Saturday, January 12, 2013


Plot: It's the modern day, but there still be magic here. Seven wizards summon the ghosts of seven legendary warriors from history and or mythology to join them, and any allies said wizards may or may not have, and the fight in the Fourth Grail War: a battle royal of epic proportions where the victorious master magus and servant spirit shall obtain the Holy Grail and each be granted the wish of their heart, no matter how miraculous. Of course magic is never as simple as it seems.

Verdict: This is an action series that goes above and beyond doing everything it needs to do right. To do an action adventure thriller type story right, especially one where there is magic and like, many say it is a matter of ordinary characters in extraordinary situations. I would say it is more of a matter of empathetic characters in escalating externalized conflict. We have to be able to see person-hood in our leads, as in be able to describe them the way we would a real person. Fate/Zero goes a step further: all of its leads are larger than life, yet they are so empathetic we cannot help but in some way root for them all, even the ones who are not so secretly our antagonists.

How does that work: escalating externalized conflict. The situation does not merely always get worse, but rather it gets worse in a way that forces our characters either to shoot their Chekhov's guns, make life changing decisions, show their colors, or all of the above. Every single one of the many leads being larger than life always makes these situations well beyond exciting. It also helps that most of the conflict is initiated by the characters themselves as they are spy, scheme, bargain, betray, or reconcile two seconds too late, also there is the fact that this series has the best budget ever. It is gorgeous the fact that it is all animated makes the amazing wizard-warrior battles have no uncanny valley effect to the; did I mention the cast is diverse and progressive in terms of character development? Well, I will below.

If you don't have a Crunchyroll account, start a free month trial to watch this with no commercials and in high definition if you can.

Facts: It is a 25 episode half-hour series. It is based on a light novel written by Gen Urobuchi, illustrated by Takashi Takeuchi, a prequel to Type-Moon's visual novel, Fate/stay night. If you stop at Episode 24, you do not need to watch Fate/Stay Night. Episode 24 is the ending of Fate/Zero, 25 merely set-up for Fate/Stay Night. It was produced by Studio Ufotable. Yuki Kajiura (and Kalafina) did the score, which of course gives this epic and the epic score it deserves.

(There is a lot of it in this show, why? Because the characters are complex and developed through the conflict that is why.)

Bechtel-Sarkeesian Test: It passes brilliantly.

(Saber--or rather...--develops a very nice and very natural friendship with Iri (Irisviel von Einzbern), and Maiya Hisau throughout the various battles they initiate and or are thrown into.)

(Arthur--or rather Arturia--and Iri bond well because Art is someone who has refused to let the world in, while Iri a woman who has never known it, and will not take no for an answer. Arturia has never had anyone try to get her to open up in such a way, most merely idolize her, and so she accepted that role.)

(The two, as impulsive honorable warrior and tactical pragmatic healer wind up pushing each other through much growth in battle.)

(A special note on Iri and Maiya, they could have gone the stereotypical way with these two: love triangle over a certain man. They did not however, both know of the other's relationship with said person, but both come to respect due to war forcing their hands to cooperate.)

(Iri finds that she can also be more open with Maiya over anyone else, because of her and Maiya's attchment to the same idea, an idea best embodied by the two other people in their life. If only these people would learn to trust again...)

Better than Star Wars:The characters all look generic as oppose to being racially defined. I suppose, however, that this is a problem considering that the setting is defined, Japan, and the nationalities and ethnicity of all of its competitors are too. I will say this though, most of the character look their stated ethnicity, there is just not a lot of variety to said ethnicity (Japanese or European). The servant spirits however...

(This is Gilgamesh, as in the legendary hero-king from the ancient Middle East.)

(This is Alexander the Great, who was Macedonian.)

Die Hard Test: I am not sure, but I think the first character to die is the one who has darker skin, though whether their skin is actually meant to be a darker pigment or if that is just magic body paint is never explained. It is a little problematic though.

(This is the servant spirit known as Assassin, he/she is cannon fodder.)

Awkward Angle Syndrome  the only time this occurs is once and in Episode 25. It is not for straight men at all, so to discourage more people from watching Episode 25, and to make straight men like me uncomfortable, I am going to include said fan service here.

Suck it Disney: This is another great area.

(The warrior servant Lancer, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, and Arturia form a legitimate bromantic rivalry, and no one ever questions the platonic nature of their intimacy, because there is literally nothing romantic or sexual about it. It works because gender is acknowledge in this show, but in a way that this can still make sense.)

(Natalia Kaminski, she may be the strictest of teacher's and terrifying of assassins, but she refuses to let her pupil Kiritsugu Emiya think of her as anything but his adoptive mother, in every non-demeaning since of the word.)

(Kiritsugu Emiya, as a boy he willingly grew up too soon. He wants to be mercy and compassion, not utilitarian justice. He wants to trust. He wants to cry, but he seems to think being a hero means he cannot do any of that. It is to his, almost, tragedy that he trust this to be truth.)

(Honorable, compassionate, open Arturia, while never getting along with her cold utilitarian secretive master Kiritsugu, is actually exactly like him. She isolates herself just as much as he, and trust in a faith that might not be as righteous as it seems just as he. Which will realize the truth first, however--if only they could truly work together...) 

(Iskandar, Alexander the Great, Rider, and his master Waver Velvet. Iskandar comes across as nothing but a greedy jock, but that is a mask he wears only to rally troops.)

