Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fate/Zero – Series Review

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 04 [92F5DEFA].mkv_snapshot_21.40_[2011.10.22_18.44.33] [Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 05 [D49DC44D].mkv_snapshot_18.54_[2011.10.29_14.22.22] [Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 08 [949CDCEE].mkv_snapshot_09.06_[2011.11.19_15.27.50]

Nothing Urobuchi Gen does is ever less than fascinating, and Fate/Zero is no exception.  But I find myself questioning whether there was any lasting meaning to the whole experience.

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 07 [4E77421F].mkv_snapshot_03.32_[2011.11.12_15.59.27] In the end I think F/Z couldn’t escape the prison of Fate/Stay Night.  Whatever else Urobuchi wanted to do with this story and these characters, he had to point them all at a very specific place and deliver them as advertised.  There was some definite flexibility in how to get there, but ultimately I think that was a cage the series never quite broke free of.  I’ll take the word of those who say F/SN was a VN of distinction – I can only vouch for the anime, which in my view certainly wasn’t especially praiseworthy – but I don’t think it matters one way or the other.  F/Z has to stand or fall on its own merits and while it mostly stands, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a triumph.

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 10 [33EB3A4E].mkv_snapshot_18.48_[2011.12.03_16.09.07]The other great limiter on F/Z was format.  This was a light novel series originally, and my sense is that a good deal of the nuance that existed in LN form was lost in the transition to the anime.  There are certainly differing viewpoints on the question of whether an anime needs to be able to exist independently of source material (and sequel, in this case) but my take has always been that it does.  Short of a direct sequel, if a new viewer can’t watch a series unhindered without having read the source material or seen the companion series, I think it’s failed one of its responsibilities.  And there were too many times in the second season where F/Z sort of punted and just threw either LN or F/SN stuff in without any real explanation or attempt to contextualize it for new viewers.  On the whole this was much more common in the second cour than the first.

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 11 [0084A074].mkv_snapshot_17.29_[2011.12.10_15.39.51]Another problem with this inconsistent transition from one medium to another is that both Kirei and Kiritsugu – nominally the main characters in the anime – were basically ciphers midway through the second cour.  This presumably prompted the decision to take a two-episode detour to try and flesh out Kiritsugu and make his motives more clear.  There were issues with those episodes themselves, but even bigger ones with leaving the main storyline hanging for two eps to pursue them.  Given Urobuchi’s expansive inner monologues in the LNs, both Kiritsugu and Kirei were likely much more complete characters in that form, but I don’t think the anime staff ever really found a way to communicate who these men were until it was much later than it should have been.

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 12 [9A8A06EE].mkv_snapshot_18.03_[2011.12.17_18.40.56]It’s for all of these reasons that the second season rarely achieved the same mastery of the first, and was less successful as a whole.  There were some excellent episodes – Lancer’s death being a particular standout – but the limitations of what Fate/Zero is were much more apparent in the second cour.  The first cour was free to play around with the large and diverse cast, explore Urobuchi’s fascinating worldview, and show off lots of cool stuff.  The second cour actually had to tie it all together, and the freedom of the first cour was constrained by that looming endgame that was pre-determined from the beginning.  The corridor got narrower and narrower the closer the show got to the end, and the pacing choices (the Rin detour in S1, the Kerry detour in S2) seemed to cause problems late, where Saber’s arc just seemed rushed and superfluous.

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 16 [7385C970].mkv_snapshot_10.49_[2012.04.21_17.06.09]The strengths of this series are formidable – Urobuchu Gen’s writing and ufotable’s stellar production values.  The latter is a bit too CGI-happy for my tastes, but the consistency of the visuals in this series is pretty astonishing.  It’s a series of grand scale, both intellectually, emotionally and visually, and ufotable never let the side down in that regard.  Rarely will you find a series so full of big ideas as this one – it’s ironic that despite all that CGI and epic scale, the best scenes in Fate/Zero were often characters talking to each other calmly and quietly.  The Summit of Kings in S1 stands out as a particular tour de force, a brazen and unapologetic philosophical debate that set in its sights the entire world and mankind’s role in it.  They should show that episode in university courses for years to come, because it was incredibly direct, pointed and free of BS.

