There exists a plane outside of human concepts, and within there is the Throne of Heroes. Here, the records of famous (and infamous) individuals throughout history are kept, to be used as eternal guardians of mankind. The definition of "hero" is broad — even the most ruthless and heartless are the heroes of their own tales.Centuries ago, three families — Einzbern, Makiri, Tohsaka — conducted a dark and bloody ritual; Heaven's Feel, the Holy Grail War of Fuyuki. A battle between seven magi, competing for a chance to wish upon a "Holy Grail", the 726th branded by The Church. Heroic Spirits from the Throne are summoned and bound to the material world, becoming "Servants" to their summoner "Masters". To keep their true names hidden, the seven Servants are sorted into one of seven Classes: Saber, Archer, Lancer, Rider, Caster, Berserker, and Assassin. In addition, each Servant is armed with the mysteries that symbolize their legend — Noble Phantasms, legendary armaments and abilities, the very concepts that embody their fame.As each Servant falls, the Holy Grail receives their power, until only one remains and the Grail is able to manifest in the physical world to grant the winners' wishes.Fate/Zero, the prequel to famous Visual NovelFate/stay night, is the story of Heaven's Feel IV. From the viewpoints of the Servants and their Masters, it shows the War in all its ruthlessness — greed, ambition, murder, betrayal; the weak succumb, the strong live on to see another battle.Kiritsugu Emiya grew up wanting to be a hero who could save anyone and everyone... but he quickly realized that for every person he saved, another had to die. The only way to be a hero is to act for the good of all humanity; to destroy the factor that will, in turn, destroy even more humans if left unchecked. And if that factor is humans themselves, then he will kill every single one who threatens the peace of another. Despised, feared, branded as a murderer, a contract killer, a hitman — still he goes on, believing that this is the best way to serve humanity.Due to his immense skill, he is taken in by the Einzberns as an honorary family member. However, the Einzberns' real motive is to send him to Fuyuki, his old home, to participate in the Fourth Heaven's Feel on their behalf. Although he loves his new family—his wife, Irisviel, and their daughter, Ilya—he knows his battle is not yet over. As one of the seven Masters, he must return to Japan to obtain the Holy Grail of Fuyuki for the Einzberns.Fate/Zero is a collaboration, a series of four illustrated novels written by Gen Urobuchi (of Nitro+ fame) and illustrated by Takashi Takeuchi of TYPE-MOON, under the direction of Kinoko Nasu. Based in the Nasuverse, it refers to concepts and ideas of other Nasu works, mainly Fate/stay night. The first volume was released in December 2006, while the last was released in December 2007. It was first adapted into a Drama CD, with music by ZIZZ Studio (composers for the majority of Nitro+ works). A manga adaptation has begun serialization, and a TV series (by ufotable of Kara no Kyoukai fame, with music by Yuki Kajiura, and starring the Drama CD cast) aired its first season in Fall 2011 and concluded in Spring 2012.The anime was streamed for free with subtitles in eight different languages by Aniplex on Nico Nico as it aired. The episodes are available on Crunchyroll.The English dub by Aniplex USA, VIZ Media's and Neon Alley service is currently available on Netflix.On a less official note, there is a Light Novel Scrubbing Project (for want of a better term) going on as a side effort, aiming to rewrite and improve the English fan translation. Up to a point. Support is appreciated.
Adaptational Attractiveness: While Kariya isn't going to land any modeling gigs any time soon, the Body Horror inflicted on his body by the worms in the anime looks like a bad skin rash in comparison to his appearance in the light novels, where he resembles Two-Face from Batman.
Adult Fear: Ryuunosuke and Caster are serial child murderers who like to give their victims a Hope Spot before brutally killing them. In one episode, you even see a memorial service for one of the victims, who happens to be one of the young Rin's classmates. It's just a single photo frame, and you hear someone mention that they coundn't do a proper burial because the body was too mangled. It gets so bad that, in-universe, a reward is offered to whoever can kill Caster first, and the entire Holy Grail War is put on hold until then. Cue nearly everyone doing an Enemy Mine to take these two down. Really, REALLY not helped by who *this* Caster really is. Take Our Word for It. Please.
Another Adult Fear in the story is losing your family. By the end of the story, Kiritsugu has lost his wife, Irisveil, and daughter, Ilya, as well as his mistress and close friend, Maiya.
Additionally, having your ideals fall apart is also present in the story.
Having one of your closest friends betray you and kill you happens to Tokiomi.
