Unpopular Opinion: Fuck Fate

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I can barely imagine how I can hate the Fate universe.  It’s about a bunch of mages and ancient heroes, of the real and mythical varieties, with super powers throwing down in a battle royale for the Holy Grail.  It’s got all kinds of historical references and confusing lore and it’s appeal practically writes itself, especially to a history buff with a serious interest in magic, fantasy and mythology like me.  Funny then that, barring Fate Zero, I can’t stand any Fate show anymore.  There will be spoilers.

Maybe I should dial this back a bit before I go in too hard.  So a few years ago I see Fate Zero and I’m fucking blown away.  I’m like “Bro bro bro, top tier anime right here”  and literally the entire anime community agrees.  Then I watch the infamous train wreck that was the original Fate Stay Night and I think it’s shit but I still like the concepts contained in the franchise and move on.  Then I see UBW, the TV show not the movie, and that’s when some of the underlying negative feelings I have with the Fate universe begin to solidify.  It’s when I start getting into long arguments with Fate fans, about details I don’t think make sense.  And don’t get me wrong I’m not here to paint these guys in a bad light, the arguments I had with them were among the best I’ve ever had with regards to anime even if most arguments ended with us agreeing to disagree or them agreeing the anime stumbled on a particular point that the visual novel handles like a champ.  And I’m totally willing to take their word at face value that the visual novels cover my problems with the various anime adaptations.  However the fact that Fate was created as visual novel is the root of every nail in all of the various anime adaptations’ collective coffin.

There are three major issues I have with the underlying construction of the Fate universe and it’s lore that arise from the nature of it being a visual novel, routes, game mechanics and harem style love interests.  Now you might be asking yourself, “what’s wrong with having multiple routes?”  In the visual novels, absolutely nothing.  In literally any other medium – a lot.  Multiple routes or experiences which mirror multiple routes, i.e. playing an RPG and doing things in a different order or siding with different factions, etc.  work fantastically in video games because you get to play each route.  It’s fun and it lets you approach the story a totally different way, it allows you to significantly alter the experience.  However this requires a ton of freedom on both the player’s and creators’ parts and film and printed media do not have that freedom.  The only non-video game examples I can even think of are choose your own adventure books, which I discovered in middle school and have never seen since because they never caught on, the movie Clue which allowed you to choose multiple endings because it’s a comedy based on a who-dun-it game (good luck making many shows like that) and spin-offs.

But even spin-offs aren’t really a good equivalent to routes.  Spin-offs become entirely different shows with familiar characters or show the same story as the original from a different character’s perspective.  Routes don’t work like that compared to spin-offs they have either greatly reduced changes to the story or greatly increased changes to the story and overall they function very differently from a spin-off.  UBW is not a spinoff of Stay/Night, it most closely resembles a choose your own adventure story but those died in print and never made it to film, because they aren’t workable in that medium.  This why when after UBW wraps up and they announce a Heaven’s Feel movie I groan in frustration instead of getting hype, this despite the fact Heaven’s Feel actually looks more up my alley than UBW did.

This next bit is probably going to sound pretentious as fuck but in film you can’t just keep changing the story.  So get this, there’s an event called the Fourth Holy Grail War and the combatants are blah blah blah and the winners are X & Y.  You can’t tell that story and suddenly go here’s another version where Z & U win.  I know art isn’t supposed to have rules and all but frankly you can’t do multiple routes in film.  Not if you want it to be immersive, not if you want the audience to suspend their disbelief and get them hooked.  It is my humble opinion that routes require an abstraction that can only really manifest in games and it’s an abstraction called – I know I’m playing a fucking game.  Here’s an example.  Because I never play new games when they are new I recently start up Bloodborne.  I love the difficulty, sound, environment and the feel of the combat.  But then I hit a wall and because it’s a game, I take a step back and say if I grind for blood echoes (currency/exp) by killing these two infinitely respawning giant pigs I can level up to the point where the boss isn’t hard or I have better gear or whatever.  Point is I have to deliberately take a break from trying to immerse myself in the world and story to take a sort of meta-view and exploit the game’s mechanics to my advantage.  This is not something I would wish upon anyway trying to enjoy a film because unlike with video games, you aren’t playing your way through a film.