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 17 [8894A250].mkv_snapshot_05.29_[2012.04.28_15.16.53]Urobuchi is essentially a Nihilist with a healthy twist of despair, and that can get exhausting after a while.  I always end up finding his works more intellectually than emotionally satisfying because there are relatively few characters I intrinsically want to root for (and they usually suffer for it) and despair is so prevalent that I shut that part of myself down as a kind of defense mechanism.  But there are very, very few examples in anime of writers that ask the tough questions as cuttingly as Urobuchi does, or in such a lucid manner.  Of course he’s better at asking those questions than answering them, but there’s a very good reason for that – I don’t think Urobuchi believes there are any answers to be had.  Yes, he unambiguously rejects the views of both Kiritsugu and Saber in the end – but I don’t think he views either of them as morally inferior to the other (or Kirei’s view, for that matter).  Rather, I think Urobuchi is saying that it’s the act of railing against the injustice of an impassive universe that brings on the tragedy.  Existence is suffering – that’s Urobuchi’s fundamental truth.  You can’t beat the system – the best you can do is work within it.  Whether that means traveling the world, fighting for the sake of testing your own strength or saving a small boy who would die without your help, simply do what you want and help people where you can.  Anything more is folly.

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 18 [4DF11E49].mkv_snapshot_00.11_[2012.05.05_15.09.31]To look for conventional character arcs with conventional satisfactions in an Urobuchi series is asking for disappointment.  Heroes aren’t rewarded and villains punished because the universe doesn’t recognize heroes and villains – only those who take what they want and those that don’t.  That’s why his series don’t tend to satisfy in the end so much as leave you dazed and bleeding by the side of the road.  He’s a remarkably smart writer and Fate/Zero is a remarkable show, but in the end most of the satisfaction I get comes from Rider and Waver, who were the leading lights of hope in a hopeless universe.  People can change – and not in the way Kirei changes, or because of limitless suffering (caused and felt) as in Kiritsugu’s case.  They changed because of their relationship with each other, and for the better at that.  And it’s no coincidence, I think, that as characters they didn’t carry the heavy burden of having to confirm to their F/SN archetypes.  They could simply be, and exist gloriously as Urobuchi imagined them.  And in doing so, perhaps they reveal that Urobuchi hasn’t completely given himself over to hopelessness and despair.

[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 18 [4DF11E49].mkv_snapshot_15.26_[2012.05.05_15.24.46] [Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 19 [EEC4D378].mkv_snapshot_21.13_[2012.05.12_14.55.40] [Raws-4U] Fate/Zero 2ndシーズン 第07話 「第二十話 暗殺者の帰還」 (MX 1280x720 x264).mp4_snapshot_08.33_[2012.05.19_19.29.22]
[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 21 [9CF47580].mkv_snapshot_11.57_[2012.05.26_14.58.53] [Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 23 [16AFFC47].mkv_snapshot_05.13_[2012.06.09_21.27.06] [Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 23 [16AFFC47].mkv_snapshot_13.24_[2012.06.09_21.35.17]
[Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 24 [0F813FE3].mkv_snapshot_15.00_[2012.06.16_16.14.51] [Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 24 [0F813FE3].mkv_snapshot_19.13_[2012.06.16_16.19.04] [Commie] Fate ⁄ Zero - 25 [76AFDE9C].mkv_snapshot_12.06_[2012.06.23_16.00.57]


32 comments:

  1. Wow, this review blog is so much better than your F/Z's last episode blog, now reading back-to-back. It's night and day difference. Why couldn't some of F/Z episode blogs written like this?

    Guaranteed, you're not writing to please me or anyone particular, but I am just writing a feedback (whether to ignore is up to you). I suppose writing with strong personal opinion is fine and it makes a blog unique, but having said that "some" of the F/Z blogs tended to get muddled and perfectly valid points got totally lost because of some of unnecessary bickering lines (some even felt like just mean cheat shots) in the past. With this one, the criticism, in particular, felt fair and valid. And no unnecessary bickering to distract the main message... Just letting you that I liked this review blog.

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    1. Thank you nobo. I read all comments positive and negative, and only ignore the ones that are genuine trolls (which yours wasn't). And rest assured, there were no "bickering lines" or intentional provocations in there - I just don't withhold my opinions. And TBH, criticizing F/Z is tantamount to blasphemy to a lot of people.

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  2. The ending of Fate/Zero was always going to be the least interesting part of the entire series, and I have several personal hangups regarding Shirou that made me not give a damn about the final bits of the episode.

    But in the end, the show was fantastic, even if hampered by being a prequel.

    I think the change in how the Rin event played out in the anime as opposed to the LN is interesting when taken into consideration with several of Gen's statements regarding what he got out of writing Madoka.

