Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- ?
Gilgamesh closes out this week's installment of Babylonia by claiming that Ritsuka and the others should enjoy what will likely be their last chance to relax in Uruk. That's actually what this entire episode feels like: one final calm before the impending storm. Things are surprisingly light-hearted considering that Mesopotamia is about 500 deaths away from being erased from history, but that breeziness gives these characters a perhaps-final opportunity to bounce their personalities off each other and have a little fun. Even if it typically ends up being at the expense of one another.
The opening scene is big and bombastic in a way that follows through from where we left off last week, with our heroes hurtling through the sky towards their final stand against Tiamat. This is presented with typical Babylonian flair, as Ishtar finally unleashes the full brunt of her Noble Phantasm. I do have a small quibble here from a dramatic standpoint, and it has to do with Command Seals. These were introduced in Fate/stay night as a kind of “get out of jail free card” that Masters could use in desperate situations to power up and/or command their Servants, with the sticking point that they only had 3 of them. In other words, they were a powerful yet finite resource, so using them was a big deal. In FGO, Command Seals serve a similar purpose, but the player can regenerate them at a rate of one per day. This makes sense from a game design perspective, but it completely strips any dramatic tension from using one in the narrative. Ritsuka has already used them a few times in Babylonia, and him using one here is supposed to indicate that he and Ishtar are going all out, but it lacks the urgency of their original appearance in the visual novel. Instead, this feels more like a pantomime of what audiences expect “Fate” to be.
Regardless, I have to admit it's pretty neat to see Ishtar's Noble Phantasm animated like this. The sense of scale is what's most important here, because she's pretty much turning the planet Venus into an arrow she can fire at her target (Ishtar was associated with Venus in Sumerian mythology). It looks really cool, but it still feels anticlimactic when the smoke clears and all signs of Tiamat are gone. After all, we were building up to this confrontation for the past few episodes, and to have it resolved with a single magic arrow—no matter how big—would have been a letdown. Of course, this sense of anticlimax is ultimately intentional, as the actual and very large body of Tiamat uses this opportunity to fully reveal itself. The awe-inspiring intent of this revelation is unfortunately undercut by the fact that Tiamat's 3D model looks like something made in MikuMikuDance. I suppose you could argue that she's not supposed to look like she belongs with the rest of creation, but that doesn't change the fact that the show's final boss looks kinda dumb.
The gang retreats once again back to Gilgamesh's palace, with the bulk of the episode taken up by what might be the last strategy meeting they ever hold. It's a pretty fun one too! This episode doesn't really have the kind of huge and flashy action spectacle that has been typical of Babylonia. It does, however, have something subtler and just as fun to watch, in my opinion: character acting. This isn't too surprising considering the return of director/storyboarder Toshimasa Ishii, who previously handled the similarly character-and-comedy-heavy episode 10. I love to see the care put into animating little mannerisms, like da Vinci rubbing Romani's shoulders, or Ereshkigal's loud hand gestures, or everything Fou does. Seriously, somebody (or somebodies) had a fantastic time animating Fou and his adorable little paws, and I just want to let them know their work does not go unnoticed. In general, the comedic beats also hit consistently, with smart use of repetition, freeze frames, and a heaping dose of irony. My personal favorite understated gag is how Jaguar Warrior's yell in one scene continues to persist and fade offscreen while the character's onscreen continue to ignore her.
Like a spoonful of sugar, the comedic side of this episode helps the rambling expository side go down smoothly. The main topic of concern is Tiamat, of course, and the conclusion that it will be pretty much impossible to kill her. Since she's the mother of all Creation in their mythology, she's intrinsically linked to all life on Earth, and thus she cannot be destroyed as long as there is life on Earth. As with many Fate plot points, you have to take their word for it, and this at least provides an interesting logical conundrum for the gang to bullshit their way out of. Ereshkigal's presence injects a lot of fun character moments into the scene, but she also gives them the answer—if Tiamat thrives on life, all they have to do is drag her down to the one place where there isn't any. That's a kind of absurd lateral thinking that I legitimately enjoy quite a bit whenever it pops up in Fate.
While Eresh inspires hope, Ishtar inspires bullying. In a turn that should not be at all surprising, the ace up her sleeve, a giant bull by the name of Gugalanna, is lost, and nobody is content to let her live it down. I rankle a bit at Gil's surprise and rage here, because both he and Enkidu are responsible for destroying her Bull of Heaven in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Maybe he expected this new incarnation of Ishtar to have her own new incarnation of the bull, but I think he should feel at least a little bit responsible for the mess they're now in. Give Ishtar a break. She needs it.
This ended up being a much sillier episode of Babylonia than I was expecting, but consequently I also enjoyed it more than I was expecting! FGO is first and foremost a game about collecting characters, so giving these characters space to breathe and bounce off each other usually produces enjoyable results. It also provides some direly-needed respite after an exhausting barrage of twists and reveals and exclamations of “oh no, the enemy is somehow even MORE powerful now!!!” The downward spiral of humanity's last stand works to a certain dramatic extent, but at this point, I'm ready for us to move on to the actual, for real, final final confrontation.
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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