Anime Corner: Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note Review

Blog Lord El Melloi Review Title

Welcome to Fate Lore 101, now please turn to page 10,003 of your textbooks.

What’s the Story?

Waver Velvet once fought side by side with the King of Conquerors, Iskandar, during the Fourth Holy Grail War. Now it’s ten years later and a fair few things have changed for our favourite mage, he now bears the title of Lord El-Melloi II and teaches in the Clock Tower, where all the most powerful and prominent families in magedom go to learn their craft. He even has his own apprentice in Gray, a girl who bears a striking resemblance to a certain knight of legend. However, things aren’t all rosy for the new Lord El-Melloi, not only is he up to his eyeballs in debt, but he often finds himself wrapped up in all the magical and mystical mysteries that surround the Clock Tower and the mages within.

The Review

I’m just going to say this upfront, don’t watch this series if you’re not a fan of the Fate series. Then again I consider myself a fairly big Fate fan (I don’t love every series that comes out, but those that I do I generally love with all my heart and soul) and even I had a hard time with this series. This is definitely a series made for hardcore fans by hardcore fans, there’s so many references and characters from other works that it was a challenge to keep up with them all, and I’m pretty sure I missed a load (it doesn’t help that my experience with the Fate franchise is limited to only the stuff that’s been animated so if this is a character’s first time in animation, then I ain’t going to recognise them). It was great seeing the ones I recognised though, especially when some of them got paired up in fun ways. The series also has plenty of interesting new characters that I want to learn more about, like Gray.

Another stumbling block for this series though is just the utter denseness of fate lore and magic. In fairness that’s a problem a lot of the Fate franchises struggles with, there’s just so much information and detail to this universe that I feel like I need to take a five-year course just to grasp the basics of it all. Fortunately a lot of series can avoid having to deal with this by focusing on the epic battles between Heroic Spirits and introducing some non-mage or novice mage characters. Unfortunately that’s not something this series can do. There’s no Holy Grail War here, no Heroic Spirits (well, not really), and the focus is squarely on the mages and the Clock Tower. A lot of the mysteries are based around the magic system of fate and to call it complicated is like calling Game of Thrones a light read. I’m sure if I spent a few hours digging through the various wikis I’d find out all I needed to about magic in Fate, but I’m lazy and a TV show should not require reading material to accompany it. This does work against several of the mysteries in the series because without an understanding of how the magic in this world works, you’ve no chance of working out what the answer is before Waver (I mean you have no chance anyway, but you might be able to pick up on a few things).

Let’s talk about the mysteries in this series though and I think that’s going to be something else that puts people off. The style of mystery this series chooses to go for is the one where our genius detective (Waver) is the only one that gets to put everything together. You’ll see the clues, you’ll be given the suspects, but you’ll never work out the answer until Waver tells you because he’ll be holding on to that one vital piece of information you needed to put it all together, but you don’t get it because you’re not the genius detective. It can be frustrating, and while I generally prefer a mystery that you have a chance of solving alongside the lead detective, I don’t mind these kind of puzzle piece mysteries, as long as in the end I can see how all the pieces fit together. Having said that, I don’t find the majority of these mysteries all that engaging. Between the lack of understanding with the magic and so many references being thrown at the screen, everything just feels so dense and I can’t quite get through it.

All of this being said, I can’t think of many people who I’d recommend this series to it’s market feels very niche, but who is it’s market? Well, Fate/Zero fans for one. If you want to see what happened to Waver after the Holy Grail War, then I will definitely recommend this series. Waver is the best thing about this series, seeing how he’s matured and what he’s had to deal with in the aftermath of his actions in Fate/Zero. I also love his arc throughout the series, seeing how he’s still haunted by the events of Fate/Zero and his slow path to finding peace with that and a way forward. Honestly the ending of this series, with his little dream chat with Iskandar, almost had me in tears.

The Verdict

All in all, Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note (seriously, can we go back to shorter titles for these series?) is a show for die-hard Fate fans, especially fans of Waver Velvet. The lore and the magic is just way too dense for the uninitiated to get through, so if you want to watch this series, then I recommend either watching a few of the other series first, or reading the whole of the Fate wiki. For those die-hard fans though, seeing how Waver has matured and continues to grow is a joy. Add not to that some interesting new characters like Gray and a whole host of cameos from across the franchise and this series is a treat, if only for the fans.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

October Movie Madness!

31st October 2014, that was when I started this little blog o’mine with a review of Frozen.