Having the love of your life hate you and tell you that you aren't capable of loving happens to Kariya.
Caster having a hallucination of Jeanne d'Arc reaching out to him while smiling and realizing just what kind of monster he has become before dying.
There is also Kayneth's death. After agreeing to quit the war, he is summarily executed by Kiritsugu alongside his fiancee through use of a loophole. Because Kiritsugu cannot pull the trigger himself, he even has to bleed and beg for death on the ground until a disgusted Saber has to perform a Mercy Kill.
Kariya has loved Aoi, who is both oblivious and married, since they were both young.
Maiya has feelings for Kiritsugu, but acknowledges that Irisviel is the woman he loves. She's still The Mistress, but only because of Kiritsugu's masochistic need to "practice" betraying his wife for the grail.
Caster might count, since his "Jeanne" doesn't respond to his feelings largely because she's not Jeanne. The specifics of Gilles' feelings before Jeanne's death is currently unclear.
In the backstory, Kirei's wife Claudia was devoted to a man who was literally incapable of loving her.
Kayneth sincerely loves Sola-Ui and does whatever he can to make the best of their Arranged Marriage, but she'll have none of it. Sola-Ui loves her fiancé's Servantnote which the curse of his Mystic Face either caused or encouraged, who does not reciprocate her feelings. And if loyalty is a type of love, Lancer rejects Sola because he's devoted to his Master Kayneth despite receiving only disdain (at best) in return.
Averted with Kiritsugu and Irisviel. Until she dies.
All Myths Are True: All Heroic Spirits are eligible for summoning, as long as they are remembered in legends. Armaments and abilities which are symbolic of the legend (for example, King Arthur and Excalibur) become the Noble Phantasms of the Servant.
The original game, side material, information volumes, etc.
Likewise, the details on the previous Grail Wars. The Third is mentioned as having taken place in World War II, with Naziagents getting in the way of the Grail. This also explains in part why the Grail itself got corrupted.
Anachronic Order: The second episode detailing Kiritsugu's backstory freely hops between him as a child and him as a young man.
Ancient Conspiracy: The true purpose of the Heaven's Feel ritual is to recreate the Third Magic, the eponymous Heaven's Feel, which deals with immortality of the soul.
Anime Catholicism: Several high-ranking members of the Church are quite young, and everyone speaks fluent Japanese.
All the Servants need to die to power the Grail, but the easiest way to take out the Servant is to cut the power source (i.e. the Master). There Can Be Only One, after all.
There is a second purpose to this, as well: If a Servant is killed before the Master is, the Master's Command Spells revert to the Grail, which can reassign them to another Master. And those who were selected previously as Masters get preferential treatment.
Ultimately, the Grail itself, corrupted by Angra Mainyu. Its corruption is what likely causes it to choose Kirei as a Master despite him having no interest in it, or even knowing what it was up to that point, simply because it's attracted to Kirei's hidden evil desires. It also likely had a hand in choosing a serial killer as the last Master when there were no more volunteers.
On a lesser note, Zouken Matou is one. Even in Fate/stay night, he doesn't do much until the final route of the game. He does, however, continue to observe how things are proceeding in this war despite not directly participating.
Bittersweet Ending: The Einzbern Consultation Room OVAs end with Taiga being separated from Irisviel, but not before Irisviel gives her the Einzbern Dojo sign. Taiga wakes up and begins wondering if her time in the dojo with Irisviel was All Just a Dream. Taiga discovers that she still has the sign, and although she'll never see Irisviel again, decides to start working towards teaching people how to overcome any and all "Bad Ends".
Bloodier and Gorier: The manga adaptation is making full use of its run in a genuine Seinen magazine, some of the explicit brutal things narrated in the novels (but not heavily shown in the anime, just implied) like Uryuu and Caster's "fun" times of torture and general sickening actions, are shown in great detail page by page in the manga; in fact, it is being taken Up to Eleven via Adaptation Expansion by giving more background on what Uryuu likes to do with his victims. Not to mention graphically portraying young Sakura's brutal rape by the Matou Crest Worms.
Brick Joke: All the way back in Fate/stay night, it was mentioned that Saber would have a technical vulnerability against weapons that were made to counter dragons. In her final battle against Berserker, the sword he uses finally is a weapon that has such an attribute.
Call Forward/Foreshadowing: Interestingly, this one was entirely by accident, as Fate/hollow ataraxia wasn't fully planned out at that stage, but somehow, Gen Urobuchi was able to get the mechanics behind Avenger/Angra Mainyu's method of "possession" entirely by chance. Nasu and Takeuchi found the coincidence kinda freaky.