 (He grows into quite the nuturing brother-father to all he encounters, especially Waver who as a massive inferiority complex and false notions of what being a real man is.)

(He also tries to help Arturia, but Iskandar has a bit  too much cynicism to realize how best to help the Once and Future King until; well, I will give Waver some credit towards catalyzing Alex's epiphany anyway...)

On Fate/Stay Night and why only watch Fate/Zero to Episode 24

I have skimmed it (watched some episodes, got frustrated and bored, and so 
Wikipedia searched for the rest), and these are my impressions. It is a let down compared to this series. It is not bad, but a let down. There is a nice premise in the forced pairing of the two leads. The son the main master magus who adored his parent by chance find himself paired with the servant spirit of his parent in the Fifth Grail War, this spirit, she never got a long with her old master, not to mention said spirit and new master are overt opposites but completely the same--if only there was some extraordinary escalating externalized conflict to force them both to grow together without loosing their senses of self, or you know die... 

But the series falters in that it is a genre swap from its prequel, or rather its prequel is a genre improvement from its source material. The Fate series was originally a set of hentai (romance based porn) video games that had magic stuff going on to spice up what was otherwise typical harem escapism focused on a teenage boy and a bunch of high school girls. Fate/Stay Night is a high school harem show where most of the cast are all tropes except a few (the ones who were main characters in Fate/Zero), but even they are not immune to being objectified needlessly, with paltry justifications, for 

Note also that the animation is 
nonexistent  they use title cards to move the plot forward a lot, and dialogue is just too corny, so is the music. Only watch this if you really need to see one hundred percent proof that a certain servant spirit from Fate/Zero finds redemption, or if you really like Jamieson Price. My advice to you otherwise, is just watch Fate/Zero but stop at Episode 24, because...

 SPOILER WARNING: the same basic events that happen there happen in Fate/Stay Night. While the outcomes for everyone involved in Fate/Zero Episode 24 is less clear and does have a bit more tragedy to it, this is what the series was building to, the events of Episode 25 and those of Fate/Stay Night, are not, and what Fate/Stay Night tries to do in its own right really does not work so well because it has too much of a preoccupation with serving up the fans. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Plot: Mikado RyĆ«gamine yearns to escape the humdrum of the country for the excitement of the city, at least that is what he says, perhaps he is just looking to connect with friends on deeper level. On a limb invite from his old friend Masaomi Kida, he moves Ikebukuro, Tokyo in order to seek his excitment, and excitment he finds. From headless motorcyclists to corporate conspiracy to and invincible warrior to Russian sushi, a mysterious killer called the slasher, the annoymous guardian internet known as the dollars, to the very real rival gangs seeking to regain control the town, and twisted information broker catalyzing it all; there are stranger things to be found in this world than people know. The strangest thing for Mikado, however, may just be how much his newfound, trusted, and beloved friends are involved in it all, and how much they are not telling him, or perhaps it is how much he is not telling them.

Verdict: The series is the spiritual sequel to Baccano! in that it takes place in the same world just in modern day. Like Baccano! it begins as character driven ruckus, but unlike Baccano! it is building to a theme. The secrets and lies that we keep from each other do not always have to be terrible, in fact often they can be what makes this crazy world of ours all the more beautiful, provided we are ready to face the truth and responsibility that comes with it. Sometimes the best kept secrets from those we love are the ones that are shared willingly. It does not quite stick the landing. There is a lot of brooding towards the end on the part of the leads, but it nothing that comes out of nowhere, nor does it get overblown. It is just something that slows things down for a bit when the tension has been building to an explosive end, which comes, just not as soon. Give it a watch and decide for yourself.

Facts: It is based on a series of light novels, at least the beginning of it. The subtitled version is availalbe on Crunchyroll, however, if you can find it, the dub is great. As Heath Ledger has before him, Johnny Yong Bosch proves fully that he can act with more range than just hero.

  • Bechtel-Sarkeesian Test: There are plenty of women in the story who talk to each other for over a minute, but I am not sure if it is about much than the men in the story, at least tangentally.

    (The closest pass is the dialogue and mutual protection between Celty and Anri and their mutual secrets.)

    (This is Anri with her missing best friend Mika Harima. They talk a lot in flashbacks.)
  • Better than Star Wars: Unforuntatley there is only one black, and Russian, man in the story. Simon, the character, is a bit of a Magic Negro, but he does do something that no one else can in the story that will make you cheer.

     (Almost everything you need to know about Simon...)

  • Awkward Angle Syndrome: Not really, Masaomi and Shinra do hit on the main women (Anri and Celty respectively) in their lives in somewhat innappropriate ways, but this is used for character development later. Unfortunate that it is there, but it is not bad much at all really.
  • The Die Hard Test: Nobody dies in this show.
  • Suck it Disney: Eh, this is not really a thing in this show, but it does not hurt it. Its absence just does not help it, that's all. 

    (Erika and Walker, with action figures, are the most off-beat and expressive characters, but it is fairly typical. It must be said though that the van crew they are part of, which is lead by Kyoshei Kadota (front) and literally driven by Saburo Togusa (back) are the biggest group of heroes in the show. None of them come of as all that special, until push comes to shove.)

    (Oh, and then there is Shizuo. He really hates violence...)