Exceeding Expectations… (Mostly)
When I announced I’d be working my way through the Fate franchise, primarily the mainline stuff, K at the Movies suggested to me that I add Fate/Apocrypha to the list. After Zero, I thought I could use something to break things up and didn’t want to dive into Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya quite yet so this felt right. Lucky for me, this is actually a solid way to follow Zero, so for those of you wishing to dive in on the franchise in a similar fashion I can happily suggest this upfront for you. As for anyone else? Well, you’ll just have to read on to hear more.
Why This Fate Stands Out
If you are even remotely familiar with the premise of Fate it will be immediately obvious that Apocrypha is different. For those of you who haven’t seen any Fate before, basically there is a Holy Grail war where mages team up with heroic spirits of legend to gain a wish. I’d compare it to a duos queue in your typical battle royale game. What’s different in Apocrypha is now it is this massive 8v8 war where people can switch sides, in fighting, and more. The result is a substantial shakeup in the format that mostly delivers on its promise.
With such a large cast you’d expect to see some issues there in terms of developing each member. After all, this has been an issue for Fate in the past, even when the cast was quite a bit smaller. Fortunately for us, this isn’t the case here. Nearly every cast member is fleshed out, fun to watch, and someone you can see yourself rooting for. If you’ve seen Zero as I mentioned in the introduction, some cast members get a boost but it is by no means necessary for your enjoyment here (but I would recommend it).
Outside of these things, the only other notable difference is in how it all feels. Apocrypha is closer to a popcorn installment than a heavy think piece. Not that it doesn’t try to strike a balance between the two, but you are going to see more clashes than conversations as opposed to the other Fate series I’ve seen thus far. In some ways this is great, the animation is pretty solid and it allows the massive cast to do some interesting things since combat carries a little more weight than usual. However, it isn’t always fully realized or utilized as well as it could be. We’ll talk more on this later, but the second half suffers more than the first for this very reason as it tries to be more of a think piece with the action becoming more of a way to connect A to B.
Overall, if you were looking for a quick recommendation then you can kind of stop here. Not too surprising, I said as much in my intro, but this is a pretty easy watch for veteran Fate fans or those new to the franchise. It may help to have at least watched Zero beforehand, but again it is not necessary. In any case, there’s plenty of fun to be found in this one even if there are a few wrinkles in the overall delivery.
Part 1 – It Delivers
Let’s talk about the first half of the show. This is where the anime is at its best, I easily could have sat down and watched these episodes in one sitting and been engaged the entire time. We cold open on the mid-series finale right before the “twist” with the 8v8 war in full swing. It may feel overwhelming as stuff is just kind of happening, but by time we circle back to it by this part’s end, you’ll have all the necessary context for everything. This is a double edged sword though as it does unfortunately allow the viewer to stay one step ahead of the story, meaning there isn’t a lot of surprise. It isn’t like there aren’t any surprises, but the impact is undercut by some of this presentation.
That said, what is lost in this introduction is made up for by the fact that it sets the tone excellently. As I mentioned, there’s a lot more action in this series with less emphasis on the other “Fate” elements. You still get plenty of conversation and scheming, but it culminates into more actionable moments a lot faster, sometimes even mid-fight or discussion. I gave props to Zero for having it feel like a war, which it does, but one that’s more behind the scenes than overt. Here that pretense is thrown out the window and the war is a lot more overt.
All the while you get to learn about each master and servant relationship which are the strongest I’ve seen yet. Outside of maybe one or two members, everyone is somebody you can root for. They may not all be good people, but understanding their motivations and relationships give them just enough empathy to relate to. This is a big improvement in my book over the past installments I’ve watched where only the main cast gets to feel even remotely fleshed out. It really is quite impressive given the size of the cast.