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  3. I agree that the biggest block that Urobuchi faced was the same that George Lucas found when creating the Star Wars prequels. He had to find a way to reach a specific end for the beginning even if it meant not letting the beginning take a natural course.

    Also as he had to end the story on a tragedy, which was neither a victory or defeat for any characters, it does feel quite hollow. This would have been okay if Urobuchi's final theme was one of hope or such but it isn't. It's simply the truth that if we cannot accept whatever comes our way, we will suffer or our rejection will cause others to suffer.

    On the issue that the transition of mediums, I think that sone leeway should be given, especially considering how brilliant Ufotable have been. Different mediums exist because they possess different elements that make them enjoyable and transition from one to the other will always lead to some losses because it is simply not possible to retain everything, much like no car engine can be 100% efficient. Game of Thrones is a recent example of that. Enzo you only said that some of your favourite arcs were cut short.

    The plotholes for new viewers that arise as a result of no knowledge of any other Fate series I thought were quite small, or at least not detrimental to the overall viewing experience. In fact I think that they would enjoy F/Z much more than we do, especially in the second season as many of us know what's going to happen. They're already jumping onto F/SN for a big bout of disappointment.

    On the character front I think what we have is the opposite of most shounen series. In those kinds of shows we tend to have many angsty, naive and moronic characters headbutt straight into a problem without really thinking and seeing the consequences of their actions, although ultimately overcoming them. Here we have too many intelligent, cunning and adult-like characters who prefer waiting for a chance rather than making one, with the exception of Waver and Rider. The lack of mix is the biggest problem I think. F/Z clears it initially as animes with these kinds of characters are so rare, but it becomes quite obvious later on.

    Still I think F/Z is a triumph for simply bucking a trend and trying to be different. I do hope that we more Ufotable adaptations of Type-moon series like Fate Hollow, Mahou tsukai no Yoru and Melty Blood. I'd also love to see Urobuchi given a completely free reign again but maybe asked to a bit more cheerful.

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    1. It's pretty hard not to get better than the mediocre (a typical bad shounen show) F/SN, with the budget this show has been given.

      As they say, lighting (in this case, a high budgeted terrible show) doesn't strike twice. It has already struck fairly recently, ahem, ahem, Guilty Crown... But yeah, F/Z has been pretty good overall. There are so many bad shows, so I'll take this effort.

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  4. My heart literally sank when the show ended last night T____T
    F/Z is definitely one of the very best offerings in many years and it'll be one of my personal favorites for a very long time.
    Thanks for the very timely posts Enzo. They were controversial to say the least, but always an interesting read ;)

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  5. Out of curiosity... Enzo, will you check Fate Stay Night VN in the future to finally get the whole Picture? Or, was Fate Zero so unappealing to you that you won't give time more to the Nasuverse of Type Moon franchise?

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    1. I might consider the F/SN VN at some point. If I do, it'll be my first VN!

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    2. I hope you do, there's a lot to enjoy in that medium.

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    3. Is a good start for the story alone.

      The novel's focus more in the main character; the little , or not that little, Shiro. Your enjoyment of the novel is prportional to how much you conect and like him and the heroine of each route (I guess you can figure out who the 3 gals are).


      Some tips if you decide to go for it. Don't expect to get all the answers in your first playtrought (or readtrought), don't get discoraged if you get dead endings (there are plenty of those) and save ofthen in 2 or more files whith a 3rd for important decisions (it saves time and helps avoid unecesary frustration).


      It would be interesting to read of your overall impressions of each route, but don't feel obliged to do so, after all it would take a lot of time to finish simply because of the amount of text the whole thing is.

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    4. I watched enough of the anime to know some of the plot of F/SN. I don't doubt the VN is much better. I just don't have enough time for everything in my life as is - I'm reluctant to add VNs to the pile! But sooner or later I'll give in.

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    5. I'm not a big VN guy, but I found FSN really dense to get into. It takes forever to get started.

      If you were to start reading VNs, Ever17 is supposed to be one of the best ever made and I loved it (and finished it, unlike any other VN I've started!)

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    6. Well considering the first two routes was created to ultimately prepare the reader for Heaven's feel, it can be overwhelming especially if you don't like Shiro

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    7. I don't think it that the VN gets forever to get started, is just long. But since the beginning presents us a very good urban world fantasy setting, explanations and characters that in the anime were only a shadow of themselves I never found it dense to get into... and seeing how everything comes to place at the end in the climax (not only the routes of the game, but Fate/Zero too) is pretty satisfying.

