What They Say:
The story starts from zero: the beginning…
The Holy Grail War – in this ultimate battlefield, in order to obtain the power of the “Holy Grail” that grants any unattainable wish, seven “masters” summon “servants” and fight against each other until the last one survives.
After three inconclusive Holy Grail Wars, the fourth battle has finally started. Hoping to win the battle, each master is heading to the new battlefield, Fuyuki. However, there is a man who is confused and struggling, unable to find meaning in the war. His name is Kirei Kotomine. He wonders why he has been appointed to this task, but without any answers, he encounters his archrival – Kiritsugu Emiya, a master who craves the miracle Holy Grail most of all.
The untold truth of the Fourth Holy Grail War that occurred 10 years before Fate/Stay Night – the truth of the battle fought by Shiro’s adopted father, Rin’s father, and young Kirei Kotomine – is about to be revealed!
Contains episodes 1-13 plus Original Soundtrack CD 1, an exclusive staff interview DVD, and a deluxe booklet all housed in a rigid box illustrated by Takashi Takeuchi (Original Character Design).
The audio presentation for this release is a pretty big mixed bag as it hits it out of the park on one track but falls mighty short on the other. For the original Japanese language track, we get that done in stereo using the uncompressed PCM format which drives home an excellent stereo presentation that’s engaging as it uses the entire forward soundstage to great effect. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, placement is spot on and it has some great impact in the busier action scenes and with certain sound effects. Unfortunately, the English language dub track here is encoded using the Dolby Digital codec that you find on DVDs and it’s encoded at the basic low rate of 192kbps compared to the 2.3mbps we get from the PCM track. The show handles things as well as it can here, but any attempts at comparing the two on a good sound system shows the weakness of it, especially in the bigger scenes. Fans of the Japanese cast will make out great here but it’s unfortunate that the high definition release of the show gives the English language presentation a standard definition encoding.
Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes that make up this season are spread across three discs with four on the first and second discs and five on the third. The spread gives each of the episodes enough space to work with as the majority of the on-disc extras are on the second disc as the first has a double length episode for the first one. The bit rate tends to spend the majority of its time in the mid thirties with dips up and down a bit while some of the really big scenes hit the low forties in a great way. Animated by ufotable, the series has a gorgeous look here with lots of detail, numerous locales and variety to it and a range of characters and fighting styles and attacks that keep it from being filled with reused material. Every scene feels fresh and authentic and the quality of the animation shines through beautifully. From start to finish, this is just a gorgeous looking transfer that showcases the source material exactly as it should.
The limited edition packaging for this release is really nice as we get a heavy chipboard box that’s all white along the front that has half of the sigils used to draw in the servants. It’s simple with its white and silver approach with a touch of black that gives it a striking look when you look at it from a distance. The back of the box works with a great full color illustration of the servants which has some beautiful colors and a great design about it that will really appeal to the fans of the show and certainly draw in new people as well. The box comes with a wraparound obi that has the technical information on the back that lists everything clearly while the front side breaks down all the extras and selling point for the collection.
Inside the box we get the three clear Blu-ray cases where the first two uses some beautiful full color artwork of Saber in two different styles while the back covers are black with the sigil material from the box while also breaking down the discs by their episodes with numbers and titles. Each of the covers are also reversible where they have the classical designs of what the servant classes are which is really appealing since they were glossed over during the show itself. The third case has the soundtrack in it and it uses the same artwork as the front of the box while the back is all white with the grail itself along the bottom that adds some gorgeous color and beauty to it. The track listings are also done here in a simple and easy to read form that fits with the tonality of it all.
The included booklet in the box is also really appealing with what it contains, though I admit I wanted even more. We get two pages that show us the pairings of masters and servants, which I’ll admit is useful to have, and it follows us up with two pages that shows us the disc art from the Japanese releases. After that, we get some really good promotional pieces of artwork from various magazine spreads and the like which has some fun, beautiful and very appealing images.
The menu design for the series is pretty nicely done, especially with the pop-up animation aspect. The majority of the menu design is done with clips playing through a red filter that are done in good way where it’s not a constant series of changes but a bit more spaced out. It’s all done with the logo in the middle and it creates a good atmosphere going into the show. The navigation strip along the bottom is very simple as it has a bit of elegance to it with the text of the selections laying over it. When you use the pop-up menu during playback, it has a nice bit of flash to it that makes it feel like it comes out of the show itself. Submenus load quickly and navigation is definitely easy, making for a good experience overall.
The bulk of the extras for the release are on the second disc and it’s definitely some nice little bits that are welcome to see. A lot of what we get here are the various commercials and promotional videos for the show but we also get the assorted web previews and the promotional bits for the individual characters for the Japanese Blu-ray release. Add in the clean opening and closing sequences and you have some good standards here. The set does come with an additional DVD for the limited edition where it has a twenty-six minute interview session – with spoilers – talking to the team behind the show. It’s hard-subtitled as well, which was a bit of a surprise.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When I went in to watch the Fate/Zero series during its simulcast run, I was pretty apprehensive about it but also quite excited. I had seen the Fate/Stay Night series years earlier and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t something that held up too well when watched more recently. This series would benefit from the growth and changes in the works done by Type-Moon, but it also had the problem of so many fans would feel like they knew the end of it because of the other series, so how many surprises can there be? I know that during the simulcast I found myself trying to connect the dots between the series and that proved distracting. But in the end, Fate/Zero firmly stands on its own and is an exciting series with the characters that exist here that are in the foreground.