I actually kind of hate that in Bloodborne there are times when I am so stuck I have to break my immersion on purpose and find a solution using my outsider knowledge of game mechanics.  It’s frustrating remove myself from the horror and magic of the setting to do some basic tactics and math, putting fun and exploration on hold to do the heavy lifting required to push through the next boss.  I do basic tactics and math everyday in real life, I don’t walk in a beautifully horrific city fighting all kinds of twisted monsters everyday.  The point of immersion is for me to escape real life and that’s why immersion breaking events suck, even more so when you initiate them yourself.

So in summary, routes aren’t possible in film because they require a level of abstraction that is antithetical to immersive storytelling and to me good films are all about immersive storytelling.

Moving on to game mechanics, one of things which is so crushing to me about Fate lore is that it’s designed as though the Holy Grail war was a video game.  For example let’s look at the seven servant classes.  The classes clue us into what kind of weapons, fighting styles and certain attributes a hero will have.  For example, Saber fights with swords, Caster uses magic and Berserker is not sane.  These are broad categories that leave a lot of room for character and power development, as well as, simple descriptions that can be easily fit into existing lore.  For instance it’s no surprise that King Arthur would be a Saber servant because Excalibur plays a huge role in the Arthurian legends.  This also leaves room for the same hero becoming multiple classes though I admit I have very mixed feelings about that.  On the one hand it makes sense in terms of real world lore as many heroes fought with more than one weapon or were known for more than one aspect of their character.  On the other it plays into that multiple routes crap I broke down above and makes the character less defined.  I suppose it could used for very interesting things if, for example Lancelot the Saber had to fight Lancelot the Berserker so that we can see what fighting his other self does to Lancelot both in physical and mental terms.  But thus far that’s never happened and there are too many other weaknesses to make me watch a Fate where it did happen.

Much more frustrating however are that each servant class have basic traits which apply to everyone in that class regardless of lore.  All Sabers get magic resistance for example.  Ok but here’s a hypothetical.  What happens to sword wielding heroes who, in their own legends, fell victim to magic.  Sure in the specific story you can just not include such a character and bypass the issue.  But the fact that I can make a believable hypothetical which makes this part of the Fate universe lore not make sense, proves that it’s a weakness in the lore’s construction.  Moreover I think it’s fucking stupid.  When I watch two Heroes with magical superpowers go head to head, the last thing I’m thinking of are class advantages.  To make matters worse they have literal stats like Strength A, Constitution C, etc.  I can’t even imagine to how you could make me less interested in a clash between to Servants, viewed without any of this knowledge they fights are generally great but knowing they have fucking stats rather just allowing them to test their ability against each other with no knowledge of their opponent’s relative skill is a buzzkill of epic proportions.

There is nothing, literally NOTHING, less appealing to me than trying to quantify a character’s ability and power level by busting out a stat sheet and using that to help guide or predict the outcome of a fight.   And when you do that to such towering figures of history and legend it boils my blood, which then evaporates due to sheer heat as soon as those figures turn out to be great characters in their own right.  Which incidentally brings me to third and final problem, the characters.

Up until this point I’ve largely been talking about my gripes with the Fate universe, or Nasuverse, or the flaws that come with adapting a visual novel into anime and still treating it like a goddamn visual novel.  The latter point is not restricted to Fate btw, I’m absolutely furious about Steins:Gate Zero and it hasn’t even come out yet.  But the characters are arguably the most important point because it what will maybe justify some speculation on my part.  That speculation being that Nasu, the creator of the Fate universe is a big part of the problem.  I will admit I have not intensely studied Nasu’s work so take my speculation with plenty of salt but as it appears to me Nasu isn’t very good when it comes to people, or in writing terms, characters.  Jumping back to the stats thing for a second, to me the fact he would even assign stats to Servants like that at all says to me that he is either trying to bind his lore to the medium, in this case visual novels, or that he is a man who puts a lot more emphasis on systems than people.  Broadly speaking men are more interested in systems at a basic psychological level so it wouldn’t be a huge leap of logic to imagine that Nasu is especially interested in systems and thus applies systems where he doesn’t need to, in this case to the Servants.  Again this is complete speculation but Nasu seems to be someone who makes hard rules, or perhaps, creates order where he doesn’t need to.