Calling Your Attacks: If a Noble Phantasm has to be manually activated, its "true name" must be called. Doesn't apply for those that are always active.
Episode 18 of the anime highlights Kiritsugu's backstory where his childhood friend Shirley inadvertently causes an epidemic of Dead Apostles on the island. Among the responding magi sent by the Magus Association? Fire magus Cornelius Alba.
In the last episode of the anime, a high school girl is shown in the background waving a shinai around. That's most likely Taiga Fujimura, a supporting character from Fate/stay night.
Cast Full of Pretty Boys: Not totally surprising, considering outside of Saber and Irisviel all the major characters are male. Lancer, Gilgamesh, Waver, and Ryuunosuke stand out as particularly Bishōnen, although Kiritsugu and Kirei are no slouches in the Mr. Fanservice department. Pretty much all of the Masters and Servants have their devoted Estrogen Brigade, even Caster and especiallyKariya.
Cheaters Never Prosper: The only Master who doesn't cheat over the course of the War is Waver (Kirei cheats by seeking sanctuary under false pretenses. Ryuunosuke breaks the rule about preserving the Masquerade. Everyone else breaks the rule about not fighting each other until Caster is beaten). While Waver doesn't win the war, he does survive it, and is indisputably better off at the end of the War than he was at the beginning, which is more than can be said about Kirei and Kiritsugu.
Chekhov's Gun: The magic circle Irisviel and Saber drew in the shed of the operations base Kiritsugu provided them (for the purpose of aiding Iri in sustaining herself) will end up saving Shirou's skin from Lancer ten years later by serving as the summoning circle for Saber.
Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Belief is a powerful weapon in Nasuverse; the more people believe in something, the more power it has. Accordingly, the more well-known the legend, the more powerful the Servant. However, the older the mystery is, the more powerful it is, which offsets if it is not as famous.
Cliff Hanger: The first season of the anime ends as Saber, Rider, and Lancer are about to engage Caster and his Cthulhu knockoff.
Subverted to hell and back during the fight between Assassin and Rider.
Played literally with the assassins themselves. They had to split his power and combat prowess of the regular Assassin class servantnote Which is the weakest Servant class to begin with. between all personas somewhat equally.
Various examples of architecture, vehicles, and attack effects and Berserker as a whole in the anime.
The effect with Berserker is intentional due to limitations of animation. Berserker had to be animated within his haze, which would look awkward in traditional animation.
It also achieves the effect that there is just something inherently wrong with Beserker (similar to, say, the D-Reaper, for the sake of example). He deliberately looks out of place with the rest of the world around him, like in the novel.
It has also been used for the odd organic character/creature, including Matou's worms in Episode 1, the tentacles in Episode 2 and Saber in certain shots during Episodes 22 & 23.
Continuity Nod: Since this takes place just ten years before Fate/stay night, far too many to list. Let's just say that many events in the Fourth had consequences for the Fifth.
Tokiomi vs. Kariya is very one-sided. One is a man who has spent a lifetime learning to master his craft. The other is a runaway relying on ad-hoc sorcery implanted in him by his sadistic ancestor who is too berserk with pain and rage to use even that properly. Guess which one wins without having to hardly lift a finger.
Before that there was Iskander vs. Assassin. All of the Assassins, counting in the dozens. Cue Ionioi Hetairoi: Army of the King, and the fight becomes such a ridiculously one-sided slaughter the author doesn't even bother telling you about it though in the anime we see the Assassins either attempt to run away, fight to their deaths, or directly face their deaths without fighting. There is a reason it is the Page Image in the Anime and Manga section.
Any fight Gilgamesh participates in could be this if he took any of the other servants even remotely seriously (not that he has to, seeing as he's easily one of the most powerful things in the Nasuverse, including ORT, Ado Edem and Archetype Earth). Word of God states that he could have single-handedly ended the Fourth Holy Grail in a single night if he bothered to go full out.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Just to add an extra dose of squick, the anime version of the scene where Kariya strangles Aoi manages to summon implications of rape by the way of their relative positioning, the way she struggles, putting attention to their ragged breathing and placing his knee between her legs.
Doomed by Canon: Pointed out early on that you probably don't want to get too attached to anyone. By the end, the only people left are Kiritsugu, Kirei, Waver Velvet, Gilgamesh and Saber from among the main cast and after the FIFTH Holy Grail War, Waver is the last remnant of Fate/Zero who is guaranteed to survive.
