ANIME & MANGA - Review
16:00 - 20th June 2014, by NEO Staff

Fate/Zero Collection 1

Ten years before the events of Fate/Stay Night, seven mages from across the world are chosen by the Holy Grail to compete in the Fourth Holy Grail War. Each mage formed a contract with a Servant - a mighty hero from the past who would do battle at their command to secure possession of the Grail and the power to make any wish a reality.

Fate/Zero is a prequel that actually manages to avoid many of the shortcomings of Fate/Stay Night. Where Fate/Stay Night was squarely focussed on the mushy relationship between warrior girl Saber and her hapless mage Shiro Emiya (who had an unfortunate and annoying habit of throwing himself into harm's way during battles), Zero is an ensemble piece split between the different mages and servants. Certainly, some characters emerge as more interesting than others and their screen time reflects this, but there is no single central relationship at the core of this prequel. The potential downside of this is that the show has a large cast and viewers need to keep on their mental toes to remember all the connections between the mages and servants. The most likeable character by far is the servant Rider, who is actually the spirit of Alexander The Great. A huge mountain of a man with an appetite for life, Rider is paired with a young, inexperienced mage called Waver and they make for an entertaining odd couple. Waver brings up a point of note - the series has a proclivity for bizarre names. Waver Velvet (sounds like a chocolate bar), Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald (sounds, no idea) and Irisviel von Eiznbern (ditto) are three of the guiltiest culprits on that front.

The battles between the servants are great fun when blows are being exchanged thick and fast alongside insults, although in this one regard the series replicates one of Fate/Stay Night's biggest failings - the tendency to end fights inconclusively. Given that the whole point of the Holy Grail War is for the servants to duke it out to the finish, only one single fight in this instalment wraps up with a decisive victory. The others are a bad case of Coitus Interruptus - just when it starts to get interesting, the combatants break off, vowing to settle their score at a later date. On the plus side, Fate/Zero avoids the terrible anime cliché of having someone spare their opponent because it would be 'more fun to kill you later', but it is still frustrating.

There is some darkness in the show. One of the mages is a teenage serial killer called Ryonosuke who teams up with a twisted monster known as Caster and together they set about murdering children, which is rather grim. The pace peaks early on with plenty of battles to showcase the different servants' abilities, but slows towards the end. One episode is largely devoted to three servants arguing about the role of kings but fortunately a fight breaks out to bring a halt to the Debate Club's snooze inducing meeting.

The series has to work hard to juggle so many characters but manages to keep all the plates spinning. The philosophising is not terribly compelling and it would be great if more fights actually ended decisively, but Fate/Zero surpasses its anime progenitor with memorable characters, a generous dose of action laced with a shot of horror, and good pacing.
SCORE: 4/5
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