Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
Episode 15

by Steve Jones,

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Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- ?

Babylonia is blessed with an unusually eventful episode this week, although “blessed” in this case might not be the most appropriate word. Seriously, though, if you had any qualms with the show's sometimes lackadaisical pacing, this episode is pure propellant from start to finish. It'd be tempting to argue this sudden sprint as an overcorrection, but this is a case where the breakneck pacing smartly pairs with the cascading sense of danger, growing cancerously with each narrative twist and turn. This is the beginning of the end for the Demonic Front.

Before the primordial mud hits the fan, however, there's the more somber matter of resolving the conflict against Gorgon, and more specifically, the conflict between Gorgon and Ana. This is accompanied by the action pyrotechnics we've come to expect from Babylonia, and they indeed look fantastic, but I found myself much more affected by the focus on their mutual personal tragedy. I think my favorite moment in this entire episode is the painful way Gorgon recoils after looking directly into Ana's eyes—not due to any magical interference, but due to the unblinking reminder of what she once was. Despite the shitty hand dealt to her, Medusa only wanted a meager, solitary existence together with her sisters on the Shapeless Isle, and she's simultaneously wracked with anger and guilt that fate would not allow her even that. Ana's destruction of Gorgon is a reconciliation between these two emotions, tinged with the bittersweetness that Gorgon finding peace means Ana too must perish with her. Ana's arc didn't do a whole lot for me in the game, but I have to commend the way Babylonia, largely wordlessly, infused her struggle with a wistful melancholia. Fare thee well, little snek.

Gorgon goes down shockingly quickly after all those weeks of buildup, but we're only on episode 15 of 21, so I hope nobody got too comfortable. Not that there's much time to do so, because almost immediately after the big snek disappears into the chasm, everything accelerates into hell with a series of lightning fast twists and reversals explained in typically obtuse Type Moon fashion. The skinny is that Gorgon's death means Ritsuka and the gang now have to deal with the real actual goddess Tiamat, who's started waking up from her Merlin-induced nap at the bottom of the ocean. Kingu was the one with the grail this whole time, and this revival of the Tiamat was what they actually wanted. Also Merlin is dead now. All of this happens in such quick succession that it's hard for me to feel anything besides bemused bewilderment, but I think Babylonia rushes through things here so it can spend more time relishing in its apocalypse.

And relish it does, as the arrival of the “new humanity” begins razing what's left of Mesopotamia back to the clay it came from. The laḫmu were one of the things I was most curious to see in animated form, and I'm pleased to say that they are no less horrifying here than they are in the game. The childlike (and humanlike) gibberish they use to communicate sounds more or less like what I imagined, and I love the eldritch way the animators distort and contort their uncomfortably toothy mouths and tongues. Their wanton murder and cruelty is laid on ridiculously thick, but Fate properties have rarely been concerned with matters of good taste. Ritsuka still has some literal gods on his side, so we do get the satisfaction of seeing them kick some laḫmu ass (or whatever it is they have), but it has all the effect of trying to empty a river with a bucket.

Thankfully, Babylonia doesn't merely rely on torture porn to shock its audience, and we see some legitimately heartbreaking moments as the last bastion of humanity contends with its seemingly inevitable annihilation. Perhaps most concerning is how Gilgamesh looks defeated. Gilgamesh. He even loses composure when he's confronted with the very real possibility of losing Siduri, and loses it again when Ritsuka forces him to re-confront it. The subtle way his sad resignation turns to buoyant bemusement at Ritsuka's indignity is exactly what makes Gil such a wonderful and dynamic character in this arc. Unlike this younger Stay Night version, he has the humility to recognize how powerful the passion of other people can be, and he is willing to trust them to succeed where he cannot.

This culminates in a unilaterally upsetting scene as Ritsuka and his allies rush to rescue Siduri's band of refugees, only to find a small collection of broken citizens amidst a cackling herd of laḫmu. This by itself would be bad enough, but Ritsuka is further confronted by the unspoken yet undeniable implication that the “new humanity” might be metamorphosing some of the old, Siduri included. Kingu enters the scene like an angry parent, only to be disemboweled by their supposed kin. On the upside, this bolsters Ritsuka's theory that Kingu does at least have the remnants of Enkidu deep down inside of themselves, but on the downside, this means the laḫmu are lawless hellspawn answerable to nobody but the primordial beasthood of mankind. That's not great.

This is a critical juncture in the story of Babylonia, and the anime adaptation nails the important emotional and existential beats in one of its most knuckle-whitening episodes yet. I can't ask for much more, even if I think dialing back some of the schlockier aspects might have made the part feel more resonant and less like an exploitation film. Still, if you're here for that classic and unpredictable Fate weirdness, stay tuned for this and much more.

Rating:

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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