Kiritsugu sacrifices his wife and trusted partner to achieve his goal (World Peace), only to find that the Grail is corrupted and, thus, that he has to destroy it (in the process, losing access to his daughter and leaving her to be raised by her mother's evil family), and even this does not prevent the Grail War from repeating itself ten years later. Further, his arch-nemesis is still alive, and outlives him to threaten his son (and daughter) in the next war. Meanwhile, Sakura is still stuck with Zouken, completely abandoned except by Rin (whose concern for her is limited and does not override the rules their father Tokiomi set down). Rin herself is now an orphan. Kariya dies having failed to save Sakura, and actually makes her situation worse by acting as a reminder to her of what happens to people who oppose her grandfather or try to run away. All of the major villains (except Caster and his master) are still alive, and essentially no-one else survives, except Kiritsugu, who dies as a result of the corruption caused when he destroyed the Grail. The only non-evil master that survives the war and has a fairly happy ending is Waver. Whilst, if one takes Fate/stay night into account, his adoptive son fixes some of these things, Sakura isn't guaranteed to be saved and nor is Ilya, and none of the dead people (Aoi, Kariya, Kiritsugu, Iri) can be brought back.
Also on the plus side, Kiritsugu's actions prevented anyone from making a wish with the Holy Grail. Since Angra Mainyu would ruin any wish and turn it into mass destruction, potentially ending the world, Kiritsugu may not have given the world peace, but he did save it albeit at a high cost to himself and his loved ones.
Dual Wielding: Diarmuid uses dual spears, though not always at the same time. The Black Knight's tendency to grab whatever is on hand also leads to this, and at one point he dual-wields sub-machine guns!
Dungeon Bypass: Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald is in the thirty-second floor of a hotel—his bounded field covers twenty-four floors (even going over the drainage pipes), there are three magical furnaces for his use, and he has ten summoned evil spirits and apparitions—a veritable magus' fortress. How does Kiritsugu deal with this? Apply a small amount of C4 to the supports and bring the entire place down.
Dying Moment of Awesome: Iskandar a.k.a Rider manages to go out with more dignity and style than most people have even at the height of their achievements.
Eldritch Abomination: Summoned by Caster. Normally, a magus only summons something of a certain level of strength or they can't control it, so at first they don't understand... until they realize the Caster couldn't care less if the horror he summoned is under control or not.
Enemy Mine: Crops up several times during the early part of the Holy Grail War. Saber and Lancer are the most common allies, whilst Caster is the most common target.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Servants are referred to by their Class, even when their real names are revealed. Berserker, whose identity is hidden until the last novel, is dubbed the "Black Knight".
Fanservice: The final episode has Gilgamesh stark naked during most of his conversation with Kirei. It makes sense, though, since he was drenched in Angra Mainyu's corruption and his body is now flesh and blood, unlike the rest of the series.
Fatal Flaw: Quite a few, but most outwardly obvious are Kiritsugu's ideals and Arturia's regret over her country's fall.
Female Gaze: Episode 8 provides viewers with a lingering shot of Kirei's well-sculpted ass. And Kariya is naked in his dream in Episode 20, although what happens in the dream and what we see of him after he wakes up is pure Fan Disservice.
Flanderization: Inevitable in the anime, due to the large portions they were forced to cut (primarily monologues and flashbacks). Kirei and Gilgamesh in particular suffer from this. Kiritsugu does too to some extent.
Flowery Elizabethan English: Mostly Lost in Translation, but Rider's speech can smack of the Japanese equivalent of this at times, while it is pretty much the default mode of speech for Gilgamesh. Hence even native speakers of Japanese sometimes have trouble with following Gilgamesh's conversations, as he uses archaic versions of just about every noun and verb, even simple ones.
Fate/Zero is written under the assumption that the reader has already finished Fate/stay night. A fairly early author's note warns that you really shouldn't be expecting a happy ending, and that the writer will probably have to kill his entire cast in order to fit his ending into the timeline established in the previous story.
To wit: Iskander fails to save Arturia from her ideals, Kiritsugu fails to completely destroy the Grail, Kariya loses the war and therefore cannot stop Zouken from torturing Sakura and Gilgamesh sticks around until the next war after being doused in the mud of the tainted Grail. All the Servants die except Gilgamesh and Saber as well as all the Masters except Waver Velvet and Kirei because Kiritsugu is badly cursed.
