Lord El-Melloi II is a mystery series that breaks from the conventions of the genre. Specifically, the convention of using the question of “Howdunit” to determine “Whodunit”. When urban fantasy normally sets into this territory, you see writers structure out their magic system to fit within this magical structure. Lord El-Melloi II, on the other hand, tosses convention out on its head and decides to play Calvinball instead.
In the Nasu-verse, there’s a tendency for rules to be made to be broken. Lancer’s Gae Bolg is a sure kill except for when it isn’t. Like in Calvinball, rules changes are rolled out however and whenever necessary, never really contradicting each over, but always coming out when narratively convenient. Consequently, when magic is brought out in the context of a murder mystery, it’s not particularly predictable. Instead, as a viewer, our insights are more related to character motivations than to anything else. Hence, the question becomes not “howdunit”, but rather “whydunit”.
This doesn’t mean the show doesn’t cheat – it cheats like a motherfucker. The Calvinball magic system rules allow them to spring new wrinkles in a case whenever it seems dramatically appropriate, and a significant character pops out of the aether during the show’s climax with nothing to previously establish their existence.
The show follows Waver Velvet, who is now a teacher at The Clock Tower, the academy for magi in the Nasuverse, and is following in the footsteps of his teacher – Keyneth El-Melloi, whose catalyst Waver stole in order to take part in the Holy Grail War in Fate/Zero, and in turn allowing him to summon Iskandar.
Now as an adult, Waver has been changed by his experiences, both with the death of his mentor (douchebag though he was), and now Waver has set himself the goal to rebuild his former master’s class, while also trying to change a mage society that provides opportunities for mages of lesser bloodlines. This leaves Waver with something of a class full of misfits, including some we’ve met in alternative universe works, like Caules from Fate/Apocrypha.
Further, because Waver is socially something of an outsider – he’s been adopted into the El-Melloi family but does not personally possess that family’s clout – this gives him that outsider advantage. He’s a person that people can call on to help resolve situations where things get messy, both magically, politically, and in the case of the mysteries in this show, physically. This is also reflected with his character – he refuses to be identified as Lord El-Melloi, instead insisting on being referred to as Lord El-Melloi II.
The show also starts partway through Waver’s career as a teacher and as an investigator. He’s got a supporting cast around him already, who have their general roles that they play in solving mysteries. Probably the most significant one of these is Grey, Waver’s Watson figure – and also a literal Saberface – for reasons that are somewhat expanded on in the show.
This makes this show something of an interesting mess. The characters are interestingly written, and fans of the franchise – especially Fate/Apocrypha – will enjoy the guest appearances. However, those looking for a satisfying mystery will likely be sorely disappointed.