What They Say:
When a seventh Singularity is discovered in ancient Mesopotamia, Fujimaru and Mash are sent back in time with a Rayshift. In this land ruled by the wise King Gilgamesh, they’ll encounter Demonic Beasts, powerful gods, and the Absolute Demonic Front. This is the destined era where humans and gods part ways—this is the time for the final battle.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When I see “Fate” slapped onto the title of an anime (or even if it’s not but is still related, as with two recent spinoffs), I can’t help but check out at least the first few episodes. Coming immediately off of the latest in the trend of disliking every installment outside of ufotable’s adaptation of the core canon, that one the continuation of Waver’s story of all things, I didn’t have much hope for diving right into the next Fate spinoff anime, especially an adaptation of the seventh and final arc of the mobile gacha game that has exposed latent gambling problems within countless otaku and sucked their wallets dry for the sake of its infinite supply of shallow palette swaps. Perhaps that’s overly harsh, but needless to say, I didn’t expect much from the latest cash grab to come out of the absurd popularity that Fate/Grand Order has amassed. Five episodes in, I’m shocked to say that I have to find cause to look upon it with any substantial negativity, not only making it much more impressive than expected but putting it well above the dishearteningly low bar set by each spinoff anime to come out of the exceedingly sprawling franchise.
Admittedly, the fact that this is clearly well into an established story that largely hasn’t been animated is less than ideal. The series does a decent job at explaining the concepts essential to understanding the basics of the world we’re suddenly thrust into without weighing it down with too much frontloaded exposition, but attempting to show this to a random person off the street would prove comically unsuccessful. Like virtually all Fate spinoffs, this expects a certain level of immersion in the TYPE-MOON ecosystem, and there are clearly elements that can only be fully appreciated with at least passing familiarity with Grand Order. This degree of esotericism is unquestionably a barrier of entry in any context, but as someone who has certainly not consumed all seven arcs of the source material, I can say that it’s still accessible enough to enjoy far more than anticipated, as long as you’re not coming in blind.
Grand Order, and perhaps this arc most of all, blends anachronistic historical fiction, magical fantasy, and science fiction in a way not entirely seen elsewhere in the Fate universe. After spending a significant amount of time in Babylon, the reminders of the modern science fiction elements aren’t quite as distracting as the complaints I hear about Assassin’s Creed since the protagonists of this perpetually look out of place anyway, but they still break a certain sense of immersion when they arise.
On the other hand, taking the story to Babylon for this story is a great opportunity to explore Gilgamesh in his prime, and the results are fairly shocking for Fate fans who expect Gilgamesh to be tyrannical, manipulative, and egotistical. This depiction of Gilgamesh manages to keep his powerful charisma largely intact while turning him into an uncharacteristically magnanimous, thoughtful, and empathetic king. This can be a jarring juxtaposition, but considering how different Gilgamesh is just between Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero, this new version of the character just offers a look at another possibility of how one of the oldest historical legends could’ve developed within the general design and portrayal he has received for the decade and a half that he has appeared throughout this franchise.
For all intents and purposes, iconic tsundere Rin Tohsaka is also present, albeit used to represent the goddess Ishtar in this instance. I’ve grown sick enough of the countless Saber-faced characters to roll my eyes at this, but as long as this doesn’t become a major trend within this adaptation, I’ll be able to let it slide. I’m also told there’s a story reason that makes it more acceptable, but I’d need it to be something along the lines of Fate/Zero’s explanation for Saber and Jeanne d’Arc being essentially identical (which, at the time, wasn’t even used as an excuse to sell the same character design over and over).
Although animation quality doesn’t guarantee overall quality – if it did, Fate/Apocrypha would be the uncontested finest installment in the franchise – it’s worth noting that the exceptional production values of this series don’t hurt its place at the top of the troubled spinoff pile. At this point it has easily the best animation of anything this season, with a scene introducing Ishtar standing out as an especially stellar achievement. I still prefer the overall aesthetic of ufotable’s adaptations more, but the tone of this story is distinct enough that the team at CloverWorks has found a perhaps more fitting look to pair with it.
I’ll admit when my biases lead me to inaccurate expectations, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that the first full series to be adapted from the insanely popular mobile game Fate/Grand Order is, as of its first five episodes, the strongest anime to come from the massive Fate franchise aside from its core installments from ufotable. It’s a beautiful production with an intriguing look at Gilgamesh in his historic home for the first time, and it has enough compelling factors to keep me engaged despite my misgivings.
Streamed By: Funimation
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