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.

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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.

Fate / Zero – 13

Caster and Uryuu finally return to their lair (where did they go?) to find all their “artwork” has been burned by Rider, an proceed to have a long conversation about the ephemeral nature of their work and Uryuu’s belief in a god who is eagerly watching and cheering humans on as they find new depths of depravity in witch to toil.

Of all the dialogue between Servants and Masters, it should come as no surprise I find Caster and Uryuu’s the most tiresome and least compelling. I mean, both are sociopaths and homicidal maniacs with incredibly twisted views of the world, and have never once demonstrated any hope of redemption.

As far as I’m concerned, they can’t be knocked off soon enough, because they are guilty of the worst sin of all: boring me. Rider and Waver are far more interesting to watch, both because neither are crazy monsters and they’re not basically the same person.

But after his demonstration of power in the Reality Marble, Waver’s confidence has hit a new low. Waver doesn’t believe himself worthy of being Rider’s Master, and while it’s hard for Rider’s attempts to console him to not sound patronizing, he perseveres, telling Waver to have more faith in his ability. After all, stolen relic or not, he would not have been chosen by the grail if he wasn’t worthy.

As Caster, encouraged by Uryuu to do something big and flashy for God, strides out into the river to perform some big, flashy spell, Sola-Ui and Lancer, Iri and Saber, and Waver and Rider all sense it, and head to Caster’s location.

Sola-Ui wants to stand by the Servant she’s fallen for, but Lancer urges her to keep her distance in this case, while it remains to be seen if Iri recovered from her weakness sufficiently to participate in the imminent battle.

And what a battle it should turn out to be: Caster ends up summoning a colossal eldritch creature from the deep to ravage Fuyuki. It’s the kind of foe no single Servant will be able to handle, so Rider, Saber, and Lancer agree to a truce and temporary alliance to take out Caster once and for all.

The absence of Kariya/Berserker and Tokiomi/Kirei/Archer at the outset of this battle leads me to believed one or all of them will get involved or otherwise take advantage of the fact three of their opposing pairs are busy fighting Caster and his monster off. It will also be interesting to see if, when, and which Master Kirei will attempt to steal in order to fulfill the Grail’s desire to make him a Servant anew.

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 – 02

“OMG I LOVE MAPS!”

This first normal-length episode Fate/Zero leaves out a few faces so it can spend more time with others, starting with the first meeting between Waiver Velvet and his Servant, Iskandar (AKA Alexander).

The contrast in personalities is wonderful, as Iskander immediately pooh-poohs Waiver’s “small” goal to get people to treat him fairly and take him seriously despite not being from a grand old family.

Alexander, meanwhile, wants to re-conquer the world as soon as possible. That means winning the Holy Grail War first, so at least he’s motivated. He also enjoys reading atlases, as I do.

Illyasviel von Einzbern : Good Anime Kid

We return to The North, where Kiritsugu is enjoying his last hours with his young daughter Illyasviel, hunting for Chestnut buds. Saber watches from inside and can’t help but think she must’ve offended her Master in some way for his demeanor to be so different than it is with Ilya.

Iri, however, chalks it up to Kiritsugu and Arturia “never being able to see eye-to-eye”…because…she’s shorter than him? Both he and Iri expected a male King Arthur, after all; for the King of Kings to appear as young woman was a shock. But perhaps that’ll wear off and they’ll establish a rapport, in time.

You got KRAKEN’D

Meanwhile, in an episode where Sakura’s tormentor Zoukan is mercifully absent, we meet a new contender for Worst Guy in Zero: Uryuu Ryuunosuke, a serial killer who “prefers little boys and girls”, and has been using their blood to paint magical circles.

His grisly rituals end up ‘accidentally’ summoning Caster, who calls himself “bluebeard” after pretending to free one of Uryuu’s captives, only to jump him in the genkan with eldritch tentacles, teaching his new Master a lesson about the ‘dynamism’ of terror; Uryuu blushes with glee at his new Servant. Wonderful.

“There’s no such thing as TOO much hair gel.”

The last Master featured in this episode is Kirei, who I thought would be a little more discrete in his alliance with Toosaka Tokiomi, but wastes absolutely no time sending his Servant Assassin on an extremely ill-advised mission to eliminate Tokiomi.

I loved his ‘shrug, don’t worry about it’ when Assassin asked Kirei if he’s sure he wants to do this. Assassin shows off some moves in taking out and dodging various magical security devices, but before he gets near the house, he’s run through by a number of weapons belonging to none other than Gilgamesh, Tokiomi’s Servant, for whom Assassin was never anything other than a bug, squashed and left to die face down on the ground.

I had nothing against Assassin, but his quick exit was an unexpected surprise, to the point I wonder if he’s actually gone. As for Caster, he’s a sadistic dick but I still like him better than Uryuu, who looks to be another wild card. They’re both pretty grating, though.