Gameplay and Story Integration: A strange version, considering that it's not a video game, but the novel still uses the stat sheets found in Fate/stay night. Several of the passive skills and stats listed there have an effect on the plot, such as Saber's "Riding", Lancer's "Eye of the Mind (True)", Rider's "Divinity", Archer's "Independent Action" and Caster's "Mental Pollution".
Go Karting with Bowser: Rider charges into Saber's castle without any prior warning... and invites Saber to go drinking with him and Gilgamesh.
Gory Discretion Shot: Caster's segments in the anime are heavily censored, at least in the regular broadcast. In the novel, the author goes into some description that's not too gory, but just enough to give an idea of what's happening to the children. The manga adaptation is not so kind, giving us full view of wacky contraptions like the "human umbrella".
Grand Finale: The previous three volumes slowly but steadily killed off the cast, so naturally, the fourth is a Wham Episode.
Gratuitous German: At one point Rin opens one of her father's grimoires, which angrily chants German at her.
Guns Akimbo: Kiritsugu dual-wields his Contender and Calico. Also Berserker later, with two MP5 submachine guns.
Guns Are Worthless: Played with. Because Magi have a tendency to view technology with disdain and consider it inferior to their own magecraft, Kiritsugu uses it against them to great effect. On the other hand, Kayneth's magecraft protected him from Claymore mines, a skyscraper collapsing around him, and automatic fire at point-blank range, while Kirei can outright dodge bullets.
Gun Porn: Gen Urobuchi gave a whole lot of detail to the weapons that Kiritsugu uses. To wit, Kiritsugu's weapons are a Calico M950 sub-machine gun, a Walter WA2000 sniper rifle (with night scope and heat vision sensors), and his Mystic Code the Thompson Contender, customized with his Origin Bullets. The anime also shows other weapons in a couple of lock and load montages.
High Altitude Battle: The absolutely glorious battle between Gilgamesh and Berserker near the end of the war is this.
Hope Spot: Caster deliberately gives one to children before killing them.
I Have Your Wife: Kiritsugu and Maiya successfully pull this off in a way that would make any villain proud.
All three of the traditional mages (Kayneth, Tokiomi, and Waver) fulfill this to some extent. Kayneth is so prideful as a magus that he utterly failed to consider mundane methods being effective against him, and his disdain for Kiritsugu's firearms is what does him in. Tokiomi had a great plan to win the war but failed to anticipate the treachery of his apprentice, who was admittedly almost as surprised. Waver just doesn't understand what he's getting himself into, and as such would have been outclassed by the other Masters even if their Servants weren't involved.
All three fail to take into consideration the personalities of their Servants: Kayneth doesn't understand Lancer's Undying Loyalty or his chivalric code, Tokiomi's failure to understand Archer's ego eventually leads to his death by Kirei, and Waver just doesn't have the strength of will to control someone like Rider. Contrast Kiritsugu, whose plan to use Irisviel as a proxy Master makes her and Saber a great team-up, and Kirei, who gets to know Archer on a personal level.
Kariya, in his desperate attempts to win the war with last-minute preparations that are greatly taxing to him, also qualifies.
Also averted, although in a non-fatal way, by Zouken with regards to Sakura, the abuse of whom (starting from the age of five) is described in quite a lot of detail (although it's not explicitly shown). In fact, it is a major plot point (since Kariya's reason for fighting is to free her).
Info Dump: These pop up from time to time. Particularly in Episode 1 of the anime adaptation.
Ironic Echo: In the third book, Saber in the narration admits to herself that Kiritsugu is the most suitable Master to receive the Holy Grail (upon realization of how despite his methods, his wish and intention for world peace is genuine). In the fourth book, Angra Mainyu (in the shape of Irisviel) says this exact thing to him... and this line takes a much darker meaning in this context as it refers to his method of saving people by killing other people, because the tainted Grail's method of granting wishes is likewise destruction and murder.
Japanese Christian: The Tohsaka clan were originally secret Christians, though it's unknown whether Tokiomi keeps the faith.
Jedi Mind Trick: Made more explicit in the novel, when it was explained how Kiritsugu convinces the bellboy that he was Kayneth and that he and Kayneth's wife Sola-Ui have already left the hotel.
Karma Houdini: Ryuunosuke, in a sense. He gets killed by Kiritsugu, but he is so thrilled at the sight of his own blood that it doesn't really feel like actual punishment. It is stated in the novel that he dies with a smile of total bliss.
Killed Them AllFor Real: Averted with Kirei, Gilgamesh, Waver, and practically all other characters who had major roles in FSN.
