Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 20 of
Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- ?
At one point in the middle of this penultimate episode of Babylonia, King Gilgamesh tells our protagonist, in not so many words, to hit the boss' weak point for massive damage. As a tacit tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of its video game roots, this precious moment of levity is a subtle but appreciated counterweight to what's otherwise an overstuffed and undersold climax. By this adaptation's standards, this is a perfectly fine episode with plenty of action and Fatespeak building towards its inevitable conclusion, but its adequacy lays bare my core, nagging qualm with a series that has more often than not played things too safe. Babylonia as a whole has been haunted by a lack of vision beyond adapting the mobile game into a blockbuster anime, and outside of certain moments/episodes that have fully embraced the personal touches of their artists, its unobtrusive sterility has consistently worked against it.
Speaking of a lack of vision, I'll start with my biggest and pettiest complaint about this episode: it's too dang dark! I get that we're in the literal underworld, but Fate is plenty fine ignoring its own rules when it's convenient, so I don't think there's any excuse for strictly obeying luminous properties here. There's a lot of great action animation in the first half of this episode, with some admirable dedication towards depicting the physicality of bodies and blows, but it's undermined by a fundamental lack of contrast. Consequently, the episode picked up significantly for me once it shifted into a brighter and more discernible palette. And while I'm being petty (and because I think it's been a while since I last mentioned it), the battle sound design continues to baffle me with how ludicrously bass-boosted every effect is. I understand the desire to sell the strength of these combatants and their magic powers, but instead of feeling epic, it just sounds like it's mixed wrong. A little restraint can go a long way.
I don't want to spend this entire review complaining, though, because there are a lot of things I like about this episode and its choices. King Hassan, for example, is just fantastic. He's a “Grand” Servant, which basically means he's a superpowered ur-example of his class, Assassin. In this case it means that Hassan-i Sabbah, the founder of the Order of Assassins (which is where the term “assassin” comes from in the first place) is mixed together with the concept of Death itself and basically manifests as the Grim Reaper. I love it. It's also very funny to watch Merlin fight with a sword, which is something both the anime and game hang a lampshade on. Finally, Ritsuka's dash towards Tiamat is both the episode's dramatic peak and choice animation highlight. Thematically, it works that the lone “normal” human is the one to deliver the final blow, but the inherent fragility of an average dude also instills a clear sense of danger that can get lost when Servants are engaging in their spectacular light shows. Here, Ritsuka grits his teeth and pushes himself to the limit, and I never thought I'd say this, but he actually looks cool.
Unfortunately, the accelerated pace of this episode means it suffers from many of the same dramatic shortcomings of the prior one, trying to accomplish too much too quickly. Eresh arguably gets the shortest end of this particular stick, with her “death” happening out of nowhere and furthermore being intercut with scenes of Ritsuka running towards. I know that the intent here is to emphasize this tragic end of her relationship with him, but when sandwiched by everything else that's going on, it feels like the narrative is trying to kill two birds with one stone. I'd much rather Eresh have been given proper space to breathe. In fact, this whole episode needs space to breathe. Gil's return is triumphant, but it's like the seventh reversal of fortune to happen in this battle. Diminishing returns is a very real thing unless you're very good at selling escalation. Babylonia knows how to do spectacle, but it lacks the cohesive dramatic chops to make this ending work as well as it should.
The most head-scratching moment comes as Ritsuka metaphysically confronts Tiamat. To begin, it's not great that this arc's main villain only gets to speak in the penultimate episode for a few moments before she disintegrates into nothingness. Secondly, it doesn't elucidate her motivations as much as it admits that they're confusing and contradictory, supposedly the result of a mother's love gone wrong. I'm just overall nonplussed by Babylonia's treatment of motherhood, which falls back on regressive psychological concepts and surface-level cosmic horror instead of anything insightful. Tiamat could have been an interesting adversary, but Babylonia's refusal to treat her as an actual character really dulls the impact of this supposed battle for humanity's future and independence.
Truth be told, I still had a perfectly fine time with this episode, but the end being in sight has the effect of pulling Babylonia's faults into sharp relief. I must once again blame just how lovely the 18th episode was, and I just wish the rest of it could have exhibited so much personality. All things considered, however, Babylonia remains an extraordinary production, and there's still room for it to tie a nice bow on things with its finale.
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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