Every now and again comes an anime that redefines your view on “great anime”: Cowboy Bebop; Madoka Magika, and Full Metal Alchemist to name a few.
For me Fate/Zero was on par with these classic examples, and introduced me to the Fate series as a whole. I’ll admit on not having played the original game yet, but the anime adaptations have me hooked. So I was very excited to see a new entry in the form of Fate/Apocrypha.
The problem is, having watched Unlimited Bladeworks and Fate/Zero, and basked in not only the glory of their animation by Unfotable but also their excellent storytelling and character building, (Rider forever <3), I was expecting the same from Fate/Apocrypha. Sadly it did not deliver. An opinion shared by some of the characters.
I’ll cover the good first because there is as a fair amount to like about this series and its role in the Fate universe. Character design, oh I could just drink it up, from Ruler’s subtle nod to classic Saber, to Berserker of Black’s marks of inhumanity showing through her otherwise sympathetic design. Saber of Red’s battle design is by far and away one of my favourite things about this show.
The other is the music. It seems to be a rule of the Fate series that you must not only have an outstanding opening theme, but your overall OST must ring with epic tracks throughout. I’ll be looking this up to add to my customary Awesome Mix. As a side note, both the opening and ending are very well put together, and feed well into the series without any major spoilers.
As a fan of the Fate series, and having watched all that has made its way to the anime format, I found myself grinning at the various references and continuity nods. However this in itself is problematic, in that Netflix have picked up this particular series with no other parts of the Fate series available on their platform. A lot of those oh so clever references are going to fall flat with an audience that hasn’t seen previous series; using the same voice actor for Saber of Black as the original Archer from Unlimited Bladeworks made me smile, especially when getting into Saber of Black’s backstory, but it’s going to fly over the heads of those like The Boy who’ve never seen any other Fate instalments or played the games
I’m a big fan of the “Heroic Spirits” that are a key factor of the entire Fate series. A series of both real and mythical characters brought to fight behalf of the Mages in all out Battle Royale style war. I’ve seen multiple legends well thought out in their re-imagination, and smart uses of gender bending to surprise the audience and keep the mystery of certain characters until a choice reveal moment. Apocrypha utilises this to some effect, Saber of Red was a genius twist I did not expect and the character was well treated as throughout the series, however as a whole it falls flat. Having Jack the Ripper turn up as a pre-pubescent girl fighting in a thong was just too much for me, and a blot on her story arc.
Animation wise this wasn’t bad per se, when compared to the rest of the Fate family, and the battle sequences are well timed and smooth, until we get to the second half and you’re left wondering if the production team at A-1 Pictures just gave up for the climax. Jolts start to show through, and there’s some roughness left during explosions which feels messy and lazy. I do admire them for not using CGI to bulk out their sequences, as has featured in all the Unfotable productions.
My major issue comes from timing and poor scripting. The first episode belted along at such a pace that if I lacked the knowledge gleaned from the entire Fate series I would not have understood what on earth was going on, and I wouldn’t particularly care. Battle Royale style animes have popped up more frequently in recent years: Magical Girl Raising Project, Zodiac War are two such examples, and this would come across as a take on the popularised genre. You can’t find yourself able to care about why this is all going on, let alone bond enough with the characters to begin to root for one or the other. I’ll be honest, I came out of this not even knowing who exactly were supposed to be the champions for justice in this instalment, given that the only sympathetic characters were working under a Nazi and killing hundreds of sentient beings for their own desires...
Part of this may be Netflix’s lack of planning and forethought regarding anime as a whole, such as their attempt on the Castlevania series which, whilst overall good, finished on a disappointing cliff-hanger promising us more at a later date. They didn’t change format for Fate/Apocrypha and once again we are left on an dangling thread. It didn’t even feel like a purposeful cliff-hanger like Castlevania, but more like they forgot to pay the animators for the last few episodes to finish it off properly. This may have been too much of a series for Netflix to handle, and I can’t help but think I would have preferred this to have been released by Crunchyroll on a simulacast. There were just too many strands of plot, not to mention characters (a whopping combination of 30 Masters and Servants alone) for solely 12 episodes, though I understand that the UK is awaiting the release of Part 2 to help round off the series. I sincerely hope the second half helps inject some much needed character to our otherwise mostly flat cast.
For now I’m disappointed, and so cannot recommend this addition to the Fate series, but I will reserve full judgement until Part 2 reaches the UK Netflix...at some point.