Blog Frozen Review Title

Honestly it feels crazy that I’ve been writing for this blog for nearly five years now, especially when I only started this blog, in part, to build my confidence as a writer (the other reason I started this blog is because I desperately needed some place to talk about all the movies and shows I watch and as it turns out, once I start talking you can’t shut me up!)

Anyway, the anniversary of my blog is a month away and typically I use that anniversary post to look at a film which belongs to a franchise I adore. In the past I’ve done Madoka Magica Rebellion,

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Fullmetal Alchemist – Conqueror of Shamballa,

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How to Train your Dragon 2,

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And last year’s, Tangled the series: Queen for a Day,

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This year it’s going to be Digimon the Movie to tie in with all the other Digimon reviews I’ve been doing (and, yes, expect another oversized title card, I’m actually really proud of this one and I can’t wait for people to see it). However, this is a 5 year anniversary and that feels like a big deal, so I’m going to indulge myself a bit this coming month.

For this year only the movies are taking over October as I’m going to be reviewing a movie tied into a franchise I adore each week (some I’ve talked about before, some I haven’t), so here’s the schedule for October,

4th October – Batman Hush

11th October – Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel – 1. Presage Flower

18th October – My Hero Academia: Two Heroes

25th October – Digimon the Movie

I’m already a little bit giddy with excitement, and to anyone who’s read, liked or commented on any of my posts over the past five years, firstly, you’re amazing, secondly, thank you. I hope everyone’s going to enjoy this as much as I am right now, but enough waffling from me, meet me back here on friday when the party will really begin!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Anime Corner: Fate/Apocrypha Review

Blog Fate Apocrypha Review Title

This is the story of a Holy Maiden and a Boy with the heart of a Hero, literally.

What’s the Story?

This is not the world as we know it. The Third Holy Grail War ended with the Holy Grail stolen, whisked away from Japan, not to be seen again for sixty years. Now, in Romania, a group of mages have declared themselves independent of the Mage’s Association and with the help of the Greater Grail, hope to make their wishes come true. Thus the Great Holy Grail War begins, no longer a battle between seven masters and their magically summoned servants, each one the spirit of a legendary hero, now the battle is between two teams of seven. The Red and Black teams shall clash, each one hoping to make their wish come true, but not everything is as it should be. Something is decidedly wrong with this grail war and its up to Jean D’Arc, summoned as the ruler of his war, and a homunculus boy still trying to figure out what he wants, to save the world from salvation.

The Review

What is it about the fate series that always draws me in? Maybe it’s just that I love the concept of all these great heroes summoned into the modern world to fight over their ideals and their dreams. I mean you can hardly call the depictions of the Heroic Spirits as accurate, but at least we learn a little of their legends and get to see the unique ways this franchise likes to depict its Heroic Spirits in. What matters most though is where I feel the fate franchise often shines the most, and that’s because each series (haven’t seen Extra yet and I’m a little worried, but holding out hope) is a melting pot of ideals and different perspectives. It’s people’s hopes and ambitions and dreams fighting it out in a death match and how can that not be an amazing story, frankly I’m dying with jealously that I didn’t come up with the concept. Now, while this latest instalment, Fate/Apocrypha may lack the raw emotion of Fate/Zero and the mind blowing animation (though this series isn’t exactly a slouch in that department) of Unlimited Blade Works, I still had a fantastic time watching this series.

I tend to view Fate/Apocrypha as very much a popcorn action fantasy series. I get the feeling I’m going to be watching this series whenever I just want to have a blast. It’s not that it’s lacking for character or drama, despite the large cast all the characters get a chance to let their personalities shine, even if its only for a brief moment. There are some characters here that I truly have grown to love and enjoyed watching, whether that’s the heart-warming bond that develops between Saber of Red and her master (seriously that first fist bump scene had me melting), or the epic fist fight between Archer of Black and Rider of Red (on a plane suspended in midair and no I’m not going to give that scene context because it is awesome and you should go see it). There are so many epic battles in this series, but its not all action.