I’m not saying this slight the man.  He’s not stupid or bad for creating a system within his own ideas.  I am saying that I disagree with him fundamentally on this point.  I think placing a system within the Fate universe is a bad move because I want to see the places it could go with a bit more chaos.  I think it has all kinds of room for malleability and the potential for very organic stories and clashes which I personally find far more interesting.  I think putting in a stat system makes the Fate universe more stale and that wild, chaotic speculation as to how well a given Servant does against any opponent is a universe full of far greater intrigue and possibility.   Alternatively if Nasu was seriously hard-wiring the nature of the medium into his lore then fair enough – but if that’s the case there will be an inevitable drop in quality when you put it in a different medium.

This where the characters come in.  Me and my best friend have a big problem with the all the gender bending going on in the Fate universe.  To me it totally undermines certain characters, like King Arthur, or is just there for fanservice, which fair enough I have no problems with fanservice but it really takes away from the gravitas of these figures if we see their gender-bent tits flopping about.  King Arthur is an especially bad example as the main reason she is gender-bent is so she can be one of the main love interests to Shrio, aka the most insufferable Fate character of all time and one of my least favorite anime protagonists of all.

The biggest gap in quality between the one Fate show I liked Fate Zero and everything else is that the characters are less interesting across the board, one of the main reasons being the teenage romance central to the visual novels plays a major role in the various anime versions.  Once again this is a huge mistake to me because there’s nothing I would rather not see in a Holy Grail War than weak, harem-style teenage romances.  Their very presence undermines the coolest aspects of the Fate universe and makes the whole experience less serious.  This is one of the reasons I think Nasu either struggles to write good characters or tailored his creation so closely to the medium of visual novels, to me there is no logical connection between the romantic elements and the Holy Grail War beyond the fact basically all visual novels are centered around various routes wherein you can romance different love interests.  If I were in Nasu’s position and came up with the Fate universe I would never have included boring teenage romances and it probably never would have been a visual novel.

My other justification for this line of thinking, that Nasu either isn’t good at characters or tailored Fate to the visual novel medium, is Fate Zero.  Fate Zero was written by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magicka fame using Nasu’s preexisting lore and characters as a template for the prequel to Fate Stay Night.  With the change in writers there a ton of immediately apparent changes between Fate Zero and any other Fate work.  There is only one teenager and all his enemies are adults.  The only gender-bent character is King Arthur and that’s because of preexisting lore.  The only romantic elements that exist are used to enhance a few characters and they are not a major focus of the story.  Instead the focus is now squarely on the battles and the characters.  Waver, the sole teen, is a teen precisely because it puts him such stark contrast with his Servant, the best character in the show Alexander the Great.  They make a great pair because Waver is young, not especially confident and has no guiding principles or goals and Alexander is this massive force of personality with larger than life dreams and goals.  They have an effect on each other, an effect which transforms Waver’s character because frankly that was the point of pairing them together.

Fate Zero is unusual in that the conclusion is a forgone one, we already know how the Grail War ends.  The individual battles are given a lot of attention but overall this is a ‘the journey is more important the destination’ kind of show.  That’s why it allocates so much of focus on the characters, their development, their ideals and their desires and how and why they come into conflict.  This is perhaps best shown by the famous Banquet of King because it spells out in no uncertain terms that all of the Kings have very different ideals and this will inevitably bring them into conflict even if they can have a dialogue for the moment.  There is nothing like the banquet of Kings in any of the other Fate works because frankly none of the characters in any of the other Fate shows are strong enough and fleshed out enough to carry such a scene.  And the fact that Fate Zero can speaks to Gen Urobuchi approaching things from a fundamentally different lens than Nasu, and I prefer the Urobutcher’s lens.

