Monday, October 31, 2011

:anime: First Impression:: Fate/Zero Ep. 4

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Fate/Zero, Ep. 4 - "Spearhead"
[Nico Nico Douga] [Crunchyroll]

"When seeing these trailers, I have to remind myself, 'Fate/Zero is a TV series, not a film…'"

That is what I said on Twitter when I first saw a batch of trailers on Fate/Zero's site. I knew ufotable was capable of very high animation quality following Kara no Kyoukai (even Ninja Nonsense looked pretty good), but I knew better than to expect theatrical-level animation for a television series. Well, at least I though I did…

For the most part, Fate/Zero has had above-average to near-OVA quality animation, but its fourth episode has been the closest to-date to flirt with film-like quality. Most of the episode is predominately dedicated to the fight between Saber and Lancer, and the studio did not skimp on its details. Movement flows, debris is beautifully rendered, action and choreography strike with brilliance, characters stay on-model with no sacrifice with all of the extra animation--so good is the production, in fact, that one could easily mistaken it for a movie if shown a clip of it with no prior knowledge of its source. A show like this that is this good-looking deserves and requires very good-looking action pieces to be completely fulfilling. This episode showed that the staff, indeed, has understood that point, and Fate/Zero is all the more better for it.

However, snappy visuals were not the only things Ep. 4 had going for it, as it itself was solid, entertaining, and even informative. And while 95% of it comprised of fighting, Saber and Lancer proved to be an even match for one another, making it far more interesting than an all-out squash on the the former's part. Saber may be quite powerful--something still not lost on the show throughout the proceedings--but you take quite the gamble when you feature one of your central stars in a struggle this early in the series.

Alleviating that concern is how well both are matched stylistically. The single sword-wielding Saber does not have the distance nor defensive advantage against the duel spear-wielding Lancer/Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, whose weapons can bypass her magical armor, but Lancer has difficulty contending with the cloaked length of Saber's Excalibur, her own formidable power (where she has the advantage), and skill (where they are about even). It plays out within reason and realistically, and it was easy to believe that the match-up was as close one, rather than one made so for drama's sake. Even the commonplace "fight banter" between the two combatants (which made sense given their honorable character) and self-analysis, and the commentary from the sidelines (which was kept to a relative minimum and proved more complementary than tacked-on) felt natural. Altogether, it was compelling and made for a good watch.

However, don't let the content percentage fool you, as there was still quite a bit of questions and other matters raised. For one, I have been wondering whether the Servants are always summoned in the same class, or even if the same individuals are reused, each time, just based on the way some of them express amazement at their position, as if they had something different before (that is, if they even have memories of past Grail Wars). There is also the curious matter of them knowing each other's real names, which seems to be a big no-no and of which they are forbidden from revealing to each other outright, unless they figure it out for themselves. What is a mystery no more (and was never one, really, had I remembered the OP montage) is Lancer's Master, which is Waver's not-so-favorite teacher. However, his student, his student also stole his Holy Grail artifact from him, so how exactly he managed to summon a Servant remains to be seen.

In the meantime, we finally get confirmation that Irisviel (with her nifty healing powers) is not a human, but rather, a homunculus (and an important-enough figure for Tokiomi to keep an eye on). Kiritsugu, on the sniping prowl for the enemy Master, finally gets his confirmation that "Assassin" is still around, after catching one spying on the fight. The furious battle leaves Saber with a debilitating injury in her arm that is unable to be healed, while Lancer gets his healed by his impatient Master, who wants him to dispense of the pleasantries and finish her off. After finally discovering each other's identity, they feel they can finally fight one another with honor, but before they can kick things to the next level, in comes Rider and Waver (largely against his will). The king can hardly contain his fighting spirit any longer after spectating the great contest, and he arrives on the scene in boisterous style…

Mmm hmm. Yeah.

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