「顔の無い王 -ノーフェイス・メイキング-」 (Kao no Nai-Oh -Noufeisu Meikingu-)
“Faceless King -No-Face May-King-“
One more indication that Fate/EXTRA Last Encore expects its viewers to have played the game, or at least have some greater knowledge of the Fate/ franchise: the Command Seals. This week Hakuno burns one of them and makes Saber cook-off like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and then no mention is made the feat again for the rest of the episode. While this is one of those motifs that veterans of the franchise will be used to, there’s no recourse for newcomers to Fate/ except to wonder which orifice they pulled their super-move out of. To explain in brief: the Command Seals are basically a limited number of get-out-of-gaol-free cards that all Masters have access to, which can be cashed to power up their Servant temporarily. As a narrative device, I suspect they were originally designed so that Masters don’t feel completely out of place in the clash of titans that is the Servant vs Servant match-ups. Honestly, Hakuno, being mostly a normal-high-school-student-protagonist, still feels out of placem but this would have been less noticeable in a visual novel. It’s much easier to ‘hide’ the protagonist when we’re just dealing with first-person text, but in an anime, where an entire scene has to be blocked visually, Hakuno has little to do except run around and be a liability. Since he only has those three Command Seals, he’s a very limited character from the get-go, so mostly he can only once in a while pretend to be impactful, fail to do so, then need justify his existence at some other point. In the videogames, it’s quite clear; you were playing as the Servant. The Master was an afterthought.
Back to the original point, the other indication that Last Encore wants us to have to have played the game first is that without doing so we won’t appreciate the differences between it and the anime, and those differences are becoming increasingly significant. Last week I talked about Shinji’s characterisation and how it differed between the game and the anime, about how putting the two versions together gave a complete picture. I suspect that will be the case for this stratum’s boss as well. I won’t go into it in detail for now so as to avoid spoilers, but I will say, though, that here he behaves in ways that are arguably contrary to his characterisation in the videogame. The dissonance is great enough that I believe it to be a deliberate juxtaposition. Perhaps the game and anime are deliberately starkly different continuities. Perhaps there has been some change in motivation. More on this next week.
As for this week, the overall narrative is starting to take a clear shape, somewhat faster than it did in the videogame. For this we have to thank Rani XIII, who takes a break from the universal hobby of Last Encore — pose and monologue — to be our Person Who Explains Stuff. That’s a fantasy stock staple, much as Rin served previously, and if we were to have one of these every stratum the cast is going to get cluttered very quickly. Thankfully Rin has disappeared with great timing to do enigmatic, offscreen things, so we can focus on the exposition instead. I hope the nature of the setting of Fate/EXTRA, its particular digital world and its particular Holy Grail War, are starting to click now. This was supposed to be more than a quest for a religious artefact, or a contest with a wish as the prize. Fate/EXTRA wants to go one further, to be an obvious metaphor for humanity’s search for utopia. But traditionally, the quest for the Holy Grail and the quest for utopia are both defined by their failures. And so the question for Last Encore: will be a story about how far we get, or about how far we fall short?