There is actually one more problem with Fate and it’s characters and it’s the problem showcased by Fate Grand Order and Fate Apocrypha.  There are way the fuck too many characters being thrown at us all at once.  I got about halfway through Apocrypha and dropped out because nothing in it seemed to matter.  The characters were boring and just seemed to fill space, looking cool and not having any real weight in the broader sense, like this was some Fate shit to tide us over until Heaven’s Feel.  Seeing the sheer number of servants, their alternate forms and masters on the wiki makes me think the best way to do Fate is to go full long form shounen on that shit.  Because otherwise there’s way too much and we won’t have time bond with any of the characters or enjoy much of a story, and ultimately I think that robs the Servants of their uniqueness and intrigue, much the same way I think the Avenger’s movies suffer from having to cram too many characters into one story and thus have to keep things simple and not explore any individual heroes in greater depth.

I hope you enjoyed this huge rant.  I’m not here to slander Nasu or pick a fight with Fate fans, I think the Fate universe is full of great shit but it’s also full of shit that is not to my tastes and the onslaught of upcoming Fate stuff has really just caused me to kind of despise Fate as an IP, especially considering all the hype surrounding Fate at the moment.  See you in the next one.

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Understanding Presence and Weight with Kingdom

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No other anime I’ve seen has even come close to mastering the idea of character presence as Kingdom has.  The best comparison point I can think of off-hand is Rider from Fate Zero – but even he pales in comparison to the top tier characters of Kingdom.  I don’t expect most people to care, most people haven’t even heard of Kingdom while Fate Zero is widely known and held in high regard, and for good reason.  But if on the off chance you’re a total weirdo like me and have a deep fascination with the idea and portrayal of a living legend, Kingdom is best there is.  Period.

Jumping back a little for the sake of context, Kingdom is a historical shounen (though some sites call it a seinen and there arguments for why it should be) battle series set in the Chinese Warring States Period in the 300s BC (not to be confused with the Japanese period of the same name in the 1500s AD).  It follows Xin, who in typical shounen fashion wants to be the best there ever was – in this case the greatest general in history – and Yin Zheng the young king of Qin, the westernmost and second most powerful of the seven kingdoms in China, who wishes to conquer all of China.  As the minor battles in this show contain hundreds of fighters (at minimum) and the important wars involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting over several days important people have to be able to wipe the floor with tons of random soldiers before dueling other people of the same power level.  Kingdom’s way of handling the obvious break from realism is to uphold the idea that the weight of one’s command – among important characters – is a source of strength which enables them to run roughshod over weaker foes.  Kingdom takes this very literally as the weight of one’s command directly affects the power of one’s blows and how strong a blow they can receive without issues.

This of course is not the only source of strength or skill, experience, size, muscle build, etc. all play a role and the weight is often an elusive thing to gauge as people with significantly smaller commands can fight on equal footing with those of greater commands.  Also this whole weight is power thing doesn’t apply to strategists whatsoever.  Nonetheless the idea is integral to Kingdom and it does a fucking fantastic job on delivering on one of the shows overall greatest strengths, dramatic payoffs.

Kingdom does a phenomenal job of building tension and then bringing a satisfying payoff.  If I had to sum the show up in one word it would be big.  Big armies, big characters, big talk, big music, big impact.  It’s hard not to get swept up in the hype when you’re watching characters you like charge headlong into a giant army with his trusted soldiers at his back with big booming oriental orchestral swells thundering in the background – seriously Kingdom’s music is fucking awesome and it would totally overwhelm scenes of suitably less gigantic action.

Of course the scenario above will fall apart at the first hurdle if you don’t like the characters, so naturally Kingdom takes a lot steps to ensure that you do.  Everyone of note has highly distinct designs, there are dozens of specialized armor variants for noteworthy armies and special armor for important generals.  In a similar vein all the characters have different hairstyles and facial features, weapons, banners and so forth to make them all stand out.  Where the weight and presence bit comes into its own is for the older generals.  In comparison to Xin most of the major enemies or important, older allied characters are significantly physically larger, and thus can pack a lot more punch to their attacks.

Another major factor to consider is the mental side of the equation.  In typical shounen fashion Xin is kind of a dumbass, though I would contend he is somewhat smarter than he appears and his stupidity has a clear source, he grew up as slave with no education.  There is however a lot of tactical play going on and the top tier characters are capable of stunning feats of strategy – no joke some of this shit is Death Note-style complex planning – which spice up the more basic, if no less satisfying frontal assaults of more brutal and martial generals.  Moving away from a character’s intellect however the mental effects of certain strategies and actions play a large role as well.  Bloodlust/killing intent and morale have significant effects on a character’s ability to perform in battle, so how certain characters go about inspiring morale plays a large role in their tactics and actions.

