG overworld stroll. Again Mash proves her worth as a Demi-Servant, dispatching the beasts with ease and panache.

But beasts aren’t all the pair attract: a scantily clad woman falls from the sky right on top of Ritsuka, then admonishes him for touching her without her leave. This woman looks a lot like Tohsaka Rin (surely no accident) but when she demonstrates her combat ability, it’s clear that here she plays the role of Archer, though she doesn’t reveal her name to them.

The Archer-esque servant withdraws, quite rightly arguing that if the pair can’t handle a few beasts, they have no chance of saving humanity. The beasts surround Ritsuka and Mash, but they are saved once again, this time by Enkidu, historically Gilgamesh’s BFF and apparently Lancer in this particular scenario.

Enkidu has also been expecting Ritsuka and Mash, and gives them the skinny: the civilization of Mesopotamia is currently on the brink thanks to the Three Goddess Alliance. But he takes the two up a mountain to show them humanity’s hope: the titular Absolute Demonic Front, Babylonia.

Was the Rin-like Archer one of the three goddesses plotting humanity’s destruction? Can Enkidu be trusted? Will Ritsuka and Mash be able to get the job done and get home? All good questions I’ll ponder as I eagerly await the next episode.

Until then, this was a very steady, solid introduction that established most of the main players, and set some very high stakes while remaining grounded and keeping the heroes honest. Cloverworks’ work here is no ufotable, but it’s nonetheless very good.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 00 – Wishing for the Sky

Looks like I got in just under the deadline in time for episode 1 of Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia, which I will review soon. I wanted to make sure to catch Episode 0 for the same reason I watched El-Melloi II Case File’s Episode 0: to gain some context so I wouldn’t be too confused when the main show commenced.

Episode 0, also titled Initium Iter or Beginning of the Journey, starts simply, with a demi-servant experiment seemingly going wrong, as the servant is only awakened within the human subject for a short time. In that time, the subject is suddenly transformed to a Shielder-type servant, and tries her best to break through the multiple bounded fields that protect the researchers.

That subject is Mash Kyrielight (Takahashi Rie), a designer baby with a shortened lifespan, and her primary physician at the Chaldea facility is Dr. Romani Archaman. Initium Iter focuses on the start of their relationship, as Romani is one of her only connections to humanity.

The rowdy servant that still dwells deep within her could make Mash a time bomb in the wrong hands, but Romani is committed not just to maintaining her physical and emotional health, but teaching her what it is to be, well, a person, not just a vessel.

When some kind of singularity is detected which will cause “the history of all humanity” to cease to exist by 2016, the Rayshift experiment is proposed and approved by the UN, and Mash leads a group of “spiritrons” whose mission is to travel to various points in history and “intervene in matters” with the overarching goal of making sure humanity has a future.

This prologue doesn’t really go into great detail about the mechanics behind this mission, and we only see various glimpses into the adventures Mash goes on, which presumably comprise the content of the main series to come. Suffice it to say a lot happens (or will happen), there’s a lot of characters involved, wearing a lot of elaborate outfits.

Romani makes Mash aware from the start that she may only last eighteen years at most, but Mash is accepting of that span, and like him, hopes to make the most of it. Eventually she is able to leave the clean room that was her world for years and walk about the Chaldea facility as a fellow researcher.

At some point, some kind of calamity befalls Chaldea, and seemingly only two people survive the devastation: Mash, and a young lad with black hair whom we see interacting with Mash as a comrade in arms, companion, and perhaps more. With that, the beginning ends, and their journey begins in earnest.

Fate/Grand Order: First Order

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“Who are you callin’ a foo?”
What do we have here? A Fate/stay night spin-off involving a time-travelling, future-saving organization. The first fifteen minutes are full of interminably dull introductions and info-dumping, including those of the supposed two leads, Fujimaru and Mash, who are also dull.

There’s also Fou, a weird white squirrel thingy that wears clothes, makes awful high-pitched sounds, and generally doesn’t need to exist, and Director Olga Aminusphere, who aside from having an obnoxious name, seems like a low-rent Tousaka Rin.

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When the doctor’s the highest-ranked officer left in your compound, time to start worrying
First Order essentially blows up that dull beginning by putting Fujimaru and Mash in an emergency situation that has them travelling back to 2004 where the outcome of a standard Fate-style Holy Grail War has ended up suspended for some reason.

Mash becomes a demi-servant prior to dying, with the inexperienced “commoner” Fujimaru becoming her master, to the chagrin of the aristocratic Olga.

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Dark Saber – Almost worth the price of admission
The two dull protagonists must, with the limited help of Olga and a lot of help from a particularly helpful (and badass) Caster, take out the remaining “dark” versions of Archer and Saber, in order to end the Holy Grail War and correct the singularity that is dooming humanity’s future.

If that sounds a bit vague, it is. And while there’s a bit of a thrill seeing the heroic spirits back in action, albeit on different sides, it’s all a bit bloodless. No, not literally; there’s plenty of blood, but the dead, empty city isn’t the most exciting stage for otherwise cool-looking battles.

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“Look Mash, I’m helping!”
Mash’s transformation into demi-servant may have been a sign of her inner courage and toughness, and her new dominatrixy outfit is pretty boss, but neither she nor Fujimaru manage to ever make me care all that much about them or their sudden newfound friendship, as they’re less actual characters and more combinations of character traits. Takahashi Rie and Shimazaki Nobunaga try their best, but simply don’t have enough to work with here.

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And aside from a few nice images and some competent action, the most striking thing about this Fate spin-off is its lack of the same distinct visual sumptuousness of Unlimited Blade Works (to date the only other Fate property I’ve watched), due to this not being a ufotable series, and clearly having a smaller budget to work with.

Placing the fate of humanity’s future on the shoulders of two barely-there, uninspiring characters we barely got to know in over an hour-long special just doesn’t provide the gravity or stakes it should. As we’re between seasons, I had time to check this out, so I did. And it was…okay. In all, it feels like a superfluous wade into the shallow end of the Fate franchise pool, rather than a deep or meaningful dive.

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