32 CommentsFirst Impressions / By Scamp /

Fate/Zero episode 1

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?

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32 Comments

  1. luffyluffy
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m hoping that the 45 minute running time was to get all the exposition out of the way.

    So far so good, off to a great start.

  2. Nebulous
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    I fundamentally agree about show-don’t tell, but unfortunately, eventually during medium conversion you just have to say things in order show things later. The circle walk scene was hilariously stupid, I agree, but I think they were put in this unfortunate hole by people who hate static scenes (me included), so they ended up having the characters do anything just to make the scene more than a bunch of people sitting around talking (as that is what happens in real life).
    I watched (and enjoyed) FSN so the confusion between the characters wasn’t there, and personally I think they spent more than enough time showing the different philosophies and attitudes of the characters.
    We do get to see the relationship between Kariya and the Tohsaka girls, they show us (not tell) his reason for fighting. They could’ve done better when describing Emiya’s past by showing us his assasination style, but you can’t have everything. Personally, I managed to sit through Bakemonogatari and Katamonogatari this was no problem in the show department.
    Art quality was absolutely beautiful, and a joy to watch. Music didn’t pull me too much but if it’s as good as FSNs we are in for a real treat.

    Overall I think this is probably the show of this season, as long as they get the introductions done and real fighting begins.

    • Scamp
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Bakemonogatari made the dialogue interesting to watch due to the artwork and animation style. It was also interesting because it wasn’t just exposition dumping. The characters were developing through their conversations and being funny.

      I really don’t see how you can think the animation was good here. There was no movement, the characters all looked the same and the backgrounds were non-descript

    • cuppatea
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking they were going to show more of Kiritsugu doing what he does (kill people and monsters dead) when Kirei was looking at the scroll. But overall I can’t fault these guys for the budget. Everything looks beautiful.

  3. Eldaron
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    I can’t see how it would have changed anything, if we had seen lets say Kiritsugu kill some random dudes with a sniper rifle.

    • Posted October 3, 2011 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      It would’ve looked a hell of a lot more interesting than him spending ages talking to somebody else about how he was a badass assassin capable of killing random dudes with a sniper rifle, though perhaps that’s exactly what you meant.

      There is some unavoidable exposition in such a format of course, but Nasu’s writing always tends towards the verbose. I don’t always want to know the history and characteristics of every weapon a Servant pulls out right when then and there. Sometimes it’s obvious enough that a big scary magic sword is used for killing people in big scary magic ways.

      • Iby
        Posted October 3, 2011 at 5:16 am | Permalink

        It’s Gen’s writing btw.

      • Posted October 3, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        It’s still the Fate premise however. That alone takes quite a bit of introducing because it’s inherently filled with dozens of complicated systems, some of them needlessly so. The exposition is pretty much necessary without padding out the beginning of the series far beyond reasonable limits of a 13 (24? 26?) episode anime.

        It may just be me, but you can almost see Gen taking a shot at the over-elaborate summoning ritual when Kiritsugu just throws down a metal ring and goes “Yeah, that’ll do it.” while every other character is busy chanting, lighting candles, waiting for the clock to strike midnight, or literally sacrificing chickens. The same is true of his methods – you can practically see the magus who died in that plane casting some overwrought scrying spell, declaring the place safe of any magical danger, and unwittingly sitting down on top of a very non-magical bomb.

  4. Posted October 3, 2011 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    I haven’t seen any of FSN at all but it sounds like I won’t need to in order to enjoy Fate/Zero, although the scene of mass exposition sounds like it’s going to irritate the hell outta me.

  5. Posted October 3, 2011 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    You are the only blogger I read so far that didn’t react to the “OMG SAKURA IS GETTING VIOLATED BY WORMS!” scene.

    Okay, now about the post. Well, the long exposition at the start was meant to introduce any new viewer to the Fate section of the Nasu-verse. Looking at it that way, there isn’t really much to show other that narrate the whole thing because well, it would be hard to put into animation this very static part of the novel, though the walking around in circles got me laughing real hard too.

    Overall, I think the first episode was good. Remember how Madoka was slow at the start? Maybe they’re going for that approach, though it kinda failed actually.

    • Iby
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 5:18 am | Permalink

      It was just the prologue and chapter 1 of the original, take it easy, dude.

    • Scamp
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Madoka told the story through it’s animation though. If Fate/Zero continues this train of thought throughout the airtime, I’m not going to be able to last

  6. Yagen
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    Maybe it’s just because I read the light novel and the visual, but I felt the circling scene had its place. Kirei’s father is a priest of the Church and Tohsaka is a representative of the Magic Association. The two rivaling organizations are circling Kirei like predators, effectively coercing him into the war. But Kirei is a lost character, unable to comprehend the two men’s ideals, represented by the characters of the Church and the Magic Association spinning around him. Kirei doesn’t know what he wants in the end, from the war or even in life, so the two associations remain distant satellites in his mind. Instead of focusing on their ideals, Kirei takes special interest in Kiritsugu, a man who seems as lost as he is, shown by the scene with the two fairly identical but not the same guy talking about each other.

