Fate/Zero is a 2011 show created by Gen Urobuchi who would go on to create other works such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Psycho-Pass. The show was made by studio Ufotable a relatively new studio at the time which quickly rose to fame having made another popular series in the same universe as Fate/Zero the Kara no Kyoukai: Garden of Sinners film series. Fate/Zero is the prequel to the visual novel Fate Stay Night which studio Deen had adapted partly in 2006. For most people who have watched this series, it is more about the journey than the destination, as the ending for Fate/Zero has been told in Fate Stay Night and this anime serves as more of a story of how the ending happened, rather than focusing on what the ending will be. Recently most people I have been watching Fate/Zero before Fate Stay Night; therefore Fate/Zero didn’t feel as much of a prequel to Fate Stay Night, but rather Fate Stay Night felt as more of a sequel to Fate/Zero. So by this chain of events, I too saw Fate/Zero much differently than most of the older anime viewer, because I didn’t know the ending upfront, and because this was my introduction to the Fate franchise/universe.
Fate/Zero is a battle royal that pits 7 masters all equipped with their own individual servants against each other, for one to win the coveted Holy Grail. The story does not really have a main protagonist until later on in the story, and the beginning focuses on establishing each master and servant duo and how they not only work with each other, but how they face off against other master and servants. The show manages to handle its plot remarkably, it has a special prologue double-length episode 0, in which it explains the rules of the game as well as all the participants.
Each master calls upon a servant from ancient times, these can range from a mass murder to King Arthur to even Alexandra the Great. The masters involved are called Magus and all have magical powers to not only summon their servants, but to either defend themselves or attack other masters, the magic system in this show is so amazing in it’s detail and what certain Magus can do and how that is either their advantage in battle or a disadvantage. Nothing feels to unrealistic or a simple ass pull by the creator, but rather a strategic game of one master weighing his options in battle based on his/her set of skills against their limited knowledge on the opponents type of magic. Due to the fact that all the masters and servants are established up front in the first episode, their isn’t a real mystery as to who the other masters are and where they are situated. The story isn’t so much as having one character discovering who his/her opponents are and attacking them, as rather every player knowing the location of the other players and tactfully planning out their opportunity to strike.
The story being told in this way results in a lot of information and exposition dumping in episode 0 so that the audience can be on the same wavelength as the characters. This story doesn’t spoon feed you the information along the way when it’s necessary, but rather explains everything to you at the beginning and expects you to understand it all and follow along the rest of the way. This is a positive and a negative thing because it allows for more of a continuous plot instead of stopping all the way so that the audience can understand what is going on, but because of the sheer number of characters it does become confusing to track everyone.
Still on the topic of characters, Fate/Zero has a massive cast: 7 masters, 7 servants and a number of other supporting characters like the family members of individual characters.The servants are split into 7 classes each with their own strengths and weaknesses: Saber, Archer, Lancer are the most respected and valued classes; whilst Caster and Rider are more intermediate classes; the Assassin class is looked down on the most; and the Berserker class is a wild card. Despite the size of the cast, the anime manages to handle them all well. Each master and servant duo feels developed individually as well as them being a pair. The masters and servants seem to be mirror reflect of each other, such as Kiritsugu and Saber arguing about ideals even when they do share a common goal, or even Rider being everything Waver seems to strive for, or the virtuous Kariya entering the Holy Grail War to save his niece from participating in it and being paired with the servant class Berserker who is the embodiment of anarchy.
The characters and servants bounce off each other by either bickering or learning from each other. The dialogue between each pair in entertaining to watch and dips into philosophical undertones later on as the servants dialogues between not only their masters but to each other starts to differ. Being that the servants were proud individuals in their lives, and have appeared in the Holy Grail War due to their own motivations to win the Grail for their own personal reasons, aside from supporting their masters their interactions to one another starts to change as they see themselves closer and closer to winning. I can’t put into words how intelligently written these characters are, the way the anime manages to handle all of the characters together without them overpowering each other is fantastic to see. Somewhat akin to Neon Genesis Evangelion, the anime manages to dive into the psyche of each character to find their conviction for trying to win the Grail and it’s important to them.
Being that this is done by studio Ufotable, it looks amazing. Ufotable is at the top-tier alongside Kyoto Animation in terms of animation quality. Every scene in this anime looks gorgeous and could be printed out and framed. Fate/Zero has some of the best choreographed fight scenes I’ve seen in anime, each fight not only feels that both parties have an equal success rate and not one character obviously dominating, but they also feel entertaining to watch and adrenaline rushing. None of the fights seem to be repetitive or copies of previous fights, but rather they all feel original. I can only imagine the budget needed to create an anime like this, and this is one of a select few anime that I feel that watching it in anything under than 1080p is a disgrace to the show. This show deserves to be watched on Blu-Ray to enjoy it to the maximum, if you can afford the blu-ray copies.
The music being done by Yuki Kajiura is just as amazing as the visuals. The music is perfectly tailored for each scene, it complements it as well as changes it into something more. This alongside Kara no Kyoukai might be Yuki Kajiura’s best work.
The story is amazing, so are the characters and well as animation and sound. There are very few things this anime does wrong. The story is intriguing as you debate on who’s going to win the Grail as well as the twists and turns are competing to watch. The characters are amazing as the whole cast of nearly 20 characters are developed and each have their own motivations for being apart of the 4th Holy Grail War. The Animation might be Top 10 best looking anime shows ever, maybe even Top 5. The music is probably Yuki Kajiura’s best work, a person already known to deliver excellent sound on her weaker shows.
[see end of review for weighing]
Another battle royal show similar in some aspects to Fate/Zero, but more action and romance orientated is Btooom! A show produced by studio Madhouse that follows a duo as they battle other opponents in a ruthless survival game using grenades.
And if you are looking for more of a philosophical anime that displays somewhat of the same tone as Fate/Zero, then look no further than the 1995 movie Ghost in the Shell and it’s follow up series Stand.Alone.Complex, as they both exhibit philosophical undertones and question issues such as individualism and the human soul.
[story+characters+animation+sound] + [enjoyment]