Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?
After a brief holiday hiatus, Babylonia is back. When we last saw our intrepid gang of humans, goddesses, and slimeball wizards, they had just learned of the recent and sudden passing of King Gilgamesh. That's, understandably, not an ideal development, considering that Uruk is expecting a giant snake woman and her debatably evil clay child to attack in the near future. Thus, this episode mostly deals with the formulation and execution of a plan to extract Gil from the depths of the underworld. That might sound wacky, but it wouldn't be the first time for him.
Before I delve into the episode proper, however, it's a new cour, and with it come new opening and ending sequences for Babylonia. Well, mostly new. I hope you liked “Phantom Joke,” because it's back for round 2 with verse 2. While it did end up growing on me as the previous season progressed, I personally wouldn't consider the song quite good enough to warrant a new coat of paint, and I'm apprehensive about how well it will fit the tonal shifts to come in this arc. The OP animation ties itself together with a noticeably digitized sand motif, but that's still an improvement over the first OP sequence's complete lack of a unifying theme. I'm a lot more positive about the new ED, however, which is a somber yet punchy ballad that should consistently close things out nicely. I'm really glad to hear milet again so soon after Vinland Saga just wrapped up! Her voice has such immediate presence, and I'll definitely be keeping an ear out for more of her music in the future. The ED animation has an appropriately muted aesthetic, and Gil's melancholic stroll past his defeated allies makes for a surprisingly affective image. It's still not quite as creative as I would have liked out of a production with this much pedigree, but so it goes.
I must now confess that my digression into the OP and ED is a consequence of there just not being a whole lot going on in this episode. Some denouement was to be expected after last season's delightful finale, but unfortunately Babylonia opens its second half with some of its blandest material to date. This is where a more liberal adaptation of the game would have behooved everyone involved, because the first half of the episode is literally just the cast standing in the throne room and talking about the lore/mechanics of their current situation. I don't have a whole lot of patience for Fate's tendency towards pontificating about expository details that don't ultimately matter much, so I'll boil this conversation down to the basics: the Three Goddess Alliance's third member is not Ishtar, but Ereshkigal (the Mesopotamian equivalent of Hades), and Eresh (as her friends call her) has been using Ishtar's body as her conduit to the world of the living. Recall the surprisingly thoughtful and intimate campfire conversations Ritsuka has been having with Ishtar—that was actually Eresh. Surprise! There's been yet another enemy in their midst the entire time!
Of course, it's not much of a surprise, and the degree to which Ereshkigal is their enemy also has yet to be determined. Ishtar has a pretty low opinion of her, but that stems from both her own experiences and the fact that she and Eresh are mythologically opposed as goddesses of life and death, respectively. This emboldens Ritsuka to try going into the underworld himself to rescue Gil, which takes up the second half of the episode. This part is at least a bit more fun than the first half. Because these are mythological times, the underworld is literally and physically connected to the world above, so Ishtar's solution to getting there is blasting Mash and Ritsuka straight through the earth's crust. That physical comedy is complemented by the situational comedy of Eresh deliberately messing with Ishtar every step of their descent. The gate quiz show thing stems from an actual game mechanic, where answering “incorrectly” would lead to a more difficult battle. Babylonia, however, chooses to play up Eresh's deadpan delivery of her questions, and even as a disembodied voice, she's easily the most charming part of this episode (with Gil's boisterous amusement at tiny Ishtar coming in as a close second).
Overall, this installment suffers from a sin that's plagued most of Babylonia so far—its lack of imagination when it comes to adaptation. Its animation has been infused with the vibrant imaginations of its animators, who continue to push boundaries play in the space Babylonia has provided them. On the other hand, its adaptation hasn't strayed too far from the game's structure, and more often than not, that's to its detriment. In between its battles, FGO is a visual novel, so most of its scenes end up being a bunch of talking heads against a static background. That's fine for a VN, but for an anime, there's no reason to make your characters deliver exposition cooped up in a single room. There are more dynamic and creative ways to integrate that information, and if you have to restructure the plot a bit, so what? This certainly isn't something I consider an unforgivable sin, because Babylonia's punch and polish do go a very long way (although the sin is certainly more noticeable in an episode, like this one, lacking a lavish animation spectacle). However, I do consider this something that holds Babylonia back from its fullest potential as a true creative spectacle.
It's a shame that Babylonia has to start winter with a whimper, but things are sure to pick up with the impending battles against Eresh's bony boobs and Gorgon supermassive snakes. I suppose, too, that there's something quaint about the billion-dollar behemoth of FGO still being unable to escape the sometimes-awkward pacing of its humbler visual novel roots.
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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