    That’s how I interpreted things at least. I feel there’s depth to the scenes of long dialogue, but maybe I’m just digging things up that aren’t there. It’s a light novel translation, you get what you get. Apology for the wall of text.

    • AzarelHikaru
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      I read the visual novel too. And from what I recall, there was a lot of exposition at the beginning as well. So even if Urobochi only supervised the script for the anime, he was just as verbose in the light novel. But rest assured, Scamp, the story flows more smoothly after this part. Like a commenter above said, this was only the prologue and chapter 1.

    • Scamp
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Apo­logy for the wall of text

      Apologising for your wall of text, or Fate/Zero’s? ;)

    • Posted October 4, 2011 at 4:31 am | Permalink

      That’s actually a far superior explanation, a more nuanced and sensitive one, than Scamp’s point-and-laugh.

      I admit that I was confused at the circling – it seemed to add some weight to the situation, but it didn’t register right away.

      Also, I agree that the character designs were ABSOLUTELY uninspired between 2 or 3 of the mages. Also, I detected a whiff of sexism with the near-absence of assertive roles for women, until King Arthur showed up sans the Y chromosome.

  7. Posted October 3, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Everyone talks about that stupid going around in circles because that’s one of the biggest blunders I’ve seen in anime today. I wasn’t into it a first because of all the gibberish details but when shit started to get serious, it gets surprisingly really good.

    Maybe it is just me but I keep seeing Kara no Kyoukai in most of the scenes -__-

    • Iby
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      Orly? Maybe beacause:
      1) It’s the same ufotable;
      2) Because director’ve done the 1st KnK movie;
      3) Character designer is the same as in KnK movies;
      4) or even because the composer is the same, uh?
      Oh, and it’s Type-Moon’s work (partly) too.

  8. Iby
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    The people I cared about most in the 1st episode are Waver and Kariya – Waver because he’s so young and it’s just funny to watch him, and Kariya – because he’s fate was already sealed (and we already knowthat he’ll be dead for sure).

    • Scamp
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I can’t even remember which one Kariya is…

      The one with all the bugs? I can’t remember which character he was before he got attacked by the bugs

      • Iby
        Posted October 3, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, the one with the bugs.
        But he wasn’t attacked by the bugs, he asked his father to install them into him in order to save Sakura.

  9. Posted October 3, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I think they stretched it out too much. 45 minutes was way too overkill for that material. Though at least it worked as something to pique your interest.

  10. stupid commenter
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Probably this’ll be like Kara no Kyoukai: beautiful visuals, awful story and :words:

    • Iby
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, you have truly proper nickname.

      • stupid commenter
        Posted October 4, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        it was suposed to be another stupid commenter, but it was too long

  11. Posted October 4, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    I agree in large part with Yagen’s analysis of the circling scene, but I also took my own interpretation of it showing the viewers just how still in time Kirei stands in the story. He’s the only one to witness both the 4th and 5th Holy Grail Wars, excepting the heroes.

  12. Posted October 4, 2011 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Watched the first episode, thought it was OK when I wasn’t struggling to stay awake. I’ll reserve full judgment for when the characters actually do something instead of talk about it.

  13. fathomlessblue
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I’d actually finished the FSN anime/movie less than a week back (both mostly garbage btw!) and even I had to keep playing back scenes to figure who on earth everyone was supposed to be. Still I received more back-story on the characters who would show up in the sequel anime (Emiya, Kirei, and the 3 kids) than that show ever gave away, so there’s one positive

    I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand I really liked the tone the show, it was far better than the first series; however, considering the actually scenario (spirits of ‘famous dead heroes’ to compete for a fake grail) is extremely silly and nonsensical the setting still feels very jarring. The whole story would in all probability benefit from being played in a much more camp fashion, as befits the ludicrous plot.

    Saying that, I really enjoyed the scene of Emiya and Kirei doing recon on each other (at least once I figured what was happening). It reminded me a little of the cat-and-mouse games found in Death Note. Not as successfully done of course, but it was a good effort!

    • Scamp
      Posted October 4, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Wait, so they were talking about each other? I wasn’t sure if they were or not

      • Posted October 5, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink

        Yep, they were talking about each other. It was a nice bit of contrast between characters as well, especially how they seem to be mutually confused about the motives of their opposite number: Kirei, because he’s just empty inside, couldn’t understand how a career killer like Emiya, who SHOULD be dead inside as well, seems to be filled with purpose for example.

  14. LurkerX
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I may be over thinking this, but didn’t the shape they walked in that circle scene form the infinity symbol? So…it’s like hinting at the idea of ‘mugen’

  15. Zleihsh
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    I just notice something, those two circling around him just tell him to aid Tokiomi, they never ONCE tell Kirei that he can also, and has the right, to get the Grail!!!
    I wonder does Kirei know this or not !

    One more thing….. in Fate/Zero ep 2,
    Since that Caster is That Bluebeard, I can not wait to see his encounter with Saber, who, he mistake as Jone of Arc. If that will happen. Of course, that seem it will take a wile for animation to reach that ep. AHHHH I can’t wait.

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