Fate/Zero – A Love/Hate Relationship

I finished watching the anime Fate/Zero today. And I’m having trouble really reconciling my feelings for this one.

The Premise

Fate/Zero is a prequel to the anime Fate/Stay Night that was designed to give a bit of a deeper understanding for some of the characters. It takes place in a world where magic exists, but isn’t all that commonly known. Every 60 years, a secret war happens called the ‘Holy Grail War’ in which seven mages are chosen by the Grail to battle for the right to make one wish come true. These mages, called the Masters, are granted the ability to summon historical figures called Servants to fight alongside them. They then attempt to eliminate all of the other servants over the course of a few weeks in order to claim the Grail for their wish.

The ‘Hate’

A large portion of my time with Fate/Zero made me want to give up watching it… and the main reason for that is the stance it takes towards personalities and morality. Very few of the characters were what one could call ‘moral’ in any sort of world. Most of them just felt like representations of various facets of evil. This isn’t necessarily a problem, except it makes it very hard to relate to the characters. The two most relateable characters were a construct and a naive kid. The rest of the characters were generally so extreme in their personality, that it just made them feel awkward. One character was the absolute representation of ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’, one was an absolute paragon of purity, one was utterly and completely unfeeling, one was a religious fanatic serial killer… and the list goes on. It just gets tiring to not have realistic personalities on the characters – nobody is that simplistic.

The other key fault I found was the strange obsession the writers seemed to have with breaking people. Every character who had any shred of decency, even some of the less evil ones, seemed to get battered until they broke. And it really felt excessive. Yet the really, truly evil characters seemed to almost get rewarded. Sure the one truly evil Master died… but he died happy and fulfilled. All the while, one of the more interesting and likeable Servants gets forced to commit suicide under false pretenses… it just really made it hard to watch the show and enjoy it.

The ‘Love’

That being said, there are absolutely good reasons to watch this. Despite the awkward and oversimplistic characters, the story was actually very interesting. Certain elements were predictable, but for the most part the show kept you on your toes. And there were a few people, the few who didn’t have oversimplified personalities, whose characters showed some truly interesting and engaging development over the course of the show.

Many of the show’s set-pieces are just amazing. Seriously, while watching this, take some time away from the characters to just watch the scenery, it’ll be worth your time to do so. Trust me. On a related note… the show’s soundtrack is a masterpiece with the second season’s opening “To the Beginning” being not only a beautiful song but also an absolutely perfect fit for the tone of the story during that season. Despite watching the series in large chunks(3-4 episodes at a time), I never once skipped the opening theme and that says a lot.

The biggest reason to watch this show; however, are the battles. The battle scenes in this series are just fantastic – a bit infrequent, but fantastic. The interplay between the various Servants, their special abilities, and the input of the various Masters makes for some incredibly interesting scenes.

Overall

Fate/Zero is a hard show for me to really say whether I recommend. I had a true love/hate relationship with the show. When I liked it, I loved it and couldn’t wait to see more… but all too often I found myself struggling to connect to characters whose personalities were such extremes that they felt more like constructs than the construct… and this made me want to shut it off. It took a great deal of patience and perseverence to really get through it, but I am also very glad that I did.

  • Brian Black

    The reason that the only moral characters are presented without any depth is because they are strawman arguments against utilitarianism. Nasu puts forth arguments for hedonism while urobuchi tries to front nihilism as usual.