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Fate/Zero PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 11 January 2012 00:00
Fate/ZeroA few years back, Fate/stay night introduced us to the Holy Grail War, with Mages and their summoned Servants doing battle for the Holy Grail, which in turn could grant any wish. That story made several references to a previous iteration of the War, ten years earlier - and now, along comes Fate/Zero to fill in the rest of the detail in what happened in that War. Rin and Sakura fans may feel a little short-changed here, but otherwise there's quite a bit to like...

The Holy Grail War is soon to be upon the world again, and the seven people chosen to take part are coming to the fore. Fuyuki City will be the venue for the War this time around, it seems, and the Mage's Association and the church are making arrangements to ensure that the battles that will take place will take place fairly. Well, as "fair" as can be, given that both groups have certain... vested interests. Kirei Tohsaka, who along with his father is a priest in the church, has unusually been chosen as a Master despite his lack of magical ability - and is about to start a crash course to ensure that he has the best possible chance of victory. Elsewhere, Kariya Matou has learnt of a disturbing adoption by his family, who have taken Sakura Tohsaka under their wing with the aim of breeding a Mage that will allow them to gain control of the Holy Grail - and decides that he must do what he can to set Sakura free...

Right, a little on the setup here. This is a prequel, obviously, and there are stages in the series where you'll need to know what happened and who featured in Fate/stay night to get the most out of what's happening on-screen in Fate/Zero. Of the characters we know from the previous series, Saber and Gilgamesh remain - they were the only two Servants to survive from this war to the next - while of the human characters, while some do appear (Sakura, Rin and Kirei, most notably), they're obviously 10 years younger. Sakura and Rin don't get to make much of an impact on this running of the War - although you do get to see some interesting aspects of their backstories that explain how they turned out in later life, particularly with Sakura, who really seems to have drawn the short straw in life - while Kirei's role this time around is far more interesting. After that, it's all-new Masters and Servants, ready to create mayhem.

And there are some good combinations here. Waver Velvet is a high-school student just meddling with magic, but manages to summon Rider, one of the most powerful Servants - who quickly develops a liking for modern game culture. Serial-killer Ryuunosuke Uryuu manages to summon up Caster, someone more sick, twisted and vindictive than himself, allowing the pair to embark on an unprecedented killing-spree that almost brings the War to a halt as the other Masters try to get rid of them. Saber arrives on the scene with a world-view that doesn't seem to fit with that of the other Servants in the War, and finds herself on the receiving end of both Caster's romantic attentions and Rider's scorn for her views on how a King should behave. Along with Archer, they're the ones who receive most of the attention in the season.

I say "season" as this is just the first half of Fate/Zero, and there's a distinct feeling here that a lot of what happens in these episodes is scene-setting for the second season which begins in the Spring. There are some battle scenes, and when they come around they're hugely impressive set-pieces, but there's a huge amount of plot exposition, of characters getting together, sitting down and talking over what's happened and what will yet come if their plans play out as they hope. In a way, that's quite frustrating - you know from the fight scenes that we do get that then the War really gets going it's going to be on quite an epic scale (although if you were paying attention to Fate/stay night you'll already know what the War does to Fuyuki City), but most of the time you're left wishing the characters would stop talking and just get on with it. But it's also necessary information, and on that level it's fairly well done.

There are also a few points where they're just playing with the fans. One episode is devoted to young Rin, and the adventures she has trying to help classmates who have inadvertently gotten caught up in Caster's killing spree, and that's a great little episode - it doesn't seem to do anything to the larger story, but it shows you a little of the girl that Rin grows up to be, and it's well worth seeing for that alone.

But ultimately, this is all setup for what's still to come, and that we're going to have to wait three months for (if you're following the simulcast schedule). As a tool to make you want those three months to pass right now, as promotion for that second season, it's great stuff - but standing on its own it's clearly incomplete. That fact, and the amount of exposition it shovels at you, is frustrating, and if you're not already a fan of the story & characters from one of the previous instalments of the franchise, you may well be on a hiding to nowhere. For those of us who do have the background, though, there's a lot here to like, a lot of hooks between this and Fate/stay night to enjoy, and the anticipation of what's yet to come, and those factors combined make this well worth seeing.

Rating - ***