「招き蕩う黄金劇場 アエストゥス・ドムス・アウレア」 (Manekitou Kogane Gekijou -Aesutousu Domusu Aurea-)
“Golden Theatre of the Deranged -Aestus Domus Aurea-“
Here’s another thing that can make a videogame much harder to adapt into anime than something like a manga: multiple-choice protagonists. In the original Fate/EXTRA, near the beginning of the game the player can choose to play as a female character or a male character. Even those of you who have never played the game can tell guess that it was the female Hakuno and the male Hakuno. There was no mechanical difference between the two, and only a few pieces of dialogue had any significant gender specificity, but they were different enough (and mutually exclusive) that the decision to play either one still felt like a choice. Anime, of course, involves no choice at all for its audience; we are passive viewers. So what to do? If the anime only has one protagonist over the other, game players who didn’t choose that protagonist may feel a disconnect, or even unrepresented. The dedicated fans are a picky and vocal lot. You could make two versions of the same anime, but that’s untenable. You could try including writing both protagonists into the anime — something I wished that the Persona 3 movies did — but with limited episode time it’s difficult to fit them both in. What Last Encore has done is, I think, as good a compromise as any. As a sequel to Fate/EXTRA, it does not really use both, but at least justifies the significance of both thematically. And it also makes the case that, no matter the characterisation, Kishinami Hakuno was always something of a blank slate anyway. S/he was defined, first and foremost, not by appearance and gender, but by their Servant. Even without a past or a wish, they were the Master of their Servant first and foremost, and the interaction between the two gave Hakuno personality.
Ah, but in the Fate/EXTRA game, we got to choose our Servant as well! Why Saber for the anime? Well, it’s the unwritten rule of the Fate franchise that the Saber-face is the mascot character, and in the marketing role Nero Claudius certainly has high specs. But I think the greater consideration is that, of the three playable Servants, Saber had the best monologues. As I noted last week, Nasu loves his monologues dearly, and I suspect that often the top consideration is which character would make the best mouthpiece. Archer was mostly snarky. Caster was mostly catty. But Saber would break out the soapbox and make grand, sweeping speeches of flowery prose at the drop of a hat, and more than any other Servant she’s designed to stand in front of armed opponents and talk them to death. For Nasu, that is main character material.
I think it can be assumed, though, that no matter which Servant was chosen the story would, like in the game, still be fundamentally similar. This arc has been the backstory arc, and this week Saber reveals her name and her past, which meant it was time for the patented SHAFT Picture Theatre. Her story, or at least her version of her story, is a tragic one to be sure, but each of the playable Servants basically had a story like that. Deliberately so. Here is where Last Encore got self-referential and Nasu revealed his secret as a writer. Even though Last Encore is ostensibly a sequel, and many things have changed, Nasu is still fundamentally writing the same story. Nasu places emphasis on the thematic core of a story — what he’s calling the ‘soul’ — above all else. All characters are extensions of the themes. This is why he keeps changing his canon every time he visits it, because to him those plot details aren’t that important as long as they serve the themes. And this is why so many details of his mythology can feel like complete bollocks but we still let him get away with it, as long as the strong thematic core holds.
That said, I’m not exactly sure what Last Encore is building up to yet. I can take a stab, but it seems like Fate/EXTRA has come full circle this episode and can spin out towards a number of different directions. Next week is episode 10, the last we’re slated for this season, and although the story is certainly not going to wrap up by then I’m still hoping for something climactic; Saber’s Noble Phantasm didn’t quite do it for me. I think we’ll have some stray episodes after (SHAFT is a disorganised mess like that) but 10 is a nice, round number. Let’s hope for a good one.