「魔槍の刃」 (Masou no Yaiba)
“The Demon Spear”
I can’t help but wonder if it’s okay for ufotable to produce a television series — a television series — that looks as amazing as Fate/Zero does, because they’re setting the bar really high for other studios — to the point that I can’t see most of them producing something that matches up. Granted, it helps when Fate/Zero is the only series they’re working on this season and they can fully devote their staff to it — a model that more studios should adopt to strive for quality over quantity — but it’s looking more and more like they’re giving this series the same movie-like treatment that they did for Kara no Kyoukai.
In both productions, the lighting is still a lot darker than I would’ve liked; however, the quality is very apparent in the consistency of the artwork and animation. There never seems to be a single frame where the characters aren’t drawn well, particularly their faces, and this is coming from someone who steps through the footage frame by frame in search of the perfect screen capture. Even in the distant split-second action shots where I normally expect some shortcuts to be taken, Fate/Zero doesn’t disappoint the least bit. The fighting choreography is also masterfully crafted and the slow-motion sequences give it a very movie-like feel, which coupled with the unique characters and riveting exposition/screenplay, would’ve left me perfectly content if Fate/Zero were the only new show this season. To maintain this level of quality, the producers have announced that the 25 episodes Fate/Zero’s been scheduled for will be split into two seasons with the second half airing in spring 2012. This may come as a disappointment to some viewers, but if it means the entire adaptation will look as amazing as it has, I think the extra three-month wait will be well worth it.
While it’s understandably very easy to get caught up in the impressive visuals, the storytelling deserves just as much praise for being completely engrossing with minimal action in the first two episodes (technically three given the hour-long premiere). All the exposition really sets the tone for the Fourth Holy Grail War, putting it in a very different light than the Fifth War that many of the Masters’ descendants take part in. For instance, Kiritsugu anticipates that other Master/Servants will likely be observing the battle and knows his limits when battling against a Servant, choosing not to engage Assassin. Then there’s the first fight between Saber and Lancer, which on the surface was a sheer visual treat that spanned nearly the entire episode. Not only did it serve as a means to wow audiences, it also featured a lot of honorable knightly pleasantries between the two Servants that helped establish their characters.
In Saber’s case, it left me wondering how she ever put up with having Shirou as her Master, since his idealistic ways clashed heavily with her code of honor. It’s pretty clear that he softened her up emotionally in a way that doesn’t really benefit her in the role of a Servant, making it more compelling to see what Saber’s originally like here in Fate/Zero. Noble, powerful, beautiful, and bold — the last of which she never really got to show because Shirou would always place her well-being above his own. In Lancer’s case, it showed him in an equally honorable light and more importantly, as a respectable adversary in this war — something that couldn’t be said about most of the Servants in the Fifth War. I like how they were both portrayed in a fairly neutral light with their inner dialogue about trying to figure out each other’s true identity, since it makes the story a lot less straightforward on who the antagonists truly are. Naturally, this goes for Rider as well, who I feel is going to hard for anyone to fight against given his charisma. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing his relationship with Waver, whose face had “Dude! You’re not supposed to tell them who you are!” written all over it at the end. Oh the hilarity.
As for some specific details that I can talk about now, yes, Saber uses a spell known as Invisible Air to conceal Excalibur because the sacred sword is a dead giveaway on who she is. Irisviel is also suspected to be an Einzbern homunculus, just as it was foreshadowed last episode. Lancer’s true identity is the Fianna knight, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, and his Noble Phantasm consists of his two spears, Gae Dearg and Gae Buidhe, the first of which cancels out magic and the second of which inflicts wounds that can’t be healed. He’s known as a womanizer because of his “magical love spot”, i.e. the mole under his right eye, which charms women and causes them to fall in love with him. Saber notices it but is resistant to most magical effects, hence Lancer’s lines at the beginning on who she can blame for that. I don’t know if the wound Saber sustained from the Gae Buidhe means she’s lost the use of her left thumb for the rest of the war, but I do love Niconico’s translation of one of Lancer’s lines, given that he is known as a womanizer — “You’re as a good as naked before my spear.” I’ll let you decide which spear he’s talking about. I didn’t interpret that as either of the two he’s holding, so I couldn’t help but laugh at how “well” that translated to English.