Lampshade Hanging: From the Einzbern Consultation Room specials: "You probably think Assassin is just there to get killed."
Laser Hallway: The defenses around Tokiomi's atelier, despite being more like invisible rotating cages of magic, invoke all the contortions and careful maneuvers that come along with this trope.
The anime works hard to avert this, like soft blurring or making clever use of camera focus on the most questionable scenes, but there are some things that just couldn't be shown in great detail, Uryuu and Caster's moments with their victims are the most notable examples, the most sickening lines in the novels did not make its way to the anime.
The Einzbern Consultation Room OVAs, on the other hand, are designed to be sweet moe goodness to counter the very dark and horrifying narrative. Zecchan even somewhat invokes this, saying that they should "pretend all that Urobuchi-style stuff never happened".
Fate/Zero itself, while cynical and dark enough to compete with Heaven's Feel, is rather light on the horror elements when compared to its parent work.
Meaningful Name: Alimango Island. If you know the meaning of Alimango (Crab), then you're either someone who's fluent with Tagalog or someone with Philippine roots.
Mindcontrol Eyes: Caster makes Ryuunosuke a bracelet that allows him to easily abduct children; the effects of the enchantment naturally involve this trope.
Mood Dissonance: Season 2, Episode 23: Kirei recites Psalm 23, a psalm expressing peace and trust in Divine guidance and protection, at the end of the episode. While he does recite it in the light novel on the way to fighting Kiritsugu, the anime syncs his recitation with scenes of Waver crying Manly Tears after being spared by Gilgamesh, Saber getting a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from Berserker, Kariya in agony, and, with "In the presence of my enemies you prepare a table for me...", Irisviel's corpse laid down on a table one floor above where he will be fighting Kiritsugu.
Mood Whiplash: In a weird way. The death count has been climbing up, Kirei's schemes are beginning to play out, the great, depressing finale is already building up, Irisviel has been kidnapped and Saber is desperately trying to recover her... and Saber's mind, and by extension, the author, keeps engaging in Description Porn about how awesome Saber's motorcycle is.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ryuunosuke is somewhat similar to François Prelati, Gilles de Rais' historical partner in crime and possible lover. Much like Ryuunosuke, Prelati was young, good-looking and deeply amoral. What makes them different is the fact that Prelati was a liar who manipulated Gilles for his own benefit, whereas Ryuunosuke's affection for Caster appears to be completely sincere.
Nothing Is Scarier: The Caster-related censoring would be more effective if it wasn't for the squishing sounds.
In Kiritsugu's backstory, the vampire Odd Vořák goes down oddly easily... but this simply releases all the bees he was hiding within his body, turning the entire plane cabin into a bloodbath.
Kiritsugu himself at the end of the war. You think that you killed your rival and destroyed Grail? Nope, he is still alivenote Barely, being shot in the heart and in clinical death state. He would have inevitably died, should Kiritsugu wait several minutes. and since you have just unsummoned Saber, Kirei and Gilgamesh are winners of Fourth Grail War. And it gets worse, since Kirei's conscious wish was to discover an answer for his quest. The wish his unconscious mind asked for during its dying moments caused Fuyuki Great Fire.
Night-Vision Goggles: Kiritsugu uses the thermal scope on his rifle to observe Masters who, because of their Magic Circuits, have a different heat signature. His Walther WA2000 has some kind of dual-scope setup, with one night-vision and the other thermal.
The Nineties: The Fourth Grail War is set sometime in the 1990s.
Off Model: The largest complaint for Episode 11, which is due in part to much of the episode's budget going into animating Ionioi Hetairoi.
If Kariya and Tokiomi had been able to put aside their mutual hatred for long enough to explain why they felt as they do, or if Aoi and Kariya had bothered to talk about their situation at all, then Aoi's brain damage and Sakura's eleven years of torture could perhaps have been prevented.
While they at least TRY to talk in Volume Three, they have no ability to understand each other.
One might wonder exactly what Tokiomi's reaction might have been had Kariya actually told him exactly why he was fighting.
Power Glows: In particular, Excalibur being charged (the sword converts Mana into light).
Prana: One of the main weaknesses of Servants is that they must have mana to continue existing; since they're technically dead, they are not "a part of the World", so the World itself will try to crush this contradiction.
Product Placement: Played for laughs in the Einzbern Consultation Room OV As. Taiga's questions about the Servants at one point basically sum up to "Buy the Fate Zero novels to learn more, in stores now!"