What this is all building up to is the logical endpoint, the generals who are big, skilled, have tons of experience, and who are famous for their exploits, the kind of people Xin wants to be.  The two giants among men who appear in the anime are Wang Qi and Lian Po, two legendary generals who were among the biggest names in all of China during their golden age several decades ago.  They are both masterfully done characters with highly distinct designs, excellent voicework, unrivaled power, top tier tacticians and more weight and presence than anyone else in anime.  It’s hard to say exactly what grants them this quality, what allows them to so perfectly encapsulate, to me obviously, the idea of a living legend.  It could be the things described above, it could be their glorious careers from years past and how the rest of world still treats their names with awe.  It might be how, on occasion they speak of their older days and how impressive they make that era seem.  The most obvious answer is that it’s all these things – and that would explain why this ability to capture the feel of living legend is exclusive to Kingdom, as their backstories are bound to Kingdom.

But at the same time I feel like it has to be more than that.  I think I could make similar arguments about some of the characters in Arslan Senki but they’ve never captured the same appeal, certainly not to the degree Kingdom has.  All I can say for sure is that when one of the generals loses and is forced to surrender, has a less successful man from his era tell him to retire, and his response is “Don’t be stupid.  I’m on active duty til I die!”  while he charges down a small mountain and one of this big orchestral swells plays in the background I watched the scene over and over like 40 times because it was just that special, it had that much impact.

The point of a lot of shounen characters, especially major enemies like Madara or old badasses like Netero, is to be these larger than life entities which draw you the viewer into a clash of epic proportions.  It’s what makes battle’s whose scale would be derided in mainstream TV not only possible but fucking glorious to watch.  And Kingdom, for all it’s faults has mastered the art of making larger than life characters to a degree which surpasses all of the competition.  I picked up Kingdom  after the second season finished airing and I’ve yet to see anything, newer or older, which gets close to capturing that larger than life, living legend feel like Kingdom did.  And it is my sincere belief that this ability to portray such gigantic characters the way Kingdom does, is why both seasons are rated upwards of 8 on sites like MAL, where the second season of Kingdom currently sits at #88.

Personally I would count Kingdom among my top five shows with ease, possibly in the top three, and by extension highly recommend it to anyone who sounds even vaguely interested.  I’ve also written about the show before here, in case you wanted more of an overview.  This is all despite the fact season 1 is burdened with a lot of low tier-CG and physics can often be very loosely applied in combat.  It doesn’t matter, because Kingdom moves past all of it’s issues and the weight and presence of it’s best characters is one of the main reasons.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Let’s Talk About Fate

So Fate:Grand Order – First Order came out recently and it was alright I guess.  It had great digital effects, cool Heroic Spirits and well that’s about it really, and it got me thinking about why it is that, contrary to most people, I’m getting less and less excited for anything Fate-related and by extension Ufotable in general as it’s becoming a Fate factory.  There will be scattered spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Few things in the anime world sadden me the way Fate does.  It should be right up my alley and I should be drooling over each new entry.  I mean it’s got magic (awesome), famous historical figures reincarnated as super-powered badasses (especially awesome for a history buff like me), action (always a plus), and convoluted lore I can dig into for hours (because lore is my drug).  That said since Fate Zero I’ve gotten less and less enthusiastic about anything Fate and I think First Order highlights some of my issues with the Fate franchise rather nicely.  Though to it’s credit at least First Order seems to be something of a progression from the prior series, which is more than I can say about the coming Heaven’s Feel movie Fate fans have been hyping for months.  One of the main problems I mentioned in my review of Unlimited Blade Works is that the Fate anime are adapted as if they’re still visual novels, they have several different routes and Ufotable is doing work on multiple routes.  If you’re a fan of the games this might sound cool but stop and think for a second about how weird it is in a film medium.  Did you ever see a Lord of the Rings where Aragorn shacks up with Eowen instead of Arewyn?  Or maybe a Harry Potter where Harry and Hermione are a couple?  Discounting any fanfic you’ve read or seen, no you haven’t because that’s not how storytelling works.  In anime it’s mostly standard practice to blend all the route of the visual novel together and have the guy settle on whichever girl and thus keep the series as single definitive story, like in Clannad for example.  As far as I’m aware the Fate anime are the only series to just do straight adaptations of the visual novel routes separately, without regard for the other shows.  It feels weird and out of place, like if they rebooted a Marvel movie a year after it came out to swap the romantic pairings and change a few battles.