Thanks to one of our leads, Sieg the homunculus, we get plenty of questioning of humanity and morality and the importance of free will, seeing as how he’s new to the world and trying to figure all this stuff out. Sure these are all topics that are well trodden in fiction and the series doesn’t have all that much new to add to the topic, but they’re still important questions and ones that we should keep asking ourselves. That actually brings me to an interesting topic with the series and that’s how hopeful it is. When I look back at previous series, well, Fate/Zero is a tragedy through and through and so can be as twisted and traumatic as it likes. Fate/Stay Night on the other hand tries to do both, it has its happy, hopeful moments while at the same time having some real tragedies woven into its story. Fate/Apocrypha on the other other hand, while not afraid to have a high body count or look at some of the darker aspects of human nature, it always fights back with the assertion that humans can be better. It’s telling just how many of the servants pass away content with their lot, they may not have had their wishes granted in the way they first envisioned, but each of them finds something in this series (I’m not crying, I swear, damn it Saber why’d you have to make me care so much, you’re as bad as you’re father!)

On the animation front, while there is no way the animation can ever compare to the gods that are Ufotable, A-1 Pictures did an outstanding job with this series. This series looks great and even more so during the battles, though admittedly there are a few hiccups here and there. There are so many moments that feel epic throughout this series, whether it’s the previously mentioned fist fight on a plane, the knockout battle between Ruler and Archer of Red or any of the other great duels littered throughout this series. My only complaint is that the animation isn’t always consistent, there are occasions where it goes off model, or a few times in fights where the camera is just flinging itself around the scene and I honesty have no idea what’s going on. When it counts though, the animation for this series is spot on. Also a shout out to the soundtrack for this series, which is, again, is fantastic. I know I’ve probably used the word epic too many times already in this review, but the songs here really do make so many moments in this show feel as epic as they truly deserve to be.

The Verdict

Fate/Apocrypha, while it doesn’t have the likes of Ufotable backing it up for animation or the raw emotions and depth that previous entries in this franchise have had, it is still an incredibly fun ride. I’ve fallen in love with so many of its characters and I have enjoyed watching their battles and stories unfold (also it was nice to have so many people have happy endings for a change). I used the word one last time, this series has an epic feel to it, from the animation, to the music, to the characters and stories, this is a worthy addition to the fate series.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Anime Corner: Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works Review

Blog Fate Stay Night UBW Review Title

I am the bone of my sword.

What’s the Story?

The Fifth Holy Grail War is about to take place in Fuyuki City, a magical death match between seven Masters and their Servants, who just so happen to be legendary heroes from across time summoned into the present day. One of these Masters is Shirou Emiya, a rather mediocre mage who can barely use magic. Still, Shirou has a dream, to become a hero of justice, but as events escalate that ideal is called into question more and more often. Can Shirou hold true to his desire to save everyone, or will he be crushed under the weight of realisation when he learns just where his chosen path will lead? And just who is the mysterious Archer, and why is he so determined to see Shirou dead?

The Review

I’m going to start off with the animation, because I think it’s the best part of this anime. The animation on display here is jaw-dropping. It is beautiful and cinematic, in fact I have seen films with a lower quality of animation that this series. The fights are utterly gorgeous, filled with dynamic action and an amazing soundtrack to back them up. It’s not just the action that’s great though, that quality is spread through everything, from the picturesque backdrops to the little things, like facial expressions and body language. After watching this series I don’t know if I can look at other series the same way, they all pale in comparison to this show.

That brings us round to the rest of the components of the series, and unfortunately that’s where a couple of problems crop up. For one, this series can be really slow and long-winded sometimes. Now this wasn’t much a problem for me (during the first 13 episodes anyway) as I just enjoyed looking at all the pretty images, and I do enjoy spending time with these characters (except for Shinji, who can go be devoured by some hideous monster blob thing and never come out again. Too good for him I say!). The show often feels very mellow, letting its characters just talk and be themselves. I know this won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I honestly never got bored even when the characters were just sat around talking about meaningless things.

Let’s talk about the characters for a moment. There are a lot, and I do really like them all (except for Shinji as I mentioned. Is it so wrong that I daydream that Sakura has poisoned those apples in the epilogue episode?) Each character has their own motivation for why they want the grail, as well as fully fleshed out back stories. It helps them all to be relatable and understandable (I won’t call them realistic as some of their back stories, and sometimes even the long-winded way they talk, is far beyond anything ‘real’).

Our main character though is Shirou. Honestly before I started watching this show I was terrified of how I’d react to Shirou. I’d heard some real terrible things about him from the 2006 anime, and I feared that might carry over to here, but much to my surprise, I really like this guy. His idealism about being a hero of justice could so easily have been annoying, but what keeps him in the likeable camp is that the world doesn’t coddle him. The world is constantly telling Shirou that he’s naive and that “to save one person, you have to sacrifice another”. I like the struggle that gives him, though I’ll get into my issues with his resolution to this problem in a few paragraphs. I also adore this relationship with Rin, they have great chemistry together and the way their relationship grows feels very natural. It’s just great to watch the two of them interact.

