(A short while ago I did a first impressions at JACT, an anime club at Florida State University, and we watched some of "Fate/Zero"; last weekend we watched a little more and this is my thoughts on that...)
"Fate/Zero" is by no means the MOST baffling of anime I have ever seen but it have so many problems layered on top of one another the thing starts to break down just halfway through the cold opener of the pilot and does not build up steam enough to escape the event horizon of my apathy.
I will however complain about lots of stuff that I identified as issues in the first 3 episodes, the maximum amount of time I was given to let this thing impress me. It failed, it is dead to me, and here is the autopsy.
1) The loads and loads of cryptic info dumps. This is an egregious problem with genre shows and if I had to point to an example of what to follow, "Witch Hunter Robin". In the first episode a fish out of water main character is drafted into a secret society of magic users that police witches. They have cool weapons (that we see in use) each of the main protagonists interact to show off in efficient ways their personalities in regards to one another, nothing is too term heavy, and visual depictions of things move the story forward.
In "Fate/Zero" long conversations referring to any number of cryptic terminology and arcane political minutia make it impossible to follow in medias res. What is more, the nature of the show makes it impossible to see the principle characters interact with one another in any substantive way. There is no main character to whom things are explained and demonstrated, there is no haunting nursery rhyme to allude to the various mystical elements that come later, and there is very little clean displays of rules in action. Everything has to be explained, explained again, and explained again, never getting clearer.
2) Good God, the cast is gigantic. This would actually be less of an issue if each cast member was as physically and emotionally distinct as they could be, but if you were to stand 4 out of the 7 wizards next to one another I couldn't tell you which was which. There are 7 wizards competing in the show for the Grail, they in turn have 7 very distorted historical figures to work with, they also have at least one supporting cast member though sometimes 3 or more, that means there are upwards of 30 characters introduced in the first 3 episodes. "Game of Thrones" wasn't so intense with introductions.
Compare this to a show like "Bleach" or "Naruto" in which the first 3 episodes have maybe 6-8 characters in total focused primarily on the main character and his supporting cast. Those worlds even had mythologies that were a lot more original and used a vocabulary that was clear, and lended itself toward explanation rather than being cryptic or trying to sound epic, even now that both those shows have dozens of characters, each character has visual personality and their introductions were paced out to allow each time to plant themselves in the minds of the audience. "Fate/Zero" jumps into the deep end of its own story, as if you were starting 30 episodes into a normal series.
3) "Fate/Zero" is studded with "MEANING". Studded is a derogatory term I use for stories which have imagery from myths and history, but those things do not in anyway add to the story, what those things serve to do is add a layer of fake legitimacy to the work. "Fate/Zero" throws around terms like Grail, and names like Bluebeard or C'thulhu without giving any of those terms the respect they disserve.
For instance, an objective is to summon the spirit(?) or manifestation of a famous historical sword fighter to serve as a servant in an upcoming grand battle, like Pokemon but with Historical figures. They ask for and get King Arthur, who was apparently a woman the whole time. Why they chose to do this I have no idea, if they wanted a prominent female warrior to serve in this battle there is no reason to alter the gender of an established figure, instead just get Joan of Arc or Boudica. Instead they throw out Arthur cause... Reasons?
4) Who are these people? Alexander the Great of Macedon is a character in this series, and takes on the visage of an 8 foot tall red haired behemoth riding a chariot, several things wrong with that, as Alexander was Macedonian, and thus was ethnically Serb/Slav/Greek, not a lot of groups known for their red hair. Then you have Gilgamesh portrayed as a blonde Adonis, even though he was Sumerian and is shown standing in front of pictures of tan skinned and dark haired Sumerians, highlighting the shows lack of research on the people they are presenting. All of it is like this.
You might say in rebuttal, "it is a cartoon, who cares if they have Arthur as a woman or if they have a blonde middle easterner?" I care. It goes back to the idea of this thing being studded with meaning, these names and titles, totems and symbols are all supposed to make us think something profound or interesting is happening... It isn't, it is a trick. They are using these characters to trick your brain into thinking there is something important going on, when really it is just a very generic anime action series plot, with slow pacing and stilted dialogue.
|Gilgamesh as presented by "Fate/Zero", and probably how Neo-Nazis like to think of him.|
What is more, I can explain what is going on faster than the show can. There is a society of mages, divided by class and breeding. The noble houses of this society gather every so many years to compete for the Grail, a powerful item which will bestow one wish to the victor. These mystics fight with the souls of legendary beings, generals, kings, soldiers, and rogues (though I still find it stupid to have "caster" be a summon able thing by a wizard, it would be like having "human" as you power animal/spirit guide). Each competitor is chosen at random and each has their own goals, supporting casts, knowledge base, and tactics. Hell, I wrote a poem:
Seven will come so fast
to dance the dance of death
From Heaven descend breath
Of life of legends past
Wishes from Chalice lips drips
to quench the breadth of thirst
For power, chaos, conquest
Marks call souls to unrest
But there is no clever presentation, the characters all look alike and sound alike, they all have the same jargon heavy dialogue, the few who stand apart do so mostly because of the "historical" figures they conjure. The pacing of this show is a disaster, information should be woven into the narrative, not read to the audience like encyclopedia entries.