Purple Prose: Invoked by Tokiomi in a lame attempt to kiss up to Archer and get him to take out Caster:
Tokiomi: "King, that monster is a destructive pest that tears apart your gardens. I implore you to execute it." Archer: "That would be a gardener's work. Or, Tokiomi, do you dare imply that my Noble Phantasm is nothing more than a gardener's shovel?"
Saber in Fate/stay night states that Kiritsugu only spoke to her three times ie. the three Command Seals. However, there are numerous points where he's basically having an argument with her and simply doesn't address her directly. Irisviel at times also seems like a way to get around this. The aftermath of Lancer's suicide and the death of Kayneth is probably the most obvious example. Also, contrary to her claims, it's pretty obvious that she's not quite viewed as a tool: She and Kiritsugu clash too much for that.
It may be more of a case of her bitterness over what she perceives as Kiritsugu's betrayal that's talking in Fate/stay night. After going through all those difficult battles and bloody massacres just see Kiritsugu seemingly abandon the ideals he'd supposedly sacrificed everything for by ordering her to destroy the grail may very well have led her to believe that she was a tool all along. Saber doesn't learn about the grail's corruption until the fifth war.
Recurring Riff: Melodies from Point Zero and Let The Stars Fall Down pop up all over the soundtrack.
Roboteching: Both Berserker and Archer's projectiles during their dogfight.
Rule of Cool: At one point, Arturia (as in, King Arthur) rides a motorcycle to fight Iskander, who is on a chariot. They smash heavy items at each other with swords. Really.
Rule of Symbolism: The smashing of Okeanos' waves was the beating of Rider's own heart. One may take this as a metaphor that one should spend their life doing what they love, or that the journey is its own reward.
Scenery Porn: In the anime, no expense was too high, best described by one reviewer which described it as "...a budget big enough to buy Belgium." This gives the anime some of the best art and animation in the entire industry, and the Blu-Ray 1080p editions just laugh at attempts to match them. Takealook◊
Berserker never speaks until his helmet comes off, only roars.
Self-Deprecation: In the Einzbern Consultation Room specials, Taiga attempts to reassure Lancer that there would be no "Urobuchi-type drama". Fate/Zero visual novel was written by Gen Urobuchi himself.
Shoot the Hostage: Kiritsugu takes El-Melloi's wife hostage, but signs a magical contract that should he harm either of them, he will lose all his magecraft. El-Melloi agrees to Kiritsugu's terms, then prepares to leave the city with her while they're both alive. Then Kiritsugu's assistant shows up with an assault rifle.
The "Einzbern Consultation Room" specials from the DVD are basically a huge Shout-Out to the Tiger Dojo corners from Fate/stay night, complete with role reversal with Ahura Mazda impersonating Irisviel as the "teacher" and a teenage amnesiac Taiga as the "student", and containing a few other Shout Outs within it:
"There are DDD circumstances behind that, so I'm sorry."
Alba's silhouette can be seen when Iri talks about mages in the Nasuverse.
Natalia smokes the same extremely rare brand of cigarettes that Touko does.
Fate/Zero Materials notes that, after the Holy Grail war, Kayneth's Volumen Hydragyrum had been tweaked a bit by Waver so it could assume the role of a household servant. The only problem is, thanks to being exposed to a certain film, it occasionally goes berserk while insisting it's a killer robot from the future.
Bill Clinton on the television Rider is watching in Episode 3.
In the anime's first ending, the Servants are depicted in scenes that are based on actual paintings or sculptures of their historical counterparts.
Particularly clever is Hassan-i Sabbah who is showing looking off into the distance from his horse with a sword in one hand in an almost exact recreation of a famous woodcut but from the opposite angle. In the original image Hassan's left hand is obscured by the horse's head, the change of angle reveals the characters distinctive skull mask.
For that matter, the fact that the novels include many details accurately regarding the Servants' legends shows that Nasu and Urobuchi definitely did their research on the original myths and history. The departures in this case are more Artistic License or intentional disregard.
Soundtrack Dissonance: "Starlit Faith", from the Return to Zero soundtrack album, reads and sounds like a rock ballad about finding one's way to his loved one. One could be forgiven for hearing this and not guessing that the setting of the soundtrack overflows in GRIMDARK-ness...
Varies, but for the first two thirds of the story, you almost wouldn't believe that this is supposed to be Kiritsugu's tale in particular. Team Rider in particular gets plenty of development and scenes.
Gen Urobuchi's favorite characters, Gilgamesh and Kirei, also get this; in fact, Urobuchi has said that he wrote Fate/Zero mainly for Kirei in an interview.
