Fate/Zero out of Ten
How do you like that pun? Did it make you cringe? Maybe shake your head in disgust? Good. Now you know how I felt watching this.
You might be asking why I’m doing a review of a show that is already around seven years old. Well, recently morbid curiosity got the better of me and I figured that while Fate is bad, could it really be that bad? After all, if you look at the critical reception, it sounds positively brilliant. No less a reviewer than Jacob Horseman of ANN fame wrote that Fate/Zero is “a treasure worth unearthing to its end” and has an “ambitious, brilliant, heartbreaking and masterfully crafted narrative, complex characters with powerful ideals, visually stunning, gorgeous score and strong cast in both languages.” Or look at Richard Eisenbeis from Kotaku, who said that “Fate/Zero is an excellent anime. It has dynamic, multifaceted characters, explores great philosophies and themes, and tops it off with large helpings of action. It also has the will to go deep into dark, psychological territory to improve both its characters and story.”
If there is anything you take away from this at all, let it be that If a journalist says something is one way, it will inevitably turn out to be the other way and that they should never be listened to. Or just follow Sam Hyde’s advice regarding this profession.
Fate/Zero is a prequel to the bafflingly beloved Fate/stay night series. The premise is quite simple: Three magical families created the Holy Grail, a wish-granting device, but were too stupid to figure out that they could take turns using it, so they started a series of magical wars over who gets to have the miraculous piece of bling. In these “Grail Wars”, seven people referred to as Masters summon Servants, historical figures with supernatural powers to fight on their behalf. Seemingly the Grail chooses the masters, but it seems one can also offer to be a canidate and some are completely sure they will be Masters before their Command Spells – a magical symbol on the right hand – designate them as such. It’s never really explained. This is sort of a running theme, because this series assumes you have watched the original Fate and already know all this shit. Well, I didn’t, so I’m not going to call these things plotholes and will in fact be overly generous by assuming that all these questions are answered in the original, even though many probably aren’t. Don’t worry though, there are still a ton of things that make zero (Ha!) sense regardless.
Autism has become an epidemic.
Our protagonist is Kiritsugu Emiya, a freelance hitman known as the “Magus Killer” who married into the Einzbern family nine years ago and became the father of Illyasviel, the loli with her own magical girl spinoff all the Fate fans keep masturbating over (often literally). His servant is Saber, the female King Arthur this series revolves around. Despite this, they never really interact with each other, which the series tries to portray as being the result of their incompatible worldview – Saber is all about knightly ideals while this guy is the ultimate pragmatist, which is why that mage family accepted him in the first place. I suspect however that the only reason they don’t really talk to each other is that the writers have no idea how to convey a conversation about the subject. Not that I blame them too much, because the original writer of the Light Novel is fucking Gen Urobuchi, so it’s not like there was any hope for good writing to begin with. I’ll return to the subject of the protagonist soon, because he is a complete and utter mess, but first I’ll touch on the other Masters and their Servants.
Kirei Kotomine is a priest, the Master of Assassin and… he’s bad. By that I don’t mean he’s a bad person, although he absolutely is, but rather that he is probably the second-worst written character in this series. KK here is an emotionless shell of a man secretly working together with the Master of Archer in a conspiracy that ultimately accomplishes dick all, just like Assassin does. He is obsessed with the main character because he thinks they are alike (which the series tries to convince us is not true, but…) and eventually comes to the conclusion that he isn’t emotionless at all but simply gets off on seeing people suffer. In yet another similarity, he’s also the biggest Gary Stu next to the main character. KK is so ridiculously overpowered that one wonders why he even bothered with having a Servant in the first place and didn’t just solo all the other assholes himself. He also turns the premise of fighting magic users pragmatically by employing modern weapons on it’s ear by being selectively bulletproof. He dodges bullets and of course deflects them with his knives in typical anime fashion, but during several instances he just blocks them by simply holding up his arms. At the end he dies and gets revived as if he’s evil Jesus.
Tokiomi Tohsaka is the Master of Archer and head of one of the three mage families. Somehow, despite being ostensibly smart, he couldn’t figure out that the aforementioned emotionless asshole with completely empty eyes who displays all the signs of being a psychopath might not be the best guy to ally with. KK stabs him in the back, literally. Of course he prattles on about always being cool and in control throughout the series, right up until his untimely demise. A major component of the writing are twists that are about as unpredictable as a sunrise. When the main character’s gal-pal had a heart to heart with his wife where the latter talked to her about her life not being worthless and what she wants to do after the Grail War, I half expected a line about her being two days away from retirement. She dies literal seconds after this discussion, by the way.
