Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- ?
Deus ex machina is the name of the game in this week's installment of Babylonia. It makes sense; Tiamat is the primordial mother of all divine beings in Babylonian mythology, so it stands to reason that it'll take more than one god or goddess to take her down. Thankfully, Ritsuka has deific allies in spades, and most of them flock to his aid as he struggles against this final, very large barrier to his fight for humanity's future. Unfortunately, this narrative domino effect has diminishing returns after a certain point. There's only so many times that Tiamat can power up before it becomes undeniable that this climax is just Fate playing Calvinball, as it is wont to do. To paraphrase a certain improv comedy show, the rules are made up and the Noble Phantasms don't matter.
Still, I don't intend to go overboard beating up another perfectly competent and occasionally dazzling episode of Babylonia. As I expected, it's a step down from Nakaya Onsen's untouchable eighteenth episode. Even though there's a lot more stuff happening, it all adds up to something that feels a lot less impactful than Onsen's carefully honed dramatic flourishes and freedom of emotional expression. There's very little time to breathe in between all of this week's action and dramatic climaxes, and while the result can be exciting at points, it's also more than a little exhausting when digested all at once. Nevertheless, I can understand the eagerness from the creators' collective perspective. This is, ostensibly, the final battle of FGO's final singularity, so if ever there were a point to through caution to the wind and indulge in excess, it's right here.
One consequence of this episode's breakneck pacing is how absurdly quickly the previous cliffhanger is over and done with. They made a big deal about Gorgon's return, but she's gone before the OP, and all she does is finish what Quetzalcoatl started, only with significantly less raw kinetic energy in both her character acting and action effects. The dramatic intent is clear; this provides closure to Ana's arc, where both she and Gorgon have accepted each other and merged together into a version of Medusa possessing both vast power and vast compassion. But the bittersweetness of this reunion comes across as more contrived than I would've liked—again, this is place where letting these moments breathe a bit more would go a long way. I also, selfishly, would rather have had Quetzalcoatl's spirit revel in the glory of stopping Tiamat's flight by herself, instead of letting Gorgon slither in to deliver the coup de grâce.
As per usual, Babylonia's most effective dramatic moments revolve around Gilgamesh, and his last stand here is an affecting sendoff for our King of Heroes. One of my favorite parts of Babylonia as a story is how much it has made me care about Gil as a person, which is not at all something I expected given his much less nuanced role in Fate/Zero and Stay Night. Here, he dominates a spectacular and bittersweet scene of Uruk's final gasp, appropriately weaponizing his entire city's defenses against Tiamat. I like, too, that he only uses this as a last resort, so as not to undermine or belittle the contributions and struggles of Babylonia's many ordinary citizens. He's a good king because he trusts his subjects and believes in his companions, including the Kingu-possessed Enkidu. Their sendoff is equally bittersweet, finally embracing their memories of and feelings towards Gil as they manifest into the one Noble Phantasm that can restrain Tiamat, however briefly. The fact that they actually call him “Gil” pierces my heart. I've been calling him that in these reviews as a cutesy affectation (and because it's quicker to type), but when Enkidu does it (and that is Enkidu speaking in that moment), it shows just how close the two of them were. Perhaps, now, they can know peace together again.
Once Tiamat is right where Chaldea wants her, things go off the rails in fun but ridiculous ways. I normally don't consider ridiculousness a fault, especially when it comes to Fate properties, but there's just so much one-upmanship crammed into the final moments of this episode that it's difficult to feel anything but bewilderment. For example, Merlin's return is cool! It's very in-character of him to downplay it as smoothly as possible, even as Dr. Roman freaks out over the inherent impossibility of his presence there, but the impact of it gets lost in the wash of everything else going on. In other words, it's hard to properly appreciate how little Merlin cares about the “rules” of the Fate franchise (a sentiment I fervently sympathize with) while everyone is also shouting about Tiamat's full transformation into one of humanity's eschatological demons (or Beasts, as Fate calls them). And speaking of eschatology, I won't begrudge Babylonia newbies for feeling confused about the last minute revelation of a “Grand” servant who looks like a tall bone daddy. I'm sure Babylonia will expound upon his presence next week, so I won't go into detail about The Old Man of the Mountain here, except to note that he's the cherry on top of this ridiculous clash between gods, men, concepts, and jerk wizards.
With not a whole lot of Babylonia left, this highly manic episode squeezes as much closure and plot development as it can in order to bring Ritsuka and Mash to their last stand against Tiamat. The result is a decidedly overstuffed episode, but not a boring one by any means! While I like a bit more artfulness in my FGO adaptations, there's room enough for over-the-top schlock, and I'm grateful for the care taken with Gil's more tender moments. I doubt Babylonia will top the highs of episode 18, but that doesn't mean it can't stick its landing.
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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