Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- ?
The built-in bittersweet arc of many Fate series stems from the transient nature of the Servants themselves. In a sense, all characters in all stories have an expiration date, whether it comes within the narrative or as part of the inevitable ending. Heroic Spirits are granted the gift of extending their own stories by comingling with other stories spanning humanity's past and future, but they too must eventually relive the pain of departure. In the aftermath of last week's explosive but muddled climax, the finale of Babylonia finds itself singularly concerned with returning to its emotional locus and taking the time to say its goodbyes. Consequently, this ends up being a fine note for Babylonia to end on, and a reminder that some of this arc's finest moments were those where it let itself breathe.
We begin with probably the least necessary set of goodbyes, delivered to Jaguar Warrior and Quetzalcoatl. Jaguar Warrior is a comic relief character who never had much to do—doubly so in the latter half of this series—so it makes sense to get her out of the way in a perfunctory fashion here. Quetz's presence here is surprising considering the literal blaze of glory she had attacked Tiamat with, and I think there's a good argument to be had that letting her exit the story in that fashion might have been stronger overall. However, because Quetz is such a strong and lovable character (to me especially), I can forgive Babylonia's willingness to suspend its own belief and give her a full, heartfelt, goodbye hug. Sometimes you have to prioritize those emotional beats.
Speaking of which, Merlin also receives a surprisingly affecting parting scene. There's the requisite acknowledgement of his scumbag tendencies, and his banter with Dr. Roman infuses some lightheartedness into what easily could have been a suffocatingly melancholy episode. But strongest of all is his articulation of the bond he feels with Ritsuka. Merlin resigned himself to an existence outside of time in Avalon, watching over humanity but never again interacting or interfering with us. Ritsuka, similarly, was thrust into an existence outside of time in the last remaining citadel of humanity, but he and his colleagues instead steeled themselves to fight back. Merlin, begrudgingly, admits how much that inspired him. Human history to Merlin is nothing but a collection of amusing stories, but the Fate series itself stands as an example of how stories affect us in tangible ways. There isn't a clean delineation between fact and fiction; they inform each other, and in turn, they form our sense of selves. Like quantum theory, you can't observe something without affecting it, and in this case, you also can't be observed without affecting your observer. Merlin's fate was always to become more human, and Ritsuka helped him realize that.
Naturally, Gilgamesh receives the longest and most involved parting scene. He certainly would not have settled for anything less, but this also makes sense considering he's the de facto non-self-insert protagonist of this arc. While the story of the Epic of Gilgamesh has been a constant background presence, this finale brings it to the forefront as the raison d'être of the Gil we've come to know in this story. The main points highlighted here at the end is the way Enkidu taught Gil how to both appreciate life and accept death. The acceptance of death is the big one here, since Gil not only has to accept his own but also the death of Uruk. The ruins of all of Babylon are constantly in frame, reminding us of the irreparable damage done and lives lost. Gil himself knows how easily loss can twist despair into desperation.
However, while Uruk is lost, humanity lives on. Indeed, Gil's own departure is ultimately a necessary one. For the Age of Gods to end, Gil, who is part divine, must also part ways and allow the remaining people to forge their own existences, make their own mistakes, and create their own stories. Of course he's still going to get the last word in, nonchalantly taking a big swig of booze from a Holy Grail, but he knows it's time to move on, and if anything, he's happy about it. Like he said to Enkidu once upon a time, the ability to work together and understand each other, despite our different paths, is what humanity is all about. That's what love is.
Babylonia ends in a satisfying place by focusing its finale on the single resonant theme of human solidarity. It's not revelatory, but it's good at drawing out and enhancing the bittersweet feelings of its characters, proving that theatrics aren't the only thing Babylonia has going for it. Overall, this series ended up being not nearly as unilaterally strong as I had been hoping, and I think a less stringently faithful take on the game's story might have provided more freedom for the anime to play to its own strengths. Nonetheless, Babylonia is still a tremendous and unique production, and its most sublime moments stand tall as some of the finest feats of expressive animation I've ever seen televised.
At the end of two seasons' worth of writing, I just have to reflect on how strange and frequently double-edged a thing Fate is. I don't consider myself a Fate expert by any means, and I've been consistently frank with my unwillingness to indulge in this franchise's impenetrable technobabble. For all the warts, however, I do find Fate and its iterations to be uniquely compelling at their core, and for that, I'm glad FGO was there to push me over the edge and into this frequently ridiculous and frequently fun amalgamation of all human storytelling.
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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