Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fate/Zero vs. Fate/Stay Night: A Comparative Review


Everyone is all hyped up about Fate/Zero nowadays and with good reason. Fate/Zero is simply that good!  No, really. In my honest opinion, it is simply one of the best anime series to date. The hour-long first episode sets the audience’s expectations just right for the epic plot-driven story that is to follow while also showcasing Fate/Zero’s vast array of characters and their particular motivations for participating in the war of the holy grail. Also, did you notice? Not a single battle scene in that ep, just lots and lots of talking. Was it epic? Definitely! Was it boring? You must have a bad case of ADD. Go see a shrink immediately, man! You got issues.

Hey, guess what? Unlike every other Benasu-ridden (a little term that FIA, a friend of mine, coined for people who follow the author of Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night, Kinoko Nasu like a god.) fan out there, I used to not like Fate/Stay Night very much. I mean, the anime adaptation was ok, but it was just every other shounen anime ever released. There was nothing special about it; the characters were bland archetypes and the only high point in the series came in episode 7 with GaaaRcher’s famous (infamous?) last stand against Berserker.

Of course, my view gradually began to change when I actually sat down to read up on all three paths of the visual novel that inspired the anime. It was good, I have to give it that much. Just like every other person who’s read Fate/Stay Night, I felt that the UBW (Unlimited Blade Works) arc was the most enthralling. I particularly enjoyed the protagonist’s transformation with Archer as the cynical foil to Shirou’s more untainted, straightforward personality. Still, I felt that despite the apparent “depth” of the novel that Benasu-ridden fans like to harp about, that Fate/Stay Night was just an average shounen story with a lot of emphasis on Nasu’s trademark repetitive, superfluous narrative style (this chair! this chair! this chair! this chair! this chair! this chair! Anyone?. I’ve been told that this style is unusual even in native Japanese, but hey, I’m no l337 JLPT over 9000 person, so you’ll have to take my word for it or ask your friend who is looking over your shoulder face-palming at this paragraph at this very moment.

Anyway, enough about the novel. If you’ve only seen the anime, then you’d probably say something like “it was good… not that good.” Yeah, that about sums it up, right? Now in Fate Zero, hohoho! Now this is an anime – no, in fact, this is THE anime of 2011. Oh sure, it’s not gonna be finished until sometime in 2012 and there are/have been better anime out there in other or similar genres, but what is undeniable about Fate/Zero is that it makes its older sequel, Fate/Stay Night, pale terribly in comparison to it.

There are dozens of reasons for this if you follow the discussions in the fanbase. Some say it’s because Urobochi Gen’s (author of the Fate/Zero light novel) writing is so much easier to adapt to animation and some say it’s the way the animation studios handled the execution, others say it’s coz Iskander is stealing the show at the moment, which he is – but let’s not talk about those things today mmkay?

See, I like to judge things based on how they are presented to me and not based on their background, history or whether the producers were busy PROfessionally creating something else at the time the anime was being made. Here’s the lowdown as to Fate/Stay Night vs Fate/Zero.

Fate/Zero actually makes you WANT to care about every single one of its characters while surreptitiously advancing the plot in the background. Although I said that the story is mostly plot-driven, the characters and their particular backgrounds and personality quirks are so deeply interwoven into the story and into each episode that you rarely feel like you’re just reading some kid’s sappy fanfiction about cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner – which incidentally, is exactly how Fate/Stay night reads at many points throughout its three epic arcs. Fate/Zero is the story of different masters, servants and the people around them who have somehow been involved in the holy grail war. It doesn’t waste time telling you about how epic its universe is or how awesome the holy grail is going to be and that it’s angry mayu and every other nasuverse crap you can spout; instead, Fate/Zero focuses on kinetic, action-packed storytelling and intriguing characters. Even Saber who was totally boring in Fate/Stay Night shines thanks to her interactions with the characters of Fate/Zero. In short, every character is important to the plot in Fate/Zero but none of them may be considered as indispensable. This adds some real tension to the story and makes you really experience just how grand the entire Holy Grail war really is. 

