- Episodes: 25
- Air Date: 2 July 2017-31 December 2017
- Studio: A-1 Pictures
- Liscensor: Aniplex of America
- Where to Watch: Netflix
The Fate series is an unwieldly beast of a franchise. Spin offs galore. Even the spinoffs have spinoffs. The world of Fate contains a cinematic universe that Marvel and DC couldn’t compare in sheer size and convolution. It all began with the visual novel Fate/Stay Night created by Type-Moon all the way back in 2004. Fate/Stay Night follows protagonist Shiro Emiya as he participates unwittingly in the Holy Grail War. The war always takes place in Fuyuki City. As is common with many visual novels, there are three main routes based on which girl you want to pursue. The basic premise for the entire franchise has remained mostly the same since then. Seven mages participate in a battle royale to obtain the Holy Grail, a literal plot device at supposedly grants the wishes of the winner. Each mage must summon a familiar called a Servant. Servants are historic and mythical figures that fight for their master. Each Servant is designated a class. These classes include Saber, Archer, Caster, Rider, Lancer, Assassin, and Berserker. The master is given command seals that allow them to force a Heroic Spirit to obey a command regardless of will. Masters are reluctant to use the seals as they will lose the war if all have been used. A battle royale like this provides plenty opportunity for high stakes drama and intrigue. Not to mention how awesome it is to see such figures of legend battling each other for supremacy. Its like fantasy football for history/literature nerds like myself. Fate/Stay Night was very successful (even though the West has yet to get an official release) and spawned many, and I mean many spinoffs. Anime, games, light novels, manga, and many more related media that I can’t think of. Along with all spinoffs and extended universes are sperate series that take place in the same universe (Tsukihime, Kara no Kyoukai).
Newcomers can be scared off by the sheer volume of Fate. While Fate/Apocrypha doesn’t need prior knowledge of the series, its recommended you watch several other anime in the Fate series. My foray into the Fate franchise began when I watched Studio Deen’s 2006 adaptation of Fate/Stay Night. The series was inconsistent due to problems with the main character and the Deen’s ambition to try incorporating all three routes into one series. While commendable, it made this version feel unfocused. Shiro hurt the series due to his reckless behavior without any explanation. He acts dumb most of the time. This is where the meme “people die if they are killed” comes from. Oh yeah, and shitty CG dragons as a metaphor for sex. Deen/Stay Night has its moments, like when Archer sacrifices himself in one of the most badass moments in anime history and an awesome main antagonist. The series is a good starting point and found myself intrigued by the rest of the franchise. Try to begin here if you can. You will appreciate the rest of the franchise much more.
Next, I watched Fate/Zero, a prequel to the events that unfolded in Fate/Stay Night. Fate/Zero was produced by Ufotable. It quickly became one of my favorite anime. Gone is the high school setting and the cast is all adults with varying motivations and alignments presented maturely. It blew Deen’s Fate out of the water in production values and writing. Ufotable next put out Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Bladeworks, which had even more stunning visuals than Zero and even fixed many of the issues with Shiro. That said, I was disappointed in it as a sequel to Fate/Zero. Deen’s Fate had a more compelling villain and less anticlimactic moments.
Now we finally arrive to Fate/Apocrypha. It has almost nothing to do with the main series, save for a few references. Fate/Apocrypha takes place in an alternate timeline and no the war is no longer in Fuyuki. Fate sees the franchise change studios yet again. A-1 Pictures handled the production of Apocrypha. I have a love/hate relationship with A-1. They’ve made some great stuff (Birdy The Mighty:Decode, Seven Deadly Sins) and some not so good things (SAO, Aldnoah Zero). One thing you can always count on with A-1 is excellent visuals and animation. Everything else will be hit or miss. Sitting in the director chair is Yoshiyuki Asai, whose only other directorial experience is Charlotte. Charlotte was amazing for the first 8 ½ episodes until tanking in spectacular fashion. I still shake my head about the last episode. That aside, let’s get into the meat of this series.
Fate/Apocrypha shakes up the formula a little bit. Instead of the usual 7-way battle royale, it’s a 7 on 7 tag team battle. On one side is the Black Faction led by Darnic Prestone Yggdmillenia. Why does anime have to give ridiculous names like these that are impossible to say or spell? Yggdmillenia holds the Holy Grail in their hands aim to maintain supremacy. The Red Faction represents the Mage’s Association with forces led by Shirou Kotomine, a representative of the Church.
