Anime Review: Fate/Apocrypha (First Half)

In a few days (as of when this goes live) the second half of Fate/Apocrypha will come out on Netflix. This show was licensed as part of Netflix’s first really large anime licensing initiative, and was split into two chunks, one per “cour” (Japanese TV season) of the show. So, as we wait for the show’s second half, I might as well talk about the first half of the show.

As the subtitle represents, this game is an apocryphal installment of the Fate franchise, splitting off at the Third Holy Grail War, during the Second World War. In this version, the Einzbern family summoned a different Heroic Spirit, one which didn’t corrupt the Grail, but instead, the Greater Grail was stolen from Japan by the Nazis, who took it back to Europe, and after World War 2, a sorcerer in league with the Nazis, Darnic Prestone, decided to branch off from the Mages’ Association and start his own group, Yggdmillennia, with the Greater Grail in their possession.

After a series of lesser, pocket Grail Wars throughout the world, the Grail itself decided that enough was enough, and would start a Great Grail War, with two sides, one representing the Mages’ Association (the Red team), and the other representing Yggdmillennia (the Black team), to decide who would control the Greater Grail – the winner of that war would fight a second, regular Grail War among their surviving members who would determine who would get to wish on the Grail.

The show itself shifts perspective through a variety of characters on both sides, the same way Fate/Zero did, though the list of characters for Yggdmillennia is longer than that for the Mage’s Association. The characters are a mixed bag – most of the masters for Yggdmillennia come out of the first half of the series as either boring archetypes or unlikeable villains, and a bunch of the servants from this part of the series are also pretty flat – especially Avicebron and Karna.

However, we have a few really great characters. Shishigou Kairi and his Servant – Mordred (Saber of Red), have a lot of flair on their own right, and really great chemistry together. Caules and Frankenstein’s Monster (Berserker), and Fiore & Chiron (Archer) have the same on the Black team.  Shishigou (who, as he was nicknamed “Go-Lion-San” by a character in the first episode, I nicknamed “Mr. Voltron”) and Mordred are very much kindred spirits – both fighters with lot of experience and a bit of a hot-blooded nature, though Shishigou seems more tempered.

Frankenstein’s Monster (who gets nicknamed “Fran” – which I will use for the sake of brevity – but prefers “Berserker”) and Caules have a relationship close to that of Arturia and Shirou in the F/SN series. Fran is considerably more moe than Arturia is, and the relationship between Caules and Fran doesn’t go as far, there feels like there is a sense of attraction with a side of protectiveness on Caules side. Caules first action when he learns the strength of Fran’s Noble Phantasm, and that it could potentially destroy her if she goes all out, forbids her from going all out not out of pragmatism, but out of concern. They also try to bond in ways that most of the other Masters and Servants don’t.

Fiore and Chiron, on the other hand, have a much more mentor-and-pupil relationship, in keeping with Chiron’s status in Greek Myth as the teacher of Heroes. This doesn’t play out heavily in the first half of the series, but Fiore does call on Chiron on occasion for counsel, and not only in combat.

Other than that, the show also does something that only Fate/Zero did, and only late in that series – it recognizes that there are Heroes of legend who interacted with each other, often during its own legend. This leads to Atalantia, Chiron, and Achilles appearing in this story – all of whom knew each other to varying degrees. Achilles was mentored by Chiron, and Achilles and Atalantia, as Atalantia knew the man who Achilles mother was married to (as opposed to Achilles father – Zeus).

As it is, the fight scenes by A-1 Pictures are incredibly well done, and the animation in general is very much on par with that of UFOtable, and like UFOtable, A-1 Pictures shows some excellent skill at showing movement and action in actual darkness, as opposed to the animated equivalent of day-for-night.

As far as being a jumping-on point for the Fate universe goes – this isn’t the show for that. The show pretty much assumes you know what a Grail War is, how it works, and what the terminology is – with the new exposition being related to how a Greater Grail War compares to a regular Grail war, and the changes with this universe compared to the “core” Fate universe.

Consequently, it’s hard for me to recommend this to anyone but Fate fans. Those new to the franchise would be better served by Unlimited Blade Works, Fate/Zero, or even the original Studio DEEN Fate/Stay Night series. However, once you’ve seen any of those 3, you can jump into Fate/Apocrypha without much of an issue.

The first half of Fate/Apocrypha is currently available for streaming on Netflix, and the second half should be available by February 7th, 2018.

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