Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?
I love animation, y'all. Maybe that seems like a redundant thing to say out loud as a freelance writer on an anime news website, but I think it's worth taking time to properly reflect on and appreciate the unique qualities that this medium can bring to a work of art. This eleventh episode of Babylonia marks the halfway point of the series, and it celebrates this with an appropriately joyous animation spectacle as Ritsuka and his allies test their mettle and muscle against Quetzalcoatl.
While I don't have anywhere near as good an eye for animators and their styles as most of my more sakuga-educated peers, Quetzalcoatl's fight scenes really popped for me this week. Thankfully, Babylonia's been consistent about including an “action animation director” credit in its staff list, which makes it easy even for a novice like me to pin down the animator responsible for supervising each episode's action sequences. This week, that credit belongs to Ken Yamamoto, who truly went above and beyond the call of duty. He's also the top-billed key animation artist, and according to Twitter sources, he worked on over 100 cuts in this episode alone. If that sounds like a high number, that's because it is! Again, here's where we can infer that Babylonia's unusually long production circumstances allowed for creators to pour their souls into their work without (I would hope) burning themselves out. It stands to reason that animators who are given the time and space to work properly will create the best possible version of their art, and the first half of this episode should make a very good argument for that.
I think Quetzalcoatl is a very fun character—alternately manic and motherly, she's dangerous and whimsical in a way that speaks to the human-like faults baked into the gods of old mythologies. She's here to have fun first and foremost, and Ken Yamamoto infuses that spirit into his drawings. There's a rough and kinetic energy to the way he draws her, limbs splayed open with exaggerated perspectives and poses. He also stays true to her love of lucha by incorporating a lot of flashy wrestling moves into her repertoire, and on top of that, making sure they look like they hurt. Still, there's a lighthearted tone throughout this scene, perpetrated by Quetz's perpetual grin and the occasionally fantastic comedic beat (I'm thinking of Jaguar's pre-piledriver soliloquy in particular). Babylonia has previously touched other apexes across the emotional spectrum, but this is definitely Babylonia at its most popcorn-devouringly enjoyable.
There's a story reason tying this all together as well. Ritsuka's realization that Quetz isn't evil stems from her behavior and proclamations in battle. Wrestling is about putting on a show, and kayfabe is a vital component of that, so all Ritsuka has to do to win Quetz over is play along. His literally-sky-high attempt at a plancha is both deeply silly and one of this arc's most memorable scenes. I especially adored the way this adaptation turned a single sentence from the game about Da Vinci laughing into a full-fledged scene of her holding her sides in giggle-induced agony. This silliness, however, belies a somewhat important moment of character growth, where Ritsuka eschews the plan and goes with his gut in a move that's as dumb as it is successful. Arguably, going with one's gut is the epitome of the unquantifiable notion of the human spirit, so it's little wonder that the humanity-loving Quetzalcoatl immediately allies herself with the little spiky-haired idiot. This also continues to flesh out Ritsuka's character into something both tangible and likable.
Babylonia uses this moment as an opportunity to remind the audience of a rather important prior scene, and by “remind” I mean “show the anime audience for the first time.” Recall that I've previously stated that each FGO arc is more or less self-contained, and that's about 95% true, but there are some ongoing mysteries, including this one about Dr. Roman. While his disappointment with Ritsuka's failure to follow orders is certainly grounded, that conflict inevitably gets subsumed into the suspicion surrounding his relationship with the previous Holy Grail War and the original director of Chaldea. When Sherlock Holmes tells you to be wary of someone, you generally want to follow his lead.
With yet another goddess added to their roster, the increasingly divine Chaldea crew makes their way back to Uruk. Ritsuka continues his little fireside chat series with Ishtar, which have proved to be both a nice way to settle down after a long fight, and a good opportunity for both of them to let down their proverbial defenses a little bit. Ishtar's adamant insistence that Ritsuka not work himself to death is something we all need to hear from time to time. I doubt, however, that many of us are presented with the opportunity to doze off on top of not one but two different literal goddess' laps on the same day. It's worth remembering that these are stories explicitly designed to make the audience like these characters enough to want to gamble for them, so of course the protagonist turns into an absurd kind of time-traveling Lothario. No doubt there's a lot of cynical emotional calculus going on behind the scenes, but that doesn't necessarily preclude authenticity in the writing itself. However genuine these little moments between Ishtar and Ritsuka end up feeling, though, it's still hard not to roll my eyes at the transparency of the harem antics.
Gilgamesh bookends the episode with two different tragedies—the past loss of his only friend, and the current loss of his own life. The opening sakuga salvo is short but very sweet, although it's marred by an unfortunate translation mistake. Fate-verse Enkidu is canonically nonbinary (their gender in the game's bio is literally listed as “-“), and the game's English translation uses they/them pronouns for our clay friend, so Gilgamesh shouldn't be saying “he” in reference to them. Funimation still has the wrong translation at the time of writing, but hopefully it gets fixed soon. Nevertheless, Gil's genuine longing for Enkidu remains one of this arc's strongest emotional beats. Too bad he dies! Our King of Heroes seems pretty chill about the whole death thing at first, but he's already journeyed to and from the underworld at least once, so he probably has a backup plan. Maybe.
This episode of Babylonia continues to indulge in the fun side of FGO, but FGO is supposed to be fun. Quetz is an entertaining (and, courtesy of character designer Rei Hiroe, very toothy) addition to the cast, and every hero's journey needs a little bit of underworld exploration. Who knows, maybe we'll learn the secret of Ishtar's transient dye-job somewhere down there. Like Quetzalcoatl herself, Babylonia's temperament tends to be pretty manic, but thankfully the care put into its construction makes it easy to go along for the ride. Now if you'll excuse me I'm gonna rewatch some of those fight scenes.
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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