「Fate/Grand Order -First Order-」
I have never played Fate/Grand Order, and do not intend to (because mobile game, language barrier, vampiric free-to-play model). I know very little about it. Still, I was relatively enthusiastic about a Fate/Grand Order anime, because I wanted to find out what they’re doing with the franchise and the world. Fate works pretty well in the videogame format; not only has it already, in Fate/Extra, but the original VN really did seem to want to be a bad RPG with its awkward stat sheets and arbitrary mechanics. And Type-Moon has recently done pretty well with anime properties, and it’s a trend well-poised to continue with a feature-length special. The only danger is that videogame adaptations are a tricky business (how do we translate game mechanics into anime? Mostly, we can’t), and mobile game => anime, in particular, have almost universally sucked. And, who knows? Maybe the adaptation is aimed at those who have played the game, and will go over the heads of those without the prior knowledge. It could still not be for me.
And so it seemed, when Fate/Grand Order -First Order- started with that most tired of clichés: people panicking while shouting technobabble at screens. A word to all budding directors out there who still do this: you sound ridiculous. It’s unavoidable, because jargon always sounds silly to those on the outside. Yeah, I know, you want to keep your plot mysterious by masking it in proper nouns, but it doesn’t sound mysterious to us. You’re not being mysterious, you’re playing Mad Libs. Your plumber can tell you your pipe has sprung a leak, or tell you that your Troy has gadzooked a moist-danger. One is meaningful advice, the other is a stroke. By all means, start in media res, but nobody really needs to speak much. Just, I don’t know, make something explode. Everybody understands explosions.
Thankfully, the rest of the feature is much more accessible, owing to the regular infodumps Fate/Grand Order will routinely provide. Everybody is on hand to give exposition, including the villains who are friendly enough to reveal whatever secret magical powers they have up their sleeves. Conveniently, we have a protagonist (Shimazaki Nobunaga) who has, against all odds, managed to not know anything about anything, and so there’s always a good excuse to be explaining something. Still, I think it’s probably best that any potential viewers go in having watched a Fate show of some kind or wielding some wider Type-Moon knowledge. That way, you can catch the little references, feel smug when you rognise the ‘Atlas’ name-drop, and be totally on board with Cu Chulainn being a total bro or Medusa dying first (not before killing Shinji, though; I guess everybody feels better now. Happy New Year).
Exposition aside, there’s not actually that much story in the 72 minutes or so of Fate/Grand Order. There are, roughly speaking, two plot lines. One is a fairly generic RPG thing: go here, kill this. The other is a boy meets girl story. And while Mash/Ms-Can’t-Afford-Full-Gear/some Arthurian knight (Takahashi Rie) is super cute (free glasses-kouhai? Now I know how Chaldea attracts recruits), that’s really all there is carrying this relationship. And she has a lot of work to do. The male-lead (the player stand-in in the mobile game) is, by comparison, exceptionally boring, and that’s sold as a feature, not a bug (except instead of ‘boring’ they call it ‘human’). He frankly has very little purpose other than to have a boy for the girl to meet (and for, er, chauvinism, I guess). So, overall, while there is a lot of stuff going on (extinction of humanity, and all that), it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of depth there. I suppose one can argue that this is more of an action flic, and indeed that is the main draw of Fate/Grand Order. But while it is quite the visually solid show, I didn’t really find all the fight scenes very engaging either. I think it’s because a lot of the time choreography simply was not that inspiring. There seems to be only so much they can do with a girl whose only armament is a giant dinner plate, it seems; when she’s not bashing mooks (and looking good while doing it!), she mostly just gets beaten on. An effective tank in an RPG, perhaps, but rendered visually it just makes one wonder what would happen if people tried to walk around the tower shield that she can’t see from behind of. Even her big moment, while suitably dramatic, probably has uplifted more by the music than anything else (because morphing into a brick wall, if anything, actually looks weaker). For the female-lead, I wished for a bit more agency on her part, I suppose, in both story and in fights.
Mind you, Fate/Grand Order is an enjoyable show. But I can’t really tell how much of that is just from me being a Fate fan, and in particularly a Fate fan who very much wanted to see an OP Cu Chulainn kick butt and be fabulous. And, oh yeah, he does a lot of both, even if he suffers from a bit of boring choreography himself in the beginning when all his runes only made explosions. No doubt, he carries both his party and the show. And while I’m fine with watching that all day, I wonder if those who, say, didn’t watch much Fate/stay night, like the guy less, and weren’t as thrilled about his bad karma being avenged would not enjoy the performance quite as much. That’s troubling, because otherwise there’s not much else for Fate/Grand Order -First Order- to lean on.
Is there going to be a -Second Order-, and this first one is just for establishment? As it stands as an anime, we’re left feeling that there should be a lot more to everything. If there’s no sequel to follow-up, we’ll be holding onto a lot of vestigal pieces. What’s the purpose of the sparklies except as game loot? What’s the purpose of the Pokemon except to have Kawasumi Ayako squeak some more for our amusement while she’s there? What’s the purpose of the director woman except to have her be angry, be miserable, and then die? In a nutshell: we’re left with a lot of underutilised character, and they all have stupid names. Nobody names their daughter ‘Mash’ unless they hate her. ‘Leff Lynor’ is a Superman love interest, not a villain (even if the demon is so uncouth as to wear his hat indoors). And… Animusphere?
Ahem. So, yeah, I hope that this is not all of Fate/Grand Order. If they just wanted to market the game, then I guess this is actually plenty. It’s a solid hour of entertainment. My curiosity is piqued. Mission accomplished. As a full anime experience though? Surely there’s more potential here. There could certainly be more ambition here. There certainly could be more waiting in the wings, and they could certainly do better. And I would like more, and better, and more ambitious. That’s what it means to be a fan.
ED: 「色彩」 (Shikisai) by 坂本真綾 (Sakamoto Maaya)