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Fate/Zero, Ep. 1 - "Summoning of the Heroes"
[Nico Nico Douga] [Crunchyroll]
Fate/Zero, the prequel to TYPE-MOON's popular Fate/stay night visual novel and anime series, quickly became one of the most anticipated series of the year when it was announced. One of the biggest reasons for that was the involvement of Gen Urobuchi, who penned the novel the anime is based on and as well as one of the biggest hits in years, January's Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Its screenplay was its strongest and most lauded aspect and it helped propel Urobuchi's name, already a knowledgeable one among otaku as game maker Nitroplus' chief writer, to the upper echelons of the anime world, despite having only done a handful of such titles previously (Phantom (OVA/TV), Blassreiter).
For Fate/Zero, he is only supervising the script (mistaken prior for doing the actual screenplay adaptation, which was one of the driving forces behind the show's hype), but it was not the only thing that had fans antsy for its debut, as ufotable, fresh from their star-making film adaptation of TYPE-MOON's Kara no Kyoukai - the Garden of Sinners, was handling the animation production and Yuki Kajiura, who composed the scores to both Kara no Kyoukai (her best work to-date, IMO) and Madoka Magica, would be lending her talents to the series, as well. There was also the aspect of it telling the backstory to the famed Fate series that provided its high-profile status, alone, though thankfully for this neophyte, the first episode of Fate/Zero was not too hard to follow.
Having frequent many an anime image board and art community, I was already familiar with Fate/stay night's popularity and design work, but knew next to nothing about it or the particulars of the franchise. One common problem with any popular series in any medium that attempts to tell its backstory, be it in-show (via a "flashback" episode/arc) or as a new novel, series, or film, is that it is told from a vantage point where the viewer/reader is expected to already have some sort of preset knowledge of the presented characters and/or events. It is often unintentional, as the producers of the work intend for it to be new viewer/reader-friendly, but it instead caters more towards fans of the previous work by making overt nods to or featuring inconsequential cameos from it that no one who hasn't already seen/read the "sequel" would get. Instead, it does more to alienate or confuse the new viewer/reader than to invite them in and guide them along.
I was getting that same vibe during the first few minutes of Fate/Zero, which it opened with a couple making what seemed to be a reference to a future event where one would eventually kill the other, as if their fate were inescapable (Get it? I think I was supposed to…). Things didn't improve much from there when two church officials and another man discussed the Holy Grail Wars at the center of the conflict in not the greatest clarity, but soon after, the pacing settled and the potential infodump I was dreading never materialized. With a runtime of 47 minutes, Fate/Zero spends much of its expository first episode steadily laying out the approaching conflict, the players to-be-involved, their motivations, and their machinations. The near hour-length dedicated to it was a real blessing and a very wise move by the producers, as it allowed those new to Fate's world a chance to get accustomed to it and become familiar with its characters, rather than throwing them into the fire and showing off everyone and -thing at break-neck speed in the usual 24-minute window, or only revealing vague little bits in that period and stretching the rest of the exposition across the next couple of episodes.
Rather, I went from knowing nothing about the series, to understanding that it is essentially like a twist on a medieval fantasy board/video game, where selected representatives from differing factions and families are each bestowed with a particular magical beings (with class-like names straight out of one, such as "Archer", "Lancer", "Assassin", and even "Berzerker") to fight and defeat one another until a sole survivor remains to claim the grand prize of the Holy Grail, which can grant the victor one wish. Yes, certain, seemingly minor characters are given some innocuous focus and particular events occur that feel as though they are all beckoning to Fate/stay night, but it plays out organically, thanks to the careful pacing and the expanded runtime. I got the feeling that certain things were being referenced or foreshadowed, but they were not heavy-handed or stuck out like a sore thumb. Much of them felt like they were quietly flying over my head, ready to land at their rightful destination ahead--which is exactly what a well-made and thought-through prequel should be doing.
Overall, it was a very good and impressive first episode for Fate/Zero, which made the most of its 47 minutes with steady, well-paced plotting and character introductions. It's mostly a set-up episode with little to no action and heavy on the dialogue, but it did not mean that it wasn't interesting to listen to, much less to watch, with ufotable doing a standout job with the production.Yuki Kajiura also did well in backing it all up with another stellar feast for the ears, with a composition a little different from her usual style, and the acting was strong and quite good, too. It all definitely has me looking forward to the next episode…
P.S.: For whatever reason, I found this to be funny…