Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- ?
Things are going mighty rough for both our heroes and villains as Babylonia's endgame escalates into a rising tide of frenzied monsters and apocalyptic mud. We're graced with a little breathing room at the end, but otherwise this episode of Babylonia is a calculated emotional assault meant to demonstrate exactly what the stakes are as Ritsuka and his friends steel themselves for a battle against the actual Tiamat. In other words, there's a whole lot of suffering to break down.
Kingu is the immediate and surprising emotional locus. They haven't exactly been the most compelling (or most present) villain, so last episode's twist about the Holy Grail didn't quite land with the intended volume. What is compelling, however, is seeing the spectacularly bloody collapse of their entire raison d'être, throwing their already tenuous sense into complete chaos. It's deliberately ironic that the removal of their “heart” is what finally opens the floodgates of their past life as Enkidu and allows them to feel the full brunt of their existence's cruelty.
Kingu is a pitiable figure in the context of the show, but even more so when considered against their and Enkidu's origins in Babylonian mythology. While they have absolutely no relationship in the Mesopotamian canon, they're not entirely dissimilar figures. Kingu is the son-turned-consort of Tiamat, who appoints him as her champion deity when she decides to kill all of the other gods in the creation myth Enuma Elish. Enkidu is also a divine creation: a facsimile of clay originally intended to deliver punishment on the gods' behalf to Gilgamesh. Both Kingu and Enkidu fail their intended purpose and die tragically, but in ways that fulfill much grander purposes. Kingu's spilt blood, for instance, becomes the material from which humankind sprouts. Enkidu, similarly, catalyzes Gilgamesh's recognition of his own humanity, ultimately saving his soul and turning him into a respected and benevolent king.
In Babylonia, Kingu also claims to be Tiamat's child, but the war they rage is against humanity, not the gods. Thrust into the body of a being who straddled the line between humanity and divinity, Kingu finds themselves in a lonely and confusing place, with only the certainty of their maternal loyalty to ground them. With that certainty literally ripped from their chest, a weak and desperate Kingu is only saved by their connection to Enkidu, further blurring the line between them. I remembered this scene from the game, but the adaptation goes above and beyond synthesizing the aesthetic, storyboarding, music, and voice acting into a gut-wrenching last stand by the Siduri-laḫmu, saving the person who saved her friend and king. Kingu's memories may be muddled, but their heart, free of the Holy Grail's burden, is functioning perfectly (and painfully) once more.
While Siduri's departure is upsetting, arguably the cruelest trick Babylonia plays is the corruption of Ushiwakamaru. This is a case where the adaptation's embellishments pay off and make this twist hurt all the more—not only was Ushiwaka bubbly and likable, but her last stand was infused with all the pomp and circumstance a hero deserves. Now she's a weird immortal mud monster. I don't want to conflate “cruel” here with “satisfying,” because the now-villainous Ushiwaka behaves with a cartoonish understanding of malice, and moreover this feels like a cheap shot. Her presence is also emblematic of a lack of imagination, swapping one mud person with mommy issues for another even more transparently manufactured one. My quibbles aside, however, the pain of this awful reunion comes through Ritsuka and Mash's performances, and Ushiwaka's fight against the team looks and feels great. I found myself focusing in particular on the care taken in animating her swordplay (which I may or may not blame on Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!). More so than her cloning shenanigans, I'd say the deft yet wild way she handles her katana is what distinguishes this particular action scene from the rest in Babylonia.
With the Holy Grail stolen and delivered to its intended owner, the (possibly) final villain of this arc emerges as the primordial goddess Tiamat, now having awakened from her long slumber at the bottom of the Black Sea. In Babylonian mythology, Tiamat is one of two original divine beings, and she was indeed considered a personification of the deep and unknowable saltwater sea. However, she was killed by her offspring and her body was converted into the heaven and the earth, so the Tiamat we're dealing with here isn't the original thing as much as she is a Beast personifying one of the primordial evils of mankind. In other words, it's more Fate gobbledygook about Authorities and Spirit Origins, so you don't have to concern yourself with the details if you don't want to. The important point is that, even with things looking as dire as they are, the giant Tiamat slouching towards Uruk is more or less kind of like a Servant, so if they can get rid of her, they get rid of all the apocalypse surrounding her. I mean, how hard can killing the Earth's mom possibly be?
Overall, this is another densely-packed and highly-polished episode of Babylonia. I think it hits all of Kingu/Enkidu's emotional beats very well (including a heartstring-pulling special ED about them and Siduri). I think the Ushiwakamaru stuff seems more akin to cruelty for cruelty's sake. I think I'm going to have to talk more about this franchise's occasionally-fraught relationship with womanhood next week. But Babylonia keeps chugging along nevertheless. The tide's coming in, and we're running out of high ground, so get ready.
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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