The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Lord El-Melloi II's Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace note

How would you rate episode 1 of
Lord El-Melloi II's Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace note ?



What is this?

Ten years ago, intrepid Magecraft student Waver Velvet stole an artifact from his mentor, Kayneth El-Melloi, and used it to participate in the Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City, but he ultimately could only watch as his servant Iskandar (aka Alexander the Great) was slain by Gilgamesh. Three years later he's brought before the young niece of his mentor to explain his actions, including how he rescued one former classmate while stopping another from plundering the supposed tomb of Iskander in the ruins of Babylon. To his surprise, the niece lets him off the hook if he will do three things: shoulder the family's massive debt, help recover the family's Magical Crest (partly lost when Kayneth died in the Grail War), and take over as Lord El-Melloi in the Watchtower until she grows into her majority. Lord El-Melloi II's Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace note is a spinoff of Fate/Zero that's based on a light novel series and streams on Crunchyroll at 12:30 p.m. EDT on Saturdays.

How was the first episode?

Nick Creamer

Rating:

Several years into the reign of FateGO, as well as Aniplex's resultant fountain of random animated Fate properties, I could not possibly be suffering from more Fate fatigue. The franchise was never my sort of thing in the first place - its profound emphasis on lore and worldbuilding, as well as its love of convoluted, rule-centric magical artifice, are all very far from the things I seek in fiction. I don't read stories to see if Hercules could beat up Jack the Ripper; I love stories because I feel they can capture fundamental human feelings, and illustrate worldviews and arguments that burn with the fire of human emotion and creative passion. Fate embodies a lore-and-structure approach to media that is antithetical to my interest in art, coupled with a focus on cross-media fan indulgence that I consider almost categorically incompatible with great fiction. Fate and I clearly do not get along.

With all that preamble out of the way, I have to admit that this was a pretty reasonable first episode. Lord El Melloi follows up on Fate/Zero, likely the most noteworthy entry in the franchise's current reign, and zeroes in on the most interesting character within that property, Waver Velvet. After narrowly surviving the events of the fourth Grail War, Waver ends up returning to his studies and, through an improbable series of events, inheriting the Lord El Melloi title of his former master Kayneth. Meanwhile, his unique interview for that position is contrasted against a journey he took just months after the Grail War, as he travels to the city where Gilgamesh rose and Iskandar fell.

The interview-interrogation portion of this episode is easily its weakest element, leaning on both Fate's highly arbitrary worldbuilding and its propensity for rambling, ultimately unnecessary explanations. Waver's conversation with his captor Reines is dragged down by mage society-related exposition, and both Reines' design and her campy affectation contrast awkwardly with the otherwise self-serious show aesthetic. El Melloi looks polished, but the direction isn't inspired enough to lend much visual intrigue to this segment, meaning that Fate/Zero's issues with lending energy to its dry conversations unfortunately carry over here.

The sequences in Babylon are far more interesting, as they involve Waver more or less acting as a Gentleman Adventurer as he disrupts an invasion of the tomb of Iskandar. I enjoyed Waver's awkward rapport with his schoolmate Melvin, and though the resolution to this adventure still relied on Fate's unsatisfying system of magical back-and-forth, there were also some sweet explosions and flying motorcycles and evil ghosts flying around. By the end of this episode, I could certainly see the appeal of either “Waver Jones, Gentleman Adventurer,” or “Waver Holmes: He Fights Crimes,” depending on where the show actually wants to go.

On the whole, El Melloi suffers from both its parent franchise's propensity for over-explanation and its immediate ancestor's failure to lend some visual drama to those explanations, but also has solid production values on the whole, and has already proven itself capable of taking advantage of Waver's compelling personality. It's definitely not one I'll keep up with, but if you're a fan of Waver or Fate more generally, this seems like it'll be a fair enough ride.


Paul Jensen

Rating:

If you're unsure of whether or not you should watch this series, just ask yourself the following: did you watch Fate/Zero, and if so, how much did you like Waver Velvet as a character? If your answers are “yes” and “so much that I want there to be an entire show about him,” I have good news. Your favorite magic-user is back in action, a little older and wiser but just as much of a snarky upstart as ever. If you're more of a general fan of the Fate franchise and don't have any strong feelings one way or the other regarding Waver, then we have a bit more digging to do.

While this is the rare Fate series that doesn't revolve directly around a Grail War, the events of Fate/Zero have a lot of influence on this first episode. Aside from the framing device of Waver telling his story to Reines, this could actually be considered more of an epilogue than a prologue. Waver's visit to the ruins of Babylon is clearly an attempt to find some sort of closure after the demise of Iskandar, and while he doesn't necessarily get what he's looking for, it's still a journey worth taking. It's a quietly compelling look at how Waver gradually picks himself up and moves on after losing the Grail War, and the sting of that failure makes for an intriguing motivation in his new role as a fully-fledged protagonist.

While that all makes for a nice bit of character drama, it doesn't necessarily tell us an awful lot about what we can expect from the rest of the series. For that information, you'll want to look to the “episode zero” preview that aired a while back, as that's likely to be more representative of what we'll get once the story catches up to the present day. Judging by what's been shown so far, this appears to be quite a departure from the usual formula of Heroic Spirits fighting it out in epic action scenes. If anything, it feels more like a mystery series that happens to utilize the Fate universe's rules of magic. I'm not quite sure what to expect from such a different approach, but if anyone's going to make me care about solving crimes through Magecraft, Waver's the guy to do it. Or should I be calling him Lord El-Melloi II from now on?

