What I Wanted from Fate
When I previously watched and reviewed Fate/Stay Night (2006), I made no secret of the fact that I enjoyed it but found the series to have multiple issues. I had guessed that watching something like Fate/Zero would have made going backwards a lot harder for myself, and I suspect newer fans would be of no exception. Now that I’ve watched Fate/Zero, I can safely say that the order I chose to view these titles in was indeed the correct one as this was easily the better of the two experiences. To put things simply, Fate/Zero was everything I wanted out of the Fate franchise the first time around, a polished version of what was first attempted in 2006.
Gen Urobuchi & Fate
Long-time readers will know that I have spent a fair amount of time on this site discussing Gen Urobuchi and his career. This is why I can say with confidence that Fate is a good match for Urobuchi’s writing and one of the reasons I was able to enjoy the series as much as I did. Personally, I like the darker tones in which he paints the world and its characters while still keeping the core experience intact. Now, it isn’t perfect in a literal sense, there are several areas in which Fate/Zero is not executed super well, but taken in full it certainly gets about as close as it can.
Now I’ve never watched Game of Thrones but what I envision that show to look like (at least in the earlier seasons) is a darker, more mature show with lots of political maneuvering and counterplay. That’s what Urobuchi does with Fate/Zero, leaning into his habits for creating a dark, fleshed-out world where philosophy and action can coincide with one another. That maybe makes it sound smarter than it actually is, which isn’t to say there aren’t some very good discussions within the show, but more that this show values spectacle just as much as it does a good conversation.
As a direct result, Urobuchi’s talents are being well-utilized here. It’s filled to the brim with a lot of “isms” of his writing, but they feel right at home for what the Fate franchise always seems to want to be. It’s a show about a war, so a grittier, cruel world makes sense. Having characters deal with internal struggles on top of that, especially their past, also makes sense when you factor in the heroic spirits. Finally, he does know when and how to use action. Unlike the previous Fates I watched, when the fighting starts and stops makes a lot more sense more often than not.
All said though, it isn’t like Urobuchi did a perfect job either. If I had to point at some flaws, I would say there are some pacing issues early on (episode 1 in particular) and some connecting moments are poorly communicated. I can think of episode 11 for this example where Rider discovers Caster’s lair in a previous episode only to meet up in that episode with Saber and Archer, two people he respects and is supposedly working with to defeat Caster, only to promptly forget about it. This is then made worse by having Caster’s lair be an important blind-spot for something else. It’s not a big deal, but little slips like this do make it through.
On the one hand, some of this is certainly the fault of the writing. They are just straight up mistakes in my opinions. However, on the other hand, I could argue that some of the bigger issues come down to what Fate is as a franchise. For as simple as it seems on paper, it’s actually fairly complex, to the point where it often ignores its own rules in-universe. Sometimes that even happens in the same episode we learn about a “rule.” Not saying that’s always bad, after all this is a series built on the “rule of cool” more than it isn’t, but at the same time, it is disappointing to see someone as capable as Urobuchi still fall into some of these pitfalls with Zero, even if they couldn’t be avoided.
“Filler” & Fate – Rin’s Big Adventure (Episode 10)
I want to take a second to talk about “Rin’s Big Adventure” because it is weirdly considered to be a filler episode. I spoke about this on Twitter at the time of viewing, but I want to include those thoughts here as well for posterity in review. I’ll include the tweets (thread) below and elaborate a little bit more coherently in paragraph form here as well.
To summarize, the show had been accused of inserting unnecessary “filler” into the show with said episode. Even when said content of the episode is in the source material (which this show has if you were unaware). Granted, it is true that the content of this episode is basically just a few pages in a larger book, but I’d argue that this is good adaptation for several reasons. Chief among them is that it sets things up nicely for UBW TV series that would come later while also expanding on existing characters within Zero. If you want more “in the moment” thinking, please do check out the Twitter thread.
What I want to discuss for the purposes of this article is the expansion of the source material. When you have a big adaptation like this with room for more stuff, I find it nice to see some risks being taken. With episode 10, that’s what happened, a risk was taken, but in doing so they gained more than they ultimately lost. By expanding on the source material, fans got to see something new if they had read it before, and for those who hadn’t, as mentioned above, enjoyed a sneak peek into something that would come up again later. All around everyone wins, which is why I find it silly to argue this episode is “filler” in any meaningful capacity.
Those Two Episodes (You Know the Ones)
If you have seen Zero then you will know exactly which two episodes I’m referring to. I wanted to touch on those because they did something unique that I found interesting, they played with the time keeping each episode normally ends with, not telling you when these two episodes took place. All you know is that they (obviously) took place in the past. It was a really cool, albeit tiny detail that I found just beyond cool.
To circle back to Urobuchi for a moment, these two episodes are also the most “him” out of all of them. If you’ve read my Phantom review, then you should know what I mean. It’d be a lot to go into here, so I will leave you to read that if you want to learn more. The main point being that I liked these two episodes extra because they were just unabashedly Urobuchi, which I love.
I want to end my thoughts on Fate/Zero here by saying that it is everything I wanted Fate to be. Now, it isn’t perfect, but it gets close. If you are looking to get start with Fate you can’t go wrong with starting here. While I would recommend the 2006 version as a starting point for those who desire a more completionist approach, or to see how the franchise grew in time, I know that it also isn’t exactly the most appealing (nor flashy) version. That said, going backwards from Zero to that would be a rough watch, however the reverse is far from it, very enjoyable.
Join me next time for my Fate journey as we wander a side path with Fate/Apocrypha. I want to take a short break from mainline stuff, especially before UBW, so I thought this would be fun. I don’t know nearly as much about the more fringe series, so this should be an interesting addition to this ongoing article series. I hope you will look forward to it!
What are your thoughts on Fate/Zero? Have you seen Apocrypha? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, please leave a like and consider a donation via the buttons below. Thank you for reading, and I just know we are Fate-d to meet again soon!