From the very first minutes of its premiere, Fate/Zero grabbed my attention. No, that’s not correct. I’d be lying if I denied being hyped for this way before it started airing. However, it still managed to surpass my expectations with that double-sized first episode that not only sported movie-like animation quality, but also managed to make exposition exciting rather than boring. In sum, once it got my attention, it never let go. 9 episodes in, and I had already finished the light novels, which became one of my favorite books to date and took the anticipation for what was about to come in animated form even further.
Being a prequel to Fate/Stay Night, it shares its premise of the Holy Grail War – a battle royale between seven magi, who each summons a Servant – a Heroic Sprit that’s essentially the embodiment of a legend from another age – in order to obtain the Holy Grail, a wish-granting instrument capable of realizing miracles. It’s a rather simple premise, but it is one with a great potential, for it can develop in really any way you can imagine.
While the premise isn’t new, the execution is top notch, its presentation exceeding most of what we’ve seen in the latest years. With the jaw-dropping action scenes and overall excellent animation (it did have its not-so-good moments, but in a whole it was simply amazing), ufotable have outdone themselves, delivering a visual quality hardly ever seen in a TV series.
But Fate/Zero isn’t all about action. In fact, the action frequently takes a backseat, reminding us what this series is all about – the characters and their pursuit and struggle for their ideals and innermost wishes. In this 4th Holy Grail War, instead of teenagers who were unwillingly dragged into it (mostly), we have mature adults who each have their reasons to fight and wishes they’d give their life for. Adding to that the Servants and some other relevant characters, we have a great and varied cast to explore. And does the series succeed in doing so? I believe it does. A bigger cast often means less time available for each character to be presented and developed. I won’t say Fate/Zero completely surpassed this problem, since time was, in fact, a real issue, and this is the one and only reason I find the novels slightly better. However, it did manage to create believable characters and show us a bit of each point of view. But most of all, their characterization was great, to the point that even if we didn’t get much time to sympathize with some of the characters themselves, we got to understand what drove their actions.
And here is where one of the biggest strengths in Fate/Zero lies. Through each character’s mindset, we’re presented one different mindset, one different way of life. The focus on this contrast and on the arguments about what one should pursue and the right way to do it makes this series an engaging and thought-provoking one like not many others can boast of. It’s ultimately a story of pursuing one’s ideals, and screwing one’s own life for blindly doing so. But the questions it raises along the way are nowhere near discreditable, as it presses the viewers’ to analyze the characters’ views on life and trying to realize their own, since neither of the mindsets portrayed are presented as being the correct one. That lack of a pure white, each character having its good and bad traits and its moments of morally questionable decisions, pulls this series away from the dichotomous division we’ve grown so accustomed to. That’s also something to be taken into account, since it makes the characters, those we end up liking and those we don’t, feel more human and more believable.
The soundtrack, which plays a big part in the spectators’ immersion, always stroke the right notes, managing to be ever-present and elevating the emotional impact. However, it managed to do so without feeling forced, which is a big plus on my books, seeing as there are series in which it feels so manipulative you could cry on the music alone. It is, in fact, missing a song that most people wanted, but that point alone doesn’t detract it from being an excellent musical score, which is complimented by both likable OPs and EDs, which fit the theme and mood of the series in their particular moments.
Fate/Zero is a series that can be brutal and heartwrenching to watch, for at its core lies tragedy and despair. Despite all that, or should I say, because of all that, it managed to be both intellectually and emotionally compelling. It’s a healthy mix between realism and fantasy, honorable heroes from other age and ruthless man from the modern world who’ll stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Of course that inside these two generalized divides, there are great differences as well and with this varied a cast, there’s bound to be something for everyone.
As a prequel to Fate/Stay Night, it had its fated shortcomings, such as the fact that most viewers already knew its ending, or that the ending couldn’t be as conclusive and wrap every plot point. However, due to its impressive writing, the knowledge of how it ended became anticipation to see how it would get there, and the finale was conclusive enough to get a nearly perfect closure on the characters and the outcome of the 4th Holy Grail, if nothing else, resulting in a satisfying conclusion which still put many of the half-assed endings we see to shame. With this in mind, Fate/Zero is a prequel to Fate/Stay Night, which means it’s better appreciated with knowledge of its continuation, but still manages to stand on its own as a great narrative I will not forget in a long, long time.
Mimi’s Score: 10 Meeps out of 10 (Masterpiece)Note 1: I’d like to wait for the 2nd half Blu-Rays to rate this, to be able to properly choose between a 9.5 and a 10, since I really missed some scenes from the novels, but I’ll give it my good-faith for now.
Note 2: Mimi, you’re free to add your impressions if you do so desire.