The first major problem for the series comes in when you realise one fact, this story belongs solely to Shirou. Every other cast member, including Saber and Rin, are practically inconsequential compared to the Plot God that is Shirou. It’s a real shame when you consider that you have such great characters as Illya and Rin, and they’re stories barely get explored. Some characters don’t even get an episode of exploration, and it is especially painful when you realise that you clearly have to watch Fate/Zero to understand several of the back stories and plot elements, such as Rin’s connection to Sakura and I really don’t like the fact that Gilgamesh’s identity is just dropped in without any warning or drama (the show just expects you to know who he is and only gives the briefest of explanations for those not in the know).

The series starts to really fall apart in its second half. For one, that long-windedness and the slow pace finally started to grate on me. It takes three whole episodes to take down Archer, don’t get me wrong the fight looks cool, but when they stop every five minutes to repeat the same damn speech it does tend to spoil the tension somewhat. Also I’m not that keen on the solution. Yes, now Shirou can see the faults in his philosophy, yet he shall continue to walk down the path he believes is right. I’m perfectly fine with that, it’s just that the anime makes no attempts to show us how Shirou will avoid the same fate as Archer. Is knowingly walking into a painful future any less bad than ignorantly doing so? It makes Shirou sound like an idiot, or that he just hasn’t fully learnt his lesson yet. All I’m asking for is a couple of examples as to how Shirou comes out of this situation any better than Archer, does his new determination stop his loss of faith, or allow him to focus more on the people it helps? Will it change his path and lead to less killing, and more saving? The answer needs to be more specific.

That’s before we even get into what happens to Saber and Rin during the second half. I love both of these characters, they’re strong-willed, have their own values and methodologies, they’re really great characters, and yet the second half of this anime treats them like damsels in distress (in the worst way possible), which I find really demeaning and disrespectful. Saber spends most of the second half practically useless, either stood on the sidelines, or tied up in that stupid fanservice dress (well I can’t actually call that fanservice as that implies it serves the fans, which I don’t believe it does). Then there’s Rin, who gets tied to a chair while Shinji threatens to rape her. Ugh. Rape is a really heavy subject matter, and if you’re going to bring it up you can least deal with it properly. You have to deal with the psychological terror it inflicts and how horrible an act it really is, and not just throw it around as a threat because rape is something that happens to women, right? (the feminist in me is really struggling to not punch my laptop right now, and the general human being in me is struggling not to track down the writer and punch him). These scenes are fairly small in the grand scheme of things, but they leave such a bad taste in my mouth that it sours several episodes to the point where I struggle to watch them.

At least the series ends on a suitably epic note. Shirou’s final battle against the Big Bad of this route is exhilarating and a real moment to cheer for, just suspend your disbelief for about ten minutes when you see Shirou jumping around like Mario (and where exactly is he getting all the mana to pull off all this stuff?) And yes, it is a little disappointing that they just throw the same generic looking swords and axes at one another (you’re meant to have the template for every hero’s Noble Phantasm Gil, get creative!). In all honesty though, I just don’t care about that, the action is so fast (and beautifully animated) that I get lost in a swell of adrenaline. And they don’t stop every five minutes to talk about Shirou’s issues!

The Verdict

For crying out loud, I’ve being talking for forever about this show. What is it about the Fate series that has me talking ad infinitum? Anyway, I do recommend this series, despite its flaws whether they be some criminally underused secondary characters, mistreatment of its female characters or a lack of proper resolution to the story’s central issue, this is still an enjoyable ride for the most part. This is a blockbuster anime that is that is both gorgeous and thrilling, just be prepared for the letdown in the second half.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Anime Corner: Fate/stay night (2006) Review

Blog Fate stay night Review Title

Fun fact: People die when they are killed.

What’s the Story?

Shirou Emiya wants to be a hero. He will help anyone, any time, no matter the cost to himself, but he finally gets a chance to be a real hero when he stumbles across the Holy Grail War, a battle to the death between seven masters and the heroic spirits (warriors of legend brought back to life in the modern age) they summon as their servants. These masters are vying for the Holy Grail, and the wish it will grant the victor of this contest. Shirou has no interest in the Holy Grail, but after learning about its connection to a tragedy 10 years ago, Shirou decides to enter to make sure a similar disaster doesn’t happen again. Can Shirou become an actual hero? And can he win a battle to the death when his ethics won’t permit him to kill anyone?

