First, an open letter to Netflix: screw you. Nobody is ever happy about you guys getting the license to an anime, because for some reason you don’t seem to understand that anime fans like to watch things as they air an episode at a time. Literally no one wants to wait until the show has finished airing and then watch it all at once. Legal streams are supposed to combat piracy, not encourage it. I have a personal policy where I try not to watch anything that I can’t watch legally (although I do sometimes have to make exceptions for First Impressions), but I couldn’t pass up a new Fate and I wasn’t going to wait 6 goddamn months to see even one episode. For that reason, as awesome as this first episode was, out of sheer good faith I won’t be blogging it, but I’m still doing this first impression after resorting to fansubs. Seriously, screw you Netflix, get a clue already. At least don’t act surprised if people aren’t willing to wait for a show you’re holding hostage for 6 months when literally ever other licensing company in this day and age does simulcasts.
It’s time to forget everything you thought you knew about the established Fate canon – and if you don’t know anything at all, perhaps that’s for the best. Fate/Apocrypha, originally based on an abandoned online game (the basis of which was eventually dusted off and morphed into the mobile game Fate/Grand Order) and then restructured into a novel series, takes place in an alternate universe where the 4th Holy Grail War – the one detailed in Fate/Zero, never happened. The reason for this is that during the third Holy Grail War, the Grail itself was stolen, which meant no more fun for anyone. If you’re new enough to this franchise that you don’t know what a grail war is, it’s a mage’s battle royale fought using the spirits of legendary historical figures from both fact and fiction until only one remains, who will win the grail and any wish their heart desires.
However, a surprise announcement comes from the Yggdmillenia ‘family’ – they’re withdrawing from the mage association and founding their own organisation. And also, they totally found the grail and have been keeping it secret for years now. All they need is a grail war to activate the thing. And that’s where things get complicated.
Your traditional grail war is a battle royale between 7 masters and 7 servants, but this time, the Yggdmillenia side are already summoning their own servants. When multiple servants are being controlled by the same ‘side’, the Grail has an emergency protocol that will let it spit out an additional 7. In other words, this is not just any grail war but a Great Grail War fought between two sides with seven masters and their servants on each. On the Black side is Yggdmillenia, and on the Red side is the Mage Assocation. It’s double the servants, double the masters, double the fun for everyone.
This episode is mostly an exposition dump, as first episodes of Fate series tend to be, but we do get to see some of the servants – including Saber of red, who this time is not king Arthur but Mordred.
I’m a pretty lazy person, so even though I always intended to get around to reading the Fate/Apocrypha novel or finding out more about it, I never actually ended up doing it, so this anime will be my first proper exposure to it. Before now, the only thing I really knew about it was a) the Red/Black situation and b)Caster of Red is Shakespeare and he is smoking. In fact Hot Shakespeare was my sole reason for caring about this version of Fate at all and the main reason I wanted to see the anime.
Unfortunately there’s no attractive animefied playwrights in this episode. Fortunately that doesn’t matter, because there’s plenty else that was awesome.
It managed to be pretty interesting and engaging despite being a glorified exposition dump, but I’m used to that when it comes to Fate anime, and it was a good deal better than Fate/Zero’s exposition dump first episode anyway. (Also, one of the characters who gets to explain the plot for the sake of the audience is none other than the adult Waver Velvet from /Zero, who has really been on a roll with the cameos in other Fate series lately. (If the 4th war never happened, I really don’t know how he ended up in the position at the Clock Tower he’s in, but I’m not gonna question it if it means I can see my glorious son again. As much as I wanted to include a bunch of screencaps of him, I resisted for the sake of the stuff more relevant to the /Apocrypha plot) Some of the characters definitely seem more interesting than others (and some of them I’m going to be surprised if they don’t just end up as cannon fodder), but we’ve also yet to meet everyone properly – most notably a proper introduction to the two characters on the promo art, one of which is Jeanne D’Arc (or at least the Fate version of her, which – cute design aside – makes me irrationally mad because Jeanne D’Arc should look like a boy goddammit that was literally the entire deal with her. I was actually surprised that this episode didn’t feature possibly the most questionable character design in the series – Jack the Ripper, who looks like a 10 year old girl with no pants, because Fate. Although to be honest there was already so much going on in this episode, and only a usual episode length unlike the double length /Zero and /Stay Night got to open with, that I’m glad they didn’t bog it down anymore.
Given how used to ufotable delivering beautiful-looking Fate series we’ve become, it’s reasonable to be wary of a different studio (in this case A-1 Pictures), but they’ve definitely done a bang-up job on this first episode at least. The characters look good, the animation is solid and there’s some moments that definitely look like they were inspired by ufotable’s Fate series in terms of animation direction and general atmosphere, which is a good thing. What concerns me is the fact that this show is set to be two cours with no break in between. Even the mighty ufotable had to split /Zero and /Stay Night UBW into two halves so that the budget wouldn’t suffer in either, so I can’t help but be wary as to how /Apocrypha is going to stay looking this good.
At the moment, its big and bombastic and teetering on that fine line between ‘awesome’ and ‘goddamn ridiculous’ – so it sure is a Fate anime. I’m looking forward to seeing which side of that line it ends up on as things develop. And Shakespeare, naturally.