In this way part 1 really delivers. You’ll quickly figure out who the main characters are, and it is safe to assume that they’ll at least make it to part 2, but even still it is a blast to watch during this segment. While there are detracting elements that prevent this from feeling truly exceptional, for example Siege’s character, it is easy enough to brush those inconveniences aside. That brings us to the second half though…
Part 2 – It Falls Apart
In the second half a narrative shift occurs. The story puts a lot more focus on the homunculus Seige, Ruler, and Shirou Kotomine. While this “version” of Shirou is the best yet (for reasons unrelated, but if you know you know), the other two don’t fare as well. It becomes more of a philosophical romance plot, which is almost the exact opposite of what’s promised in the first half. Normally I’d say this kind of thing is fine in that it does become more serious as we draw nearer to the ultimate goal of a wish, but in this case it causes things to almost fall flat.
Before all of that though, I want to mention the great stuff that is in part two. Whenever Shirou Kotomine is on screen, it is a big plus. He single-handedly carries this whole anime to the point where even if you were to remove fan favorite characters like Mordred or Astolfo. The whole sub-plot, which is honestly more of a time filler than anything else, involving Jack the Ripper is a great time. There are several strong scenes there, even if the fallout from this encounter is a bit dumb. Finally, the more clandestine plays as alignments shift and players move around are pretty interesting.
One of the more interesting moments in the second half have to do with Ruler and a return of a character from Zero. At least in the English dub, they did a great job of keeping the vocal cast consistent which made any callbacks all the better. While this is basically just elaborate fan service, this specific example I’ve chosen to highlight enhances the plot and was a cool thing to see.
Unfortunately, the writing chops of Apocrypha crumble the longer this second half goes on. The cracks were always there in the first part of the series but they become noticeable and distracting by the show’s end. I don’t want to get into the specifics of it because I ultimately do recommend it, but the plot has difficulty with resolving everything in a way that feels satisfactory. It truly feels like a dues ex machina, while setup in a technical sense, is hard to swallow. There’s a clear through line as to where the author of the story wanted to go, and thematically it kind of works, but as a viewer it felt incredibly forced.
What’s Left in the End
What you are left with in the end is a show that you’ll likely want to like more than you ultimately do. The ending, really the second half, had me lowering more score the longer it went on. I thought by the end of the first half of the show we were sitting at a comfortable 8-9 out of 10, but by the end I had lowered this down to a 7. This may even sound a little high given what I’ve said here, but that just goes to show how strong the good parts of the show are. While it is disappointing that Apocrypha couldn’t maintain the quality I would have liked to have seen across the entire run, the unique aspects make up for most of its blunders.
I’m glad I didn’t pass this entry over as it was a nice break between things but still plenty engaging in its own right. I also liked that it was a good way to follow Zero which really enhanced my personal viewing experience. Finally, watching this with K at the Movies was a lot of fun and something I’d enjoy doing again in the future for other shows as it is rare for him to have seen something I haven’t and to have him go out of his way to recommend it for me. So again, this is a recommendation from me as well, either as a standalone watch or part of your larger Fate journey.
Which Fate is Next?
Next up I’ll be watching the 2014 version of Unlimited Blade Works. To be completely forward with you, this is the entry I’m least looking forward to watching. I enjoyed the film version enough though and could see it benefiting from the added runtime but at the same time this is probably the worst version of the mainline series. Unfortunately, Emiya isn’t my favorite character which kind of makes a whole series about him less appealing. Even so, I’ll go in hoping for the best but I wanted to disclose my bias against this one beforehand. Even still, I hope you will join me for that when the time comes.
Until then I hope you consider giving Fate a go yourself. There are a lot of cool things about this series even if it isn’t always perfect. If you do check it out, let me know where you’ll be starting. If you are a long-time fan, let me know your thoughts on the franchise and how you got started.
Thanks for reading! If you like what you see please consider making a small donation via the buttons below. Leave a like and/or comment to let me know I’m doing a good job as well. Finally, I can’t wait to see you again for the next one.