Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?
Gods of the dead get dealt a pretty bad hand and suffer from a pretty bad reputation. A lot of that stems from our modern Judeo-Christian conflation of “underworld” with “Hell,” which results in movies like Hercules depicting figures like Hades as evil antagonists meant to be fought and defeated. Within their source mythologies, however, these gods tend to be more nuanced, three-dimensional figures reflecting humanity's complicated relationship with the inevitability of death. Essentially, adding a personality to unstoppable and unknowable forces of the natural world was our way of coping with them. That's the traditional Ereshkigal comes from (she herself has acknowledged such), and it's important for understanding Babylonia's interpretation of her character.
I begin with this preface because, like the game, I don't think the anime does the best job of communicating what Eresh's core conflict is in this arc. Coincidentally enough, the NA side of FGO just got a Christmas event that actually elucidates her character a lot more clearly. She's pretty much a lonely shut-in weirdo who's committed to doing her best at a crappy job she had no say in obtaining. She's a good person, but her interactions with other (living) people are limited, and those who do actually take the underground trip to interact with her are usually loudmouthed jerks like Gilgamesh or Ishtar. Consequently, FGO's plastering of Rin's tsundere personality onto Eresh makes a surprising amount of sense as an extension of her own awkwardness around people with a pulse. I'm not sure if that was intentional on Nasu's part, but I think it's one of FGO's more clever integrations of the Stay Night cast into its own mythos.
Eresh might not care much for other gods and god-adjacent figures, but like Ritsuka's other holy friends, she does love humans, and thus it makes sense that her spirited conversations with him had such an effect on her. Also, he's probably the first genuinely nice person she's been able to talk to in eons. There's no question that she would have thrown her lot in with him if he had arrived prior to Gorgon, but as it is, Eresh's primary motivation for working with the big snake was to ensure best possible future for humanity given the circumstances. The fight between her and Ritsuka this episode is more or less a consequence of her own stubbornness. She might like Ritsuka, but she's still a goddess, so she's not exactly quick to admit when she's wrong. Therefore, she willingly embraces the aforementioned perception of her as a giant spooky avatar of death in a last-ditch effort to save people by conforming to their expectations.
Incidentally, this is a choice that, due to circumstances, actually works better in the anime than in the game. In the game, she's a big floating Gravelord Nito skeleton because that's an enemy type the game likes to default to for characters who don't have unique battle sprites (Eresh wouldn't get hers until a year later). The anime, however, is not limited by a game engine, so its depiction of her in the same way instead reads as a deliberate choice on her own part. That's a tiny but neat bit of nuance.
The battle itself against Eresh is animated with typical Babylonia fanfare (and lots of deep bass). Skeleton Eresh (or Skeleresh) is a big and slow opponent, so rather than dazzle with fancy choreography or camerawork, Babylonia instead focuses on communicating the weight of her attacks. I like that her weapon of choice isn't random ribbons of magical energy, but the giant stalactites and stalagmites found throughout her underground cavern. That helps make this fight distinctive, and it's aesthetically appropriate to boot. Mash also gets a great opportunity to be badass here—she's one shield hero I don't mind praising.
In the end, Ritsuka's gambit succeeds and he manages to convince Eresh that yes, he understands her, and yes, she should stop sucking up the souls of everyone in Uruk. With the aid of the increasingly mysterious Jouji-Nakata-voiced old man, Eresh adds herself to Ritsuka's ever-expanding deific harem, even if she still won't let herself cut loose enough to actually leave Kur. To recapitulate my feelings from last week, I think some more judicious editing could have easily fit these past two installments into one episode. This week's episode stands a little bit better on its own by virtue of focusing on Eresh's character, but ultimately this arc is small and rote enough to be condensed without losing much. Indeed, snappier writing would go a long way towards making Eresh's development here feel not quite as circuitous.
While Babylonia has started its second cour in a more plodding manner than I would've hoped, humanity's last stand against Tiamat is quickly approaching, and with it should come some more excitement. Oh, and I've been meaning to mention this for weeks now, but one aspect of this anime adaptation I've unilaterally enjoyed is the soundtrack. When you've been playing this game daily for the past 2.5 years, that music inevitably ends up worming its way into your brain, so it's been neat to hear different and often grander arrangements of these familiar tracks. In general, Babylonia's been doing a good job being an adaptation that fans can enjoy. I just wish that it were a bit more ambitious outside of its technical prowess.
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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