Anime Worth Watching: Fate/ Franchise

Were doing things a bit differently this week and next, because some series can’t be confined down to just one “series” and are multi-media franchises were going to take a run through all of Fate/ to tell you where should you start, what should you watch, what you shouldn’t, and hopefully touch on just what is up that allowed a cult-favorite hentai game to eventually utterly dominate Japanese fandom. 1 While Im going to focus only on anime that is available in the US for sanity’s sake, the Type-Moon Wiki lists 26 titles associated with Fate/ across all media and thats counting games with animes as one, were still in for a haul so buckle up everyone, this is going to be a long one.

Background

Before we get to Fate/ we need to set the stage on where it came from. In the late 90s two friends, Kinoko Nasu and Takashi Takeuchi, had a website where they posted stories Nasu wrote and illustrations Takeuchi made. After making a doujin printing of Garden of Sinners they met up with some other people to start the doujin circle2 Type-Moon with their first game being Tsukihime, set in the same world as Garden of Sinners with a lot of the same themes. While more and more people will join Type-Moon as it grew, Nasu and Takeuchi are by far the biggest creative force still behind everything. After an anime was made for Tsukihime (its legendarily bad, most fans refuse to recognize its existence) and a pseudo-sequel they decided to take Type-Moon ‘legit’ and make Fate/Stay Night releasing it in January 2004. 3.

Fate/Stay Night (video game)

So what is Fate/Stay Night? Its a visual novel where you read a lot of dialogue and make choices which lead to either your death, or worse, or the stories continuation. Unlike quite a few other VN’s, the gameplay here is very straight forward to the point of being a choose-your-own-adventure story for the most part; the only real input you have is dialogue options with things proceeding linearly so you can just save at each decision point and go through everything without a problem. The plot revolves around a boy, Emiya Shirou, who had been raised by his late adopted father as a magician getting dragged into a ritual conflict where seven mages summon heroes of legend and battle it out battle royale style for a chance to make a wish on the Holy Grail. Notably there are three story paths through the game- Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heavens Feel with pretty drastic changes in what happens in each one. The game is not available in the US though there are fan translation patches if order a copy from Amazon Japan.

Fate/Stay Night (anime)

The first anime adaptation was in 2006 by Studio Deen. As was common at the time they attempted to rectify having three different story paths by kinda just merging them all together for the show with a heavy emphasis on the Fate storyline. I struggle to think of any series in which this worked well and its particularly bad here due to the three storylines being so divergent from each other.

Is it worth watching?: Eh, not anymore. It was ok at the time of its release mainly to get people looking into things, a role which has been supplanted out from under it by other series doing the same thing far better. It really has one stand-out scene (Archer fighting Berserker) and thats not enough to sit through 24 episodes.

Fate/Unlimited Blade Works (movie)

Studio Deen followed up the anime with an adaptation of just the UBW storyline released as a movie in 2010. This is a bold move considering UBW is a longer and far more involved plot that Fate is so trying to cram it down into less than two hours for a movie is a risky bet.

Is it worth watching?: I’m going to be blunt here, the movie is atrocious. It ends up as essentially a cliff-notes version of the storyline jumping from one scene to the next without explanation (at one point it cuts from one conversation to another two days later in such a way as to imply theyre happening back to back) and neither of Studio Deen’s animation efforts are very strong so visually its not worth sitting through either.

Background (part 2)

While Studio Deen was botching anime versions of Fate/ things were not all bad for Type-Moon animes. From 2008-2009 ufoTable released a series of movies based on Garden of Sinners (which I know you’ve all watched thanks to my earlier ranting on them) that showed an almost perfect manifestation of Takeuchi’s art as well as Nasu’s writing. In 2010 ufoTable made a new opening video for the PSP port of the Fate/Stay Night game which helped secure a partnership between the two companies that would propel both to new heights.

Fate/Zero

In 2007 Kinoko Nasu teamed up with an up-and-coming writer to pen a series of light novels to serve as a prequel to the events of Fate/Stay Night taking place 10 years earlier. That this writer happened to be Gen Urobuchi would be a match made in heaven as his sensiblities would be perfect for the franchise. ufoTable adapted the novels into a 25-episode series in 2011 which focuses on Shirou’s adopted father and expands on a great deal of backstory hinted at in the original game.

Is it worth watching?: Easily, yes. Many consider this the best series in the franchise in no small part to Kiritsugu being a far better central character than Shirou and that most of the people involved here are adults avoiding some of the high school tropes. It is pretty dark and hindered by staggering amounts of exposition dumps in its early episodes, but it cannot be understated how much of a step-up ufoTable is on the animation front with quite a few amazing fight scenes.

Fate/Unlimited Blade Works (TV series)

Following up on Fate/Zero ufoTable returned in 2014 with an adaptation of just the Unlimited Blade Works arc. They managed to build off their earlier series so that while their version of UBW is fairly faithful to the game it also serves as a sequel to Zero, letting you get more out of it while not mattering which you watch first.

Is it worth watching?: Absolutely. This is a close contender with Zero for best of the franchise with some people rating it higher. It still has some fantastic set-piece fight scenes and really drives home how disastrous an idea the earlier movie attempt was.

Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family

A series of light manga one-offs turned into a web anime series by ufoTable in 2018 this is 13 episodes of Shirou cooking food and the rest of the cast eating it. Uhh, thats it.

Is it worth watching?: Abso-damn-lutely. Seriously, this show nearly earned an AWW on its own its so charming and sweet with really good looking food. Granted, you need to be fairly familiar with the characters for some of the various episodes to really work (one is focused on a D-list side character and their relationship with someone else who doesn’t even appear in any of the animes for instance) so each episode can be up-and-down based on that.

