Fate / Zero – 10

Fate/Zero takes a slight detour from the various machinations of all the Masters of the Holy Grail War to focus on one of their children, specifically (one of) Tokiomi’s (two) daughter(s), Rin. I know Rin from UBW as a kind, brave, talented and headstrong young mage, and her seven-or-eight-year-old Zero self seems to possess all those same qualities.

Following her father’s every word of guidance, young Rin seeks to develop a “reserved and elegant” magic befitting the Toosaka name; of course, she’s just a little kid, and as such has far more potential than proficiency, but Tokiomi is a patient teacher and clearly has big plans for his progeny. However, it’s not safe in Fuyuki City, so he sends her and Aoi out of town for their protection, giving Rin a mana compass as an early birthday gift/bribe.

Rin is well-liked at school, happily spreading her considerable book smarts to her classmates and defending the weaker ones from bullies, who show no interest in going up against her. But one day classmates start to disappear from her school, one ends up dead, rumors fly, and finally her good friend Kotone vanishes.

Rin being Rin, she doesn’t leave the solution to this problem up to the adults, and hops on the night train to Fuyuki to sleuth around…rather randomly actually, but hey, this show is called Fate, so it must be fate that Rin happens to find the perpetrator of the kidnappings in the space of a few hours of wandering the night streets (which the episode makes clear are no place for young kids).

Rin follows the strange man with two kids in tow and a glowing purple bracelet. She doesn’t follow him particularly quietly—causing a racket when she accidentally knocks over some garbage—but she eventually comes upon an abandoned bar where she finds Kotone and many other kids in some kind of trance that renders them unable to defend themselves.

While trying to rouse Kotone, Uryuu appears, and is happy to find another “guest” has arrived of her own accord. Considering Uryuu is the “kid murderer” among the Masters in the Grail War, it seems only fitting to show him from the perspective of a kid, particularly the kid of another Master.

Unfortunately for Uryuu, Rin isn’t your typical grade-schooler, and she summons all her spunk in maneuvering herself into a position to grab Uryuu’s bracelet and destroy it with her mana.

At first, the bracelet seems to affect her like the other kids, but she fights it back, and the bracelet eventually shatters, staggering Uryuu and awakening all the kids, who Rin leads out of the bar. Uryuu is less concerned with them escaping than the condition of the bracelet and the mood of the “big guy” (Caster) when he hears of this incident.

The police are called and all the kids are reunited with their parents, but Rin stays in the shadows, not wanting to take any credit for her heroics lest she be scolded and sent back not homebut away from it. All of a sudden, some of Caster’s tentacle demons take an interest in her, but they are eradicated by Matou Kariya, who either happened to be passing by, or had been monitoring Rin the whole time, concerned for his old friend’s daughter’s safety.

Aoi arrives in the park to find Rin sleeping peacefully, being guarded by Kariya, whom Aoi hadn’t seen since his grotesque transition into Berserker’s Master. He promises Aoi that he’ll win the war and free Sakura from the torture of being a Matou Mage. Aoi worries Kariya will kill himself after killing Tokiomi.

As for Rin, her big adventure taught her that she still has a long way to go before becoming a reserved, elegant mage. But with hard work, perseverance, and obedience to her folks, well…we know how she turns out. It is a bit sad to think that the course of her life, as well as those of Ilya and Sakura, are already all but mapped out, due to their obligation to their families. But that’s just Mage Life, I guess.

Fate / Zero – 05

This episode just wouldn’t quit. It shouldn’t work as well as it does: piling character after character into what was, at least on the battlefield, a one-on-one duel between Saber and Caster, but because of the build-up in the previous episodes, each and every time someone new takes the stage, it adds a new glorious layer to the conflict.

And even if this battle only turns out to be a big tease, now six of the seven Servants have met one another, and have at least a cursory idea of what to expect form each other. We also learn that if there’s one Servant who’s going to keep a kind of noble order and balance in this War, it’s Rider.

When Lancer declines out of obligation to his Master and Saber is insulted by Rider’s offer to make them his retainers, the Master who originally meant to command Rider appears, at least in voice-form; Archibald is tickled that Velvet would actually become a combatant in the Holy Grail War, and intends to teach him a lesson.

\Rider isn’t having that. Whoever this Archie guy is, he won’t let him torment his Master (that’s his job), who is at least by his side. He calls out Archibald for hiding like a coward, and calls out any other Servants who were drawn to Saber and Lancer’s excellent duel (though if he found it so excellent, why not let it unfold rather than interrupt?)

And so two more Servants appear in quick succession: first Gilgamesh / Archer, then Berserker (true identity unknown). Gil, as is his wont, deems all other kings in his presence to be pretenders (and he has a point, he is the first of them, historically speaking). But Matou decides that now is the time to test Berserker—as well as his own tolerance as a Master.

Archer takes Matou’s bait and exposes his Noble Phantasm for all the other Servants and Masters to see, but ends up with nothing to show for it, since Berserker is not only crazy, but an extremely tough customer, turning every blade Gil sends his way into his own NP. Ultimately Tokiomi has to spend a Command Seal to reign Gil in.

I love how powerful, frightening, and unpredictable Berserker is depicted; he’s a very cool design that seems to shudder in and out of solidity, as if he’s just barely being kept together.

But what I loved even more was Gil’s attempt to save face by basically saying “You’re all beneath me; kill each other off until there’s one left and then come at me.” He’s an arrogant prick as always, but he’s surprisingly likable in this version—perhaps because he was thrown off his game so effortlessly by Berserker.

With Archer gone, Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber, whose injured hand quickly puts her at a disadvantage, forcing Lancer to save her from a potentially vicious blow. He doesn’t do it because they’re friends, or allies, but because she’s his opponent. If Berserker wants to fight her, he’ll have to get past Lancer first.

That’s Lancer’s will, but unfortunately for him, Archie has Command Seals, and uses one to override that will, ordering him to team up with Berserker to eliminate Saber.  In the ensuing one-on-one (after Lancer apologizes to Saber), Kiritsugu and Maiya have their weapons trained on Archie and Assassin, respectively.

Their careful work is ruined, however, by Rider (again), jumping between Saber and Lancer and driving Berserker into the ground, forcing him to retreat, then telling Archie to order Lancer’s retreat as well. Rider has decided that no one is going to die tonight, and nobody challenges him.

I have no doubt that Saber would have gladly fought Berserker and Lancer at once, bad hand and all. But she’s clearly grateful to Rider for his intervention this time. The primary reason for that is Irisviel: if Saber falls here, she’ll be on her own, surrounded by enemies. Rider also decides to stay out of Saber and Lancer’s fight from now own; he’ll face whoever prevails.

That’s fine with Saber; she can’t fight anyone else at 100% until she defeats Lancer and lifts the curse on her hand. It’s just as well that Berserker withdrew when he did, as a longer confrontation might have killed Matou, who vomits blood and worms in a dark alley, but remains as committed as ever to protecting Sakura by winning the war.

What of Uryuu and Caster, the only Servant who wasn’t on the field? Bluebeard observed everything from a crystal ball, and has taken a particular—and worrying—interest in Saber.

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