I’m not exactly great at writing coherent reviews, since I just end up rambling a lot, but I really want to give my thoughts on Fate/Zero, since I just finished watching it for the first time. I will talk spoilers in this, but try to mark them as much as possible. It will contain information about Fate/Zero as a whole, meaning it also includes the second season.
This show absolutely shattered my expectations about pretty much everything. I intend to watch all of the Fate series in release order (except for Prisma Illya, which I have already finished), so the only other series I have watched before this, was the original Fate/stay night from 2006. So maybe saying I know “nothing” about the series is a bit of an overstatement. It was not a bad series and I definitely enjoyed it. But I didn’t think of it as anything groundbreaking, other than being a good introduction to the series. That is probably why I didn’t expect much going into the prequel entry that aired five years later, Fate/Zero.
The characters are probably the anime’s biggest strength. A prequel is kind of tricky to do, when everybody already knows how it ends. Fate/Zero excels at being able to retain interest in the series through the exceptional cast of characters that star in it. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites:
- Arturia/Saber is the Servant of Kiritsugu Emiya. She is as much of a stoic swordswoman as she was in Fate/stay night. However in this series, she gets more of a chance to shine on her own. We get to see Saber trying to reach for the Holy Grail for the first time and wanting to correct the mistakes of her past life. On her journey she is going to learn a lot about what exactly that entails.
- Kiritsugu Emiya is Saber’s master and the adoptive father of Shirou Emiya, the protagonist of Fate/stay night. In this series, we get to find out more about him, something I have been looking forward to for a long time. He has not had much of a presence in all the series I have watched thus far, so I was looking forward to seeing for myself what he was like. However, he ended up being much different from what I expected.
- Irisviel von Einzbern is the wife of Kiritsugu and the mother of Illyasviel von Einzbern. Irisviel has a great involvement in this Holy Grail War and we also get to see more of her personality. She is a very loving and kind person and wishes to support Kiritsugu in his quest for the Holy Grail.
- Kirei Kotomine is a priest and the moderator of the Holy Grail War in Fate/stay night. In this prequel, he himself is a master with his servant Assassin. Spoiler for Fate/stay night:
In Fate/stay night, Kirei is revealed to be the main antagonist and survivor of the previous Holy Grail War. He took Rin in after the death of her father and in Fate/Zero we get to see how he went from his very calm and obedient manner, to becoming the death-loving monster that was defeated by Shirou in Fate/stay night.
- Gilgamesh/Archer is the Servant of Tokiomi Tohsaka, although at times it is debatable who serves whom in that relationship. Gilgamesh is mostly concerned with his own interests, instead of those of his master and he can be seen constantly manipulating those around him, which is going to have dire consequences for everyone involved. Spoilers for Fate/stay night and minor spoilers for Fate/Zero:
In Fate/stay night, Gilgamesh is revealed to have survived the Holy Grail War of Fate/Zero and participates in the next Holy Grail War as the 8th Servant. He displayed a great interest in Saber, wanting to make her his trophy and wife. In Fate/stay night, he is also revealed to have been the Servant of Kirei Kotomine, meaning that we get to see how he was able to change Masters from Tohsaka to Kotomine.
- Waver Velvet is a character I was not yet familiar with. He is a young student, who is dissatisfied with not being recognized for his talents by his peers and lecturers and manages to steal the artifact one of his teachers uses to summon his Servant and enter the Holy Grail War. He summons the Servant Rider.
- Iskandar/Rider is the Servant of Waver and represents a great contrast to his master. Waver is a very small boy, while Iskandar is a giant conqueror with an intimidating appearance. However, one quickly realizes that he has a very big heart and often serves as the comedic-relief character. The relationship he builds with Waver over time is one of my favorite parts of the anime.
- Ryuunosuke Uryuu is probably the biggest anomaly under all of the masters of Fate/Zero. Ryuunosuke is a serial killer who mostly prefers killing young women and children. He is first introduced during a scene where he murdered a family and using their blood to summon his Servant, Caster. He is not a magus, nor any person of significance, outside of his position as a Master in the Holy Grail War. As such, he has no interest in the Grail or the war surrounding it and merely enjoys watching Caster kill people to relieve his boredom.
- Bluebeard/Caster is Ryuunosuke’s Servant. He is probably my most hated character of the series (in a good way). Caster is a madman who derives pleasure from giving his victims a moment of relief and hope, before killing them in very horrific and brutal manners. He is the source of a lot of very gruesome scenes of the anime, mostly involving children. He made for a very hateable villain.
- Kariya Matou is a member of the Matou family, who has cut all ties with them ten years before the start of Fate/Zero. He is initially not interested in anything relating to the Holy Grail War, but makes a deal with the partiarch of the Matou family to free Sakura from them. He learns that the young girl, who he as grown very fond of in the past, is subjugated to daily physical and mental abuse in the Matou family. He joins the Holy Grail War for the Matou family to free Sakura from them. It is fairly hard explaining his motivations without some spoilers for Fate/stay night, so I will have to leave it at that. Of all the Masters, he is probably the one I was rooting for the most. His Servant is Berserker.
These are certainly not all of the characters, but some of my favorites out of the main cast. They are all very intersting in their own right and, in my opinion, could even serve as the protagonists of their own series. I believe this is a sign that your show is doing something right.