Even setting aside the inherent off-ness of Ufotable’s current approach to the various Fate routes and series, the real nail in the coffin is the characters.  Fate Zero was written by Gen Urobuchi, not the creator of the mainstay Fate-verse aka the Nasuverse, and his style is I think vastly superior to Nasu’s in terms of characters.  Fate Zero’s characters were mostly grounded and realistic in comparison to Nasu’s, who are generally more archetypal and tropy.  Even if we focus on the only teenage character in Fate Zero to make things more fair, he’s still leagues ahead of his Nasu counterparts.  Waver Velvet was a kid, a weak and unimpressive kid in the magical world, who desperately wanted to show the arrogant old guard of the wizard world, who dismiss him out of hand because his family’s magical lineage isn’t long and distinguished enough, that he was worthy, that his ideas and existence held weight.  He had no journey or path, he just wanted his worth to be recognized.  And he’s one of the few survivors of the Fate Zero Holy Grail War that leaves both alive and with a hopeful road ahead of him after Rider acknowledges his worth and shows him a new path to take.  By comparison Rin is a bossy tsundere, Shiro is borderline retarded, wrapped up as he is in his ideas of heroism and justice, and Shinji is a cartoonishly awful and pettily arrogant bully.  The only characters who were cartoonish in Fate Zero were Caster and his master, and they were fucking hilarious because their insanities complemented each other so well, and the story made it explicitly clear that they were outliers.

And let me stress again because it can never be stressed enough, fuck Shiro.  Shiro’s inane monologues about how his ideas are fake but they still hold worth or how Archer’s (he’s Shiro in the future in case you weren’t aware) conclusions are correct too, but he’s going to choose his own path because it’s right and- Jesus. Fucking. Christ.  Shiro is like half of everything wrong with Fate, and no, Archer being badass for a few fights doesn’t save him because Archer is by far my least favorite Heroic Spirit since he’s actually a Counter Guardian.  If that makes no sense you then congratulations you’ve seen the next big problem I’m going to get to in a minute.  One of things I think should be cut from Fate entirely is any emphasis on romance whatsoever.  None of the romantic interests are particularly interesting characters and the guy they all want to fuck is the most annoying thing Nasu ever created, the only romance worth a damn was Kiritsugu and Irisviel because it had more relevance to course of the Fourth and Fifth Holy Grail Wars and was actually interesting conceptually given that Irisviel was a Homunculus and by the time Fate Zero rolled around, in the process of dying before becoming the Holy Grail vessel, which her husband later destroyed.  The high school romances are boring as hell and the Fate Stay Night ShiroxSaber route legitimately pisses me off, in comparison.  Speaking of Saber, she was a weaker character in UBW than in Fate Zero, even though she should be getting more complex and nuanced, and therefore a stronger character.  But the main reason I think all the romance shit (sans Kiritsugu and Irisviel) should be cut is because we need spend that time on things that actually matter, like explaining the lore and mechanics of the Holy Grail War and some character development.

The single most common argument you get from anyone defending any Fate anime is that the games were better, that the games explained everything that didn’t make into the anime and made the characters better.  They may well be right, maybe the games are perfect masterpieces, but that doesn’t save the anime.  This isn’t a problem in Fate Zero because if anything that conflict was too drawn out and the only thing left unexplained was how exactly the Holy Grail had become corrupted (an important plot point for future works).  By contrast UBW doesn’t even explain that the reason Shiro’s magic gets so powerful so abruptly in the series is because it’s derived from his Origin, like how his adoptive father Kiritsugu had special bullets that could destroy a mage’s magic circuits thanks to his Origin, Cut and Bind.  I still don’t get how Caster (UBW’s Caster) was able to summon and command Assassin though a few Fate fans have tried to explain it to me.  The Counter Guardian thing from above, basically a human that makes a pact with the world and becomes a time travelling hero-figure, introduces new complexities into the lore that the anime has not yet fully addressed.  Likewise the character development in UBW is lackluster at best, because A, it barely happens and B, the archetypal characters are boring.  Why not cut the romance and used the added time to bring some more nuance to the characters, to make them grow more over the course of the conflict?  Anyway that’s enough bitching about Fate in general, time to look at First Order.