Squishy Wizard: Subverted in the Nasuverse in general; magi can use Reinforcement and other physical spells to boost their bodies to the limits of human capability, in addition to the physical and martial arts training that most modern magi undergo.
Supernormal Bindings: One of Archer's Noble Phantasms is Enkidu, a special chain that was created to restrain the gods, its strength is proportional to the divinity of their opponent, so while it can easily overpower gods, when used against normal person, it simply acts as a tough chain.
Zigzagged. The guy doing the pronounciation actually seems to know enough about what he's doing for it to actually sound like proper German (making it a huge improvement over Rin or Archer), but the grammar is still gibberish.
Natalia's fax messages are in passable German. Show Hayami also gets to say a spell in German.
Tears of Blood: Lancer begins to cry them after he's commanded to impale himself on his own spear. The blood stains his sclera red, giving him quite a demonic appearance in his death throes.
Teleport Spam: In one scene, Gilgamesh prefers to simply teleport several times to dramatically appropriate areas of the room as opposed to walking around.
Church Executors fight using the Black Keys, throwing swords held between the knuckles, in a Wolverine-esque manner.
To be fair, the swords are explicitly designed for throwing with their long length and weighting making it difficult to use as an actual sword. On top of this, it is stated in the novels that they require great skill to wield effectively and, despite it being the signature weapon of the Executors, few make them their Weapon of Choice. Kirei is one of those few.
Tome of Eldritch Lore: Bluebeard's Noble Phantasm, Prelati's Spellbook. Aside from the whole cover-made-of-human-skin thing, it's actually "alive" and Bluebeard only "commands" it. It seems to summon Eldritch Abominations.
If a giant, seemingly alive ball of mercury appears out of nowhere, you probably shouldn't shove your hand into it.
A giant, tentacled monster has appeared in the river? Maybe if I fly my jet in closer, I can get a better look!
Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Lancer shows up in an Einzbern Consultation Room special unable to recall anything that happened in Episode 16. Zecchan encourages him to "pretend that none of that Urobuchi-style stuff ever happened", but Irisviel won't let him off the hook that easily.
See, just like so—just like you said, Iri. This great Heroic Spirit dares to think that the battlefield is better than hell. What a joke! No matter in what era, the battlefield has always been a veritable hell. In the battlefield, there is no place for hope. What lies there is only cold despair and a sin called victory, built on the pain of the defeated. All those people who met there have wholeheartedly admitted the evil and foolishness of this act called ‘war’. As long as people don’t repent and don’t regard it as the most evil taboo, then hell would endlessly reappear in the world. However, humans did not realize that truth no matter how high they staked their mountains of corpses. That’s because in no matter what era the courageous and fearless great heroes have always bedazzled the eyes of the multitude with their splendid heroic legends. Because of the wistful actions of those idiots and their refusal to admit that bloodshed is by itself evil, the essence of humans has stayed on the same spot since the Stone Age!
Weapon of Choice: Servants are armed with Noble Phantasms, the weapons or abilities that helped make them famous in life. Also, magi are generally armed with one or more "Mystic Codes" which are tools that are designed to be used with their Magecraft. Quite a few are designed specifically for combat.
What the Hell, Hero?: Saber, and to a lesser extent Irisviel, after Kiritsugu arranges the deaths of Kayneth and Sola-Ui.
Would Hurt a Child: Dear God! Caster! To make matters worse, the second episode of the anime shows his child-murdering cruelty in all its horrific glory (thankfully we don't actually see what happens to the poor kid after he gets dragged offscreen, but hearing it is just bad enough).
Wound That Will Not Heal: Lancer's Gae Buidhe inflicts a curse on wounds so they won't heal, which is described in RPG terms as akin to reducing maximum hit points (i.e. healing will have no effect, since Saber would be at "full HP" despite the wound). Saber gets afflicted by this early on due to a lapse in battle judgment. This becomes Saber's Drama-Preserving Handicap until Volume 3, where Saber, Lancer, and Rider team up to battle the Eldritch Abomination that Caster set loose upon the city. Even then, during her rematch with Lancer, Saber fights Lancer using only her right hand.
You Are Too Late: Zouken Matou:"There were terrible cries for the first three days, but by the fourth day, she was silent. Today, she was thrown at dawn in the worm storage to test how well she would last, but, ho ho, she endured it for half a day and is still breathing. What do you know, the Tohsaka material isn't defective." Poor Sakura.