The Review

The first adaptation of the visual novel Fate/stay night, and it tends to get a lot of hate. But does it deserve it? Let’s find out!

Now to be fair, you have to concede that the visual novel this anime is based on is incredibly hard to adapt. There are three different routes, each one with its own distinct story, but they also have interconnecting plot points. You have to play all three routes to get the complete story for all the characters. There are two ways you can try to adapt this. Number one, just adapt one route, maybe throw in a couple of hints to the other routes, but otherwise stay true to the source material (the Ufotable route), or you could try to adapt all the routes at once (you could also try juggling five plates piled up with pasta, while also learning Japanese and playing the accordion with your feet). This anime takes the latter option, which is one of its many problems. Yet the narrative manages to come across as a cohesive whole, even if there are a few rather large holes that could do with filling in, so I do have to give this series points for that (though I think this could do with the anime’s decision to give more focus to one route more than the others).

We’ll start off with the characters. The characters of the Fate series are all really great. Each one has their own identity, back story and reasons for the way they act and think (the mark of great characters). Unfortunately, while the characters are still great, there are still a couple hundred things that need explaining. Like I said a paragraph ago, there’s a lot of story here, and a lot of character back story. It’s near impossible to fit all of that information into 24 episodes. This series does try, but there’s a lot of detail missing and that makes actions and motivations confusing most of the time. There are a few flashbacks that try to tell the story with pictures as opposed to words, but it’s just not enough to cover all of the detail. I fear anyone going into this without any prior knowledge of the story will just come away scratching their heads. Saying that, these are still really good characters (even if they’re not explained properly), and there are moments where that shines through.

The only character that is weakened by this adaptation is our lead, Shirou. Now I like Shirou, a lot (I admit this is mostly down to my introduction to him coming from Ufotable’s Unlimited Blade Works adaptation). Yeah, he’s soft-hearted, he’s reckless, totally naive and completely in over his head, yet you still route for him and hope that he begins to see the flaw is his own logic. The Shirou as depicted in this anime though? Well he’s all of those things, but he’s also incredibly stupid. There’s naive and reckless, and then there’s complete idiocy. He makes one completely indefensible decision after the other, outright refusing to let Saber fight for him because he doesn’t want her to get hurt, when she’s there to fight and is completely ok with risking her own life. He does get better as the anime goes on, but for a time I was willing for one of the other masters to do him in.

Another problem this anime has is with its story. I’ve already mentioned the difficulties of trying to adapt this from its source material. Yet this anime managed to throw another wrench into its works, with a heavy focus on fanservice and harem hijinks. It keeps being mentioned that this is a war, yet it never feels like that. Some of the jokes are funny and all (though I could do without some of my favourite female characters being reduced to demeaning fanservice), but they suck the drama right out of the story. This series doesn’t have the grand or epic feel that it should do. Instead it just feels like your typical shonen anime. Also the way the story is paced makes it feel like the villains are just sitting around waiting for their turn at fighting Shirou, instead of, you know, fighting each other! (As I would imagine is supposed to happen in a war).

I also have to mention the animation. Now Ufotable have so far done two gorgeous adaptations of the Fate series (Fate Zero and Unlimited Blade Works), yet comparing them to this anime is like comparing a seed to a mighty oak. On animation alone, this series gets blown out of the water. It’s not that this animation is bad. It’s serviceable, that’s the best describe I can give for it. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s better than stick figures dancing around on the screen, it gets the job done. Though be warned for a frankly hideous CG dragon that crops up (though considering where that scene was going, I will take a thousand CG dragons over that frankly horrible plot point. I will not have my dear Saber reduced to such gross and pointless fanservice in that way).

The Verdict

Is this a good adaptation of Fate/stay night? Not really, no. Does it deserve it the hate it gets? Not really, no. Look, this anime has flaws, many many many flaws, but it could have been a lot worse. Yes it can be confusing, full of bad fanservice and lacks the epic feel worthy of its characters. Yet there are moments, brief glimpses, where the characters and the story shine. There were plenty of moments where I laughed, and plenty where I sat thrilled. In all honesty I’d recommend the Ufotable adaptations over this one any day of the week, though if you’re curious feel free to check it out. This does have elements that I doubt will end up in other versions of the story, such as a lot of Saber’s arc.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.