First Order introduces a ton of new material and a metric ton of nonsense magic and science words to get it’s rather straightforward scenario rolling.  First Order is basically the beginning of mankind’s desperate attempt to stave off extinction, which was decreed by some being, potentially the metaphysical consciousness of the world (which yes is a thing and it’s what allowed Shiro to become a Counter Guardian).  This simple premise is obscured by mountains of mumbo jumbo about Chaldea, a system which I’m honestly a little confused about because it’s function is supposed to be ensuring mankind survives in top form for a hundred years, but it’s unclear whether or how Chaldea actually does anything beyond being a display/warning system.  There are all kinds of new magic-tech babble concepts like Rayshifting and Spiritron Dives to accompany the use of Chaldea and the people sent to fix the anomalies which appears to be what kick-started the mass extinction of mankind.  I admit that the end goal, fighting a bunch of screwy Holy Grail Wars to save mankind is interesting but it took wading through a lot of nonsense to get to the good stuff.

In addition, two of the new concepts that are actually interesting are Demi-Servants and the Shielder class.  Mash the main girl of First Order becomes the first, and going by the wiki, only Shielder class Servant and a Demi-Servant.  A Demi-Servant is a human who merges with a Heroic Spirit, presumably a weaker one that couldn’t manifest otherwise though that’s just speculation on my part.  The Shielder class raises a few questions though.  Have Shielders always existed and just not been allowed to participate in Holy Grail Wars?  Were they not deemed worthy to compete for the Grail? Or are the Shielders a newly minted class because the anomalies have screwed with the rules of the Holy Grail Wars?  Is the Shielder perhaps a manifestation of mankind’s collective will to survive (not that much of a stretch by Fate standards) and not a true Heroic Spirit at all?  Is that the reason Mash is the only Shielder or is it just coincidence?  If it’s a Heroic Spirit who is it?  The shield doesn’t match any real designs as far I know, though it’s closest to the Celtic and Norse Cross shields, but the symbols on the shield as well as the Wall it can summon suggest Eastern origins though I can’t say for sure where, so where the hell is her Heroic Spirit from?  Thus far all of the above are unanswered but I hope Mash will get addressed in more detail later.

Unfortunately First Order seems to be closer to UBW in terms of tone and writing.  It has its own Rin, Director Animusphere (which is an awful name), to play the generic tsundere, the main guy is a cookie cutter nice guy but at least he’s not as annoying as Shiro.  An interesting thing to note is that is that the main guy has Rin’s face, I’m not kidding save for the fact that First Order’s protagonist has a more angular jaw-to-chin compared to Rin’s rounded jaw-to-chin its the same fucking face, it’s weird and lazy on Ufotable’s part.  The other characters are quirky, Leff in particular looks like he’s cosplaying a leprechaun before he becomes an edgy cackling villain at the end, and the mostly lighthearted quirkiness doesn’t at all fit the overall tone the premise and Fate franchise in general has set for itself.  For whatever reason UBW’s Lancer is reincarnated as Caster, which makes no sense because why does he know magic?  I can’t say I’ve dug deep into his, Cu Chulainn’s, legend but what research I’ve done doesn’t suggest he learned magic at all.  Regardless of how he became Caster, him using a Wickerman was in keeping with his Irish origins but his other magic was based on Norse runes which obviously aren’t from Ireland so what the fuck’s going on there?  Poor attention to detail.  Other than that it was alright.

First Order isn’t great, hell it’s not even particlualarly good, but it’s mildly entertaining and pretty to look at.  If nothing else it seems it’s taking the Fate franchise in a new and possibly interesting direction, and there’s no Shiro so that’s something to look forward to.  This was mostly an excuse to bitch about Fate and Ufotable though, hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.