The premise of the show is a very good one in that we have the world that we know but with groups of people that operate outside of society in some ways because they’re old families of mages. The mages are able to grow their power over the generations as each generation takes what the previous has learned and refines and enhances, understands it more and makes it into something more powerful. There are a small group of families that are more powerful than others because of this, but there are a good range of families overall, including some much younger ones that are little more than babies with what they can do. What was discovered over the centuries though is that power can certainly corrupt, something that the main families found when they worked together to create the Holy Grail that would grant any wish. Instead of using it properly, they ended up going into a bloody war over it that cost them all a lot. After that, they turned to making it more formal, calling it the Holy Grail War.
These happen very infrequently over the last couple of hundred years with the fourth one just now starting. In order to minimize the damage to the mages themselves, they invoke and bond themselves with legendary Heroes from the past whose spirits are brought into the present day and attached to a particular class, such as archer, assassin, rider or berserker. Through the master/servant relationship, the servants do the fighting and the last one standing wins with the master to claim the grail and the wish. It’s a method that has served them well and with the help of the Church who provides an overseer to the event to make sure everyone is on the level, it’s definitely an ideal way to handle a difficult situation where there’s so much to gain and so much to lose.
The start of the fourth war here gives us a lead-up time to a few years beforehand as we see how everyone is preparing for it and some of the ties that will come to the next generation. The old families are organizing with all that they have and we see how the Church itself has its own agenda. There are a lot of intriguing aspects to it as there are the politics of power going into it with the families and some of the black sheep of them, the way family members are used and those with far larger goals. Of particular interest to me was seeing that of Kiritsugu Emiya, a man who is known as a mage-killer that has spent years refining his skills in killing others, sometimes for the families themselves. He’s existed as a kind of useful tool, but one who is his own person. With him being brought into the war, it changes the dynamic since he has a certain skill others do not, and no real problem in killing off other masters. Which is certainly a quicker way to win the war in some instances since that takes the servant out of the game.
The first half of the series, this season that’s in this collection, introduces us to all the masters and servants and showcases their skills and acclimation to the world. Each offers something very different with a lot of really neat ideas and personalities to them, even those that you find yourself not liking. The arrival of the Caster class brings us a twisted servant who is full of delusions that finds himself paired with a sociopathic murderer, which is strangely ideal. Kariya returns to the family he abandoned to save a love and finds his pairing with a servant bonded with the Berserker class that only accelerates the twisted magic used to get him to be able to handle the process, essentially sentencing him to death unless he wins. And while we do get Saber arriving as the most well known of them all from the leading role in the series that takes place after this, the one what won me over the most is that of Waver and his servant Rider, who is actually Alexander the Great. The two have so many great conversations and style of interaction that each scene is just a joy to behold since Alexander, called Iskandar, is enamored with the modern world that he intends to conquer once the war is over.
With a few episodes used to set things up – including the first episode that runs for over forty minutes and is largely dialogue filled – there are a lot of different stories that work towards the overall goal of all of these servants must fight. Each has their own reason for fighting, master and servant, but the twists and turns are what makes it. Caster’s the odd man out in a way and because of how he could expose the whole thing to the world, that sets a change in rules to get everyone to go after him for a bit. The introduction of the gold clad warrior of the archer class that has an impressive ability to summon any weapon to him adds something rather unique in a way as he comes across less as a legendary hero of the past but someone who has ended up with a god-like set of abilities – and a mindset of a god as well – that watching him stride across the screen is beautifully engaging. With him as a king, we even get a great episode where it’s essentially him and two of the other kings of the past sitting together and talking about the ways of rulership. Each is instrumental in understanding that character and how they approach life as it reveals so much through the little bits of off dialogue throughout. And to the surprise of many, depending on how you view the conversations, Saber really comes out the weakest of them. Of course, that may partially be my enjoyment of how Alexander views life and rulership.
Because this only covers the first half of the series, it admittedly goes only so far. But it does a lot of it very well because it provides for changes, growth and elimination of characters in fairly brutal form. The story is wholly engaging, but a good portion of that comes from the absolutely gorgeous animation throughout, which this Blu-ray high definition transfer captures perfectly. Because of the sprawling nature of the show within the city it takes place and some of its surrounding locales, we get a lot of variety to it that’s filled with striking details that makes it easy to be drawn into paused scenes to see more. The characters aren’t skimped out on either as they’re well detailed, very fluid and worked over with beautiful color designs that gives it an incredible pop. Combining all of that with action sequences and fights that were striking in simulcast that are only even more so here and it’s hard to believe that this was a TV show and not a feature length movie broken into smaller parts. It’s simply beautiful and every penny/yen of that production is right there on the screen.
Fate/Zero was for me the best show of 2011 when it debuted and the passage of time has not reduced that feeling at all. Taking it in with a marathon session here for the first thirteen episodes, you can see even more clearly just how well everything ties together and the strength of the larger narrative. The story here was always familiar around the edges for those who saw the Fate/Stay Night series and often when you get those stories told in full like this, it almost never lives up to expectations. Fate/Zero bucks that trend and in just about every way exceeds what we had before, so much so that it really does require a new work to follow it in order to give it proper due. The release here has a whole lot going for it, though the audio is its weakest link in a significant way. The quality of the show is definitely there overall and depending on your preferred language, it’s a strikingly beautiful work that’s easy to get lost in.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Trailer and Promotional Video Collections, Textless Opening and Ending, exclusive staff interview DVD
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Running Time: 330 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.