Title: Fate/Zero
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: ufotable
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 1 Oct 2011 – 24 Oct 2011 and 7 Apr 2012 – 23 Jun 2012

Synopsis: Every sixty years, a war is fought in secret between mages who each covet a prize that will grant them a wish. This is the Holy Grail War, and each of the seven participants are given three command spells and a Servant, the incarnation of a heroic spirit from a different era, to do their bidding. Emiya Kiritsugu of the Einzbern clan is preparing to fight in the 4th Holy Grail War. An idealistic man and a veteran assassin of mages, Kiritsugu has summoned the strongest Servant, Saber, and believes he has a very good chance of success. There is one opponent, though, that he particularly fears: the ruthless Executor, Kotomine Kirie.

The Highlights
Aesthetics: ufotable’s meticulous animation and Kajiura Yuki’s atmospheric soundtrack gives this the serious mood it requires.
Characters: Logical and capable, which makes for a stark contrast to Fate/Stay Night.
Main characters: Kiritsugu and Saber are difficult to sympathize with; the story obscures their humanity.
Plot: Urobuchi Gen’s script is dark and often disturbing, but sometimes gets exhausting.

Prior to ufotable’s adaptation of Nasu Kinoki’s Kara no Kyoukai light novels, anime based on Type Moon works have been divisive, to say the least. In some past cases I think Type Moon’s most ardent fans have been needlessly precious, but when it comes to Studio Deen’s misdirected Fate/Stay Night anime, I’ve tended to side with its harshest critics. So when news emerged that the prequel story penned by Urobuchi Gen (who also wrote Madoka Magica and Saya no Uta) would be animated by ufotable, I was relieved. That was justified, since Fate/Zero’s aesthetics are impeccable. Thinking back to just a decade ago, I’m speechless that this is the level of animation that we can be treated to by a TV series.

The masterfully animated dark visuals along with Kajiura Yuki’s tense, atmospheric soundtrack feed into the meticulous feel of the anime. There is so much attention to detail with the world setting that was sorely lacking from Fate/Stay Night. Fate/Zero’s world feels complete, and the machinations of the various factions and parties are more intriguing and weighty because of it. Many of the early events in particular feel like part of an overarching chess game, as pieces are sacrificed in order to achieve a bigger goal. The characters are given the same respect, particularly in regards to their motivations, and in some cases important characters are subjected to deep psychoanalysis. This means that, when we learn why Kariya intensely despises Tokiomi, or why Kiritsugu and Kirie so naturally form a rivalry lined with respectful fear, the reasons make sense straight away.

As atmospheric, serious and meticulous as Fate/Zero is, this “respect” is part of its undoing, and why I don’t consider it as great as Kara no Kyoukai. Fate/Zero’s cast is filled with smart, logical people who need to move carefully to survive, but in some important cases the show is so overly reverent of its characters that it obscures their humanity. This is particularly true of the two lead characters, Kiritsugu and Saber. Kiritsugu rarely shows emotion, and when he does, it feels strange and artificial (except in one scene near the end of the show). He gets a two-episode backstory in the second half of the series that served only to alienate me further. Saber is also overly stoic and single-minded; her relationship with Kiritsugu comprises part of the show’s theme about the gap in ideology between the various Master-Servant partnerships, and how this creates tension, but the connection between the two partners is never strong. Saber has a more interesting relationship with Irisviel, who, in my more confrontational moments, I like to argue should have been this show’s main character.

The other problem with Fate/Zero stems from Urobuchi’s writing. If you’ve experienced an Urobuchi work before, you know what to expect: numerous dark, disturbing moments designed to rip your soul out. It’s powerful stuff, but when it keeps happening over and over, you get to the point where the sensation is deadened, and you can no longer bring yourself to react. What keeps it from getting completely stale is that Kirie is such a magnificent antagonist. Unlike Kiritsugu, who is a mostly static character, Kirie goes through an amazing change and becomes more fascinating as he becomes more malevolent. His philosophy, his reaction to his father and the way he is manipulated by one of the Servants all allow him to become the presence needed to drive the most interesting part of Fate/Zero’s story.

For the most part Fate/Zero is an impressively well executed anime with a level of technical polish shared by only very few other TV series. It’s atmospheric and meticulous, and mature in a way that Fate/Stay Night never was. It has few flaws, but they unfortunately crop up in important places. A more compelling lead pair could have propelled this into greatness. But a fascinating nemesis on top of its aesthetic sheen still makes this recommended viewing.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun