Seven heroes from the past, summoned as servants in the present, engage in a sprawling fight to win the Holy Grail in a highly engaging series.
What They Say:
The story starts from zero: the beginning…
In the ultimate battlefield that is the Holy Grail War, seven Masters summon familiars called Servants to fight one another until only one survives. Their goal: to obtain the power of the Holy Grail, a relic that makes one’s formerly unattainable wish a reality. After three inconclusive Holy Grail Wars, the fourth battle has finally begun.
Hoping to win the battle, each Master heads toward the battlefield: the small Japanese city of Fuyuki.
Among the seven Masters is Kirei Kotomine, a tortured and lost soul who is unable to find a reason to fight in this war. This takes him toward an inevitable confrontation with rival Master Kiritsugu Emiya, a man who craves the Holy Grail’s miracle most of all.
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 twemty-five episodes that make up this two-cour season are spread across four discs in a standard layout. The spread gives each of the episodes enough space to work with as there’s nothing here but the show itself. 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 packaging for this set is pretty slick as I expected and as I really do enjoy the all-white covers that are distinctive when you just put the logo across it. The invocation style logo is a big plus as well with the Fate/Zero being in color over it while everything underneath is a soft grey. The back side of the box uses one of the gorgeous painted visuals with Kotohime and Saber together amid all the red flame that has looked great for years. It’s framed nicely with a thin red border there just to give it a little more impact as well. The spine is also nicely done as we get the name through the middle and the sigils above and below it so that it looks good on the shelf. Within the box we get a small full-color booklet that breaks out the episodes with a visual from it while the back pages has the disc/episode layout and the main creative staff for the show.
The Blu-ray cases within the box are done up with clear cases that use the key visuals from their respective cours in order to set the tone. They look great with a lot of detail and gorgeous color design that still wows me nearly a decade later. The back covers add a little more moody artwork while the reverse side of each of them features an array of character visuals dancing around randomly. No show-related inserts beyond the booklet are included with the set.
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, purple, and orange filters 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 with the disc number beneath 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.
It’s… strange that this release has no extras. The original release was not one with a lot of them – some promos, the opening and closing, a DVD that include an English-exclusive interview. To not include most of that here just feels, well, almost a bit petty because they’re so easily accessible everywhere online. It doesn’t take away from the show but it does make the set feel a little substandard.
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? In the years since, I’ve struggled with other Fate properties because it feels like it gets even more complicated and complex at the sacrifice of story clarity and I’ve found few enjoyable. So when the opportunity arose to sit back and take in the core series again? I was thrilled and reminded of exactly why I enjoyed it so much in the first place and recommend it so often.
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.
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.
With the second half of the series, the Grail is obviously a big part of things, but it’s not where it gets things going 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.
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 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. While this set isn’t a proper end-all be-all collection, it’s one that gives fans a chance to own the core show itself after the previous sets have gone long out of print and it’s so worth it. 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
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: October 29th, 2019
Running Time: 640 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.