Franchise newcomers would be wise to start elsewhere, but this should be a worthwhile offering for Fate veterans. It's an obvious recommendation for fans of Waver, and it also offers something besides the usual Servant battles. A lot will depend on the new supporting characters and the quality of the mysteries El-Melloi takes on, and both of those areas are full of question marks at the moment. For now, it may be best to sit back, take in the quality animation, and get some closure of your own from that bridge scene.


Rebecca Silverman

Rating:

This is definitely an interesting beast as far as franchises go – it absolutely requires familiarity with Fate/Zero, and a bit of knowledge of Fate/Apocrypha seems warranted as well. But the cornerstone of the Fate world, Fate/stay night, seems less necessary for understanding the show, at least as of this episode, making it less of a spin-off than some of the titles under the Fate umbrella while still feeling dramatically different from the mainstays. That's a convoluted way of saying that this ostensible melding of fantasy and mystery may just be a vehicle for Waver Velvet, but it's very much at home in its home world.

That said, this episode feels more like a prologue than anything more solid. The story bounces around in time (discernable by the varying lengths of Waver's hair) to show us what Waver's been up to since the events of Fate/Zero. The most striking thing is how affected he is by the loss of his Spirit, Iksandar (Alexander the Great) rather than the events of the Grail War or the death of his mentor. Both of those latter things did have a lasting effect on him (particularly the sight of magi killing each other), but it's really no longer having Iksandar by his side that hurts. The two had such a close relationship, almost a parental one, that it altered Waver's entire world view, and while he's willing to do as Reines asks and assume the mantle of Lord El-Melloi, it's clear that he's doing it in memory of the great conqueror and explorer rather than his deceased mentor.

How that will influence adult Waver, who the story seems set to be about going forward, remains to be seen. This episode unites him with Reines, his mentor's strong-willed younger sister, and his self-proclaimed friend Melvin, and they're both very much still around as things hit their stride at the end of the half-hour. More importantly, through his adventures (however inadvertent) with Melvin in the ruins of Babylon, we can see how resourceful Waver has become and how he has learned to circumvent seemingly impossible situations by looking at things the way a non-mage would (or possibly as if he's the protagonist in a hidden object game) and finding a non-magical solution.

All of this adds up to make this look like an interesting entry into the greater franchise with potential to stand out as its own show divorced from it. While you need to know the overall story of the world going in, there's a good chance that this will be a Fate show that doesn't necessarily feel like one, and that makes it worth keeping an eye on.


Theron Martin

Rating:

Lord El-Melloi II's Case Files is a canon part of the Fate/ universe which is set ten years after the events of Fate/Zero and two months before the events of Fate/stay night. As such, a familiarity with at least the former title is expected, and the more broadly familiar you are with the franchise, the more you'll get some of the obscure references which are tossed out. Total newcomers might be able to make enough sense out of it as a standalone tale about intrigue among mages, but I don't recommend that.

An episode 0 for this series debuted several months ago, but that was an in media res story. This episode actually sets the foundation for the story, as it explains how Waver Velvet winds up at Lord El-Melloi II a decade after the Holy Grail War, why Reines El-Melloi calls him “big brother,” what she meant in that episode about his debt, and how he is associated with Melvin. It does not explain how Waver came to be associated with his assistant Gray, but since this episode needs all of its time to explain Waver's own situation, that will presumably be coming in the next couple of episodes.

Episode 0 intrigued me with the way it successfully mixed elements of mystery, drama, ruminations on the philosophies behind magic, and bits of action with a more light-hearted spirit than is seen anywhere else in the franchise outside of Prisma Illya, and the first episode suggests that such a mix will be the norm for the series. Waver may look the part of an imperious mage but he doesn't have the twisted soul of one and isn't as competent as he looks like he is. However, that also makes him more appreciable; his younger self was easily the most relatable character in Fate/Zero, after all. Seeing that he has taken the lessons and directive given to him by Iskander and Gilgamesh in Fate/Zero to heart is also heartening, and how that has guided him down his current path is clear. It can be seen in his actions to thwart the efforts of a former classmate to exploit Iksander's tomb and in the responsibilities he takes on here from Reines, who we see here as a wicked little girl wise beyond her years. (She is a teenager in episode 0 and this series' main timeline.) But Waver's devotion is just a framing device. The real appeal of the series is going to be the individual cases he deals with involving magic and the interesting characters who both oppose and support him.

On the technical side, the series is animated by TROYCA, the studio that Fate/Zero director Ei Aoki founded to animate Aldnoah.Zero. Directing duties have been passed on to Makoto Katō, who scored a big success with last year's Bloom Into You, though Ei Aoki did work some on episode 0. Perhaps partly because of that, the series retains much of the visual look and feel of its predecessor. The big production win here is that Yuki Kajiura is back doing the musical score, so it definitely sounds great. Between these solid production merits, a likable cast, and good blend of elements, I am optimistic about this series.


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