Reviews: Fate Zero
So very, very close, but... (spoilers in comments)
The first 24 episodes of Fate/Zero play out like a master class in how to write an ensemble cast. Most of the main characters are given enough depth and complexity that any one of them would be enough to carry a different show by themselves. Put together, the clash of each of their distinct personalities, goals, and philosophies forms one of the most compelling shows in recent memory. Special mention must go to Rider, whose philosophy of kingship comes to define the show's B plot, and Kiritsugu, who is essentially a walking deconstruction of the very concept of heroism. The show also excels on the technical side, with Ufotable bringing some of the highest production values in TV anime history to the table. The Japanese voice cast is pitch-perfect, with Joji Nakata in particular earning points for able to seamlessly switch between the different facets of Kirei's personality. The English dub is a bit more inconsistent - while most of the performances are just as emotive and effective as in the Japanese, it suffers from a rather severe case of Lip Lock that results in lots of extremely... awkward and immersion... breaking pauses in the... dialogue. If that doesn't bother you, then go for it. Unfortunately, the show's ending is a huge disappointment. The problem is not with the actual events, which mostly make complete sense when written down, but with the execution. In brief: This is a prequel to another story, so its ending was set quite firmly and very specifically in stone from the beginning. And yet somehow, it still managed to come feel like Urobuchi pulled it out of his ass at the last second. I've played all three routes of Fate/stay night and even I had to rewatch the last episode in an attempt to figure out just what had happened. When that didn't work, I had to look up the original light novels, which were only mildly helpful. I think what happened is that, because the author assumed that the target audience would already know how the story would end, he forgot to include any kind of foreshadowing that would allow the work to stand on its own. If the concepts and mechanics that resulted in the ending being what it was were explained - or even hinted at - earlier in the show, it would have flowed far better. But as it is, the ending is a stain on what I would otherwise unhesitatingly call an instant classic.
Poster Child for Epic Fails
Fate/zero is a prequel to Fate/Stay Night. Or that's what it's "supposed" to be anyway. However largely falls from the excellence of its predecessor. For one it tries to hard to be dark in an unsuccessful attempt and results in darkness induced audience apathy. It never even so much tries to make you care about the characters unlike FSN 2006 because it's too busy trying to be shocking or cool and failing at both. Secondly because of this it ends up destroying the series' very universe status quo made by the 2006 anime and the original visual novel which both successfully interweaved light and dark elements to create an interesting tone. In short this is like bad fan fiction. It's largely style over substance which is why some viewers are blinded by its animation. But that's really the only thing going for it. And even then the characters look like some Barbie doll/bobble head hybrids. If you're still interested in the Fate series do yourself a favor and watch Fate/Stay Night (the 2006 version) or Fate/Kaelid Liner. Both are MUCH MUCH better than this epic fail of an anime.
Highly enjoyable prequel to Fate Stay Night
Fate Zero, as a prequel to Fate/stay night, is not only an excellent expansion on the original, but also an entertaining work in its own right. The series takes place in the Fourth Holy Grail War, ten years before the start of FSN. Essentially, the struggle is a battle between seven Masters and their Servants, historical figures in seven different classes, for control of the wish-granting device known as the Grail. Of course, not everything goes as planned, and an unpleasant surprise awaits the one who secures the Grail... The Masters who compete in the war are a diverse lot, with well-developed personalities and motivations. They're also fairly ruthless, devious and underhanded compared to FSN's combatants, as well as having a knack for manipulation and planning. It can be interesting to see how their plans unfold, clash with each other and fall apart in the face of unforeseen complications or treachery. The Servants are also quite compelling characters in their own right, particularly in how they contrast with their Masters. The difference between the Servants' and Masters' goals and methods leads to some compelling drama and conflict, and, in some cases, leads to their undoing. The battles are also quite exciting, and involve a good mix of magical power and subtle planning. The battles are also enhanced by an excellent soundtrack, which nicely fits the mood of the various scenes. In spite of the dark tone and the fact that you most likely know that this will not end well, the story is leavened with hopeful moments, and a surprising amount of humor, preventing it from becoming too dark to be enjoyable. If you're familiar with FSN, you'll probably know how Zero ends, but it's well worth watching to see when your favorite characters were young children, their parents were fighting each other and the events that led up to the original story.