The story of Apocrypha starts out straight forward but quickly darts in different directions. What seems like a simple two-sided war for the Grail soon see the two factions fracture. Who can you trust? There will be times when members of both sides must work together. The plot unfolds mostly through battles between the Servants. On the surface, Darnic seems like he leads the Black faction its his Servants who’s actually called the shots. Lancer of Black, Vlad the Impaler, acts as the true leader of the Blacks. He’s as commanding and arrogant as you’d expect. The Black faction is conducting experiments with homunculi. One of them escapes confinement and is saved in secret by Rider of Black. The homunculus is later named Sieg and becomes close with his savior. The mages of the Red faction are never shown on screen. Only two masters on the Red are ever shown, Shirou and Kairi. This immediately sets off red flags. Kairi does not trust Shirou and prefers to act on his own.
Fate/Apocrypha is less complex and convoluted compared to its cousins. This is both a blessing and a curse. It isn’t as dialogue driven as Zero but that results in less developed characters, even though I like most of the cast. Apocrypha is more focused than the other Fate/ Stay Night adaptations. It seems more shonen than most of the other titles in the series. Apocrypha’s battle heavy plot means you won’t be getting bored. The battles are unique in that the Servants display many different abilities that give impressive visual spectacles. Each Servant posseses a Noble Phantasm. Its like a character’s Final Smash in Super Smash Bros. A Noble Phantasm is closely related to the myth or story surrounding a specific heroic spirit. Noble Phantasms are very powerful and require considerable mana, meaning they are usually a last resort. To get the most enjoyment out of this series, don’t take it too seriously. Just enjoy the spectacle of it all. It will provide plenty of entertainment. Apocrypha is comparable to Hollywood blockbuster action films. If you love intense action, Fate/Apocrypha is perfect for you.
The sheer volume of characters is incredibly daunting. Along with Black and Red Factions, is the special Servant Ruler, Jeanne d’Arc (yes that one). She is summoned by the Grail to be an overseer of the Grail War. Later, a homunculus named Sieg, who is saved by Rider of Black and looks to find a purpose for his short life. Sieg and Jeanne will become central figures in the outcome of the war. Sieg, Jeanne, and Astolfo (Rider of Black) become very close and work together to bring peace. Another key relationship is between Kairi and Saber of Red. Saber of Red’s true identity is Mordred, “son” of King Arthur. Mordred resents her “father.” That’s right, the son of King Arthur is female. She is the offspring of Fate/Stay Night’s Saber, Arturia, who is also female. Fate has some confusing/disturbing implications. You don’t want to know how a woman can father a child. It’s some hentai shit. Kairi is a freelance mage contracted by the Mage’s Association to help win the Grail. He is reluctant to join. Kairi seems more like a mercenary than a mage, due to his roguish and rough nature. Mordred couldn’t be more different from Arturia. She is brutish and hot headed and wears very little clothing. Kairi and Mordred hit it off almost immediately and begin a series long bromance. Several of the Servants knew each other in their past life and makes for interesting character dynamics.
The problem with a cast this huge is some characters don’t get enough screen time to develop. Apocrypha did a surprisingly good job of fleshing out most of the characters. Sieg’s journey to find purpose was quite compelling. Jeanne’s desire to protect Seig and events of her life heavily impact the actions she takes. Astofo is always there to support Sieg and is one of the best traps in anime. Even less prominent characters like Fiore and Gordes Yggdmillenia and Rider of Red get some development. Unfortunately, not all the characters faired well. Darnic in particular was hardly developed. Not good for someone who is being set up as the series antagonist. Some of the Servants didn’t get enough attention like Lancer of Red and Caster of Black. Their motivations didn’t resonate and had little explanation.
Being an A-1 Pictures production, Fate/Apocrypha has stunning animation. The battle scenes are orgasmic. There were times the battle scenes that had my jaw on the floor. This ranks as one of A-1’s better looking series. Lots of sakuga to go around. The animation was consistently great throughout its run with some episodes going above and beyond. I’ve yet to see an A-1 series with legitimately terrible animation. They do good work.
The music was composed by Masaru Yokoyama, who is best known for composing the music for Your Lie In April, which has absolutely beautiful music. Fate/Apocrypha also has great music. Epic sounds to go along with the epic battles. I watched the English dub it was solid for the most part. Not many well known names in this dub but isn’t a problem. Its good to see new voice talent rising in the industry.
Fate/Apocrypha is a fun, albeit shallow action romp. Not much knowledge of the Fate franchise is need but still recommended. You’ll get a better appreciation for the small references and understand the concepts shown here. Apocrypha is more straight forward than its Fate brethren and even more action focused. The animation and sound design is fantastic. Add this to your watch list.