Fate/Zero Part 1 (Episodes 1-13)(Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 308 minutes approx.
As is often the case when a franchise gets so far into its lifespan the only way forward is to go back in time and that is the premise for this latest chapter in the saga of the Masters and Servants embroiled in the Holy Grail Wars we were first introduced to under the Fate/Stay Night umbrella.
Fate/Zero, as the title suggests, is a prequel to the series we all know and love, last seen in the spin-off Unlimited Blade Works which crammed material from the original TV series along with an alternate detour for the finale into one unsatisfying feature length film.
The story in this two part series pre-dates the events of Fate/Stay Night by ten years, set around the Fourth Holy War and while it features a number of different cast members from the previous shows it definitively sets the scene for what is to come, while exploring the history of the servants and the mythos of the show in a little more depth.
In an unusual move the opening episode is a 45 minute info dump that redefines the term “dull”, with characters largely standing around and talking in low key voices about their goals for the Holy Grail, with the odd bit of back story for their motivations thrown in for good measure. It is not until the dying minutes of the episode that something actually happens when the Servants are finally summoned and then we are off.
The key players are Kiritsugu Emiya and his wife, Irisviel von Einzbern – whose daughter Ilyasviel as a major name in the later series – who summon Saber (aka King Arthur); priest Kirei Kotomine who joins forces with Assassin (Hassan-i Sabbah); student Waver Velvet who commands Rider (Alexander the Great); Tokiomi Tosaka (father of fan favourite Rin who gets her own filler episode) and his Servant Archer (Gilgamesh) and serial killer Ryūnosuke Uryū who meets a kindred spirit in the unhinged Caster (Bluebeard). Lancer and Berserker both feature too although their masters are subject to an early mystery so I shall honour that for the time being.
Keen eyed readers among you will have noticed that while many of the Servant names are the same their alter egos have changed, some significantly. In Fate/Stay Night, Rider, Assassin and Caster were all female; here Rider is a mountain of a man who provides many comic moments with his hapless master Waver while Caster is a large swivel eyes masochist who does very unpleasant and gruesomely violent thing to young children which will assuredly upset some viewers.
Assassin’s new form is intriguing as it is not just one man but multiple manifestations of the famous Persian martyr. The returning faces have been given a slight make over too, with some tweaks to their designs but remain recognisable enough for returning viewers. The only exception is Berserker who is no longer a barbarian but a sinister swordsman clad in black robot-esque armour with a single red light for an eye and an ominous dark mist surrounding him.
After the wafflefest of the opening episode things soon pick up with the arrival of Caster and his disturbing acts of infanticide which draws attention to the supposedly secret activities of the Holy Grail War – a somewhat spurious development when you consider many landscapes are destroyed, blood is spilled and in one instance, a hotel blown up!
Despite the battle royale conceit of this conflict uneasy alliances are formed to counter the acts of Caster and other Servants who step out of line (if such a thing is possible). Saber is once again front and centre of the action, benefiting from acts of chivalry from Lancer in between fights of their own; this is a recurring theme- Servants clashing with each other only to be disturbed, uniting with their foe then resuming their battle later on.
We are fortunate enough to be blessed with a fairly healthy dose of action in these first twelve episodes once the opener is out of the way, pausing for the aforementioned one off involving young Rin (which is a creepy little aside in its own right), although things do slow down for the occasional summit between the Servants to discuss their intentions should they obtain the Holy Grail. One such instance takes up almost an entire episode but thankfully the villainous Assassin(s) arrives to break up the boredom and it’s go time once again.
Having overseen the previous incarnations of the Fate/ franchise, animation studio Unfotable return to continue the saga, this time utilising the upgraded technology as witnessed on the Unlimited Blade Works film. The animation is fluid and blends 2D and CG to great effect given the shows fantasy bent, while the artwork is suffused with bold colours and detailed backgrounds.
This review is based on the DVD but I’m sure the visuals will look spectacular on the Blu-ray. The only real snag with this being a prequel is that it suffers from the same problem as the Star Wars prequels – the improved designs and rendering of the characters in this story set in the past make their predecessors of older series set in the future look inferior and dated.
In Fate/Zero we have one of those instances of a show that can easily accommodate fans of different levels of knowledge of the saga. A newcomer could quite plausibly start with this release without prior knowledge of the Fate/ milieu since much of the groundwork is laid here, while long term fans can enjoy this through not only discovering the basis of the material and characters they are familiar with, but also will recognise the odd nod towards what is to come.
Definitely darker while a little too verbose for its own good, there is plenty here to satiate fans old and new with this good looking action packed first volume.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Ratings – *** ½
Man In Black