Disclaimer: The only previous experience I’ve had with the Fate/Whatever franchise is 2 episodes of Fate/Stay Night, which was shockingly bad. But with the pedigree behind Fate/Zero and the fact it was a prequel meaning I might be able to pick up as to what’s going on, I decided it was worth a shot.
So how did I fare with understanding the plot as a newcomer? Well, things did not get off to a good start. As the characters were engaging in an exposition dump as to what the Holy Grail war was, they suddenly decided to start walking in big circles. One of the characters stood still, remaining completely silent, while the other two strode around him. It wasn’t dramatic pacing or intimidating striding. It was just the characters got bored and felt like walking around in circles. Even the camera didn’t seem to know what to do during this scene and spent most of it hovering over them, watching as the two of them paced a perfect circle around the silent character. After about 2 minutes of this, I burst out laughing. It just kept going. Occasionally it would pull out to a shot of one of the characters faces as they talked, but quickly it returned to the above shot of watching them pace around in that same circle. I had long since stopped paying attention to the subtitles. I was too busy laughing. They seriously could not have thought of a better way to inform of us of the story than to dump exposition on our head delivered to us by two men walking around in a circle? Not a single way to spice the scene up?
This is an extreme example of the general problem Fate/Zero has. Show, don’t tell. Is this such a hard concept to understand? Characters monologue exposition about the war, the servants, even the other characters. Why not let the other characters tell their own stories through their actions? I can’t keep up with who’s who when all we get are a bunch of names. They’re all generic Japanese names too, so I keep getting them mixed up. I kept getting the characters mixed up in person too because all their character designs look the same. There was a scene of two male characters with brown hair, long coats and deep voices, discussing a dangerous assassin. Halfway through the conversation that I realised that maybe they were talking about the other brown haired, long coated, deep voiced male character in the show whose hair had turned white. Or were they talking about him? Or were they talking about each other? Were they actually the same character in different timelines? Was the woman who gave birth in the first few minutes the wife of…who? They all look the bloody same! Make them do something memorable instead of sitting in a dimly lit room and spout exposition in their deep voices.
It’s not like this show can’t do showing instead of telling. Take the example of the wimpy kid. Instead of having a character holding up a piece of paper and monologuing about how he was jealous of the extra powers the older mage families have, the kid instead hands in an essay in school about how mages with less prestige could even the playing field and was then chewed out by his professor. OK, it’s not a perfect example of showing instead of telling, because it was still the professor indirectly telling us this, but it’s a start. It was only at this scene that I started to give a shit about what was going on because it gave me something to latch onto. A character angered by the structures of society vows to end this by entering the Holy Grail war. For the first time I had something tangible to care about the outcome of the Holy Grail war because I had finally seen a human enter it. Not an exposition spouter with a deep voice. A whiny voiced kid. He’s no Hououin Kyouma, sure, but he’s a Person with a Story.
Once I had that grounding point, the rest of the episode started to become more interesting. Different people were getting various artefacts because of how they believed gaining that servant would help them. What servant they aimed for told us a bit about their characters, whether they head for the ‘best’ or the crazy Berserker. I don’t know who any of these servants are, but the story gave me a reason to be interested in what they are. I actually cared about the story and got genuinely hyped up when all the characters started their various summoning routines at the end of the episode, which was rather surprising given I was laughing at how bad it was at the start. So well done Fate/Zero. You eventually piqued my interest. But please, could you learn to show and not tell?