In contrast, Fate/Stay Night is the story of a single person, Emiya Shirou. Everything that happens in the plot revolves around Shirou. Whether the story is making him out to be some kind of human failure (hello, Zerozaki) or an awesome hero who is made of swordz, or making out with Rin and Saber, the world of Fate/Stay Night basically comes to a sudden stop without Emiya Shirou. It doesn’t feel as epic as it wants to be simply because the hero, Emiya Shirou is simply far too important, too much of a central figure in the grand scheme of the nasuverse for anyone to care much about anyone else. Oh sure, there are some of you guys out there who have been going, “Rin is my waifu” since time immemorial or something to that effect, but you get what I’m saying. Fate/Stay Night doesn’t allow its readers/viewers to experience the awesome-ness of the Holy Grail war because the author would rather spend time telling everyone about the intricacies of the nasuverse rather than actively moving the plot forward.

Hmm… so in conclusion, what can I say about Fate/Zero vs Fate/Stay Night that hasn’t already been stated better in many pseudo-intellectual forum discussions and articles before this? Well, nothing really. I guess I’ll just agree with the fanbase and say that Urobochi Gen totally curbstomps Kinoko Nasu in the storytelling department – nuff said.

7 comments:

  1. THIS. THIS -tears in eyes-

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. That said, I haven't had time to watch the entire 2nd half of the series just yet, but I'm certain I won't be disappointed.

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  2. It looks like that you missed the point of FSN man.

    FSN is shounen-ish, yes, but that is the whole point of it, to show what kind of self-destructive person a Shonen hero is, to show how twisted a metality like that is.His actions are not shown as heroic, or cool, but as sick as fuck.

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  3. @Anon: I agree with you as far as your opinion about FSN goes however...

    I didn't miss the point of FSN. I pointed out how shounen-ish it is in this blog in order to offer a different perspective on the much-lauded franchise. The fanbase often makes it out to be much more than it actually is.

    I understand how often it's pointed out, especially in the UBW route that Shirou is basically a "broken" individual. That aside, just like Madoka Magica which is often praised for being a subversion of the Mahou Shoujo genre, I find that the point of FSN being a subversion of the shounen genre to be nothing more than a novelty - which, if you can get past that, has nothing more to actually offer.

    Yes, I am aware that Urobutcher Gen is also the person behind Madoka Magica, but I didn't find anything special about that series apart from the novelty of it being a subversion of the Mahou Shoujo genre. On the other hand, Fate/Zero strikes me as a more independent piece of work without the need for any clever gimmicks.

    In any case, I prefer Fate/Zero over FSN. That is my opinion and nothing more.

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  4. Oh, don't misunderstand me, I prefer Fate/Zero too, it just seemed to me that you were being unfair to FSN, calling it shonen-ish and all without showing the ,IMO, clever subversion of shounen cliches.

    Fate shows him going heromode without thought, and getting screwed more often than not.

    UBW shows him fascing his ideials and becoming a better man because of it.

    HF shows him going all "fuck this shit, want sex with Sakura" and the moral implications of it.

    As for why I prefer FZ, is because I feel that it works better as a story, Nasu is a great writer, but he tends to focus on character studies, while Urobutcher (lol) is more about the general story.

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    1. Fair enough. I agree with your assessment on Nasu vs. Urobutcher too. I admit that it was a bit unfair of me not to expound more on the strengths of FSN, it's just that the FSN fanbase (among others) has made me quite jaded (see header image. :D) And I was indeed a bit too eager to write off FSN as an inferior product when compared to Fate/Zero.

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    2. I understand the FSN fan-base can drive anyone crazy, being a member of it I can agree with that.

      Also, I loved the Urobutcher nickname :D.

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