      And I don't think that is needed to like Shiro either (even if I like him and don't like Kiritsugu) as with how the story and the routes unfold he presents himself as a very interesting compass to the thematic of the series overall.

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    8. It definitely is the most interesting of Visual Novels. Many do multiple paths, but none I remember do multiple paths like F/SN. There are three paths that stay the same for an hour or two and then branch off 100% differently then the other. Very graphic too.

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  6. The second part of this series should be renamed: Fate/Suffering.

    Seriously, everyone is so miserable and there's despair coming out by the grail bucket (see what i did there) to the point I actually started unintentionally laughing towards the last 2 eps. I felt desensisted like those heavy melodrama series that try to hard to make you cry. Fortunately, it was quality despair for the most part, so I'm quite happy with the series overall.

    Although foreshadowed already due to FSN, thankfully the ending wasn't such a downer. Fate: A New Hope in Emiya Shirou, :3.

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  7. The pacing in the 2nd season definitely felt off and it seems from novel-reader comments that a lot of things were omitted due to time constraints. After spending most of the first season doing an ensemble story, the switch to focus on Kiritsugu was a hard sell for me, and I had to explain to friends I was watching this with (who hadn't played FSN HF route) what exactly Kotomine's problem was.

    Not sure the constraints of continuity made that much difference to the quality of FZ overall, I just felt that they ran out of time and there are some things that are much better conveyed via text and inner monologue or omniscient third person narration that would be awkward in an anime format.

    The FSN visual novel's flavor is... very different, and unlike the sort of VN/dating sim where the cipher protagonist is simply a blank stand-in for the player, the VN forces you to actually role-play Shirou, who has an extremely strong personality. It's possible to play it while disliking him (which I did quite often) if you like the rest of the universe/cast enough. It's also not nearly as nihilistic as FZ, and occasionally unintentionally comical (some of the adult content, in the Japanese version anyway).

    On reflection, this show included a pretty big cast and a lot of different subplots, but those first three screencaps you posted at the top of the article depicted the only characters I truly liked. I think what I took away from this was a renewed appreciation for reasonable, decent human beings. I don't have to like the characters to watch a show or recognize its technical merits, but watching this has made me realize that it's an important factor in enjoyability. Philosophical depth by itself without a sympathetic viewpoint does get a little dry.

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    1. Lenn, I agree with most of what you have to say here. And the choices of caps above the fold were not coincidental...

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  8. Hey Enzo, thanks a lot for blooging this anime. I always looked forward to your F/Z reviews, it was a nice treat after watching an episode. All in all I really enjoyed this series and I'm sad it's over now. I agree that the Rin-centered episode and Kiritsugu's two flashback episodes felt rather distracting and I also wished Ufotable should've spent more time on Saber's character and her background story. I've never heard of Urobuchi Gen before but now I'm curious and want to check out his other works too. It's a nice change that this story doesn't really have a happy ending (it reminded me of that depressing Berserk anime ending) but I love it still. It's something else and not your typical shounen anime where the hero defeats the bad guys and everyone is fine. So yeah, overall I liked Fate Zero a lot and I hope we get a blu ray release here in Europe soon.

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  9. "Nothing Urobuchi Gen does is ever less than fascinating, and Fate/Zero is no exception." Out of curiousity, which Urobuchi works do you know? I guess you'd at least need to have watched all his anime adaptions and maybe read a short VN to make such statements. If you have not, it could betray some of the reader's expectations, who genuinely believe in this statement with you as the judge who formulated it.

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  10. Who would have thought, I really ended up liking F/Z! Awesome finale =)

    Now that I think about it, I would have been very irritated if everything ended with a happy ending. After such immense tragedies, it seemed out of place. Instead, F/Z feels like a big prologue of what's to come, and I appreciate it. It felt like Star Wars ep III finale, honestly. It's an incomplete story, and consider me hooked on it.

    Of course, let's all hope UFOtable gets to animate Heaven's Feel, because DEEN's versions don't live up to be *this* F/Z's sequel...And I'd like a Waver cameo too please...

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  11. I have to kind of disagree with everything you said.

    You see, Fate/Stay Night (the series, VN) were made waaay before Fate/Zero, and for that reason, I always viewed Fate/Zero has the last piece of the puzzle, filling in some much needed back story to the events of the original.

    In many ways, Fate/Zero CANNOT stand by itself, its a prequel series to another story, and had you seen FS/N or more importantly, the VN, the series would click and chime with every new reveal.