Archer deserves some special mention here, because he is Gilgamesh, one of the sole bright spots in this series. Watching him dunk on people either verbally or physically is always a delight. It’s especially great whenever he is trolling Saber. Why he’d want to marry that bitch is anyone’s guess, though.
Speaking of the few positives, there’s Rider aka. Alexander and his Master. Practically every scene with him is wonderful and I wish the series would have just been “The Wonderful Adventures of Gilgamesh and Alexander (and his sidekick)” instead. He has some decently cool moments and is especially notable for completely destroying Saber with words alone (and some additional pot-shots by Gilgamesh). His Master is an insecure boy who learns to be more confident because of him. It’s not much, but by Fate standards it’s practically Shakespeare.
Alright, back to the garbage. Next we have Lancer and his Master Archibald (and Archibald’s wife). The overarching theme with these three is cuckoldry. I’m only being somewhat facetious here. Lancer is Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, famous for cucking his liege. Because of this he wants to have the opportunity to display his loyalty and valor, but gets cucked out of honorably fighting Saber because Archibald gets tricked into magically forcing him to kill himself. Archibald himself gets cucked out of ever using magic again by the main character’s Gary Stu bullets of bullshit and also cucked out of being Lancer’s Master by his own wife who breaks his fingers for the Command Seals, then cucked on top of that because said wife has the hots for Lancer. She gets cucked by Lancer because he has no interest in her, then gets kidnapped and dies. I should mention her character comes off like it was written collectively by r/incels, because holy shit this bitch reaches new levels of thottery. She tortures her own husband just so she can better thirst after Lancer, after all.
Then we have Berserker, a knight in all-black armor who can turn nearly anything into his weapon and communicates soley by autistic screeching, though arguably that’s how nearly everyone in this series expresses themselves. He has very little screentime and turns out to be Lancelot, who fights Saber at the end of the series and gets defeated. How he gets defeated I have no idea because we aren’t shown that. All the pointless faffing about in previous episodes was more important, I suppose. Either that or the animation budget ran out. His Master is the unwilling heir of one of the three magic families, the Matos. They use insects in their magic for whatever reason and are run by an immortal pedophile whose body is made out of worms. This is going to lengthen the review even more, but I am going to explain Kariya’s (the Master) backstory because it has to be seen to be believed.
Caption: If you stop reading, I don’t blame you.
Long story short, Tokiomi Tohsaka had two daughters, Rin and Sakura. However, only one can inherit the family magic because reasons. Therefore, because Grandpa Mato didn’t have a Heir (Kariya refused), he asked for Sakura. Tokiomi, fully aware of what this entails, gives her to him because like many of the people in this series he is an inhuman monster (metaphorically, in his case). This is where we get to the infamous rape worms. You see, Grandpa Mato took little Sakura and tossed her into a basement full of penis-shaped worms (seriously, their original design was actually indistinguishable from a penis) that feast on her magical energy for days on end. And yes, they do this by invading the exact orifices you are thinking of. The first episode shows this in as much detail as a non-hentai can get away with, which is why I considered quitting right then and there. Anyway, it seems her mother is unaware of this, but Kariya isn’t and is understandably displeased. It should be mentioned he is in love with Sakura’s mother, and he wants them all to be able to go back and play in the park like they used to. So he proposes that if he wins the Grail for evil Grandpa that Sakura is let go, to which the guy agrees. Since Kariya is too weak magically though, Grandpa implants evil maggot-like insects in him to increase his magic mojo. This also disfigures and cripples him and gives him only days to live as the grail war starts. Ultimately, Kirei the evil Gary Stu trolls him by tricking him into coming to a church where he propped up Tokiomi’s corpse and then called his wife there, thereby convincing her that Kariya killed him. Unable to endure the insults and accusations from the one person (aside from Sakura and Rin) he went though all this pain for, he goes completely insane and strangles her. We then see Kirei and Gilgamesh (whose Master he became after killing Tokiomi) watch the whole scene. Kirei gets off on it, while Gilgamesh has a line that perfectly summarizes my opinion on this whole plotline and Urobuchi’s writing in general.
Took the words right out of my mouth.
