Moderately spoilerish stuff ahead!
It has been a while since I watched this. This was released in winter of 2018 as a spin-off of the video game by the same name. Other shows in the Fate franchise are Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero, Fate/Stay Night [Unlimited Blade Works], Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel (Presage Flower), Fate/Kaleid Liner PRISMA☆ILLYA, Fate/Apocrypha and the unlikely title Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family. Shows in the works include Fate/Grand Order: Camelot, and Fate/Grand Order: Babylon and two more Heaven’s Feel movies. Each product features an alternate route for the Grail wars using similar characters in completely different roles and realities. Some are based off video games. Fate Zero is a prequel for Fate/Stay Night which was released first.
As you can see, it is a monster franchise. Not the only one in Ufotable’s stable of productions.
I am a huge fan of the Fate franchise. I even somewhat enjoyed Kaleid Liner (aka Fate/ Kaleid Lolis). In Kaleid Liner the war never took place. But many of the characters are still there. Instead we have a bit of yuri activity and little girls chasing after cards that control heroes.
Well, here we have Hakuno, a bland protagonist who spends most of ep 1 wandering around and muttering “Hateful! Hateful! Hateful!” He is a “master” in training. Masters contact with recreated versions of legendary heroes from the past to engage in a free-for-all battle to gain the Holy Grail. The Grail can fulfill one wish. Almost any wish.
This is old hat for anyone vaguely familiar with the Fate franchise.
The system running the Grail wars is sputtering out. There’s a pit of despair where all the bad stuff gets tossed. A big black pit of death and hate. He’s attracted to it.
Everything starts going to hell and to survive the each student has to kill another student until all the master slots get filled. Whoever’s left after that gets purged. Hakuno’s best friend sucker punches him for the last kill only he doesn’t quite die. When he comes round the purge critter sees him and gives chase. He flees to a derelict room where “someone fought nobly with their head held high to the end”. Just happens to be a big funky sword stuck in the floor which he grabs to fight with… Voila! Instant Saber.
From there they have to climb up levels, defeat floor bosses and make it to the top. Basic video game stuff. He meets Rin, a mage who lost her hero. She’s running the “resistance”. (I’m not sure what she is resisting.) She appeared to be killed on level one, helping him get up a level. The way to the next level is an elevator (called “the ladder”) that comes to get you when the floor boss is defeated. It is much bigger on the inside than the outside.
On level 2 there is another beautiful woman running “the resistance” and helping them, Rani VIII. She appears to get killed as he goes to level 3. But then Rin shows up again. And then so does Rani. (There is a reason for that…)
This isn’t how Grail wars should be fought and the characters know it. Masters shouldn’t be hanging out on lower levels avoiding the fight and bosses shouldn’t be staying at a particular level and taking out newcomers without trying to win the grail for themselves. The “Moon Cell”, the supercomputer running the Grail wars and actually containing the Grail, isn’t working right. A thousand years have gone by and nobody noticed. Maybe those funky circles around it in the sky have something to do with it?
The levels are well done and the art is gorgeous. The most artistically interesting level (IMHO) is Alice in Wonderland themed. The same director as Madoka Magica and you can really see the influence. The floor bosses get fleshed out a bit but it is nothing like the other Fate anime where there is considerable complexity, with many characters interacting. Here you have a limited character set and no battle royale between multiple teams.
Saber is the star of the show. While everyone else is miserable she’s talking about the joy of life and makes human life seem worth living. She is the philosopher and eternal optimist. Every time she speaks up the mood lightens. Her clothes make no sense but they are gorgeous. I liked her best when she wasn’t wearing much of anything at all.
In comparison, Hakuno could be a zombie. But wait. Maybe he is?
The big negative? None. Ten episodes in the first season and three in the second. Sounds like somebody ran out of money. I understand. They put some serious effort into the art here. And two of the important female characters are actually small breasted! (At least in anime terms.)
Rin and Rani both get developed as individuals you can feel for as well as a couple of the major floor bosses. Hakuno’s character arc develops slowly at first and picks up speed. By show’s end, the relationship between him and Sabor is quite touching.
If you are a Fate fan like me, it is worth watching, even if it doesn’t follow the patterns of all the other franchises. If I just watched the first half of the first season, I’d have called it mediocre but seeing the entire thing, it is very good. Not an eternal classic or up to the level of Fate UBW’s animation but still pretty good.