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.
As the 4th Holy Grail War becomes more furious, one by one the masters and their servants are being eliminated from the war by losing in a battle or falling into an opponents’ plot. What will Saber and Kiritsugu find out at the end of the war? And which team will win the war and the Holy Grail?
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 twelve episodes that make up this season are spread across three discs with four on each of them. 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 and masters 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 which has Saber and Irisviel as the main focus while having others line alongside them with a red filter that makes it all the more dangerous for the first volume. The second goes in a different but really nice direction as we get the grail itself with blood flowing into it from above which is also all done with a red filter that makes it positively creepy. 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 since it has some beautiful artwork. We get two pages that focuses on the Japanese Blu-ray silkscreening for the discs while the rest has some beautifully painted pieces that were part of magazine spreads that definitely makes you want a lot of them in large poster size to put up on a wall somewhere.
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 extras for this release are pretty simple for the three main discs as we mostly just get the clean opening and closing sequences and a solid little collection of the commercials and promotional videos, largely working off of the Japanese home video release. The big extras is with the fourth disc, a DVD, that has an hour long series of sit down talks with the various masters and servants as they go on about their roles, how they view their respective teams and more. It’s pretty fun to listen to and to reconcile actors with their characters since some come across as being quite close to them. It’s a solid hour of stuff and definitely a good addition to the release.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first half of Fate/Zero was a hugely engaging work for me as it presented us with so many characters with masters, servants and supporting players that there were so many ways to go with it. It’s the kind of series that, difficult as some may say to be done, is what I would envision for a proper live action program on something like HBO with a budget. There are layers within layers and some great complexity with how everyone was trying to achieve their own agendas while working towards the larger goal of the Grail itself. With a whole lot of foundation set, some great attack sequences and some beautifully intricate character stories and connectivity, Fate/Zero was the kind of series that you could easily become lost in. With the second half of it, it all comes crashing down because the main focus is on eliminating the opponents in a significant way. Thankfully, there’s a lot of what we had in the first season, just more focused on fewer players.
While the Grail is obviously a big part of things, it’s not where it starts since the initial focus is on the creature that was unleashed by Caster that has to be dealt with. As mentioned by the priest, the Grail Wars have gone on for centuries and this is the first time it’s truly spilled over into the public in such a big way. What makes it all the more problematic is that going after Caster was something that was set as a side-quest of sorts for the Masters and Servants with additional Command Seals as prizes. Caster had gone out of bounds with what he was doing from the get go and he needed to be dealt with, but the situation escalated so quickly that it began threatening the entire program itself. It’s a beautiful couple of episodes as the fight unfolds and we see how the various Masters and Servants work together, at least those that actually get involved instead of just watching, but there’s also some good comedy that’s appropriate, especially from the fighter plane pilots that can’t believe what they’re seeing and how they’d be the first to be taken out. The fighter plane side even has a key bit of usefulness later in it as we see how Berserker takes one of them over and uses that to try and go after Gilgamesh in a way that was simply striking to watch unfold.
Because of the nature of this half of the series, it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to start paring down the cast and working towards the actual resolution itself. That means we get a few feints beforehand in order to try and draw people out before they go for the straightforward approach of the fight itself. The pairings that come up for it are good, but there’s also some great character material that surfaces first. For me, the best involved the Rider and Waver pairing as the two have such a great relationship that I simply love watching them on the screen together. Waver is always trying to catch up in a way in dealing with Rider, but the two have some wonderful conversations about life, the people they’re staying with and more that it’s easy to be drawn into how it all unfolds because they have such a beautiful connection with each other. One that goes right up to the final fight in a way that you don’t feel with the other pairings out there. Waver is definitely a fun character, but Rider is my true favorite of this series.
The show also takes a different track for a couple of episodes as we get some extensive history provided for Kiritsugu, going back to his childhood when he was with his scientist father that was doing research that went awry. Kiritsugu has definitely been an interesting character with his approach to dealing with the Grail War, so seeing how he was raised and brought into an organization that ended up giving him what he needed in order to kill mages. We saw previously how it put him on the outside but provided something very useful in the world so it was accepted. But being involved in the Grail War puts him on a different level than most of the others out there, even before pairing him up with Gilgamesh. There’s a real beauty to the way he deals with things and having all that additional background makes him not only more dangerous, but more human as well, which figures heavily into the aftermath of the series.
The final matchups that occur here are all quite well staged and thoroughly engaging to watch as it unfolds. Gilgamesh and Rider have a powerful one that fits beautifully as Gilgamesh accepts him as one of the few that can really challenge him, a challenge he relishes facing again in the future since Rider is such a personality to deal with, one that is of similar but not the same kind of mind. We get a far more personal fight between Saber and Berserker, finally finding out who it is under that mask which brings up some painful history for Saber that is really good to watch. What I like in particular is that it does take away from the idea that Saber is the one that will end things, something those that watched Fate/Stay Night knew wouldn’t happen, since she was painted as the right and true type here. She has a harsh reckoning here and seeing her back in the time between realizing the pain she caused, and suffered herself, while getting a glimmer of the future definitely hits all the right sweet spots.
The biggest battle, and the most thrilling one of all, is the one that brings us back to the harder core of the series as it comes down to Kiritsugu and Kotomine. With Kotomine having orchestrated some disturbing angles with the way he’s manipulating the Grail War itself, having it come down to the two of them is really fascinating to watch as each man is so twisted because of their lives and events. Kotomine has that history of his that involves his father, the priesthood and the way he feels and knows that he’s evil and how it’s so twisted that he came from such good. And you get similar from Kiritsugu as well because we just had the lengthy exposure to his own past that altered perceptions of him even more with what he went through. With the weight of their histories behind them, having them face off with weapons in the underground section was beautiful enough, but it goes further with the visions that they share which are used to torment and tempt Kiritsugu. Each man is so broken in so many ways that seeing them trying to hold it together is heart rending and exciting at the same time.
The finale and all its fallout is something that definitely strikes the right chord, from Kiritsugu’s change in how he is, the realization that he can no longer try and view himself as the hero while knowing the darkness he’s wielded, and the attempts to try and correct it. It’s an ending that leaves you feeling hopeful as we see some of the next generation coming up after having lost a number of this generation, combined with the knowledge that you know where some of this will go based on what we had seen before in the first adaptation of Fate/Stay Night but now knowing that the new adaptation coming up will likely twist and alter it in some fundamental ways. The carnage is striking and haunting, but it’s the emotion that really won me over. And it shocked me the first time to see how all of it was wrapped up in Kiritsugu of all people considering his cold nature throughout, from killing mages, ordinary people and even the homunculus’ that he had created. It’s not an upbeat ending and frankly, that was one of the best things about it because it had a sense of finality and yet not. Much like life.
Fate/Zero is the kind of show where I could find myself talking about it all day long, both with people who’ve seen the show and haven’t seen it. There’s a simplicity to the story overall to be sure as it involves various factions fighting to win the Grail in order to achieve their wish and gain more power, but it’s also a story that’s well layered, intricate and connected with so many aspects of the factions that it can get fairly convoluted. The second half polishes off the action from the first and then sets to winnowing the field down, getting us closer to some of those that are fighting – and not necessarily the ones that you’d expect – before throwing us into the final battles and all that it entails. It’s richly animated, wonderfully acted on both sides and full of so many striking moments that will leave you wide-eyed even upon repeat viewings. Fate/Zero is one of those marquee titles that truly earns it. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Home Video CM Collection, 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: December 26th, 2013
Running Time: 290 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.