Fittingly, we at last come to the most Urobuchi-like duo aside from the main character and the priest, Caster and the serial killer who summoned him. They aren’t actually interested in the Grail at all, instead they go around killing children in increasingly stupid ways. Despite this, the series spends a ludicrous amount of time on them, even giving Rin her own episode where she frees some children from them, narratively accomplishing absolutely nothing. Caster is actually Gilles de Rais, gone completely bananas and imagining that Saber is actually Jeanne d’Arc (I blame the omnipresent Saberface). He can summon lovecraftian starfish and despite the fact that the Church declared him a threat and offered an additional Command Spell to whoever takes these two out, nobody seriously goes after them. Not even because they’d have to kill them anyway. Plus they make absolutely no effort to conceal themselves, to the point a literal child (Rin) was able to find them. Because of this, Caster ends up enacting a ritual that creates an infinitely regenerating super-squid that could destroy the world. Naturally, the combined might of several Servants doesn’t do dick against it until Saber unleashes Excalibur and kills it in a single hit. Before that, everyone struggled mightily despite the fact that Alexander has a power that is literally off the scale and Lancer having a spear that can inflict wounds which do not heal, something everyone conveniently forgets about as he just stands there on the sidelines like an idiot.
This is the final boss of the first season.
I have put this off long enough, let us talk about our main character.
Emiya is almost kind of fascinating to watch as there is this constant contradiction between what we are told about him and how he acts. He comes equipped with a backstory so incredibly edgy and melodramatic it would make Coldsteel blush and a reputation for being the most badass mage killer ever and the ultimate pragmatist. As it turns out though, the reason he kills people for a living is because he is such a wonderfully pure and righteous person that any human death is horribly upsetting to him and he wants the grail to find a way to save the world. (You figure that one out.) So the edgy badass mercenary has the worldview of an especially naive and possibly brain-damaged child. This could make for a somewhat functional minor villain, but not a protagonist we are supposed to sympathize with. As a bonus, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be so pragmatic, he doesn’t live up to it at all. “Maybe I should put a bullet in the head of the mage that wants to kill me before he can cast a spell” isn’t pragmatism, it’s common sense. Blowing up an entire building in the middle of the city to kill one mage when mages can protect themselves from attacks they can see coming is just overindulgent and reckless (and since he’s been killing them for a while he ought to know they can do that). My favorite example though is when he shoots the mage in question with his special anti-magic bullet made from his ribs (don’t ask), then when he hits and the guy has a magical seizure and bleeds heavily, he just stands there like an asshole instead of putting a few more dozen (mundane) bullets into his skull, thereby allowing his Servant to rescue the guy.
At the end of the series, Emiya and KK battle to decide who is the biggest Mary Sue. Our protagonist wins and gets the grail, but unfortunately that thing can only deliver wishes based on what it’s user can concieve of. Since Emiya is a sperg who sees human lives in terms of nothing but equally valuable numbers, is willing to kill a million to save a million and one people and seriously can’t think of any better way, he is pretty much fucked. The grail shows him a continuing series of scenarios in a sort of hallucinatory dreamscape where he has to kill more and more people in order to save others, ultimately resulting in a scenario where he, his wife and his daughter are the only ones left. Essentially, he is being offered a sort of happy dreamworld that feels completely real. Of course, being the protagonist, he has to break out of this dreamworld somehow. Going to comic books real quick, Superman had a similar scenario where he got to live in a dreamworld with a family on Krypton, which never blew up. At the climax of the comic, Superman tearfully tells his son that he knows he isn’t real, which breaks the illusion; an experience he compares to tearing off his own arm. Emiya instead proceeds to shoot his daughter and then strangles his wife while the latter pleads for him to stop. He doesn’t even say anything or displays any emotion at all.
This is the man we are supposed to root for.
I can already hear the objection of “BUT HE KNEW IT WASN’T REAL”, so I’d like you to try a little thought experiment with me. Imagine for a moment you are put into a completely realistic illusion of a happy life with your parents. We’ll even be extra generous to Emiya and assume that killing your loved ones is the only way to break the illusion. Would you be able to just do it? No trace of emotion, not a single word, just like that? If yes, then why are you even reading this article instead of watching more Sargon of Akkad videos?
Ultimately, Emiya regains his senses, forces Saber to destroy the Grail (which fucks up everything even worse, by the way) and thereby kills almost everyone in the city except for a little boy he saves from the rubble and raises to be an even bigger Mary Sue than he was. Fuck you, the end.
In a sense it is kind of pointless to review almost anything of this series, as the die-hard fans will never be convinced that they are watching anything other than entertainment ambrosia and everyone else already knows that it’s by and large an absolute dumpster fire. Then again, it’s not like we’ve ever shied away from stating the obvious on this site. If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that Gilgamesh and Alexander are pretty cool and the whole series should have been about them instead.
-servicable if forgettable music (aside from the awful opening and ending songs)
-the animation is occasionally decent
-…and sometimes it isn’t (Berserker)
-the protagonist, the villains and most other characters are in a race to the bottom as to who can be the most despicable and idiotic
-ridiculously cruel, melodramatic, pointless and badly written; in other words, it’s exactly like everything else Urobuchi has ever made