Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?
With the alternately explosive and quiet character sendoff from two weeks ago still lingering powerfully in my memory, it's easy to forget that Babylonia can also be very silly. I don't say that in a disparaging manner, and in fact, a big part of what drew me to FGO in the first place was its tendency to embrace the core silliness of its franchise's premise. Chaldea becomes a big dormitory full of history and mythology's most eccentric characters, and that's fertile ground for situational comedy. Ultimately, of course, the matter of saving humanity is a grave one indeed, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun along the way. FGO, by design, is supposed to be fun and endear the player to its characters (so that they spend money), and comedy can oftentimes be the shortest route towards endearment.
Making effective comedy is an entire other matter, and a failed attempt can be worse than not attempting at all. Thankfully, this week's episode ends up being Babylonia's funniest yet, and I have to give the lion's share of the credit to director/storyboarder Toshimasa Ishii. I know him primarily from his work on episodes of Erased and The Promised Neverland, but he has a strong sense of composition and a flair for scene transitions that both bring this episode to life. Comedy's all about timing, and he injects some perfectly abrupt cuts into the way certain scenes are edited together. I also love the way he plays with the camera, and I'm thinking in particular of the long shot held still on the gang as they walk through the jungle, while Jaguar Warrior zips in and out of frame with sadly desperate attempts to grab their attention. Later, Ritsuka's awful attempt at flirting is blessed with an air of attempted romance contrasted by the monster drawings illustrating his mixed metaphors. It's a cheeky wink at the audience poking fun at Ritsuka's hapless harem protagonist energy. Ishii's deadpan manner of directing, especially in the scenes involving Jaguar Warrior, extracted some really good guffaws out of me. That one harsh cut from a beautiful blossoming flower to some creepily "salivating" plants was sublime/.
The animators themselves also deserve a lot of credit, of course. This episode lacks the dazzling action-packed spectacle of some of Babylonia's other entries, but in its stead is great physical comedy. There's something delightfully morbid about the sight of Jaguar Warrior nonchalantly tossing (presumably) dead bodies into her basket as a one-goddess cleanup crew. The animator's imbue the bodies with enough weight to double down on that aspect. Ana's boomerang scythe attack is another highlight, with the suaveness of Jaguar Warrior's first two dodges sublimely undercut by the cartoony wobbliness and the El-Kabong-esque twang as the chain bonks her square on the head. This doubles as a sly in-joke for fans of the game, because one of her skills grants her an evasion buff that disappears after only two hits. Given FGO's popularity, it's more likely than not that a lot of the staff are players themselves, so it's neat to see them utilize that passion and attention to detail, even (and especially) in the service of a dumb gag.
Plot-wise, Babylonia continues to stick to the formula of “Gil tells the gang to do a thing, and they go do that thing.” This time, the magical MacGuffin they're pursuing is the Axe of Marduk, which has Tiamat-slaying powers that will probably come in handy at some point. Their pursuit will take them into the territory of the third goddess, but before they can begin, she decides to pay Uruk a personal visit. It's a convenient way to introduce our next antagonist, the winged serpent Quetzalcoatl, who has been incarnated as a boisterous woman with a love of lucha. She makes a quite literal impression as she gleefully body slams and effortlessly tosses hapless foot soldiers into the sides of buildings, and I hope it comes as no surprise that I love her a lot. The adaptation leans hard into her colorful personality, amplifying her playful and flirty side while also showing no restraint illustrating her sinister shark-toothed grin. Aya Endo adds a very particular lilt and cadence to her performance as Quetz as well, which helps further characterize her as fun-loving but capricious to a fault.
These contrasts make Quetz and interesting antagonist, but it also contributes to particularly weird clashes of tone throughout the episode. As I described earlier, there's a grotesque sense of slapstick to the way Quetz and Jaguar Warrior fling people's bodies around, which I like. However, we initially believe that these people are being killed at a rate of one hundred per day, and that's a grisly statistic that doesn't quite mesh with the levity of the rest of episode. I remember feeling weirded out by that when I was reading through this part of the game too, so I don't fault that on the adaptation's choice to punch up the comedy. And in the end, we do learn that all of these people are still alive, so overall it works out—it's just a little uncomfortable in the moment. The twist is meant to support the earlier statement that Quetzalcoatl is fundamentally a “good” Servant (FGO uses a D&D-style alignment grid), and thus, perhaps, another potential divine ally.
There's not a whole lot going on in this episode when it comes to plot or character development, but its comedic chops and confident direction make it stand out nonetheless. Quetzalcoatl is also one of my favorite FGO-original Servants, so I'll admit to some bias when it comes to her official anime debut. Still, though, the ability to have some fun with itself is no less important than Babylonia's ability to dazzle its viewers with high-octane action. Execution remains key, and that's where Babylonia continues to shine.
P.S. Yes, your eyes didn't deceive you: that was Quetzalcoatl's pet pterodactyl. I told you I loved her.
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia is currently streaming on Funimation.
Steve loves two things: writing about anime and retweeting good Fate GO fanart on his Twitter.
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