The prequel to Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero is a 25-episode anime written by Gen Urobuchi and produced by Ufotable. It focuses on the 4th Holy Grail War, a free-for-all battle between 7 magi and heroes summoned from throughout history to be their servants. The prize: the Holy Grail, a device capable of granting any wish. Since I had already seen Fate/Stay Night, I already knew how Fate/Zero would end and simply watched it expecting to see some nice action scenes.
The series blew me away with its intense exploration of humanity and ideals. Unlike Fate/Stay Night, which had a simple right vs wrong approach when characters clashed, Fate/Zero presented conflicts between more muddy positions. Most of the characters deal with some sort of internal conflict, which helped add to the physical battles that they fight.
Kiritsugu, the magi assassin, is torn between trying to stop all fighting and using violence to do so. Kirei, the priest’s son, is searching for meaning in life and questions whether his joy is in defiance of God’s will. Kariya, the tormented son, returns to his family in order to prevent the daughter of the woman he loves from suffering the fate he would’ve suffered if he never left. Saber, the king of knights, struggles to find what it means to be a leader. All of these conflicts made Fate/Zero seem chaotic, but went a long way in explaining everyone’s actions and desires.
In contrast to the conflicted souls mentioned above, there was also a good number of characters that knew what they wanted and stuck to their ideals through to the end. Rider, the king of conquerors, is probably the best example as he always stayed on the path of a king, battling with honour and respect. Not all of them were as stirring as Rider though. Tokiomi, probably the most powerful magi in the war, was utterly dull and boring. His reason for obtaining the Holy Grail was simply for pride and achieving greater magic.
What I found to be the most interesting conflict was Kiritsugu’s battle with himself. He decided to participate in the Holy Grail War in order to use the grail to bring world peace. His method of doing so: killing everyone that stands in his way. This dissonance between methods and ideal intrigued me far more than the Rider’s displays of honour or Kariya’s seemingly eternal suffering.
With so much focus on internal conflict, it would be reasonable to expect a lack of action, but Fate/Zero manages to balance the two very well. Except for the meeting of kings, I thought there were enough blades clashing and explosions to keep me from thinking that I was watching a bunch of talking heads. The shock value of the series is also very high. Some of the atrocities that the characters commit will leave most people with feelings of disgust.
In terms of animation quality, Ufotable really outdid themselves in this series. The attention to detail was extraordinary, and I did not see any instance of deformed/disproportionate characters or objects. The dark setting and atmosphere that Ufotable was able to convey was brilliant. Even in the brightest scenes, there always seemed to be a shadow looming in the background; perhaps that’s more of the director’s work though. There was also a relatively seamless transition between normal animation and CG. While it was obvious that the water and Caster’s monster were computer-generated, they didn’t seem out-of-place.
The music had the same effect as the animation, invoking a sense of darkness and despair. Yuki Kajiura did a great job composing a couple of the theme songs too.
In my opinion, Fate/Zero is a brilliant anime that deserves praise for venturing deep into areas other than moe and comedy. Few series are as dark and manage to be so thought-provoking. Unlike most action series, the character personalities are far more realistic and no one can truly be split into “good” and “bad”. Fate/Zero was a joy to watch, and if you can stomach dark stories, then I highly recommend you watch it.