Fate/Zero is an anime adaptation of Gen Urobuchi’s book series, which tells the prequel story to the visual novel Fate/Stay Night. The anime is available to buy in the UK courtesy of MVM Entertainment, who are distributing the twenty-five-episode saga across two collector’s editions. The first DVD set, which I am reviewing here, contains the opening thirteen episodes and can be purchased from United Publications (www.up1.co.uk) for a reasonable £22 (which is considerably cheaper than the £32 Amazon are presently demanding for it.)
Zero’s story chronicles the fourth Holy Grail War, which occurred ten years prior to the events featured in Stay Night. For those of you not familiar with the franchise, the Holy Grail War is a contest fought between rival mages who are vying to win a mystical artefact that can grant its owner whatever wish they desire (a bit like Aladdin’s lamp, minus the blue skinned comedy stylings of Robin Williams.) Aiding each spell caster, in their quest for the sacred chalice, are powerful servants who happen to be historical figures that have been summoned from the past to modern times via mystical means.
Anime fans that disliked Stay Night may still want to check out Zero, as the show is far more intelligent than its predecessor. For me, Stay Night was marred by the harem antics revolving around its drab protagonist. Rather than focusing on a main character, Zero instead is an ensemble piece and is all the better for it. I personally find stories more gripping when the motivations of its entire cast are explored. Yes there are some bad eggs to jeer at, but a good chunk of Zero’s characters have commendable reasons for coveting the Grail. Whilst watching the show I cannot help but root for multiple factions even though in the end there can be only one victor (just like in Highlander.)
For those of you who enjoyed Stay Night (and are still reading after I irked you in the last paragraph) you’ll be glad to know that Zero has some references tying the two shows together. Rin’s father (Tokiomi Tohsaka) for example features in the series. He’s a Lex Luthor like wealthy mastermind who plots on how to win the Grail, without dirtying his hands, whilst sipping upon wine. The female knight known as Saber also appears in Zero as a servant to both Kiritsugu Emiya (a despised mage who uses firearms in addition to magical techniques) and his silver haired homunculus bride named Irisviel. Irisviel is actually one of my favourite characters as she has a sweet personality and rarely ventures outside without wearing those adorably fluffy hats that are so popular in Russia.
Other characters of note are Waver Velvet and his servant Rider, who are responsible for injecting some chuckles into what is a mostly sombre show. The mismatched pair are always trading verbal barbs, as Waver is a snivelling coward whilst Rider is a boisterous gung-ho oath. Much less likable is the teenage serial killer named Ryunosuke Uryu and his deranged servant Caster. Instead of participating in the Holy Grail War, the unscrupulous duo spend the majority of their time abducting and butchering innocent children. Needless to say I hope they get their comeuppance soon.
I am giving the first part of Fate/Zero a four out of five. Aside from the slow paced forty-minute opening episode, I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have seen thus far. The plot is smart, doing a good job of focusing on how the combatants attempt to outsmart each other. I also liked how time is spent showing the strained relationships that surface between masters and servants who have very different ideologies. The action is great too, thanks to the gorgeous animation and good use of CG effects. How many of the duels end in a stalemate does however irritate me. After spending so much time developing the characters I suspect that the writers weren’t keen on eliminating anyone too early.
Needless to say Fate/Zero gets a thumbs up from me. I previously haven’t been enamoured by the Fate franchise, but after sampling Zero’s first thirteen episodes I have no hesitation in adding the second Collector’s Edition to my shopping list, once it becomes available.