Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia ?
This episode of Babylonia comes with an understandable sense of denouement when paired against last week's explosive sendoff. Ordinary people do their part to clean up the rubble, while Gilgamesh begins preparations to honor the loss of Ushiwakamaru and Leonidas. A quirk of the Fate universe is that Servants don't really “die,” since they aren't alive in the first place and can theoretically be re-summoned at any point, but each particular iteration of a Servant is a unique person nonetheless. Their defeat, then, is still weighted with the grief of loss, and the ever-observant Gilgamesh recognizes that this is a pain Ritsuka has felt time and time again throughout his journey to this point. This is another great example of this adaptation taking a small throwaway line from the game and infusing it with more emotional oomph, enriching both Gil's and Ritsuka's characters in the process. Good stuff!
There's work to be done nevertheless, and the remainder of the episode is constructed around preparations for the gang's impending battle with the very large and very powerful Gorgon. As FGO is wont to do, it primes the audience with some magical explanations for her appearance (surprise, it's a Holy Grail) and some context regarding her role in Greek mythology. The show's read on Medusa-turned-Gorgon borrows heavily from Ovid, but correctly interprets her story as a tragedy where gods and humans alike forced her into her monstrous form. I'm not quite sure why they gloss over the rather horrific fact that it was Poseidon raping Medusa that angered Athena in the first place, because that'd go a long way towards further establishing this incarnation of Gorgon as an avatar of her vengeance. Fate, however, is nothing if not consistently weird and disappointing about the way it treats victimized and “monstrous” women, and sadly I would not recommend hoping that this arc will get better about it. There's absolutely a lot of potential in turning a modern eye to the Gorgon myth, and it's something a lot of other writers have explored, but that requires a defter hand than Babylonia's source material.
Anyway, sometimes you gotta fight fire with fire, and sometimes you gotta fight a goddess with a goddess. Gil's smart enough to recognize that no human-based strength can withstand the full brunt of Gorgon's army, so he relies on human wit instead to destabilize the alliance between the goddesses. Well, it's human wit and the bottomless pile of jewels in his treasury. In an unsurprising heel-face turn, Ishtar is almost immediately won over with a tiny bit of good old bribery. It's a deeply silly sequence that acts as a palate cleanser after last week's heavy theatrics, although it comes at the cost of a good deal of both Ishtar's and Rin's dignity. There are intentional shades of Konosuba's infamously useless goddess woven into this tapestry, but Babylonia also takes time to remind us that Ishtar is a competent fighter and a powerful ally when it comes down to it. You just might have to kiss a few feet to see it.
In true Fate fashion, we spend entirely too much time dwelling on the magical lore and explanation behind Ishtar's manifestation, when a simple “we wanted fans of Rin to spend money” would have sufficed. Yes, that's flippant of me, but I respect the hustle of the whole Pseudo-Servant concept, and I'd respect FGO a lot more if it were honest about it. However, the adaptation's saving grace is using its storyboards to focus on Mash's reaction to Ishtar's explanation. As a Demi-Servant, Mash is technically different from Ishtar, but she still houses a Heroic Spirit within herself. Ishtar's confidence in her own identity provides Mash with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that other people have gone through what you're going through. Babylonia's been slavish to a fault in its commitment to following the game's script, but the showrunners continue to find ways to enrich its presentation, even when you don't take the animation highlights into account.
Ritsuka's campfire scene with an apparently allergy-prone Ishtar concludes the episode on a strong note. It's a good continuation of the previous bonding scenes we've seen between the two of them, but it's also interesting in the way it digs into Ishtar's perspective as a goddess on the cusp of irrelevance. It's worth noting that, in the Fate universe, this time period is very tangibly the boundary between the age where gods walked among us and the age where humans alone dominated the planet (a shift perpetrated appropriately by the half-god half-human Gilgamesh). However, we can extrapolate her anxieties into our real world and the onset of both monotheism and modernity. Gods and goddesses often had tempestuous and capricious relationships with their subjects, but they were relationships nonetheless, full of give-and-take and bittersweet complexity. Ishtar recognizes the unfairness with which humanity tended to scapegoat the divine, but she also admits she didn't entirely mind it. She's much more concerned about people—small, weak, and easily frightened things—trying to get by on their own. Her entire motivation for becoming an enemy was the anxiety of a mother watching her children leave their nest. She doesn't think we're ready. It's an entirely sympathetic motivation, tinged with the sadness of its futility.
Against all odds, Ishtar provides a thoughtful conclusion to an otherwise slight episode. Arguably, we all needed some space to breathe after last week's episode, but I continue to wish that the anime would be more prudent about cutting and consolidating FGO's tendency towards rambling exposition. However, I also continue to be impressed with this adaptation's ability to find and cultivate the emotional resonance buried in its incidental scenes. On a personal note, I'm also very, very excited for the debut of a certain Mesoamerican goddess next week. Hope you all like lucha libre.
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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