As you are expected to have watched Fate/stay night before this, you probably already know how it is going to end. With this being a prequel, the journey is much more interesting than the conclusion. Fate/Zero details the events of the fourth Holy Grail War, taking place ten years prior to Fate/stay night. The story mostly focuses on Kiritsugu Emiya, who is hired by the Einzberns to win the Holy Grail for them. Kiritsugu is married to their only daughter, Irisviel, which serves as a binding contract. Kiritsugu’s intentions and attitude remain shrouded in mystery. He states that his wish is salvation for humanity through world peace. This proves to be ironic, as he himself is a mage assassin and has killed many people throughout his life.
Kirei displays a vast contrast to Kiritsugu. He is an empty and broken man with no purpose or goal in life. He follows orders and fails to find pleasure or entertainment in anything. He serves Tokiomi Tohsaka and plots with him to be able to win the Holy Grail War. Throughout the show, he also becomes closer with Tohsaka’s Servant, Gilgamesh, who ends up not being a very good influence on Kirei. Gilgamesh shows him the ways of pleasure and entertainment, leading Kirei to a much darker side of himself. Even though it takes quite a while for the two to actually meet, the rivalry between Kirei and Kiritsugu ends up being one of the most interesting plot points of the show.
The story of a battle royale has been done a lot of times by now throughout many different anime. However, I have not seen any single one of them nail it as much as Fate/Zero. The entire tone of the show is very dark and mature. When watching Fate/stay night, the Holy Grail War felt more like a squabble between a bunch of teenagers (no offense, Shirou). In Fate/Zero you can tell this is a war. The stakes are raised immediately, as you realize that all of these Servants are immensely powerful. Fate/stay night felt fairly lighthearted with its focus on characters in their teens and scenes taking place in schools etc. There is none of that here, and while I enjoyed those parts in Fate/stay night, I believe it works better without them.
Something I really want to put a focus on in this review is some of the more gruesome scenes. I touched upon this topic before with Ryuunosuke and Caster. Fate/Zero displays another vast contrast with its very graphic scenes, a lot of them involving children. It is probably good to know what this entails, if that is something you don’t think you can handle. I would like to give some examples about what I mean with these scenes.
In episode two,
Ryuunosuke and Caster are introduced. I explained the murder scene before, but what really made it for me was the way it ended. Ryuunosuke let a little boy live and offered to let Caster eat him. What Caster does instead is to let the boy flee through a door and upon looking to the exit of the home, he is grabbed by tentacles from behind and we hear the boy being murdered with gut wrenching screams. This entire scene was honestly sickening and just remembering it makes me angry. But this is exactly what Fate/Zero needed. I loved this scene, but I definitely didn’t enjoy it or ever want to watch it again. It made me hate Ryuunosuke and Caster immediately which is why I think they made for great villains. It is this level of maturity and horror, that sets Fate/Zero’s tone to something that really fits the whole story perfectly.
Another scene that I really can’t let go, even though it was probably not one of the most memorable ones for most people, was in Season 2 Episode 11, when
Kiritsugu is having a vision of the Grail and rejects it. In this vision he is at the the Einzbern castle in Germany with Irisviel and Illya. As he realizes the situation and rejects the Grail’s offer, he puts a gun to Illya’s chin and kills her. Immediately afterwards, Irisviel jumps up from the bed and screams in horror of her daughter being murdered by her husband. I recognize that this was not real (then again, none of this is, lol), but it was really hard to listen to it. The voice acting throughout the entire show was absolutely amazing and hearing Sayaka Oohara
as Irisviel in this scene was very convincing. It really shocked me and even now, writing this about two hours after I watched it, I still have to process it.
Having scenes like this is really something that can turn an anime, video game or whatever else into one of my favorites. And no offense to English voice actors, but it is also why I will always prefer Japanese voice acting. The screams of horror you would hear in these scenes always felt so real, that it made me feel sick. This is peak acting and Fate/Zero excels at it.
Overall, the story of Fate/Zero is one of tragedy. Even once the War is over, nobody here is really a winner. Once all is said and done, the viewer is merely left with the sights of the survivors being broken, having achieved nothing. It is an amazingly told story of a war that claims its victims, one way or another.
I honestly couldn’t believe how good this anime looks. It was originally aired in 2011 and 2012 and honestly looks better than anything released in 2022. The animation is smooth and fight scenes are very satisfying to watch. Coming from Fate/stay night in 2006, it is a massive jump, despite being only a five year difference.
To be fair, some CGI is used and there are times where it is noticeable. However, I tend to be very forgiving with CGI and it seems to be used very sparingly throughout both seasons. Most of it that I noticed was in the beginning of season two.
Absolutely amazing. The OST of Fate/Zero was filled with great music, especially during battle scenes. It never failed to hype me up for a great moment.
Likewise, the OPs and EDs of Fate/Zero are great. The first OP especially (“oath sign” by LiSA) was amazing. I knew this song already, but wasn’t aware it was the first OP to Fate/Zero. Visually, I also really enjoyed the OPs and EDs of Fate/Zero, especially those of the first season.
When I finished watching the second season of Fate/Zero, the first thing I did was to add it to my list of favorite anime. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever be able to rewatch it. As another reviewer on AniList put it: “Fate/Zero will have you constantly itching to watch the next episode, constantly aching to know what’s going to happen next.” When you already know the story, most of the excitement will probably have vanished on your second run. If you plan to watch this show and feel like you will enjoy it, make sure to set it up in a way you enjoy watching anime the most. For me, it’s a sleepless night, watching all the way until morning, focusing on nothing else in the world. It is a beautiful masterpiece and you will only get one chance to enjoy it.