Fate/Apocrypha Part 1 (Episodes 1-12) (Cert 15)
2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 285 minutes approx.
It is very likely that the arrival of this particular title will engender one of two reactions from the anime fandom – either “Yay! Another Fate release” or “Huh? Another Fate release?”. Already a sprawling franchise beginning with the visual novel series Fate/Stay Night created by Type Moon, Fate/Apocrypha is the latest spin-off of many to feature fantasy clashes over the fabled Holy Grail.
Set in a parallel world to the original story, the Holy Grail is once again up for grabs but this time under completely different circumstances. This mystical wish-granting prize was found during the Third Holy Grail War by the Yggdmillenia family of magi and taken back to their native Romania. An opposing faction known as Clock Tower have formed a team to wrest the Holy Grail from the Yggdmillenia in a seven vs. seven battle.
The Yggdmillenia family are labelled the Black Faction whilst the Clock Tower are the Red Faction, featuring seven Masters per team, each with a Servant representing a specific role of warrior – i.e. a Sabre, Assassin, Archer, Rider, Berzerker, Lancer and Caster. To ensure the battles are fair, the Holy Grail has appointed a mediator referred to as Ruler, in reality, the spirit of Jeanne d’Arc possessing the body of a French teenager.
Despite the subversion of the characters and the twist on the reason for this latest epic battle, Fate/Apocrypha still delivers pretty much more of the same as its predecessors, though one crucial difference is the absence of a defined line between antagonist and protagonist. One would assume the Red Faction is the latter in lieu of the Yggdmillenia family having the Black label bestowed upon them and the fact they stole the Holy Grail in the first place.
But, with everything changing, the Clock Tower seems just as shadowy in their quest to claim the grail for themselves, and with no reason given for this, they are just as untrustworthy. The benefit of this means the victor of this battle is therefore not so easy to predict if there is no clear “evil” for ”good” to overcome, but with nobody to root for, who can the audience invest in?
Another adaptation from a light novel by Yūichirō Higashide and Ototsugu Konoe, this dilemma is only part of its drawbacks, another major one being the extensive cast list to keep track of. This consists of 14 masters, 14 servants plus the odd peripheral figure popping up in flashbacks and in the main story, and not enough time to flesh them all out and in some cases, even give them a proper introduction.
You’ll have noticed from earlier that the Servants have two references – one being their “true name” the other their rank if you will. So, unlike the original series where Sabre and Archer were the characters names, here Sabre Red is actually Mordred, Sabre Black is Siegfried and so on. Once again drawing on European history for its names, the line up also includes William Shakespeare (Caster Red), Achilles (Rider Red), Jack The Ripper (Assassin Black), Frankenstein’s Monster (Berserker Black), a centaur named Chiron (Archer Black), and Lad Tapes III aka Dracula (Lance Black).
Gender is also distorted – which may or may not be seen as progressive or timely given the current social phenomena of gender identity – which is another carry over from the original Sabre being a female King Arthur. In this case, Jack The Ripper is a little girl (in obscenely skimpy battle gear for her age), Mordred is a Sabre look-a-like (also resembling Ruler making things even harder for the audience), and Frankenstein’s Monster is a female with a metal horn sticking out of her forehead.
Fight mediator Ruler is not the only impartial character either – a homunculus boy who adopts the name Sieg after Siegfried caught up in this mess too. One of many homunculi created by the Yggdmillenia family to serve as expendable foot soldiers, Sieg somehow develops his own conscience and escapes the facility, befriended by Rider Black, Astolfo, a girl (or boy I’m not sure) in a kinky relationship that puts the S&M into Servant and Master.
One unchanged facet is the reward for possessing the Grail, which is to grant any wish the victor requests, but so far, the desires of most of the participants haven’t been expressed yet. Wheelchair bound Fiore Forvedge Yggdmillennia yearns to walk again, whilst Siegfried wants to do something good for someone else, and Frankenstein’s Monster wants a male companion like her, otherwise we can only presume the others are fighting to facilitate their Master’s whim of world domination.
With so many characters to follow, relationships to figure out and battles to sit through, it is barely any wonder that the actual story has yet to surface in any meaningful way by the halfway mark. For that reason, even the most devoted Fate fan will be struggling to invest in this series if the first few aimless episodes don’t hook them in. Something resembling story progression bubbles below the surface during the latter half of this collection but thus far feels uninspired.
Something that will stand out for the Fate faithful is the visuals. With some of the previous series being handled by Ufotable who did an incredible job, the bar has been set far too high for A-1 Pictures to compete and this show just looks ordinary in comparison. That isn’t to say it is bad, rather we have been spoiled by Ufotable’s lavish presentations.
After a confusing, very busy but underwhelming first half, Fate/Apocrypha is leaving it all to play for in the second instalment in straightening out the story, defining the characters a lot more and upping the stakes of the battles. Even with the few twists that have already occurred and the dramatic fatalities, it is hard to get into this series though it’s not the worst offering of the franchise. Yet.
English Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black