Technically, this “zeroth” episode of Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia (that title…) aired this past August so it’s not technically a part of Fall 2019. But since I haven’t watched it yet, I figured I might as well in order to get to the actual premiere that aired this fall. Also, I am labeling this and Episode 1 as “First Impressions”. A bit weird I know but so is numbering your pilot with “0”.
Even though Grand Order was one of the most anticipated anime of this season (according to MAL and LC), I very purposefully omitted it from my preview post. Thing is, I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d want to watch it. I’ll be blunt: I hate Fate. That’s a whole other can of worms but to sum things up: I really like Fate/zero…everything else not so much. Even Fate/stay night I couldn’t stand. Deen’s adaptation is just plain boring and Unlimited Blade Wors, gorgeous though it was, infuriated me thematically and structurally. All things considered, I probably wouldn’t enjoy Grand Order but either out of fairness or idiocy, I ended up biting the bullet.
It wasn’t worth it.
Something to keep in mind is that this specific adaptation of Grand Order does not continue from the 2016 special and is instead based on seventh arc, Babylonia. Aniplex came to this decision because fans voted for such a project in a poll. The business behind this eludes me. One, Grand Order is one of the biggest mobile games that ever existed, having mad billions of dollars. An anime adaptation covering the whole story would arguably be more profitable than one based on a random arc. And two, do the people making Fate really need to ask Fate fans if they want more Fate?
Does Episode 0 give you some background knowledge so that you can just jump right into the Babylonia arc? Barely. I sort of get the gist of it. Mash Kyrelight (Rie Takahashi) is the female lead (I think) and she acts the main servant of her master, Ritsuka Fujimaru (Nobunata Shimazaki (I think). I’m not entirely confident here as this episode centers more around Mash’s origins and the time she spent going through physical therapy with her therapist, Roman (Kenichi Suzumura), than her actually bonding with Ritsuka. In fact, her chance encounter with Ritsuka is saved at the very end and the episode then proceeds with a montage breezing through the first six story arcs. Actually showing the two main characters connect with each other? Nah, you don’t see that! That makes too much sense. You want to focus on the random supporting character instead.
I suppose you could tell me that I should’ve played the game or at least wiki’d a bunch of lore and you’re right, I could’ve done that. But the thing is that I shouldn’t have to do that. Even if this is adapting a pre-existing story, it still needs to stand on its own as a coherent work and re-establish important details. Fans shouldn’t be the only ones in the know nor should they feel the absolute need to explain anything to friends they want to expose the show to. Newcomers shouldn’t feel that they have to do homework in order to understand a story about anime characters hitting each other. Be it something original or an adaptation, if an anime doesn’t care enough to make its story accessible then why should I care about accessing it?
Even if I did fully understand everything, I’m left with the same nonsense Fate has been spouting for eons now. Characterization suffers from a case of “tell, don’t show’ in which attributes are more stated in dialogue rather than being visually conveyed. The characters themselves ramble something that’s meant to sound deep but instead just comes across as flowery, clumsy, and even pretentious. I’m just saying, if you spent three to five minutes where Mash and Roman discuss the meaning of the word “senpai”, I’m to assume these two are full of crap.
I don’t want to sound too negative. There are some interesting concepts introduced in Grand Order. An organization studying and creating their own Heroic Spirits in an effort to protect humanity. Masters and servants traveling in time to correct any anomalies in the timeline. This anime isn’t doing another goddamn Holy Grail War and I can respect that. And with a time travel plot, you can very easily show off Fate’s bizarre takes on historical and mythical figures with no quantitative limit that past installments had. I mean, Leonardo Da Vinci (Maaya Sakamoto) being summoned as Mona Lisa? Sure, why not. That’s such a silly yet creative take that I kind of dig it. I’ll also comment that the visuals look pretty solid. No studio working on Fate will ever top Ufotable but darn, Cloverworks has maybe gotten the closest to replicating that level of quality (them or Troyca, really).
I do plan on seeing and reviewing the first episode soon. One thing I’ve learned about the Episode 0 gimmick is that it’s more of a half-hour teaser than an actual look at things to come. Saekano’s zeroth episode for example isn’t that great but the show itself is. But to be frank, I have a feeling that where Fate/Grand Order lies with me is already set in stone. Babylonia seems like something only diehards will fully enjoy and appreciate and believe me, I am most certainly not one of them.
Thanks for reading!