Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 18 of
Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- ?
When the Babylonia adaptation was announced, I had one particular scene in mind that I could not wait to see animated. Well, it's finally here, and it blows my already lofty expectations clear out of the stratosphere. This entire episode stands as Babylonia's finest accomplishment to date, infusing and strengthening both the melancholic edge and heart-racing action that have defined the most memorable moments from this story. This is the idealized portrait of Babylonia in my mind's eye fully realized.
I cannot continue without first highlighting and praising the episode's director and storyboarded, Nakaya Onsen. Onsen is an extremely talented and highly regarded animator whose sensitive touch can be felt in every scene, from the quietest to the loudest. From what I can tell, this is the first time he's been in charge of an entire episode, but his past contributions to other shows can hardly be considered lesser. Recently, he contributed to the stellar 11th episode of Mob Psycho 100 II, and he also worked on the legendary 22nd episode of Fate/Apocrypha. Both of these stand out for their virtuosic action scenes by Onsen and many other animators at the top of their game, but Onsen in particular stands out to me for how well he can do drama. He has a gift for expressive faces (with very distinctive chins) and an eye for communicating tenderness. Achilles' final scene with Atalante in Apocrypha is one example that has stuck with me ever since I saw it, and that same deft touch graces the bulk of this episode's first half.
As everyone prepares for humanity's last stand, Gilgamesh takes center stage as counselor, friend, and king. While I do think that Babylonia did an admirable job in its first half turning the player character into someone who has their own personality and history, there's a good argument that Gil is the more compelling protagonist of this story. Just look at the dramatic range he possesses this week. He's jovial, firm, and compassionate when it comes to reassuring Ritsuka and Mash of the magnitude of their accomplishments. He's wistful, heart-broken, yet strong when he visits the shell of his old companion. He's frank, charismatic, and hopeful when he addresses the small remaining population of Uruk. There is no doubt that humanity would not have lasted this long if not for his leadership. The Epic of Gilgamesh follows his arc as he changes from bratty semi-divine tyrant to an actual and admirable king of man, but Babylonia shows us the fruit of that metamorphosis. Uruk is lost, but everyone who remains, from the king to the most common, is proof of mankind's indomitable spirit.
Gil's scene with Kingu is short, tender, and sad. Kingu's despair and wrath clash perfectly with Gil's apparent nonchalance. The way he unceremoniously summons a Holy Grail, letting it clang to the ground and roll into Kingu's possession, is just tremendous. Here's the object nearly synonymous with the Fate franchise, a relic of unfathomable magical energy that causes wars whenever it appears, and Gil just hands it over to the enemy like he's giving scraps to a stray. Of course, their relationship is more complicated than that. Kingu is wracked by Enkidu's feelings and memories, while Gil vocalizes his respect for Enkidu's vessel in a way that betrays his deeper, more painful feelings. His partner is gone, and his acceptance of that loss is why he can now inspire hope where there should be none, yet he still cannot help but recapitulate the advice he once gave Enkidu. Kingu, despite everything, still has a chance to live as they wish, just as every last living person, despite the encroaching apocalypse, still has the will to fight back.
The gang's final gambit against Tiamat turns into pterosaur dogfight with a myriad of flying laḫmu and a seemingly endless supply of Ushiwakamaru clones. It's very much over-the-top in a way I can appreciate. Granted, it can sometimes be hard to discern exactly what's going on due to the freedom of movement an air battle allows (and which the animators utilize fully), but the fact that it's overall as intelligible as it is speaks to the talent behind its composition. Benkei's sudden return to the fray strains plausibility, and the dramatic effect is hampered by how quickly it initiates and concludes. Nevertheless, it fits with the maddening pace of the scene, and the passionate framing of his blitzkrieg redemption arc makes up for the compression of its narrative. I'm still not a huge fan of Ushiwakamaru's arc, which feels especially rushed in this adaptation, but at least she and Benkei get their moment of pathos together.
The real and literal star of this episode, however, is Quetzalcoatl. Hopefully I've made it clear by this point that I love Quetzalcoatl a lot, and she shines throughout the stellar climax to this phase of the fight against Tiamat. I'm also far from the only person who loves Quetz—the narrative clearly does, because she gets not one, not two, but three different Noble Phantasms. Her pet Quetzalcoatlus is one. Piedra del Sol, which allows her to harness the sun's power to burn away Tiamat's monster goo, is another. And finally she has Xiuhcoatl, which is normally an atmospheric pile-driver, but here she combines it with Piedra del Sol in order to become an incarnation of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. That on its own is pretty damn cool, but thankfully Onsen and the gang also seem to love Quetz as much as I do, because they throw everything into making her look as badass and hot-blooded as possible, from the flashy effects animation to the visceral character acting, full of gritted teeth and fiery eyes. The entire two-minute meteor kick scene sent chills down my spine. To me, this is going to be difficult scene to surpass, both in terms of hype and sheer quality. This is a scene I'm going to be rewatching for a long while. This is a reminder of why I love animation so much.
Babylonia's pathological need to one-up itself unfortunately means that Quetz's planetary lucha does not spell the end of Tiamat, and we're instead left with the cliffhanger return of Gorgon to the fray. Honestly, however, whatever the future holds, I believe this episode may ultimately stand out as the pinnacle of Babylonia's accomplishments. From start to finish, this feels like the carefully crafted synthesis of melancholy, pathos, and heart-pounding action that I've been waiting to see from this project. It legitimately makes all preceding episodes feel worse for not having achieved this standard. Nakaya Onsen and his colleagues have shown us the platonic ideal of Babylonia.
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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