    I honestly recommend that people play the VN first, as it is far superior to the anime adaption series. More so from the second path, which truly highlights a conflict that I have yet to see in anime. The Unlimited Blade Works movie is a great adaption, but without at least having seen the first anime series, the context gets lost.

    In many ways, Fate/Zero is made for fans of the series. If you loved the first series or the original VN, then Fate/Zero shines perfectly.

    You call the series being "trapped" by FSN, but its core focus is to truly develop Kirie, and provide the story of Kiritsurgu and Saber's struggles that prelude to the events of FS/N.

    I personally loved this show, with the amazing writing which was more of a tragedy than a "feel good" show, and the awesomely complex characters, great plot, and amazing animation to match.

    You don't get enough series like this which such complex characters, amazing writing and truly epic battles and animation.

    I feel like you're a bit too harsh in your overall opinions, which are pretty inconsistent to all the praise you've showered the series week for week.

    Of course, your opinions are your own and I respect them, but a lot of the issues you raise are because of simply viewing Fate/Zero on its own, and in my opinion, that's not the function of a prequel series that comes out after the main story line.

    I do hope we get a faithful adaption of the FSN visual novel, I'd love a remake series that goes over all three paths.

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    1. With respect, Setsuken, I don't think there's much in this post that wasn't mentioned at least once in an episode blog.

      You say this was "made for fans", and that's fine. My point it, that's a bit of a failing - because an anime should be able to stand on its own. As a fan, that's clearly not something you see as relevant. As a viewer standing at a bit of a distance, I do see it as relevant.

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    2. I didn't mean to offend, its just your well written reviews are enough to incite not only a response, but an emotional response. I apologize if I went out of line or anything.

      I do feel that the impression I got from your weekly reviews was more or less overwhelmingly positive (it FELT that way to me at least), and this review kinda goes in the exact opposite direction.

      Again, I'm not trying to disrespect you or your opinion. As a fan of the franchise, I'm only putting things from the other side of the perspective.

      And again, words that incite a passionate outcry of disagreement generally have some weight to them.

      Again, I think we can agree to disagree. Its just that your review was certainly unexpected, and given the amazing writing and character depth alone, I'd praise this show for being so engrossing.

      To each his own though.

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    3. I certainly wasn't offended, don't worry. It's funny, though, because I felt I was criticized pretty heavily for being too negative about this season of F/Z, so it's interesting to hear you say that.

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  12. I would definitely recommend reading the Fate/Stay Night VN if only because Nasu tried his damnedest to respond to some of the issues that you have raised about this series's philosophy. (I would love to see whether or not you think he succeeded.) Its three routes are designed to show a progression from Saber's philosophy to... well, something else. Kiritsugu's ideals are addressed, though.

    Also, if you've never read a VN, then Urobuchi's work in the medium might put the work he's done in anime in better context. He tends to be pretty heavy on the shock factor in my opinion, though---both Kikokugai and Saya no Uta have a bit more rape (as well a gore) than I think was really necessary.

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  13. LNs I've read, Kid (just not F/Z) - it's VNs I haven't!

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    1. I, uh, thought that's what I said. No matter.

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    2. Also, if you've never read a VN, then Urobuchi's work in the medium might put the work he's done in anime in better context.

      Sorry, I thought you were implying that F/Z was a VN.

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    3. Ah. Whoops. Happens to the best of us. Naw, I still haven't read the F/Z light novels (though I might take a look at some point), but from what I've heard from fans, ufotable did a pretty good job adapting the source material. I think that most of the problems with characterization here were probably Urobuchi's rather than an issue of medium, but that's mainly because I think that characterization is something he tends to have trouble with in general.

      And working with F/SN prequel material kind of screwed him over in terms of philosophical material. I hope you don't mind very, very slight Fate/Stay Night spoilers, but Waver is not (to my knowledge) mentioned anywhere in the visual novel. Neither is Kayneth. This pretty much explains to me why their subplots feel a lot more compelling than, say, Saber and Kiritsugu and Kirei, who were forced by the source material to end up in a very certain place by the end of this.

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    4. Waver wasn't named, but we did get mention of Lord El'Melloi, who finally dismantles the Grail System post Heaven's Feel. It's only AFTER that, in supplements, that we learn that he was actually a grown-up Waver Velvet.

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  14. A little late, but this is an excellent review, Enzo, of an anime that might stand the test of time.

    I went down a different path in my analysis of Fate/Zero on my blog, if you have the time/interest:

    http://www.hyperboreans.com/heterodoxia/?p=757

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