Fate/Grand Order: First Order (Cert 12)
1 Disc DVD / Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 69 minutes approx.
The Fate/Stay Night franchise has been popular for almost 15 years, from its humble origins as a visual novel series to a globally successful anime juggernaut. With the latter arguably the most effective gateway into this sprawling fantasy saga, another instalment arrives on our shores in the form of this feature length outing.
Set in 2015 – or “the future” per the script – it has been discovered that humanity will no longer exist past 2016, despite the efforts of the Chaldea Security Organization securing another century of human existence through the use of sorcery. Research has pinpointed an event in 2004 as the cause for mankind’s extinction, so a time travel procedure called Rayshift has been developed to send people back in time to prevent this incident from occurring.
With training about to begin for this mission named Grand Order, the CSO compound is suddenly hit by a power failure and causes the self-destruction of the premises. Trapped inside are Ritsuka Fujimaru, a young lad signed up to the Rayshift programme, Mash Kyrielight, a taciturn girl with low self-esteem, haughty CSO director and mage Olga Marie Animusphere, and a small squirrel like creature called Fou.
As the situation reaches critical level, the computer system suddenly begins the Rayshift operation on its own accord and instigates the Grand Order. Ritsuka passes out then awakens in Fuyuki City in 2004, finding himself right in the middle of a battle between two burly individuals sporting dangerous magic-infused weapons. Yes – the event that ended humanity is the fifth Holy Grail War!
It seems when a franchise has run long enough and covered as many bases as possible with this forward progression storylines that the next step is to go back in time. In this instance, Fate/Grand Order isn’t a prequel so it does the next best thing and integrates a new set of characters with the old through the sci-fi staple of time travel to present an alternate account on a story we all know so well.
But this presents us with a glaring plot hole, that this story starts in 2015 yet they’ve discovered humanity will die in a year’s time thanks to an event a decade earlier which should have wiped them too! How can mankind become extinct twice in 12 years? Either everyone was killed or they weren’t? It is not made clear if these people are a separate race or were not on Earth in 2004 so who are they exactly? If the original game explains this, the anime certainly doesn’t.
One liberty not taken is there is no encroachment on the events of the Fate/Stay Night narrative beyond a few recognisable faces of the Servants; in other words, there is no Shirou, Rin or any of the Masters, and the battles depicted here are separate from the ones already documented. Plus, there is a huge change in the Servants’ personalities as they were somehow corrupted by some “dark mud” and the “good guys” are now “bad guys”.
You might be thinking “The what now?” and you have good reason to. The script is vey disjointed and reeks of ideas being thrown against the wall and the ones that stuck being used, with the saga’s place within the fantasy milieu being sufficient justification for the unexplainable. For a film that spends the first 20 minutes of its brisk 70-minute run time bombarding us with exposition, the second half becomes very lazy on the that front, to the point of being dismissive.
An example of this is when Caster arrives on the scene to save the time travellers from an attack by Medusa, explaining that “for certain reasons she is my enemy”. Those reason are? He doesn’t say, so if this is the first time someone is watching a Fate/ anime then they will be left baffled by this, while the initiated will be able to surmise that the rules of the Holy Grail War made them adversaries.
Other returning faces albeit with a change in demeanour to feature in this adjunct are Archer and of course, Sabre, the latter’s contribution kept to a minimum compared to the others, which won’t please her loyal fans. In a twist to compensate for this, when Mash wakes up in 2004 she is a lot different, now wielding her own weapon in the form of a indestructible shield, and a latent Noble Phantasm power (oh, and skimpy battle outfit because anime).
Suddenly the mousey girl who never gives her name because she feel’s too unimportant for people to care about her is now a kick-ass Servant with milquetoast Ritsuka as her Master, which is explained but never developed. Whilst it is good to see Mash get a personality makeover, Ritsuka is still a blank slate cipher and forgettable as they come, making his addition to the Fate/ diegesis wasteful; even Fou has more charisma that Ritsuka does.
The production this time around is handled by Lay-duce who have big shoes to fill in following the stunning work of Unfotable and Studio Deen. To their credit, Lay-duce have stuck quite faithfully to the general aesthetic and detailed artwork of their predecessors, along with fluid animation incorporating seamlessly blended CGI to make the impactful battle scenes duly spectacular.
Running just 70-minutes means the story is rushed and many key details are overlooked or not expanded upon to answer all of the niggling questions the viewer will have satisfactorily. The concept is definitely promising enough and the actual mechanics of the time travel procedure is given a fresh twist, but sadly the maths don’t add up when it comes to the paradoxes of altering history.
It isn’t recommended for anyone to pick Fate/Grand Order: First Order as a jumping on point if this title is new to you. Only long-term fans need apply and even then, this film is riddled with too many flaws to be considered a substantial entry into the Fate/ canon. Visually stunning but conceptually confused.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
English Cast Interview
Rating – ***
Man In Black