Lord El-Melloi’s Case Files

Started as a series of spin-off light novels focused on one of the characters from Fate/Zero Studio Troyca adapted this as a 13-episode series in 2019. Its plot involves Waver Velvet, now a lord at the Magi Association, running around investigating various incidents that pop up while also dealing with Magi political nonsense.

Is it worth watching?: Do you like mystery shows? If so then yes. While it can be slower than other series in the franchise, its also the only one which really dives into the Association giving a lot of world building set-up which can be enticing too. You don’t need to see the other shows, not even Zero to follow along with what happens here, there are a lot of easter eggs and references which will pay off if you have.

Spin-offs and other weird shit

Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya

“Hey, so what if we took one of the girls in the cast and made her into a magical girl?”

“Didnt they try that in the 90s with Sasami from Tenchi Muyo and it was pretty bad?”

“Yeah, but they played that straight. Were gonna ramp up the yuri, the wackiness, and the satire until no one knows what genre we are anymore.”

Originally started as a manga in Type-Moon Ace this series was adapted by Silver Link starting in 2013 (and it has several seasons and OVAs over the next half dozen years). Its plot features Illya being a normal girl in a normal world who ends up finding a magic wand (that ran away from a bickering Rin) and being forced to become a magical girl to clean up Rins mistake. Each season gets a bit weirder than the last so season 1 isn’t even a good representation of where the show ends up going.

Is it worth watching?: Almost against all odds, it can be. You are a weeb if you watch this, any pretense otherwise is thrown out the window, and some of the obsessions by the sentient wand only make sense if you really know you’re magical girl shows. A good indicator of if this show is worth trying is to test your gag reflex against the phrase “loli lesbians kissing” and see what happens. Still, it has surprisingly good fight scenes as it goes on.

Carnival Phantasm

Ok, Im breaking my own rule here since this isn’t available in the US. This is an OVA series from 2011 which is a bunch of short comedy gags based around characters from Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night, and in the greatest sketch ever both Shirou and Shiki trying to help each other date all of their respective girls. It ends badly.

Is it worth watching?: Like most short-form comedy shows theres a bit of variance in quality based on each sketch, most are really funny though. Its biggest issue, outside of not being available in the US, is that some of the jokes require a really deep cut into not just both Tsukihime and Fate/, but also their sequel games Kagetsu Tohya and Fate/Hollow Ataraxia AND some general knowledge of fan inside jokes about things. It makes for a fairly high entry bar to getting the most out of it.

Fate/Apocrypha

Originally a light-novel this is an alternate parallel world story which sees a group of Mages attempting to start a magic civil war of sorts, leading to 14 servants being summoned instead of just 7 and the two sides duking it out. A-1 Pictures made an anime of it in 2017 which was aired on Netflix.

Is it worth watching?: Hell if I know, I don’t have Netflix. It has a fairly decent rep among fans though so there’s that.

Fate/Extra Last Encore

Fate/Extra was a PSP spin-off game from 2010 which took things to Tron and back- it takes place inside a computer on the moon where a bunch of mages have inserted their minds and are duking it out Persona-style until only one is left. Lase Encore is the 2018 anime adaptation by Studio Shaft of this perfectly sensible and coherent plot, again released worldwide by Netflix.

Is it worth watching?: I just said I don’t have Netflix, don’t know why either considering Ive bought multiple game consoles to play Fate games but wont spend 10 bucks a month to watch some series. It is by far the most out there of the anime versions, so if you want to see peak Fate/ craziness, this is it.

Fate/Grand Order

Because everyone gets a mobile game these days it only made sense for Fate/ to get one in 2015. There are a couple anime related to it, an OVA (called First Order) which adapts the games prologue and a full series (called Absolute Demon Front Babylonia) which adapts its seventh chapter. A pair of movies is being made adapting the sixth chapter as well though they’re not out yet.

Is it worth watching?: The OVA is a pretty decent intro to the Grand Order world which is markedly different than the main-line stuff although being a prologue it doesn’t touch on much. The TV show can be good, provided you already like Fate/ stuff. Adaptating the seventh chapter is certainly a choice as theres a lot of stuff happening you need to have played the mobile game to understand; if you havent you can still get by some enjoying peak Gilgamesh and some of the other Servant interactions, you just don’t want this to be your first series since there will be nothing there for you.

Conclusion… or is it?

So what is it about the franchise which has caused it to become so popular having a fairly standard VN spawn so many versions? In my personal and completely unfounded opinion its the world- with that first VN Kinoko Nasu created one of the best world-settings there is, a place with a host of rules (conferred through the exposition dumps in Fate/Zero among other places) which dictate every possible situation which could arise, and then promptly filled it with characters breaking those rules to let each individuals personality shine through. Zero in particular excelled at this since all the mages there were nominally bound by the rules only to show how much disdain they have for their own system when pushed to the limit. Moreover the setting being malleable enough that it barely required any tweaking to stretch it into whatever spin-off you wanted it to be coupled with Type-Moons utter joy in taking the piss out of their own overly serious stories4 and you can bend this to be the perfect fandom pleaser without sacrificing any “story integrity” in the process.

Alright, Ive already written way too many words on this so far and were not even done yet, the short-form answer to “which show should I watch?” is that any of the ufoTable ones are really good. Next week we’ll be back to finish up the big entries I skipped over, the Heavens Feel trilogy of films, with the third one finally coming out this week. Spoiler alert based on the first two: you should watch them.